A gripping saga that reimagines a storied villain as a complex, sympathetic anti-hero.

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EADRIC THE GRASPER

SONS OF MERCIA VOL. 1

In this historical epic based on a real-life medieval rogue, a cunning young man rises through treachery—or is it statesmanship?—in an England beset by Viking invasions.

Teenage swineherd Eadric has no aim in life other than wooing scullery maids, but he has a quick wit that somehow lands him an audience with King Ethelred the Unready, and a silver tongue that thoughtlessly precipitates a massacre of troublesome Danish Viking immigrants. Eadric feels guilty, but in the year 1002 an overactive conscience doesn’t help you get ahead. Eadric does other small favors for Ethelred, such as assassinating an inconvenient nobleman who could be his uncle, and wins the sobriquet “Grasper” by using forged charters to steal land from monasteries. Soon he’s lord of all Mercia and married to the king’s ravishing daughter Aydith. Their love is strained by fresh Danish raiders, who make an almost yearly habit of slaughtering and pillaging their way through the English countryside. The ever pragmatic Eadric, who counts blood-soaked über-Viking Thorkel the Tall among his friends, favors buying off the Norsemen with Danegeld tribute—or even surrendering to the rampaging Danish prince Canute, whose ruthlessness Eadric hopes will bring stability and peace. Aydith, a spitfire patriot with a head for military strategy, seethes at her pusillanimous husband, who thinks she might be in league—or in love—with the masked English hero known as the Golden Cross. In the debut of her Sons of Mercia series, Woods tells a ripped-from-the-chronicles story—most of the characters and major events are factual—with an entertaining blend of period realism and Zorro-ish dazzle. She brings to life the violence and skullduggery of the age in exciting scenes of action and intrigue, while vividly rendering the mindsets and motives of this distant era. Her Eadric is a fascinating figure, an amoral yet sensitive man in a chaotic world, trying desperately, and not always successfully, to tame hot passions with cold calculation.

A gripping saga that reimagines a storied villain as a complex, sympathetic anti-hero.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2010

ISBN: 9781452862866

Page Count: 408

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2010

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

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A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW

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 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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A unique story about Appalachia and the healing power of the written word.

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THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK

One of Kentucky’s last living “Blue People” works as a traveling librarian in 1930s Appalachia.

Cussy Mary Carter is a 19-year-old from Troublesome Creek, Kentucky. She was born with a rare genetic condition, and her skin has always been tinged an allover deep blue. Cussy lives with her widowed father, a coal miner who relentlessly attempts to marry her off. Unfortunately, with blue skin and questionable genetics, Cussy is a tough sell. Cussy would rather keep her job as a pack-horse librarian than keep house for a husband anyway. As part of the new governmental program aimed at bringing reading material to isolated rural Kentuckians, Cussy rides a mule over treacherous terrain, delivering books and periodicals to people of limited means. Cussy’s patrons refer to her as “Bluet” or “Book Woman,” and she delights in bringing them books as well as messages, medicine, and advice. When a local pastor takes a nefarious interest in Cussy, claiming that God has sent him to rid society of her “blue demons,” efforts to defend herself leave Cussy at risk of arrest, or worse. The local doctor agrees to protect Cussy in exchange for her submission to medical testing. As Doc finds answers about Cussy’s condition, she begins to re-examine what it means to be a Blue and what life after a cure might look like. Although the novel gets off to a slow start, once Cussy begins traveling to the city for medical testing, the stakes get higher, as does the suspense of the story. Cussy's first-person narrative voice is engaging, laced with a thick Kentucky accent and colloquialisms of Depression-era Appalachia. Through the bigotry and discrimination Cussy suffers as a result of her skin color, the author artfully depicts the insidious behavior that can result when a society’s members feel threatened by things they don't understand. With a focus on the personal joy and broadened horizons that can result from access to reading material, this well-researched tale serves as a solid history lesson on 1930s Kentucky.

A unique story about Appalachia and the healing power of the written word.

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4926-7152-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Feb. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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