MARTYR!

Imperfect, yes, but intense, original, and smart.

A philosophical discourse inside an addiction narrative, all wrapped up in a quest novel.

Poet Akbar's debut in fiction features Cyrus Shams, a child of the Midwest and of the Middle East. When Cyrus was an infant, his mother, Roya, a passenger on a domestic flight in Iran, was killed by a mistakenly fired U.S. missile. His father, Ali, who after Roya died moved with Cyrus to small-town Indiana and worked at a poultry factory farm, has also died. Cyrus disappeared for a time into alcoholism and drugs. Now on the cusp of 30, newly sober but still feeling stuck in his college town, Cyrus becomes obsessed with making his life matter, and he conceives of a grand poetic project, The Book of Martyrs (at the completion of which, it seems, he may commit suicide). By chance, he discovers online a terminally ill Iranian American artist, Orkideh, who has decided to live out her final days in the Brooklyn Museum, having candid tête-à-têtes with the visitors who line up to see her, and Cyrus—accompanied by Zee, his friend and lover, who's understandably a bit alarmed by all this—embarks on a quest to visit and consult with and learn from her. The novel is talky, ambitious, allusive, deeply meditative, and especially good in its exploration of Cyrus as not being between ethnic or national identities but inescapably, radically both Persian and American. It succeeds so well on its own terms that the novel's occasional flaws—big coincidences, forays into other narrators that sometimes fall flat, dream-narratives, occasional small grandiosities—don't mar the experience in any significant way.

Imperfect, yes, but intense, original, and smart.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 2024

ISBN: 9780593537619

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 26, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2023

THE WOMEN

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

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

GIRL ABROAD

A spicy novel that’s a must-read for fans of a British accent.

A rock star’s daughter decides to study abroad in search of her own experiences, finding romance and intrigue along the way.

For 19-year-old Abbey Bly, having a rock star for a father isn’t as glamorous as it seems. For one thing, she shares her name with Abbey Road, and for another, the only version of the famous Gunner Bly she knows is the helicopter parent she lives with in Nashville. Hoping to find her way outside her father’s sphere of influence, Abbey decides to spend a semester in London studying European history at Pembridge University. Promising to keep her father updated on every aspect of life abroad, Abbey heads to her shared apartment expecting to find three female roommates…only to find that she’s actually living with three men. Afraid that Gunner will order her home, Abbey decides to keep Lee, Jack, and Jamie’s gender a secret (lucky their names sound androgynous!) and sets her sights on adventure. While working on a research project about a mysterious painting and adapting to Britain’s drinking culture, Abbey finds time to explore a little romance despite her housemates’ strict no-fraternizing rule. First there’s Jack, a commitment-phobic Australian hottie who can’t seem to stay away from Abbey; then there’s Nate, a sexy bassist who keeps forgetting he’s taken. Toying with nonexclusive relationships and exploring her sexuality, Abbey can’t help but feel excited about all the experience she’s gaining, but has she really, truly found herself? Kennedy’s novel is a page-turner—who wouldn’t want to travel to a foreign country and meet interested potential lovers down the hall? Abbey is a relatable character who yearns to stand outside her father’s shadow, and though the love triangle is a focal point, it never outshines the heroine’s growth.

A spicy novel that’s a must-read for fans of a British accent.

Pub Date: Feb. 13, 2024

ISBN: 9781728299792

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Bloom Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2024

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