A muddled story that mixes trenchant themes with melodramatic plotting.




Van Sickle’s debut YA novel traces how a young man of privilege makes his way from prep-school to the front lines of World War II.

In 1942, Charles “Charlie” Trammel is the son of a wealthy, East Coast U.S senator and attends a school named after his own family, firmly aware of his silver-spoon position and feeling somewhat lost. The novel alternates between scenes of Charlie and other soldiers in 1944, about to disembark in Normandy on D-Day, and his previous development at home and school. He grows up in a chilly, mirthless mansion with his patrician grandfather and grandmother, alongside his own mother and father. His mother, Mary, is a strong-willed, kindhearted Brooklynite of Irish descent, who gets in a fair amount of disagreements with her blue-blooded in-laws. Charlie attempts to balance the two sides of his family heritage by spending as much time as possible with his mother’s family, who are considerably less well-off, giving him an up-close view of how the other half lives. He begins school at prestigious Trammel Academy without fear of being drafted into the military and with assurance that his name will probably get him into any Ivy League school he desires. Most of his growth as a person takes place at the academy, as he learns much under fiery classics teacher Mrs. Verardi and finds a foil in sneering fellow student Jackson Inverness. Van Sickle smartly centers discussions of privilege, class, honor, and race within the plot. Even so, these discussions often feel clunky and inorganic to Charlie’s first-person narrative voice. The author often falls into the trap of telling instead of showing, rendering the prose didactic and not letting readers draw their own conclusions. Copy editing errors (“And continued to walk passed us like he was Christ on water”) and multiple continuity issues involving dates somewhat mar the reading experience. Mrs. Verardi centers the best scenes of the novel with lively dialogue and a compelling back story. Van Sickle broadly sketches other characters, though, as either purely good or purely malevolent, making the plot largely predictable. That said, the author does have a couple unexpected twists up her sleeve.

A muddled story that mixes trenchant themes with melodramatic plotting. 

Pub Date: Dec. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5197-9777-3

Page Count: 166

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2016

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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


Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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


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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