An enjoyable, inventive Trojan War tale with an intriguing final twist and a serious message.

HELEN'S ORPHANS

A novel offers a revisionist version of the Trojan War alternatingly narrated by Helen and a teenager in the Sparta orphanage that the beautiful woman supports.

Almost all of the characters, conveniently identified upfront, in Fritsch’s novel can be found in Homer’s The Iliad, but this is not an adventurous war tale extolling the glory of great warriors. And whereas in the traditional story the jealousies and pettiness of the Greek gods and goddesses played key roles in fomenting the war between the Greek kingdoms and the walled city of Troy, they are virtually absent in this narrative. It is human avarice, blood lust, arrogance—and love— that propel Fritsch’s anti-war story. Timon, a 17-year-old orphan, introduces himself to readers and begins the narration. It is 18 years after Helen (“the face that launched a thousand ships”), on what was to be the day of her marriage to King Menelaus, sailed away from Sparta with the Trojan Prince Paris, precipitating the 10-year sacking of Troy. Most of the children in the Sparta orphanage lost their parents in that war. Only Timon is of totally unknown parentage. As a young child, he bonded with Lukas, another orphan his age: The two were “always side by side like a pair of young oxen.” Now, they are lovers and musical soul mates, committed to spending their lives together. Singers and eventually composers, they write ballads mourning the tragic aftermath of an unnecessary war. Their love story offers the most joyous, tender, and poignant sections of the tale. Fritsch quickly sets up the back-and-forth narrative pattern for the imaginative novel, immediately leaping 18 years into the past and handing narration over to Helen. She has just arrived in Troy with Paris and asserts that she does not want to be returned to Greece. Helen is convinced that the Greek kings would never be so foolhardy as to start a war over her. Readers witness the battles through the eyes of this young woman who has allegiances to both sides but is determined to help the Trojans defend their city. Late in the tale, the author offers readers a surprise. Proficient, modern prose and dialogue, enhanced by lifestyle details, make an ancient epic especially accessible.

An enjoyable, inventive Trojan War tale with an intriguing final twist and a serious message.

Pub Date: Dec. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-9978829-9-5

Page Count: 161

Publisher: Asymmetric Worlds

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2021

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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 whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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