An appealing look at life in mid-1800s Canada, full of historical detail, engaging characters, and a murder investigation...

WISHFUL SEEING

In 1851, a Canadian minister with a penchant for solving mysteries is suddenly involved in one that will change his life.

Thaddeus Lewis, a saddlebag preacher, has just landed a plum circuit whose perks include a large manse in the growing town of Cobourg, the services of an assistant, James Small, and the pleasure of the company of his 15-year-old granddaughter, Martha Renwell, who acts as his housekeeper. The construction of the Cobourg to Peterborough Railway has the area bubbling with hopes of prosperity, raising the value of land and providing employment for the surrounding farms and small towns. At a camp meeting, Lewis meets many of his new flock as well as some who have come along to be entertained. There he makes the acquaintance of George Howell and his wife, Ellen, whose blue dress reminds Lewis of his late wife. Howell is not well-liked, and when Ellen is arrested for murder after her husband vanishes, Lewis feels he must help her. To that end, he finds a young lawyer willing to work for free to enhance his career. Martha finds Mr. Townsend Ashby—clever, handsome, and well-off—attractive and fascinating, much more appealing than James Small, an unwelcome suitor who’s been pestering her with his attentions. Lewis, who’s already been instrumental in solving several murders (The Burying Ground, 2015, etc.), pitches in with Martha to collect local gossip and other clues in an attempt to find the real killer. George, whom Lewis suspects as a counterfeiter, remains stubbornly missing, and his young daughter, who’s hiding on their farm, disappears whenever people come to look for her. It will take a climactic trial to bring the case to a close.

An appealing look at life in mid-1800s Canada, full of historical detail, engaging characters, and a murder investigation that takes many surprising twists and turns before it can be solved.

Pub Date: Aug. 23, 2016

ISBN: 9781459735378

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Dundurn

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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

THE UNSEEN

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. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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An elegant, pithy performance by a first-time novelist who couldn’t seem more familiar with his characters or territory.

RULES OF CIVILITY

Manhattan in the late 1930s is the setting for this saga of a bright, attractive and ambitious young woman whose relationships with her insecure roommate and the privileged Adonis they meet in a jazz club are never the same after an auto accident.

Towles' buzzed-about first novel is an affectionate return to the post–Jazz Age years, and the literary style that grew out of it (though seasoned with expletives). Brooklyn girl Katey Kontent and her boardinghouse mate, Midwestern beauty Eve Ross, are expert flirts who become an instant, inseparable threesome with mysterious young banker Tinker Grey. With him, they hit all the hot nightspots and consume much alcohol. After a milk truck mauls his roadster with the women in it, permanently scarring Eve, the guilt-ridden Tinker devotes himself to her, though he and she both know he has stronger feelings for Katey. Strong-willed Katey works her way up the career ladder, from secretarial job on Wall Street to publisher’s assistant at Condé Nast, forging friendships with society types and not allowing social niceties to stand in her way. Eve and Tinker grow apart, and then Kate, belatedly seeing Tinker for what he is, sadly gives up on him. Named after George Washington's book of moral and social codes, this novel documents with breezy intelligence and impeccable reserve the machinations of wealth and power at an historical moment that in some ways seems not so different from the current one. Tinker, echoing Gatsby, is permanently adrift. The novel is a bit light on plot, relying perhaps too much on description. But the characters are beautifully drawn, the dialogue is sharp and Towles avoids the period nostalgia and sentimentality to which a lesser writer might succumb.

An elegant, pithy performance by a first-time novelist who couldn’t seem more familiar with his characters or territory.

Pub Date: July 25, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-670-02269-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2011

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