A seductively dark, wholly imaginative piece of historical fiction.

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MASTER OF PROVIDENCE

A thoroughly engaging tale of love, mystery, murder and revolt set against the backdrop of antebellum Virginia.

Counihan’s new novel begins like Dickens. A young Londoner stuck between classes in the stratified society of 19th-century England is orphaned when his mother dies of cholera. But this fatherless boy, Victor Neville, is no Oliver Twist. He has a patron in his American uncle Robert, and he’s whisked away to his rich relative’s Virginia homestead, Providence Plantation. What was Dickens now feels more like Margaret Mitchell. In the hands of a lesser author, such a transoceanic shift would seem abrupt, amateurish or unbelievable, but Counihan is no such author, and we follow him—and Victor—willingly across the Atlantic Ocean to find what new adventures await the young boy. The work then sets up like a bildungsroman that will tell the story of Victor’s maturation. But 40 pages in, the novel morphs from a simple coming-of-age tale into a mysterious, inventive take on the subgenre of plantation fiction. After his arrival in Virginia, Victor saves one of his uncle’s slaves from the sexual predations of the overseer, Murphy. In the aftermath, a violent turn of events leaves Robert and Murphy dead and Victor recovering from shock in the care of the young woman he saved, Cleo. As he and Cleo become romantically entangled, Victor witnesses a sort of soft coup that leaves the slaves in a precarious state of freedom as the Civil War looms. Throughout, Counihan writes with grace and confidence. His prose is governed by a tight economy of language that leaves few wasted words. However, his tight writing is not sparse, and it leaves room for him to indulge in both lush descriptions of land and architecture and flights of philosophical fancy. Further, his recreation of 19th-century Virginia feels historically accurate. The author’s extensive knowledge of the Civil War—Counihan has a Ph.D. in American history—serves as the tale’s foundation, never as mere ornament.

A seductively dark, wholly imaginative piece of historical fiction.

Pub Date: Jan. 20, 2011

ISBN: 978-1451579512

Page Count: 316

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 6, 2012

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Follett's fans will enjoy this jaunt through the days before England was merry.

THE EVENING AND THE MORNING

Murder, sex, and unholy ambition threaten to overwhelm the glimmers of light in Dark Ages England in this prequel to The Pillars of the Earth (1989).

A Viking raid in 997 C.E. kills Edgar’s one true love, Sungifu, and he vows never to love another—but come on, he’s only 18. The young man is a talented builder who has strong personal values. Weighing the consequences of helping a slave escape, he muses, “Perhaps there were principles more important than the rule of law.” Meanwhile, Lady Ragna is a beautiful French noblewoman who comes to Shiring, marries the local ealdorman, Wilwulf, and starts a family. Much of the action takes place in Dreng’s Ferry, a tiny hamlet with “half a dozen houses and a church.” Dreng is a venal, vicious ferryman who hurls his slave’s newborn child into a river and is only one of several characters whose death readers will eagerly root for. Bishop Wynstan lusts to become an archbishop and will crush anyone who stands in his way. He clashes with Ragna as she announces she is lord of the Vale of Outhen. “Wait!” he says to the people, “Are you going to be ruled by a mere woman?” (Wynstan’s fate is delicious.) Aldred is a kindly monk who harbors an unrequited love for Edgar, who in turn loves Ragna but knows it’s hopeless: Although widowed after Wilwulf’s sudden death, she remains above Edgar’s station. There are plenty of other colorful people in this richly told, complex story: slaves, rapists, fornicators, nobles, murderers, kind and decent people, and men of the cloth with “Whore’s Leprosy.” The plot at its core, though, is boy meets girl—OK, Edgar meets Ragna—and a whole lot of trouble stands in the way of their happiness. They are attractive and sympathetic protagonists, and more’s the pity they’re stuck in the 11th century. Readers may guess the ending well before Page 900—yes, it’s that long—but Follett is a powerful storyteller who will hold their attention anyway.

Follett's fans will enjoy this jaunt through the days before England was merry.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-595498-9

Page Count: 928

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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A hilarious jaunt into the wilderness of women’s friendship and the triumph of outrageous dreams.

MISS BENSON'S BEETLE

In 1914, when Margery Benson was 10 years old, her father showed her a book of magical creatures, none more fantastic than the golden beetle of New Caledonia. Thirty-six years later, jobless and alone, she’s determined to have the adventure of her life and find that beetle.

After stealing a co-worker’s new boots in a fit of despair, and consequently losing her job as a teacher of domestic science, Margery finds herself eager to get out of England before the police catch up to her. In addition to packing up her apartment and collecting an impressive array of bug-hunting equipment, she places an advertisement in the newspaper for a French-speaking assistant, an ad to which only four people apply. After a series of curious events, she finds herself aboard the RMS Orion with one Enid Pretty, a shockingly blond woman in a pink suit who never seems to stop talking, much to Margery's dismay. But once Margery succumbs to weeks of seasickness, Enid turns out to be the best friend Margery never knew she needed. Thus, two women too often discounted, one as an old maid and the other as a floozy, begin a very funny journey, indeed. But Margery and Enid are being followed by two shadows: Enid’s mysterious, possibly criminal past and Mr. Mundic, a man Margery rejected as her assistant. A survivor of the Second World War POW camps in Burma, Mr. Mundic is frequently waylaid on his mission to reunite with Margery by bouts of beriberi and violent, hallucinatory memories. Once in the northern wilds of New Caledonia, Margery, Enid, Mr. Mundic, and the golden beetle are set on a collision course teeming with screwball comedic scenes deftly choreographed by Joyce.

A hilarious jaunt into the wilderness of women’s friendship and the triumph of outrageous dreams.

Pub Date: today

ISBN: 978-0-593-23095-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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