TROUBLE THE WATER

A vibrant, solidly entertaining story that will seize readers from the first page and not let go.

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In Friedland’s debut historical novel, a British family sends their daughter to South Carolina, where she becomes embroiled in the mid-19th-century politics of the Deep South.

Abby Milton arrives in Charleston in 1845, already haggard due to the South Carolina heat. Hailing from Wigan, England, she’s been sent away to ease the financial burden on her middle-class family. An old family friend, the highly esteemed and enigmatic estate owner Douglas Elling, receives her. The novel opens three years before this, with a tragic fire at Douglas’ home that kills his wife and daughter; he watches helplessly as his staff prevents him from rushing into the flames. By the time Abby arrives, Douglas is embittered and reclusive. Her early impression is that he’s also a bigot; he yells at her for making physical contact with a black stable hand. Then readers learn that he was once involved in liberating captives from slave ships and continues to shelter black refugees. As Abby and Douglas’ relationship develops, she learns more about his position in the town. She reluctantly attends the Cunningham ball, where she meets the striking, if manipulative, Cora Rae Cunningham, who has designs on Douglas. As politics and desire heat up, Abby and Douglas tread a precarious path, but will it bring them together or tear them apart? This is a promising debut from Friedland, who writes with an enviable emotional intuitiveness. Her prose bores to the center of her characters’ psychologies to reveal their drives and desires: “He knew the minute he laid hands on her, he couldn’t say why, that his new mission was to rescue her, not only from the immediate incident, but from whatever it was that had pushed her from her British home, ragged and defeated, to him....Maybe at last he could save just one person who was actually relevant to the story of his own life.” This results in engaging characters that readers will care about. Overall, this is a well-researched novel that vividly and believably reanimates the aristocratic world of South Carolina’s historical planter class.

A vibrant, solidly entertaining story that will seize readers from the first page and not let go.

Pub Date: May 8, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-943006-54-0

Page Count: 338

Publisher: Spark Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 30, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2018

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A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules...

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Sentenced to house arrest in Moscow's Metropol Hotel by a Bolshevik tribunal for writing a poem deemed to encourage revolt, Count Alexander Rostov nonetheless lives the fullest of lives, discovering the depths of his humanity.

Inside the elegant Metropol, located near the Kremlin and the Bolshoi, the Count slowly adjusts to circumstances as a "Former Person." He makes do with the attic room, to which he is banished after residing for years in a posh third-floor suite. A man of refined taste in wine, food, and literature, he strives to maintain a daily routine, exploring the nooks and crannies of the hotel, bonding with staff, accepting the advances of attractive women, and forming what proves to be a deeply meaningful relationship with a spirited young girl, Nina. "We are bound to find comfort from the notion that it takes generations for a way of life to fade," says the companionable narrator. For the Count, that way of life ultimately becomes less about aristocratic airs and privilege than generosity and devotion. Spread across four decades, this is in all ways a great novel, a nonstop pleasure brimming with charm, personal wisdom, and philosophic insight. Though Stalin and Khrushchev make their presences felt, Towles largely treats politics as a dark, distant shadow. The chill of the political events occurring outside the Metropol is certainly felt, but for the Count and his friends, the passage of time is "like the turn of a kaleidoscope." Not for nothing is Casablanca his favorite film. This is a book in which the cruelties of the age can't begin to erase the glories of real human connection and the memories it leaves behind.

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules of Civility (2011).

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-670-02619-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

THE UNSEEN

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Norwegian novelist Jacobsen folds a quietly powerful coming-of-age story into a rendition of daily life on one of Norway’s rural islands a hundred years ago in a novel that was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

Ingrid Barrøy, her father, Hans, mother, Maria, grandfather Martin, and slightly addled aunt Barbro are the owners and sole inhabitants of Barrøy Island, one of numerous small family-owned islands in an area of Norway barely touched by the outside world. The novel follows Ingrid from age 3 through a carefree early childhood of endless small chores, simple pleasures, and unquestioned familial love into her more ambivalent adolescence attending school off the island and becoming aware of the outside world, then finally into young womanhood when she must make difficult choices. Readers will share Ingrid’s adoration of her father, whose sense of responsibility conflicts with his romantic nature. He adores Maria, despite what he calls her “la-di-da” ways, and is devoted to Ingrid. Twice he finds work on the mainland for his sister, Barbro, but, afraid she’ll be unhappy, he brings her home both times. Rooted to the land where he farms and tied to the sea where he fishes, Hans struggles to maintain his family’s hardscrabble existence on an island where every repair is a struggle against the elements. But his efforts are Sisyphean. Life as a Barrøy on Barrøy remains precarious. Changes do occur in men’s and women’s roles, reflected in part by who gets a literal chair to sit on at meals, while world crises—a war, Sweden’s financial troubles—have unexpected impact. Yet the drama here occurs in small increments, season by season, following nature’s rhythm through deaths and births, moments of joy and deep sorrow. The translator’s decision to use roughly translated phrases in conversation—i.e., “Tha’s goen’ nohvar” for "You’re going nowhere")—slows the reading down at first but ends up drawing readers more deeply into the world of Barrøy and its prickly, intensely alive inhabitants.

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77196-319-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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