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MRS. ALWORTH

Beautifully written and—perhaps fittingly—over too soon.

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A brilliant young woman ponders love and death in 1920s New Jersey in Castano’s brisk novel.

When 19-year-old Amanda Bannon receives a terminal diagnosis for a chronic illness she’s battled since childhood (nameless but possibly a form of leukemia), her father, Joseph, a police captain, promises to fulfill her deepest wish: “I have to be able to do something....Anything you want, Amanda. Anything in the world.” Normally reserved and bookish, Amanda stuns her family (and it’s hinted, herself) by requesting to marry Orest Alworth, a mysterious young friend of her father’s and one of his fellow officers. Orest’s acceptance of the odd proposal (Mr. Bannon does the asking) also comes as a shock, but despite the awkwardness, wedding prep begins. The Bannons scramble to orchestrate Amanda’s last wish—albeit in the quickest, quietest way possible. Castano dusts off traditional archetypes and makes them feel new; the cast includes Cecilia, a deceptively zany single aunt; Margaret, Amanda’s critical but ever worried mother; and Elizabeth and Catherine, Amanda’s teenage sisters, who witness the first hints of Amanda’s feelings for Orest. A few plot twists feel hazy, but Castano’s writing is cinematic, with gorgeous, delicate imagery that feels true to the time period. Amanda’s deadpan observations are also consistently enjoyable throughout. In one of many dinner scenes, she verbalizes her feelings of separateness from her parents and sisters: “Wide-jawed, brown-eyed and chestnut hair, Dad and Catherine. Blonde, green-eyed and fine-boned, Mom and Elizabeth. Me? Slate-gray eyes dug up from some quarry. A head covered in an earth-colored tangle.” Amanda and Orest’s relationship takes shape slowly, more spiritual than romantic, even as interfering family members, gossip, revelations about Orest’s murky past, and the ever present specter of Amanda’s illness threaten to encroach.

Beautifully written and—perhaps fittingly—over too soon.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-73438-358-4

Page Count: 226

Publisher: New Meridian Arts

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2021

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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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