An intricate, if unevenly written, narrative that shows the many facets of a life of servitude.

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AEGEAN FIRE

From the Arion's Odyssey series , Vol. 2

Sten (Return to Lesbos, 2017, etc.) presents the second installment in a historical-fiction series about one man’s travels through ancient Greece.

The year is 433 BCE, and the hero of this series, a man from Lesbos named Arion, rows with other slaves aboard a Greek ship known as a trireme. It’s carrying sacks of grain to the busy wharf of Kantharos, where it will be unloaded and its owner (and Arion’s master), Artontes, will prepare it for battle. It turns out that the trireme is to be sent to aid in what will later be known as the Battle of Sybota. Arion takes part in and survives the naval conflict, but he has little reason to rejoice, as he’s then sent to work in the Laurion mines. Some call these mines “the tomb of the living,” and anyone who attempts to escape can expect a hot iron to the forehead. Meanwhile, a peace between Athens and Sparta is unraveling as both parties head toward what will become the Peloponnesian War. To make matters worse, a plague breaks out in Piraeus, then Athens. Even if Arion survives his years in the mines, he’s sure to have a difficult time wherever he winds up. Thus his adventure unfolds against a backdrop of conflict in the ancient world. It’s in the details of this world that the book is at its best. The narrative explores numerous elements that illuminate the action, such as shipbuilding materials (fir and pine) and breakfast food, including “porridge, dried figs, and bread with olive oil.” On the other hand, the motivations of some characters are less specific. At one point, for instance, Arion is said to feel “rage, anger, frustration, and sorrow”—a mixed bag of general emotions whose description does little to help the reader understand what Arion is actually going through. But even if the modern reader isn’t likely to fully understand what it means to be in the sandals of a slave, this book does succeed in portraying the complexity of his situation.

An intricate, if unevenly written, narrative that shows the many facets of a life of servitude.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 375

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2018

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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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