A compelling story about a man following his heart and his conscience, however much it costs him.

AMONG THE ASHES

In a debut novel that will appeal to fans of romance and history alike, McDonald elegantly captures the burden of being innocent, naïve and principled in a time of war.

Set at the start of World War I, this novel centers on Lt. Erich von Zandt, a young, aristocratic, German cavalry officer. He’s part of the Second Landsturm Battalion, which is occupying Louvain, in neutral Belgium, through which German military leaders hope to stage a quick, successful assault on France before Russia can get mobilized. Early on, McDonald skillfully taps into the century-old mystery of what caused the destruction of the historic city of Louvain over five days in 1914. In an event that the Germans claim to be the result of an attack by saboteurs, Louvain is soon aflame; chaos reigns, but from his hotel room, von Zandt witnesses a scene quite different from the official version, and he’s lucky to escape with his life from the tumult. He makes the mistake of telling his superiors what he witnessed. He makes a second mistake: falling in love with Genevieve Delacroix, a local woman whose jailing gives leverage over von Zandt to those plotting a cover-up. The young officer plays along for a time while hatching an ill-conceived plan to rescue Genevieve, but he’s up against greater schemers than he imagines. Von Zandt eventually gets to tell his truth to a German court of inquiry, though his voice struggles to be heard. Throughout, McDonald creates an intriguing cast of characters, even though most of them, beyond von Zandt and his friend Lt. Gimmel, aren’t quite as fully realized. McDonald, a Marine officer of 11 years, also seizes upon how horrifying war can be, although the novel’s conclusion proves to be less than satisfying.

A compelling story about a man following his heart and his conscience, however much it costs him.

Pub Date: Nov. 21, 2013

ISBN: 978-1490944081

Page Count: 288

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 10, 2014

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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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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

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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