An absorbing, well-researched saga.

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THE WALLS OF LUCCA

Reflecting on World War I and the rise of fascism, this debut novel set in Italy envisions spirituality as a way of rising above the vicissitudes of history.

Emmy Award–winning sportscaster Physioc cites as his inspirations A Course in Miracles and a trip to the walled city of Lucca in 2005. His hero is Isabella Roselli, a convent-raised orphan who loves vegetable gardening and sells her produce at nearby markets. The summer of 1914 sees brothers Benny and Franco Carollo arguing about joining the war effort. Franco leaves Puglia for Rome to work in a munitions factory and witnesses a speech by Benito Mussolini, who at that time was a socialist wanting to stay out of the European fight. Although Franco is of the same mind, he still ends up by his brother’s side at the Isonzo Front after Italy declares war in 1915. Vivid scenes set in the trenches alternate with glimpses of Isabella’s life as a helper to Susanna Martellino, the wife of a local winemaker. When Franco returns from war, he starts working for Susanna’s husband, Giovanni, and swiftly becomes the vineyard manager, saving the vines from flooding with his quick thinking. He and Isabella marry in 1920 and start a family, but the rise of fascism—as embodied in Alfredo Obizzi, Susanna’s villainous lover—threatens the vineyard’s success and their future happiness. Lively dialogue and an authentic atmosphere keep the rapid sequence of historical events from becoming too overwhelming. Luckily, Physioc never grows heavy-handed in his presentation of the rift between fascism and socialism, and the metaphor of the city walls is convincingly applied to both ideological and class barriers. The story feels meaningful for our time of suspicion and division: “It was a time in Italy during which an accusation held almost as much power as the truth.” Isabella’s dogma-free spirituality—she values only love and forgiveness and believes in the divine spark in every person—is appealing and adds an extra dimension beyond the historical. A sequel (in progress) will pick up the story eight years later, in 1938.

An absorbing, well-researched saga.

Pub Date: Jan. 27, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-983749-52-0

Page Count: 508

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2018

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Another success for the publishing phenom.

UNDER CURRENTS

An abused boy fights back, escapes, then returns as an attorney to his beloved hometown, but just as he’s falling in love with a transplanted landscaper, a series of attacks from shadowy enemies jeopardizes their happiness.

“From the outside, the house in Lakeview Terrace looked perfect.” Which of course means that it wasn't. We're introduced to the horrifying Dr. Graham Bigelow, who beats his wife and, increasingly as the boy gets older, his son, Zane. On the night of Zane’s prom, a particularly savage attack puts him and his sister in the hospital, and his father blames Zane, landing him in jail. Then his sister stands up for him, enlisting the aid of their aunt, and everything changes, mainly due to Zane’s secret diaries. Nearly 20 years later, Zane leaves a successful career as a lawyer to return to Lakeview, where his aunt and sister live with their families, deciding to hang a shingle as a small-town lawyer. Then he meets Darby McCray, the landscaper who’s recently relocated and taken the town by storm, starting with the transformation of his family’s rental bungalows. The two are instantly intrigued by each other, but they move slowly into a relationship neither is looking for. Darby has a violent past of her own, so she is more than willing to take on the risk of antagonizing a boorish local family when she and Zane help an abused wife. Suddenly Zane and Darby face one attack after another, and even as they grow ever closer under the pressure, the dangers become more insidious. Roberts’ latest title feels a little long and the story is slightly cumbersome, but her greatest strength is in making the reader feel connected to her characters, so “unnecessary details” can also charm and engage.

Another success for the publishing phenom.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-20709-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2019

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This thriller about the pursuit of a serial killer suffers from an unpleasant hero and a glacial pace.

OUTFOX

An FBI agent is determined to catch a man who bilks and murders wealthy women, but the chase goes slowly.

Brown (Tailspin, 2018, etc.) has published 70 bestsellers, and this one employs her usual template of thriller spiked with romance. Its main character, Drex Easton, is an FBI agent in pursuit of a serial killer, but for him it’s personal. When he was a boy, his mother left him and his father for another man, Weston Graham. Drex believes Graham murdered her and that he has killed at least seven more women after emptying their bank accounts. Now he thinks he has the clever Graham—current alias Jasper Ford—in his sights, and he’s willing to put his career at risk to catch him. The women Ford targets are wealthy, and his new prey is no exception—except that, uncharacteristically, he has married her. Talia Ford proves to be a complication for Drex, who instantly falls in lust with her even though he’s not at all sure she isn’t her husband's accomplice. Posing as a would-be novelist, Drex moves into an apartment next door to the Fords’ posh home and tries to ingratiate himself, but tensions rise immediately—Jasper is suspicious, and Talia has mixed feelings about Drex's flirtatious behavior. When Talia’s fun-loving friend Elaine Conner turns up dead after a cruise on her yacht and Jasper disappears, Drex and Talia become allies. There are a few action sequences and fewer sex scenes, but the novel’s pace bogs down repeatedly in long, mundane conversations. Drex's two FBI agent sidekicks are more interesting characters than he is; Drex himself is such a caricature of a macho man, so heedless of ethics, and so aggressive toward women that it’s tough to see him as a good guy. Brown adds a couple of implausible twists at the very end that make him seem almost as untrustworthy as Graham.

This thriller about the pursuit of a serial killer suffers from an unpleasant hero and a glacial pace.

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4555-7219-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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