A compelling and historically sound tale that follows a Union spy.

Confederates in Canada

A Civil War–era thriller that revolves around espionage and romance.

Despite Canada’s professed neutrality during the Civil War, Confederate spies used it as a safe refuge from which to conduct their operations. Raiford Young, a Union soldier, is tasked with going undercover to gather intelligence about their plans and movements. In New York, his hotel is set ablaze by Lt. John William Headley, a Confederate agent, and Raiford rushes to save a family trapped by the encircling fire. He manages to rescue the two young children, Beatrice and Frederick Cutter, but their father dies. A young woman, Anathea Brannaman, helps Raiford, and the two of them decide to transport the children into the care of their grandparents, who live in Guelph, Ontario. Raiford quickly realizes that traveling with a family provides a perfect cover for his covert mission. Once in Canada, he must contend with foiling dangerous plots meant to compel President Abraham Lincoln into peace talks and concessions. This is the author’s fifth novel, all of them set during the Civil War. Stoddard Schofield (Savannah Bound, 2014, etc.), a trained librarian and archivist, artfully combines events and people both real and imagined in this volume. Her research is remarkably thorough and painstaking. In addition, the plot propels itself like a cannon shot, maintaining a fleet pace from start to finish. Nevertheless, the highlight of the work is the sensitive and nuanced characterization; both Raiford and Anathea contend with past heartache and struggle to resolve their internal conflicts in order to accept their attraction to each other. Raiford’s wife died just three months after they were wed, and Anathea, who grew up an orphan, flees from a cold, abusive husband who dominated her life. Sometimes, the dialogue can be a touch leaden and overly earnest. Raiford wonders aloud to himself, “Heavenly Father, you know how I grieved when she died. You don’t want me to endure that again, do you?” And the historical summaries that the author provides, breaking from the narrator’s voice, are more intrusive than edifying. Despite these minor missteps, the book is an entertaining, and sometimes affecting, fusion of fiction and history.

A compelling and historically sound tale that follows a Union spy.

Pub Date: Feb. 25, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5049-8023-4

Page Count: 296

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Review Posted Online: April 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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A compulsively readable account of a little-known yet extraordinary historical figure—Lawhon’s best book to date.

CODE NAME HÉLÈNE

A historical novel explores the intersection of love and war in the life of Australian-born World War II heroine Nancy Grace Augusta Wake.

Lawhon’s (I Was Anastasia, 2018, etc.) carefully researched, lively historical novels tend to be founded on a strategic chronological gambit, whether it’s the suspenseful countdown to the landing of the Hindenberg or the tale of a Romanov princess told backward and forward at once. In her fourth novel, she splits the story of the amazing Nancy Wake, woman of many aliases, into two interwoven strands, both told in first-person present. One begins on Feb. 29th, 1944, when Wake, code-named Hélène by the British Special Operations Executive, parachutes into Vichy-controlled France to aid the troops of the Resistance, working with comrades “Hubert” and “Denden”—two of many vividly drawn supporting characters. “I wake just before dawn with a full bladder and the uncomfortable realization that I am surrounded on all sides by two hundred sex-starved Frenchmen,” she says. The second strand starts eight years earlier in Paris, where Wake is launching a career as a freelance journalist, covering early stories of the Nazi rise and learning to drink with the hardcore journos, her purse-pooch Picon in her lap. Though she claims the dog “will be the great love of [her] life,” she is about to meet the hunky Marseille-based industrialist Henri Fiocca, whose dashing courtship involves French 75 cocktails, unexpected appearances, and a drawn-out seduction. As always when going into battle, even the ones with guns and grenades, Nancy says “I wear my favorite armor…red lipstick.” Both strands offer plenty of fireworks and heroism as they converge to explain all. The author begs forgiveness in an informative afterword for all the drinking and swearing. Hey! No apologies necessary!

A compulsively readable account of a little-known yet extraordinary historical figure—Lawhon’s best book to date.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-54468-9

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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