There is enough promise in this first outing to hope that, with a little less pondering and a little more pacing, Benn's...

RELATIVE FORTUNES

When Julia Kydd arrives in New York in 1924, she thinks her only struggle will be to fight her half brother’s control over the inheritance she’s shortly due. But before long, she’s involved in a mystery—and maybe even a murder.

Julia, who had been living in London and trying to make a go of her fledgling publishing company, is about to turn 25—the age when she is to inherit her share of a large fortune. On the boat back to New York, she reunites with Glennis, an old school friend who is rich, feisty, and more than a little flighty. Together, they explore Jazz Age Manhattan while Julia hopes her elder half brother, Philip, will not contest the will. However, when Glennis’ sister, a well-known suffragette, dies under strange circumstances, Philip makes Julia a proposition—solve the mystery and he won’t fight the will. As Julia probes into the secrets of Glennis’ wealthy, pompous, and proud family, she also learns a great deal about the issues facing women who brave society’s scorn for demanding equal rights. In this debut novel, Benn shows that she’s done her research into the mores and manners of the age—from art and fashion to the requirement that a man must sign for any loan a woman wants to take out. At times, though, these chunks of information slow down the plot instead of being seamlessly woven into it, and Benn spends perhaps a little too much time pondering the limited options available to women of the era. The ending, with its multiple surprises, helps a little and certainly sets up things for spunky Julia to appear again.

There is enough promise in this first outing to hope that, with a little less pondering and a little more pacing, Benn's next mystery will be livelier.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5420-0521-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

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THE PRINCE OF TIDES

A NOVEL

A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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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

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