A finely shaded portrait of a first lady’s yearnings and travails.

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A LOVE LIKE NO OTHER

ABIGAIL & JOHN ADAMS, A MODERN LOVE STORY

Abigail Adams experiences abiding love but many challenges in her union with her husband, John, in this historical novel inspired by their letters.

The story begins with a flash-forward: Abigail is at the deathbed of her destitute, alcoholic adult son, Charles. The narrative then jumps to the late 1750s, introducing teenage Abigail Smith, more eager to read and discuss ideas than achieve perfect stitching, capturing the attention of an ambitious young lawyer named John Adams. The two marry in 1764, and Abigail is beset with child-rearing and managing the Massachusetts family farm while John drums up legal business and then becomes a key—and much traveling—figure in the American Revolution. They endure many separations, with John away for years in positions abroad, although Abigail eventually joins him in Paris and then London, bringing their daughter Nabby, who makes a terrible marriage choice. Abigail gains fame as John’s wife and forges a friendship with Thomas Jefferson but also suffers much heartbreak, including the toddler death of one daughter, the stillbirth of another, and the Smith curse of alcoholism that will claim Charles. Abigail also unsuccessfully argues for more rights for women in her political discussions with John. Still, Abigail realizes that John remains true to her (unlike her adulterous father) and important to the country. Following John’s tenure as U.S. president, the couple enjoy many years in retirement together in their Quincy, Massachusetts, home. While many readers (and TV viewers) may be familiar with the Adams saga, Robson (Woman in the Wheelhouse, 2016, etc.) offers an intriguing “herstory” perspective, given her focus on Abigail. The author makes Abigail’s tension while being stuck at home palpable, with her prime years spent in pregnancy and her famous plea to “remember the ladies” apparently ignored in her world, even by her loving husband. Abigail’s guilt over her parenting choices also strikes a sad and ever relevant chord. While some may wish for more color and details about John and other American Revolution figures, Robson offers a compelling, documentarylike snapshot of the real life of this legendary woman.

A finely shaded portrait of a first lady’s yearnings and travails.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4793-5803-8

Page Count: 382

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2017

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A daring concept not so daringly developed.

THE BOOK OF LONGINGS

In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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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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