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THE BLACK GARDEN

An engaging, intricate horror tale that feels ripped from the pages of a penny dreadful.

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An artist gets drawn into the domain of an enigmatic collector in this gothic novel.

In 1882, Miss Perdita Badon-Reed of Boston travels by riverboat down the Mississippi in order to take a teaching position in the tiny, French-inflected backwater of Ste. Odile. Over 40 years old, she just ran away from what was probably the last chance at a respectable marriage in order to pursue her dream career as a sculptor of statues. (That her erstwhile fiance is still reeling from the recent murder of his sister in France only adds to the scandal of her flight.) Perdita’s host in Ste. Odile is her uncle, the parish priest Father Tancred Condell, and her colleague at the school is the naïve but enthusiastic nun Sister Solana. The strange town has its share of characters. Some are tragic, like Marie Chardin, a woman soon to be hung for the murder of her own daughter and whom Perdita befriends out of charity. Some are inspiring, like the abandoned half Black, half Native American Anatolia Montes, one of Perdita’s young students who possesses an incredible talent for her age, even if her drawings often include visions that only she can see. But the most notable resident by far is Orien Bastide, the mysterious scion of the local lead-mining dynasty. Bastide is a philanthropist and art lover, one who eventually extends an invitation to Perdita to see his impressive collection. It is housed at his estate, Jardin Noir, named, as one character explains, for its distinctive flora: “The Black Garden. As I understand it, there has always been an abundance of black oak, black cherry, and black walnut trees, and many flowering plants with darker-hued blossoms. And I am told there is deadly nightshade.” It soon becomes clear that Bastide may be collecting more than art. But does Perdita have the sense to keep herself from becoming his next acquisition?

McFarland’s precise prose evokes the period without ever feeling too stiff or mannered, as here where Sister Solana gushes over Perdita upon meeting her: “A stone sculptor! What a time we are living in that a woman can claim such a profession! Mrs. Wollstonecraft would be proud, don’t you think? That is such a smart walking-about outfit you’re wearing. And that hat is perfect for the shape of your face!” Ste. Odile is richly rendered, a Cajun fever dream that blends nearly all the tropes of Southern and Continental gothic. The book’s fidelity to the literature that inspired it is both its strength and its weakness. The author has mastered the simmering miasma of Victorian horror fiction, whetting readers’ anticipation for terrible things that take chapters and chapters to arrive. The only problem is that when they do appear, they are in no way surprising. This is not a meta take on gothic horror, and McFarland does not have any modern tricks in store. But for those who love a good, old-fashioned, slow-burning novel of the occult, this one more than delivers.

An engaging, intricate horror tale that feels ripped from the pages of a penny dreadful.

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-951716-22-6

Page Count: 332

Publisher: Dark Owl Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2021

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  • New York Times Bestseller

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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JAMES

One of the noblest characters in American literature gets a novel worthy of him.

Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as told from the perspective of a more resourceful and contemplative Jim than the one you remember.

This isn’t the first novel to reimagine Twain’s 1885 masterpiece, but the audacious and prolific Everett dives into the very heart of Twain’s epochal odyssey, shifting the central viewpoint from that of the unschooled, often credulous, but basically good-hearted Huck to the more enigmatic and heroic Jim, the Black slave with whom the boy escapes via raft on the Mississippi River. As in the original, the threat of Jim’s being sold “down the river” and separated from his wife and daughter compels him to run away while figuring out what to do next. He's soon joined by Huck, who has faked his own death to get away from an abusive father, ramping up Jim’s panic. “Huck was supposedly murdered and I’d just run away,” Jim thinks. “Who did I think they would suspect of the heinous crime?” That Jim can, as he puts it, “[do] the math” on his predicament suggests how different Everett’s version is from Twain’s. First and foremost, there's the matter of the Black dialect Twain used to depict the speech of Jim and other Black characters—which, for many contemporary readers, hinders their enjoyment of his novel. In Everett’s telling, the dialect is a put-on, a manner of concealment, and a tactic for survival. “White folks expect us to sound a certain way and it can only help if we don’t disappoint them,” Jim explains. He also discloses that, in violation of custom and law, he learned to read the books in Judge Thatcher’s library, including Voltaire and John Locke, both of whom, in dreams and delirium, Jim finds himself debating about human rights and his own humanity. With and without Huck, Jim undergoes dangerous tribulations and hairbreadth escapes in an antebellum wilderness that’s much grimmer and bloodier than Twain’s. There’s also a revelation toward the end that, however stunning to devoted readers of the original, makes perfect sense.

One of the noblest characters in American literature gets a novel worthy of him.

Pub Date: March 19, 2024

ISBN: 9780385550369

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2024

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