An often deft blend of emotional drama and historical reconstruction.

KEZIAH'S SONG

A sister and brother are orphaned and separated when war arrives at their Judean village in this novel of the ancient world.

In 135 B.C.E., Keziah, who’s not yet a teenager, lives in precarious circumstances: Her mother has leprosy, a disease that the family hides from their fellow villagers, and nearby Jerusalem is under siege by Greeks from the Seleucid Empire. One day, Keziah returns home to find her house on fire, and she witnesses the savage murders of both her parents and her younger brother, Moshe; her neighbors had discovered her family’s dark secret. A kind Iturean trader and a shopkeeper help her escape death, and she makes her way to Galilee, where she has family. Meanwhile, her older brother, Joazar, is taken captive by the Greek invaders and is made the servant of Jugurtha, who was once enslaved but is now the head of the treasury. Jugurtha attempts to school Joazar in what he sees as the ways of the world—a bottomless cynicism that profoundly challenges Joazar’s faith, as Potter eloquently depicts: “The ease with which he discarded childhood superstitions was proof of something he chose not to name.” The author’s research is impeccable over the course of the novel, although there’s an occasional tendency to bombard the reader with minute details of the day’s political conflicts. However, his prose can also turn leaden and grave, almost as if it’s meant to be carved in marble: “Humankind’s role was simple: skirt the attention of the gods, seek their clemency or succour only as much as needed, and revel in as much godlike madness as circumstance allowed. The only difference between slave and king was means.” Nonetheless, this is a magisterial work of ancient worldbuilding, and a dramatically affecting one, as well, as both siblings struggle to repair their broken lives—Keziah takes solace in a new family and her musical talent while Joazar desperately looks for her—and their desire for peace is repeatedly frustrated.

An often deft blend of emotional drama and historical reconstruction.

Pub Date: March 29, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-77730-732-5

Page Count: 338

Publisher: Paper Stone Press

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2021

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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