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FOR MALICE AND MERCY

A WORLD WAR II NOVEL

A disturbing, provocative, and vivid war tale that’s loaded with lesser-known historical details.

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A World War II novel tracks the experiences of an ethnic German family living in Huntsville, Utah.

Karl and Marta Meyer joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Germany and then moved to Utah around 1919. Naturalized citizens, the German immigrants have two teenagers, Ella and her younger brother, Hank. Readers meet the family in 1939, together with Ella’s best friend, Billie Russell, and Hank’s new friend Chester Bailey. It is in these early pages that Toyn plants a harbinger of the trouble that will descend on the family in the years to come. Readers learn that Hank has a small suitcase that contains mementos (a Nazi Youth Movement uniform and a Nazi flag) from a childhood visit to his grandparents in Germany. After nicely establishing local period atmospherics, the author moves quickly to December 1941. Hank is a junior in high school; Ella is in nursing school; and Billie has become a civilian pilot. It is the morning of Dec. 7. Karl and Marta have returned from a German social club event and report that they left early in disgust when some Nazis took over the meeting. A few hours later, the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, and America is at war. Four days later, Germany declares war on the United States. Much of Toyn’s absorbing narrative is devoted to a portrayal of the darker aspects of America’s war history, as depicted through parallel stories that feature Hank, Billie, and Karl and Marta after the couple are arrested as Nazi sympathizers and placed in internment camps. While Hank enlists in the Air Force and winds up in a violently abusive Austrian prisoner of war camp (Stalag 17-B), Billie becomes a high-flying Women’s Airforce Service Pilot, delivering newly minted planes to bases around the country. Billie’s tale is a vehicle for revealing the overt male pilot hostility, including sabotage, toward female aviators. The roundup and use of ethnic Germans in secret prisoner exchanges is verified by the author’s copious, annotated footnotes. Although highly informative, the embedded notes do disrupt the flow of an otherwise dramatically engaging and unsettling novel.

A disturbing, provocative, and vivid war tale that’s loaded with lesser-known historical details.        

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-98-184897-6

Page Count: 584

Publisher: American Legacy Media

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2021

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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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JAMES

One of the noblest characters in American literature gets a novel worthy of him.

Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as told from the perspective of a more resourceful and contemplative Jim than the one you remember.

This isn’t the first novel to reimagine Twain’s 1885 masterpiece, but the audacious and prolific Everett dives into the very heart of Twain’s epochal odyssey, shifting the central viewpoint from that of the unschooled, often credulous, but basically good-hearted Huck to the more enigmatic and heroic Jim, the Black slave with whom the boy escapes via raft on the Mississippi River. As in the original, the threat of Jim’s being sold “down the river” and separated from his wife and daughter compels him to run away while figuring out what to do next. He's soon joined by Huck, who has faked his own death to get away from an abusive father, ramping up Jim’s panic. “Huck was supposedly murdered and I’d just run away,” Jim thinks. “Who did I think they would suspect of the heinous crime?” That Jim can, as he puts it, “[do] the math” on his predicament suggests how different Everett’s version is from Twain’s. First and foremost, there's the matter of the Black dialect Twain used to depict the speech of Jim and other Black characters—which, for many contemporary readers, hinders their enjoyment of his novel. In Everett’s telling, the dialect is a put-on, a manner of concealment, and a tactic for survival. “White folks expect us to sound a certain way and it can only help if we don’t disappoint them,” Jim explains. He also discloses that, in violation of custom and law, he learned to read the books in Judge Thatcher’s library, including Voltaire and John Locke, both of whom, in dreams and delirium, Jim finds himself debating about human rights and his own humanity. With and without Huck, Jim undergoes dangerous tribulations and hairbreadth escapes in an antebellum wilderness that’s much grimmer and bloodier than Twain’s. There’s also a revelation toward the end that, however stunning to devoted readers of the original, makes perfect sense.

One of the noblest characters in American literature gets a novel worthy of him.

Pub Date: March 19, 2024

ISBN: 9780385550369

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2024

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