First fiction from French historian Armel (and biographer of Marguerite Duras): a skillful, knowledgeable, and moving...

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LOVE, THE PAINTER’S WIFE & THE QUEEN OF SHEBA

A subtle and quietly compelling double look back: at the life of Piero della Francesco (d. 1492), then, from there, at the life of the Queen of Sheba in the tenth-century b.c.

From the moment Piero first sees the young Silvia, he wants to marry her, and he does so, even though she’s an orphan of mysterious origin, raised by monks. The marriage is happy except for two things: the pair remain childless; and Silvia fears that if Piero heeds those calling him to Rome to pursue his painting there, he will be tainted and corrupted by that sinful place. So, to keep him at home, she begins the Scheherazade-like tactic of writing the story of the Queen of Sheba from notes (provided by Fra Bartolomeo, one of the monks from her childhood) said to be those of a traveler to the east. What Silvia hopes is that her story will inspire Piero with ideas for paintings that he will start on right away, not in Rome, and so vivid is the tale she writes that Piero is indeed obsessed by it—as is Silvia, the teller of the tale, as the story becomes wholly intertwined with the novel itself. When Sheba’s king dies in battle, his daughter Bilqis is only 16, yet she must take over the reins of government as he had trained her in the years of her growing up. Like Silvia, Bilqis is lovely and sensitive; like Silvia, she has a mysterious mother; and, like Silvia, she loves a great man: Piero in Silvia’s case, King Solomon in that of Bilqis, whose long journey to Jerusalem—on diplomacy—and her stay there in the court of Solomon, both as diplomat and lover, are beautifully realized. The fate of each, Silvia and Bilqis, must be left for the reader to learn.

First fiction from French historian Armel (and biographer of Marguerite Duras): a skillful, knowledgeable, and moving double-historical.

Pub Date: July 15, 2004

ISBN: 1-59264-053-2

Page Count: 180

Publisher: Toby Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2004

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This thriller about the pursuit of a serial killer suffers from an unpleasant hero and a glacial pace.

OUTFOX

An FBI agent is determined to catch a man who bilks and murders wealthy women, but the chase goes slowly.

Brown (Tailspin, 2018, etc.) has published 70 bestsellers, and this one employs her usual template of thriller spiked with romance. Its main character, Drex Easton, is an FBI agent in pursuit of a serial killer, but for him it’s personal. When he was a boy, his mother left him and his father for another man, Weston Graham. Drex believes Graham murdered her and that he has killed at least seven more women after emptying their bank accounts. Now he thinks he has the clever Graham—current alias Jasper Ford—in his sights, and he’s willing to put his career at risk to catch him. The women Ford targets are wealthy, and his new prey is no exception—except that, uncharacteristically, he has married her. Talia Ford proves to be a complication for Drex, who instantly falls in lust with her even though he’s not at all sure she isn’t her husband's accomplice. Posing as a would-be novelist, Drex moves into an apartment next door to the Fords’ posh home and tries to ingratiate himself, but tensions rise immediately—Jasper is suspicious, and Talia has mixed feelings about Drex's flirtatious behavior. When Talia’s fun-loving friend Elaine Conner turns up dead after a cruise on her yacht and Jasper disappears, Drex and Talia become allies. There are a few action sequences and fewer sex scenes, but the novel’s pace bogs down repeatedly in long, mundane conversations. Drex's two FBI agent sidekicks are more interesting characters than he is; Drex himself is such a caricature of a macho man, so heedless of ethics, and so aggressive toward women that it’s tough to see him as a good guy. Brown adds a couple of implausible twists at the very end that make him seem almost as untrustworthy as Graham.

This thriller about the pursuit of a serial killer suffers from an unpleasant hero and a glacial pace.

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4555-7219-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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A thoughtful and pensive tale with intelligent characters and a satisfying romance.

THE LAST LETTER

A promise to his best friend leads an Army serviceman to a family in need and a chance at true love in this novel.

Beckett Gentry is surprised when his Army buddy Ryan MacKenzie gives him a letter from Ryan’s sister, Ella. Abandoned by his mother, Beckett grew up in a series of foster homes. He is wary of attachments until he reads Ella’s letter. A single mother, Ella lives with her twins, Maisie and Colt, at Solitude, the resort she operates in Telluride, Colorado. They begin a correspondence, although Beckett can only identify himself by his call sign, Chaos. After Ryan’s death during a mission, Beckett travels to Telluride as his friend had requested. He bonds with the twins while falling deeply in love with Ella. Reluctant to reveal details of Ryan’s death and risk causing her pain, Beckett declines to disclose to Ella that he is Chaos. Maisie needs treatment for neuroblastoma, and Beckett formally adopts the twins as a sign of his commitment to support Ella and her children. He and Ella pursue a romance, but when an insurance investigator questions the adoption, Beckett is faced with revealing the truth about the letters and Ryan’s death, risking losing the family he loves. Yarros’ (Wilder, 2016, etc.) novel is a deeply felt and emotionally nuanced contemporary romance bolstered by well-drawn characters and strong, confident storytelling. Beckett and Ella are sympathetic protagonists whose past experiences leave them cautious when it comes to love. Beckett never knew the security of a stable home life. Ella impulsively married her high school boyfriend, but the marriage ended when he discovered she was pregnant. The author is especially adept at developing the characters through subtle but significant details, like Beckett’s aversion to swearing. Beckett and Ella’s romance unfolds slowly in chapters that alternate between their first-person viewpoints. The letters they exchanged are pivotal to their connection, and almost every chapter opens with one. Yarros’ writing is crisp and sharp, with passages that are poetic without being florid. For example, in a letter to Beckett, Ella writes of motherhood: “But I’m not the center of their universe. I’m more like their gravity.” While the love story is the book’s focus, the subplot involving Maisie’s illness is equally well-developed, and the link between Beckett and the twins is heartfelt and sincere.

A thoughtful and pensive tale with intelligent characters and a satisfying romance.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64063-533-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Entangled: Amara

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

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