A painstakingly researched war story with complex characterizations.



Schrader, the author of The Emperor Strikes Back (2019), re-creates a pivotal period in World War II in this updated version of her 2007 novel.

In 1940, 24-year-old Royal Air Force fighter pilot Robin Priestman is injured on a difficult mission over France and forced to take leave at home in England. At a local canteen, he meets Emily Pryce, a smart Cambridge University grad, and the two fall quietly in love, foiling Robin’s mother’s plans to marry him to an heiress. When his broken ankle heals, he becomes a flight instructor for the RAF, tasked with turning very young men into flying aces. It’s not easy, and Robin’s anxiety about leading these boys into war is palpable in his solitary moments. In Germany, Klaudia von Richthofen has just joined the German Air Force Female Auxiliaries, surrounded by Nazi pilots, whom she sees as romantic heroes. Parallel stories from the German and British camps emerge: British pilot George “Ginger” Bowles is homesick and self-conscious about his lower-class status; Lt. Ernst Geuke, an inexperienced German wingman, worries he’ll never measure up to the Aryan ideal; he pines for Klaudia, who initially doesn’t give him the time of day. In the background are fears of capture or death by bomb or plane. Scenes exploring the characters’ inner lives are compelling, especially on the German side; for example, to Klaudia, Nazism is just about following rules, fitting in, and living up to her famous surname (she’s related to the infamous “Red Baron”), but back in her home village of Silesia, “Everyone still said good morning rather than ‘Heil Hitler’.” Schrader also succeeds in accurately portraying the bombing raids and defense missions that made up the Battle of Britain military campaign. Despite uneven pacing and occasional typographical errors, the story holds up, building to a satisfying, cinematic finale in which a few characters’ fates collide. Readers may find some of the plentiful military jargon difficult to parse despite the glossary included. However, Schrader’s attention to detail is sure to win over veterans, pilots, and military history buffs.

A painstakingly researched war story with complex characterizations.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73531-394-8

Page Count: 594

Publisher: Cross Seas Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 17, 2020

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.


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.


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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