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WHEN TWO FEATHERS FELL FROM THE SKY

An overflowing narrative about the ubiquitous presence of the past.

A series of strange occurrences befalls a Tennessee zoo in the summer of 1926.

Two Feathers is one of the star attractions at the Glendale Park Zoo in Nashville. All her life, she's been an entertainer, having grown up on the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch in Oklahoma, “the last Wild West show in existence.” Now, at Glendale, she’s reached the pinnacle of her career: She’s been given a stage name that plays on her Cherokee identity (her real name is Nancy) and a skill that brings in the crowds: horse diving. Two’s act may be beloved by the crowds, but she struggles socially; as a Native American, she is decidedly apart from White society and is most at home with her friend Hank Crawford, who tends the park’s animals despite coming from an affluent Black family. When Two has a serious accident during her act, the world of the zoo grows exponentially odder, and the novel’s points of view multiply. Animals fall ill. Clive Lovett, the zookeeper and park manager, moves from being traumatized by his experiences fighting for England in the First World War to seeing actual ghosts. Those same ghosts recount their stories, watching and trying to affect the living realm. Verble, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, has written an ambitious novel that’s impressive in its scope and concept: Glendale Park Zoo and the 101 are rife with narrative possibility and give the author a chance to examine a fascinating cross section of race and class and the uneasy relations between all manner of characters. The research lies heavily on the novel’s frame, though, and readers may find themselves wishing to sweep away some of the exposition to stick with Two and the life she attempts to carve out for herself against the weight of history.

An overflowing narrative about the ubiquitous presence of the past.

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-358-55483-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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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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