A novel with a compelling plot and intriguing characters but undermined by very uneven execution.



A war-weary doctor strives for love and redemption in a disease-ridden mill town in 1860s Massachusetts in Hirschhorn’s (A Price of Healers, 1983, etc.) historical novel.

John Spencer saw the horrors of war as a doctor with the Union Army. He arrives in Cromwell, Massachusetts, in 1865 with a letter of introduction to the town physician, Dr. Shaw Billings, who takes him under his wing, and he soon begins to build his own practice. Spencer marries Kathleen O’Connell, the daughter of a funeral-home owner, and while she’s pregnant with their first child, he encounters Elizabeth, daughter of Zebediah Harcross, the mill owner who effectively owns the town. She’s Harcross’ sole heir, to her father’s frequently expressed disappointment, because her brother died in the war. Harcross has dammed the local river in several places to provide water power for his mills. The resulting millponds, however, have attracted mosquitoes, and thus disease; every summer, epidemics of yellow fever devastate the community, but no one understands the cause. Meanwhile, Adam Ring, a Polish immigrant, partners with Kathleen’s father in a lucrative enterprise that moves from building coffins to selling insurance; meanwhile, the state’s established business interests try to use the law to shut them down at every turn. In the summer of 1866, Zebediah falls ill with a mysterious pain in his gut, and Spencer watches helplessly as disease threatens the town once again—with his wife and child now at risk. Hirschhorn re-creates a pivotal time in the history of medicine in which ignorance was displaced by observation and experimentation. His research into 19th-century New England business and medical practices is impressive, and there are many moving paragraphs about the horrors of war, poverty, and disease. However, sometimes the awkwardness of the text drags the novel down; misspelling is pervasive (“sophistocated”; “our’s”; “your’s”), and paragraphs are frequently broken. The author also uses foreshadowing much too often and without good reason. The treatment of the characters reflects the overall unevenness: the men have depth and detail, while the women (particularly Kathleen and Elizabeth) are superficially developed. The ending, in which many plot threads converge, feels rushed, and the climax is therefore stripped of suspense.

A novel with a compelling plot and intriguing characters but undermined by very uneven execution.

Pub Date: N/A


Page Count: -

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: June 7, 2015

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.


Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

Did you like this book?