A gripping novel that effectively captures the predicaments of those caught up in one of history’s bloodiest wars.

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HOPE OF AGES PAST

AN EPIC NOVEL OF FAITH, LOVE, AND THE THIRTY YEARS WAR

Gardner’s debut historical novel, set during the Thirty Years’ War in the 1600s, tells the story of a Lutheran pastor and a Catholic major whose lives are intertwined from boyhood.

The novel opens in 1618 in Prague, the capital of the Kingdom of Bohemia. Sixteen-year-old Peter Erhart and his father, Jakob, the chief accounting officer for the Holy Roman Emperor’s Bohemian Embassy, make their way to a meeting at Hradschin Castle. A group of Bohemian Protestant rebels forces its way into the castle, intent on provoking an uprising by murdering Catholic representatives; the young Peter comes to the aid of Hans Mannheim, a Catholic boy who’s attending the meeting with his father, a baron and chief military adviser. The boys witness the incendiary spark that ignites the Thirty Years’ War—a complex post-Reformation conflict, fought largely between Catholics and Protestants, which resulted in 8 million deaths. After this brief meeting, Peter and Hans are riven apart, but neither forgets the encounter. The novel then revisits them in 1629, when they’re both in their late 20s. Peter is now married and has become an influential, charismatic assistant pastor in Magdeburg, Germany. He’s also caught the eye of Anna Ritter, a feisty peasant girl. Hans, meanwhile, is a cavalry major in the Catholic Imperial Army, planning to besiege and conquer the city where Peter and Anna live. How will Peter and Hans’ fleeting encounter as kids determine the future of Magdeburg? And how will Anna shape their fates? This is a dazzling historical novel in which fictional and real-life historical characters, including Lutheran administrator Christian Wilhelm, intermingle seamlessly. Surprisingly few novels are set during the Thirty Years’ War, which will be obscure to most Americans. Gardner ably breathes life into these characters, though, and part of this talent lies in how he creates realistic, thought-provoking interplay between them all. A tantalizing example is when Peter delivers a sermon and is afterward approved to the cathedral council; Wilhelm observes the sermon, scowling, and later approaches Peter to offer insincere praise: “My compliments to you, young man. Your delivery was thorough and clear, the tone pleasant, and the content was for the most part quite edifying.” He then turns on his heel to leave but checks back, his demeanor changing, and he soon proceeds to critically dismantle Peter’s sermon: “you’re going beyond your station as a pastor when you hint at your personally preferred solutions to complex political issues.” Throughout the novel, Gardner is repeatedly able to accurately reflect subtle shifts in his characters’ emotions—in this case, Wilhelm’s biting capriciousness—by employing elegant, cutting, well-timed dialogue. He combines this with a plot that burns with suspense, intrigue, and passion, bolstered by thorough historical research. The end result is a compelling page-turner that won’t allow readers to rest before they reach the final page. Overall, this is a sharply written offering that’s thrilling and shocking in equal measures.

A gripping novel that effectively captures the predicaments of those caught up in one of history’s bloodiest wars.

Pub Date: June 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9998811-2-5

Page Count: 630

Publisher: Zino Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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

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THE VANISHING HALF

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

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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