Reminiscent of one of those wonderful 19th-century doorstop novels.

LUMBERVILLE SEVEN

A story of coming-of-age, of nurturing and of the fact that it does indeed take a village to raise a child. Or to raise seven of them, for that matter.

Novelist Rosa (Reflections on a Stone, 2011, etc.) takes Lumberville, Penn., on the Delaware River, and peoples it with very memorable characters in the early 20th century. Angelo Giusto, though only 9, is the oldest of the seven orphaned Giustos who have been scattered from Brooklyn to orphanages far and wide. He plans to find all his siblings and make the family whole again. At the outset, he becomes the protector of a little African-American orphan boy, James Houston, who is picked on mercilessly. Fearless Angelo becomes James’ hero. Hearing that two of the Giusto brothers have been sent to Kansas, Angelo and James resolve to get there somehow and bring them back. But they get only as far as Lumberville, the village that welcomes and nurtures them. The main characters are Angelo and Penny Brown, a woman who has lost her only child and whose callow husband has run off. Penny, like Angelo, is tough, resourceful, and relentlessly optimistic. Civil War veteran and amputee Zeke Thompson comes out of a previous Rosa novel (Zeke Thompson, American Hero, 2011) to oversee the boys’ upbringing and is ably assisted by the ingenious and perceptive Frank Martin, a man with a mysterious past. Lumberville is an idyllic place, and the reader is reminded of Tom Sawyer’s Missouri village, or Mayberry, RFD. But there are real toads in this garden, and the good guys—just as protective of the children as Angelo is of James—find and root them out. Rosa is a gifted storyteller who makes hardly a misstep. And at 500 pages, she does not stint. An afterword tells us just who in Rosa’s real life inspired these characters. And for those who like a Dickensian sweep, the novel ends with a grand retrospective of what the Giusto kids, all grown up, have made of their lives as the midcentury nears.

Reminiscent of one of those wonderful 19th-century doorstop novels.

Pub Date: June 21, 2012

ISBN: 978-1453845790

Page Count: 518

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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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: N/A

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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Follett's fans will enjoy this jaunt through the days before England was merry.

THE EVENING AND THE MORNING

Murder, sex, and unholy ambition threaten to overwhelm the glimmers of light in Dark Ages England in this prequel to The Pillars of the Earth (1989).

A Viking raid in 997 C.E. kills Edgar’s one true love, Sungifu, and he vows never to love another—but come on, he’s only 18. The young man is a talented builder who has strong personal values. Weighing the consequences of helping a slave escape, he muses, “Perhaps there were principles more important than the rule of law.” Meanwhile, Lady Ragna is a beautiful French noblewoman who comes to Shiring, marries the local ealdorman, Wilwulf, and starts a family. Much of the action takes place in Dreng’s Ferry, a tiny hamlet with “half a dozen houses and a church.” Dreng is a venal, vicious ferryman who hurls his slave’s newborn child into a river and is only one of several characters whose death readers will eagerly root for. Bishop Wynstan lusts to become an archbishop and will crush anyone who stands in his way. He clashes with Ragna as she announces she is lord of the Vale of Outhen. “Wait!” he says to the people, “Are you going to be ruled by a mere woman?” (Wynstan’s fate is delicious.) Aldred is a kindly monk who harbors an unrequited love for Edgar, who in turn loves Ragna but knows it’s hopeless: Although widowed after Wilwulf’s sudden death, she remains above Edgar’s station. There are plenty of other colorful people in this richly told, complex story: slaves, rapists, fornicators, nobles, murderers, kind and decent people, and men of the cloth with “Whore’s Leprosy.” The plot at its core, though, is boy meets girl—OK, Edgar meets Ragna—and a whole lot of trouble stands in the way of their happiness. They are attractive and sympathetic protagonists, and more’s the pity they’re stuck in the 11th century. Readers may guess the ending well before Page 900—yes, it’s that long—but Follett is a powerful storyteller who will hold their attention anyway.

Follett's fans will enjoy this jaunt through the days before England was merry.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-595498-9

Page Count: 928

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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