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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

Did you like this book?

A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

THE SWALLOWED MAN

A retelling of Pinocchio from Geppetto's point of view.

The novel purports to be the memoirs of Geppetto, a carpenter from the town of Collodi, written in the belly of a vast fish that has swallowed him. Fortunately for Geppetto, the fish has also engulfed a ship, and its supplies—fresh water, candles, hardtack, captain’s logbook, ink—are what keep the Swallowed Man going. (Collodi is, of course, the name of the author of the original Pinocchio.) A misfit whose loneliness is equaled only by his drive to make art, Geppetto scours his surroundings for supplies, crafting sculptures out of pieces of the ship’s wood, softened hardtack, mussel shells, and his own hair, half hoping and half fearing to create a companion once again that will come to life. He befriends a crab that lives all too briefly in his beard, then mourns when “she” dies. Alone in the dark, he broods over his past, reflecting on his strained relationship with his father and his harsh treatment of his own “son”—Pinocchio, the wooden puppet that somehow came to life. In true Carey fashion, the author illustrates the novel with his own images of his protagonist’s art: sketches of Pinocchio, of woodworking tools, of the women Geppetto loved; photos of driftwood, of tintypes, of a sculpted self-portrait with seaweed hair. For all its humor, the novel is dark and claustrophobic, and its true subject is the responsibilities of creators. Remembering the first time he heard of the sea monster that was to swallow him, Geppetto wonders if the monster is somehow connected to Pinocchio: “The unnatural child had so thrown the world off-balance that it must be righted at any cost, and perhaps the only thing with the power to right it was a gigantic sea monster, born—I began to suppose this—just after I cracked the world by making a wooden person.” Later, contemplating his self-portrait bust, Geppetto asks, “Monster of the deep. Am I, then, the monster? Do I nightmare myself?”

A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18887-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

more