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A PLACE OF SAFETY: DERRY

A thrilling tour of a historically volatile conflict.

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A young Catholic boy in Northern Ireland is drawn into the political tumult of the 1970s in Sullivan’s novel.

In 1956, Brendan Kinsella is born in Derry, Northern Ireland, a Catholic town imperiously controlled by a Protestant-dominated government. Just after Brendan's 10th birthday, his father, Eamonn, is savagely murdered by two Protestants, an event that transforms the volatile alcoholic into a political martyr. Brendan is unabashedly happy he’s dead—Eamonn’s drunken irresponsibility kept his family in squalid poverty. Brendan’s mother, Bernadette, thinks her son dimwitted, but he’s actually just a peculiar loner, disinterested in making friends or playing sports, with an uncanny knack for fixing things. As a young boy, he’s largely indifferent to the political acrimony between Catholics and Protestants—he knows he’s cheated by both, and that his priest, Father Demian, is a hypocrite and likely a pedophile. However, as violence mounts in Derry and his mother, a nationalist zealot, encourages him to hate the other side, he becomes deeply embroiled in the bitter disputes of the time, a transformation deftly portrayed by the author. Brendan meets Joanna Martin, a Protestant from an affluent family, and quickly falls in love; his devotion to her undermines his blind partisanship, which is gradually replaced by a contempt for both sides. “What struck me most was the lunacy of those in control, on either side, who thought they could end this cycle of death by threatening even greater death, but that’s what they did.” The arc of Brendan’s maturity is depicted with great subtlety and restraint by Sullivan, who artfully and admirably avoids any sententious proselytizing or earnest sentimentality. In addition to the power of the novel’s emotional drama, the author also provides a historically rigorous look into what came to be known, with astonishing understatement, as “the Troubles.” This is an engrossing and intelligent work.

A thrilling tour of a historically volatile conflict.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2024

ISBN: 9798988757719

Page Count: 348

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: March 22, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2024

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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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THE FAMILIAR

Lush, gorgeous, precise language and propulsive plotting sweep readers into a story as intelligent as it is atmospheric.

In 16th-century Madrid, a crypto-Jew with a talent for casting spells tries to steer clear of the Inquisition.

Luzia Cotado, a scullion and an orphan, has secrets to keep: “It was a game she and her mother had played, saying one thing and thinking another, the bits and pieces of Hebrew handed down like chipped plates.” Also handed down are “refranes”—proverbs—in “not quite Spanish, just as Luzia was not quite Spanish.” When Luzia sings the refranes, they take on power. “Aboltar cazal, aboltar mazal” (“A change of scene, a change of fortune”) can mend a torn gown or turn burnt bread into a perfect loaf; “Quien no risica, no rosica” (“Whoever doesn’t laugh, doesn’t bloom”) can summon a riot of foliage in the depths of winter. The Inquisition hangs over the story like Chekhov’s famous gun on the wall. When Luzia’s employer catches her using magic, the ambitions of both mistress and servant catapult her into fame and danger. A new, even more ambitious patron instructs his supernatural servant, Guillén Santángel, to train Luzia for a magical contest. Santángel, not Luzia, is the familiar of the title; he has been tricked into trading his freedom and luck to his master’s family in exchange for something he no longer craves but can’t give up. The novel comes up against an issue common in fantasy fiction: Why don’t the characters just use their magic to solve all their problems? Bardugo has clearly given it some thought, but her solutions aren’t quite convincing, especially toward the end of the book. These small faults would be harder to forgive if she weren’t such a beautiful writer. Part fairy tale, part political thriller, part romance, the novel unfolds like a winter tree bursting into unnatural bloom in response to one of Luzia’s refranes, as she and Santángel learn about power, trust, betrayal, and love.

Lush, gorgeous, precise language and propulsive plotting sweep readers into a story as intelligent as it is atmospheric.

Pub Date: April 9, 2024

ISBN: 9781250884251

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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