Despite inconsistent pacing, the strong characters and realistic setting make this tale an enjoyable read.

FREY'S SAGA

A monk in training finds a new life and the possibility of love after being dragooned by Vikings in this historical novel.

Hill’s narrative opens with a nightmare scenario: During a raid by Vikings, a monk named Brother Tibbs is murdered, which causes the eponymous Frey to wake up screaming in a cold sweat. Unfortunately, Frey’s dream turns out to be prophetic and, in the aftermath, he is taken in the raid to serve as a thrall to the group’s leader, Trygve. But luck hasn’t totally abandoned Frey, as Trygve—a generally decent man—turns him over to Auger for training. One of Trygve’s men, Auger is a former thrall himself and a genuinely good soul. He shows Frey how to be part of Viking society and discovers that the newcomer has much to teach others. Now Frey has the chance to fully contribute to the village and deal with his burgeoning attraction to Trygve’s daughter—if he can overcome the machinations of some of the village residents. As the author points out in the preface, Vikings were more than just marauders, and the narrative skillfully builds the world of ninth-century Norse folk into a believable setting. Warriors are well represented, but so are merchants, farmers, craftsmen, and criminals. And while the dialogue sounds suspiciously modern at times—the use of such phrases as “off his rocker” are particularly anachronistic—the character voices are clear, and Hill gives them depth and vibrancy beyond the usual stereotypical portrayal. As a protagonist, Frey may conform to the Mary Sue trope of character fiction—seemingly good at everything, and possessing a phenomenal number of physical and intellectual gifts—but he’s also humble and grateful, which helps to ground the hero significantly. The plotting is not always up to the level of the cast; the pacing is choppy and, rather than building to a climax, the story simply stops. But given the richness of the backdrop and the players, readers will find these flaws easily forgivable.

Despite inconsistent pacing, the strong characters and realistic setting make this tale an enjoyable read.

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4771-4465-7

Page Count: 204

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: April 6, 2020

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

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THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

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

ISBN: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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