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THE LAST LAIRD OF SAPELO

A well-researched Civil War drama, highly informative about cotton’s importance to both sides.

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A Civil War novel traces a wealthy plantation owner’s fight to protect his family’s lands as the North extends its blockade to Georgia’s outer islands and ports.

In May 1861, Randolph Spalding figures that it is just a matter of time before the Union blockade of Southern ports hits his cotton business. Union troops would likely occupy his beloved Sapelo Island in Georgia and confiscate his cotton to feed the “Insatiable English and Northern textile mills” that “craved all the cotton the South could produce.” Randolph, like his father, Thomas, before him, seeks to dissuade the Georgia legislature from joining the other Southern states in the Secession. But his pleading is ignored. A shortage of “competent military officers” causes Georgia Gov. Joseph E. Brown to appoint “prominent men to lead their local militias.” Randolph is commissioned as a colonel and ordered to report to Brig. Gen. Alexander Lawton, the commander of Georgia’s coastal defenses based in Savannah, because his knowledge of the waterways in and around Sapelo Island is considered invaluable. Brown’s narrative centers on the real-life Spalding family, powerful plantation owners in Georgia during the Civil War era, and lays bare the complex questions surrounding slavery, issues that still reverberate in today’s political discourse. His focus on the home-front experiences rather than the actions on the battlefields captures the conviction of the plantation class that the war was about states’ rights, not slavery. Upon hearing the song “The Bonnie Blue Flag…Hurrah! Hurrah! for Southern Rights,” Randolph proclaims: “We just want to preserve our god given rights” to self-determination. Brown is an able wordsmith. His precise descriptions of period dress and culture as well as his use of racial slurs in the dialogue are evocative of the time and place. While light on tension, the novel skillfully underscores the economic importance of cotton to both the North and South. When Lawton suggests that the North has enough troops to just disrupt the South’s ports, Randolph argues that President Abraham Lincoln needs cotton for the North’s mills and will go on the offensive to secure it.

A well-researched Civil War drama, highly informative about cotton’s importance to both sides.

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 2023

ISBN: 9798888240441

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Koehler Books

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2023

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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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