An often powerful Western tale that may touch readers’ hearts.

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Sorbello depicts one woman’s inspiring journey to love in this historical novella.

Set amid the heroism and hardship of the Old West, this work immerses readers in the life of Rebecca Adams, a young Pennsylvania woman who has dreams of living as a cowboy’s wife. Leaving behind the security of her old life, she travels to Texas in 1859, where she meets and marries the rugged John Coulter, a seemingly romantic man who initially appears to be the man of her dreams. However, the world in which he lives is rough, and so is he; he experienced a violent childhood himself, and he abuses Rebecca and their children. The darkness of John’s past ultimately overtakes him, and after a tragedy occurs,Rebecca finds solace in the company of a local minister. Throughout, she’s determined to take no moment with her family for granted; along the way, she finds strength in her faith, embraces her blessings, loves with her whole heart, and has a hopeful, courageous spirit. Sorbello’s novella is beautifully descriptive (“I remember the warmth of the sunlight on my face as I walked from the house on my proud father’s arm to stand among our parents and friends”) and full of emotion throughout. Fans of historical romance will find an immersive 19th-century landscape in this tightly written novella as well as a timeless message of resilience. The narrative gets started in earnest where many other works of romantic fiction end—with a woman’s marriage to a handsome cowboy—and serves to remind readers that they can define their own happy endings. Throughout, Sorbello’s protagonist finds strength amid adversity and not only demands to be loved on her own terms, but also succeeds. Christian readers, in particular, may be inspired by this tale.

An often powerful Western tale that may touch readers’ hearts.

Pub Date: Nov. 8, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-73770-260-3

Page Count: 116

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Sept. 20, 2022



The writing is inspired, the imaginative power near mystic, but some will wish for more plot.

This historical fever dream of a novel follows the flight of a servant girl through the Colonial American wilderness, red in tooth and claw.

As in her last novel, Matrix (2021), Groff’s imaginative journey into a distant time and place is powered by a thrumming engine of language and rhythm. “She had chosen to flee, and in so choosing, she had left behind her everything she had, her roof, her home, her country, her language, the only family she had ever known, the child Bess, who had been born into her care when she was herself a small child of four years or so, her innocence, her understanding of who she was, her dreams of who she might one day be if only she could survive this starving time." Those onrushing sentences will follow the girl, “sixteen or seventeen or perhaps eighteen years of age,” through the wilderness surrounding the desperate colony, driven by famine and plague into barbarism, through the territory of “the powhatan and pamunkey” to what she hopes will be “the settlements of frenchmen, canada,” a place she once saw pointed out on a map. The focus is on the terrors of survival, the exigencies of starvation, the challenges of locomotion, the miseries of a body wounded, infected, and pushed beyond its limit. What plot there is centers on learning the reason for her flight and how it will end, but the book must be read primarily for its sentences and the light it shines on the place of humans in the order of the world. Whether she is eating baby birds and stealing the fluff from the mother’s nest to line her boots, having a little tea party with her meager trove of possessions, temporarily living inside a tree trunk that comes with a pantry full of grubs (spiders prove less tasty), or finally coming to rest in a way neither she nor we can foresee, immersion in the girl’s experience provides a virtual vacation from civilization that readers may find deeply satisfying.

The writing is inspired, the imaginative power near mystic, but some will wish for more plot.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023

ISBN: 9780593418390

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: June 8, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2023


Intelligent and thoughtful but not quite at this groundbreaking writer’s usual level of excellence.

An obscure English novelist and a missing-heir trial are the real historical springboards for Smith’s latest fiction.

Eliza Touchet is cousin and housekeeper to William Ainsworth, whose novel Jack Sheppard once outsold Oliver Twist but who, by 1868, has been far eclipsed by his erstwhile friend Dickens. Widower William is about to marry his maid Sarah Wells, who has borne him a child. Characteristically, he leaves the arrangements to Eliza, who manages everything about his life except the novels he keeps cranking out, which his shrewd cousin knows are dreadful. The new Mrs. Ainsworth is obsessed with the man claiming to be Sir Roger Tichborne, heir to a family fortune who was reported drowned in a shipwreck. The Claimant, as he is called, is likely a butcher from Wapping, but Sarah is one of many working-class Britons who passionately defend him as a man of the people being done wrong by the toffs. Eliza gets drawn into the trial by her fascination with Andrew Bogle, formerly enslaved by the Tichbornes in Jamaica, who recognizes the Claimant as Sir Roger. A Roman Catholic in Protestant Britain and William’s former lover who's been supplanted by a younger woman, Eliza feels a connection to Bogle as a fellow outsider. (Some pointed scenes, however, make it clear that this sense of kinship is one-sided and that well-intentioned Eliza can be as patronizing as any other white Briton.) Smith alternates the progress of the trial with Eliza’s memories of the past, which include tart assessments of William’s circle of literary pals, who eventually make clear their disdain for his work, and intriguing allusions to her affair with William’s first wife and to her S&M sex with William. (Eliza wielded the whips.) It’s skillfully done, but the minutely detailed trial scenes provide more information than most readers will want, and a lengthy middle section recounting Bogle’s African ancestry and enslaved life, though gripping, further blurs the narrative’s focus. Historical fiction doesn’t seem to bring out Smith’s strongest gifts; this rather pallid narrative lacks the zest of her previous novels’ depictions of contemporary life.

Intelligent and thoughtful but not quite at this groundbreaking writer’s usual level of excellence.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2023

ISBN: 9780525558965

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 8, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2023

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