Action, loyalty, bravery, and blood make for fine historical fiction, and it’s all here.

A MAN AT ARMS

A warrior and an unlikely cohort face the might of the Roman Empire in this vivid tale of tribulation.

In Anno Domini 55, a 14-year-old Jewish boy named David witnesses a group of brigands launch a failed ambush upon a wagon train. They are scant match against the mercenary Telamon of Arcadia, who bears a tattoo of his former Roman Tenth Legion. After rescuing the wagon train from the bandits, the fearsome warrior assists a mute and “feral girl-child” named Ruth and her caretaker, Michael. Star-struck, David declares himself Telamon’s apprentice. Meanwhile, the Romans are chasing Michael, whom they consider "the most dangerous man in Palestine." They fear that he's carrying a lengthy and seditious letter written by Paul the Apostle or that he knows where it is. Said letter is destined for delivery to the Christian underground in Corinth, Greece. Meanwhile, Marcus Severus Pertinax, the Roman commander in Jerusalem, knows Telamon well and directs him to find the messianic “Jewish subversive calling himself Paul the Apostle,” a man who “cannot be suborned, coerced or reasoned with.” And Severus urgently wants Paul’s letter. Although Telamon claims to believe in nothing but money, he travels across the desert with Michael, Ruth, and David, who don’t have two coins to rub together. And Michael and Ruth won’t say if the letter even exists. They endure unrelenting trouble: bloody skirmishes, parching thirst, terrible torments, threatened crucifixion, and a treacherous witch (is there any other kind?) who wants to rip Michael’s guts out to look for the missive. Throughout their arduous journey are hundreds of colorful details, such as the balloon trousers of the Sadducees and the underground city called The Anthill. The writing style feels at times like that of an old storyteller of the day: “David could not see the lead sling bullet, so swiftly did it fly.” Though the foursome do not share a common faith, they show each other unflagging fealty.

Action, loyalty, bravery, and blood make for fine historical fiction, and it’s all here.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-393-54097-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 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 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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