A well-researched tribute and a memorable addition to World War II literature.

PURSUIT OF PARADISE

A debut novel about a young soldier’s World War II experiences in the South Pacific and his romance with a hometown girl.

Smith mines a rich trove of family history to tell the fictionalized story of his parents, Red and Judy Smith, who hailed from farming families in East Texas and fell in love as teenagers. The novel opens on a hot day in Hopkins County in August of 1940, when local, 19-year-old baseball player Horace Garlton “Red” Smith, a responsible eldest son in his family, first notices Juliette “Judy” Hamilton, a 12-year-old girl from a neighboring farm, cheering him on. Despite the age difference, Judy says to herself that “she would, by hook or crook, someday, somehow, win the heart of this Red-Headed Prince and be carried away to Paradise, to live, as they say, happily ever after.” The story follows their later wartime courtship and postwar marriage, closing with epilogues that capture each spouse’s final moments, reaffirming their bond. Judy remains a somewhat idealized character throughout, and this narrative choice makes the postwar section of the novel feel less compelling than earlier chapters. But the book succeeds in its detailed evocation of Red’s transformation from a young farm boy to a seasoned soldier fighting in ferocious jungle battles in the South Pacific, tried by combat and buoyed by the strong bonds of friendship with a small band of fellow soldiers. In a prelude, Smith effectively foreshadows Red’s experiences during the November 1944 battle in Leyte in the Philippines: “The night was dark as pitch. Howling winds carried horizontal sheets of blinding, cutting rain.” And although Red’s survival is never in doubt, the tension is high as each battle threatens his closest friends—Nobel Horner, Pete Petty, and Kenny Herrod—and the other members of the mortar unit. Crisp, believable dialogue and backstories bring these secondary characters into sharper focus.

A well-researched tribute and a memorable addition to World War II literature. (bibiliography, introduction, author’s note)

Pub Date: Nov. 28, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-72833-564-3

Page Count: 560

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Review Posted Online: April 8, 2020

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Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

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THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME

When a devoted husband and father disappears, his wife and daughter set out to find him.

Hannah Hall is deeply in love with her husband of one year, Owen Michaels. She’s also determined to win over his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey, who has made it very clear that she’s not thrilled with her new stepmother. Despite the drama, the family is mostly a happy one. They live in a lovely houseboat in Sausalito; Hannah is a woodturner whose handmade furniture brings in high-dollar clientele; and Owen works for The Shop, a successful tech firm. Their lives are shattered, however, when Hannah receives a note saying “Protect her” and can’t reach Owen by phone. Then there’s the bag full of cash Bailey finds in her school locker and the shocking news that The Shop’s CEO has been taken into custody. Hannah learns that the FBI has been investigating the firm for about a year regarding some hot new software they took to market before it was fully functional, falsifying their financial statements. Hannah refuses to believe her husband is involved in the fraud, and a U.S. marshal assigned to the case claims Owen isn’t a suspect. Hannah doesn’t know whom to trust, though, and she and Bailey resolve to root out the clues that might lead to Owen. They must also learn to trust one another. Hannah’s narrative alternates past and present, detailing her early days with Owen alongside her current hunt for him, and author Dave throws in a touch of danger and a few surprises. But what really drives the story is the evolving nature of Hannah and Bailey’s relationship, which is by turns poignant and frustrating but always realistic.

Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7134-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

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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: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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