Nguyen reminds us that the power of women is nothing new.


When Beyoncé asked, “Who run the world?” was she thinking about the legendary Trưng sisters?

During the early years of the Common Era, Trưng Trắc and Trưng Nhi, two daughters of a Việt lord, grew up within palace walls. Their northern homeland was under the increasingly tyrannical rule of the Hán from neighboring China. Trưng Trắc, the older sister, was studious and steadfast; Trưng Nhi was rebellious and resistant to the constraints of royal life. When the uneasy peace their father had maintained with the Hán was disrupted and terrible injury was inflicted upon their family and loved ones, the young women (eventually referred to as the She-Kings of the Việts) call upon their inner strengths, upon their classical education in the art and philosophy of war, and, most importantly, upon other Việt women to defend their homeland. Marshalling an army of 80,000 women, the sisters waged a spectacular war—complete with drums, arrows, and elephants—on the Hán, and, for a short time, the postwar kingdom was ruled by Trưng Trắc. When her rule was disrupted in a Hán rout, an effort was made by the conquerors to confiscate all the bronze drums that had become the means of battle communication for the women warriors in an effort to build a towering symbol of Hán superiority. Some drums, hidden and buried by the vanquished women, are still unearthed today, providing continued support for the legacy of the fierce duo. The sisters have long been revered as national icons in Vietnam, and this fictionalized account of their rise to military greatness includes extensive, cinematic descriptions of battlefield tactics and imagined scenes of heartache and horror while not avoiding references to mistakes in judgment (diplomatic and otherwise) they may have made.

Nguyen reminds us that the power of women is nothing new.

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5387-5370-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 25, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2022

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Strong storytelling in service of a stinging moral message.


A long-lost painting sets in motion a plot intertwining the odyssey of a famed 19th-century thoroughbred and his trainer with the 21st-century rediscovery of the horse’s portrait.

In 2019, Nigerian American Georgetown graduate student Theo plucks a dingy canvas from a neighbor’s trash and gets an assignment from Smithsonian magazine to write about it. That puts him in touch with Jess, the Smithsonian’s “expert in skulls and bones,” who happens to be examining the same horse's skeleton, which is in the museum's collection. (Theo and Jess first meet when she sees him unlocking an expensive bike identical to hers and implies he’s trying to steal it—before he points hers out further down the same rack.) The horse is Lexington, “the greatest racing stallion in American turf history,” nurtured and trained from birth by Jarret, an enslaved man who negotiates with this extraordinary horse the treacherous political and racial landscape of Kentucky before and during the Civil War. Brooks, a White writer, risks criticism for appropriation by telling portions of these alternating storylines from Jarret’s and Theo’s points of view in addition to those of Jess and several other White characters. She demonstrates imaginative empathy with both men and provides some sardonic correctives to White cluelessness, as when Theo takes Jess’ clumsy apology—“I was traumatized by my appalling behavior”—and thinks, “Typical….He’d been accused, yet she was traumatized.” Jarret is similarly but much more covertly irked by well-meaning White people patronizing him; Brooks skillfully uses their paired stories to demonstrate how the poison of racism lingers. Contemporary parallels are unmistakable when a Union officer angrily describes his Confederate prisoners as “lost to a narrative untethered to anything he recognized as true.…Their fabulous notions of what evils the Federal government intended for them should their cause fail…was ingrained so deep, beyond the reach of reasonable dialogue or evidence.” The 21st-century chapters’ shocking denouement drives home Brooks’ point that too much remains the same for Black people in America, a grim conclusion only slightly mitigated by a happier ending for Jarret.

Strong storytelling in service of a stinging moral message.

Pub Date: June 14, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-39-956296-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

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An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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