RaveBooklistIn Hoffman’s simple but luminous prose, all characters, even the villains, are not only vividly, but also compassionately, rendered. Descriptions of magic combine with herbology and folk remedy. Hoffman adeptly highlights that how one uses a talent, selflessly or selfishly, has a sweeping impact on many lives, meaning that one should always choose courage, and that love is the only answer.
PositiveBooklistFollett’s choice of language and explication accommodate an audience unfamiliar with the period, painting a large canvas with broad Dark Ages strokes. Violence, rape, slavery, romance, power plays, and human striving all combine into Follett’s absorbing and lengthy saga of life in a chaotic and unstable England on the cusp of the Middle Ages.
PositiveBooklistSchwarz’s...psychoanalytical take showcases the human toll of lives lost to stupid ambitions ineptly pursued and Bonnie’s avoidable association with a liar who cares little for her or anyone else. There is no \'glory\' in a life on the run. Schwarz illuminates the boredom and shiftlessness of such an existence ... Schwarz’s portrayal rings true and is especially pitiable ... Schwarz reveals that \'love story\' as a lie and that Bonnie knows it is.
PositiveHistorical Novel Society... a vivid tale, rife with foreboding, of life in a divided colony ... a mishmash of rumination on love and motherhood combined with a suspenseful tale of partisan discontent and personal animosity leading to an inevitable, tragic conclusion. The novel is hampered by a few irrelevant interludes randomly added for social comment (e.g., the rape of a maidservant), and forced, inconsistent attempts at Puritan-speak. These caveats aside, the novel is a gripping read propelled by vibrant characterization, and an engrossing take on the Plymouth colony and America’s first murder.
PositiveBooklistWhile Healey stretches the plot to the snapping point, her gothic novel ticks the most important box: eerie atmosphere. Although some of the main players in the \'mammal collection\' aren’t actually mammals, namely the hummingbirds, Healey excels at creating disquiet through descriptions of crushed feathers, disintegrating fur, teeth shining in the half-light, and the living creatures that prey upon the taxidermied animals: mice gnawing, insects scrabbling in sawdust innards. Billed for fans of Kate Morton, Healey’s novel will offer a satisfying scratch for those with an itch for a gothic read.
Nino Haratischvili, Trans. by Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin
RaveBooklistThis novel has generated substantial industry buzz and international critical praise. Both are justified ... this is not a Russian epic, it is a Georgian epic, and this distinctively flavors the narrative ... Haratischvili has a compelling, clear-eyed perspective on her homeland. Though far from polemical, the novel should be required reading for those lacking the historical and ideological understanding of what socialism does to those forced to live under it. Stasia is perhaps the most vivid, but each of the multitude of unique characters is similarly vibrant and entirely real, their lives resonant. Don’t let the page count deter; The Eighth Life—the story of a family, a country, a century—is an imaginative, expansive, and important read.
Stefan Hertmans, Trans. by David McKay
PositiveBooklistReading award-winning Flemish author Hertmans’ literary latest is akin to engaging with a passionate conversationalist about his or her research into an engrossing topic ... Hertmans has a unique voice, and his personal connection fosters a singular depth and engagement of author with subject. The novel is a storyteller’s tapestry: Hertmans’ vivid modern travelogue traces what remains of the historical Vigdis, which he skillfully weaves into his fictional imaginings of Vigdis’ life. The horrors of anti-Semitism and the unintended consequences of the First Crusade are pitilessly portrayed, resulting in a story that is tragic and harrowing, yet beautifully told, with an ambience that is fully realized for both the eleventh century and our own.
RaveThe Historical Novel Society... this gripping, well-written novel is a wonder of characterization. It is also a disturbing glimpse into man’s search for meaning and some of the darker aspects of human nature, the ways in which human beings rationalize the things they do and the things that are done to them. Faith and science, uneducated villagers and London’s aristocratic elite, this novel plumbs the spectrum to offer an immersion in the world of the burgeoning Enlightenment. A fascinating, propulsive read from beginning to end, this is a stimulating novel of ideas and imagination.
PositiveBooklistIn expressive prose, Tillyard conjures the wetlands, the nature of the work, and colonial America, especially Nieuw Amsterdam and the plantations of Virginia. The atmosphere of the marshlands is at once otherworldly, menacing, and fascinating. Tillyard’s greatest accomplishment, however, lies in characterization, especially of Jan. The reader sees this historical world through his unique perspective, that of an engineer who finds beauty in order, yet is also moved by the creativity of nature and the ingenuity of individuals scorned by society. Tillyard’s beautifully written novel evokes both a historical world and a great feat of engineering.
PositiveBooklistChevalier’s appealing characterization of...unwed yet indomitable Louisa Pesel, world traveler and first president of the Embroiderers’ Guild of England, provides a marked contrast [to protagonist Violet] in contentment and purpose. Chevalier is strongest when describing artistic pursuits, from stitchery to ringing church bells, and that is where the novel both educates and engrosses.
MixedBooklistThe Last Hours (2018)...is a required read for understanding this novel’s character arcs. Lady Anne, possessing an admirable disposition and intellect, is an engaging character. She’s improbably forward-thinking for her time; however, likewise the educated Thurkell, who protects Develish’s inhabitants through proper hygiene, quarantine, and the destruction of plague-carrying vermin (both rats and fleas). Open espousal of socialism in a feudal society, Lady Anne’s enlightened (for its time, heretical) views on religion, and Thurkell’s class-equality goals for his fellow serfs are all decidedly modern, requiring a hearty dose of disbelief suspension. Walters’ slow-moving story culminates in a happy ending worthy of a historical romance.
RaveBooklistWWII fiction has glutted the market, but Hoffman’s unique brand of magical realism and the beautiful, tender yet devastating way she explores her subject make this a standout. Her settings, from Berlin to an isolated mountain village and a French convent, as well as every character are fully and vibrantly realized. Hoffman’s use of a folkloric aspect adds a distinctive and captivating perspective to an exceptionally voiced tale of deepest love and loss.
RaveBooklistThe atmosphere is convincing as Smith transports readers to fin de siècle New Jersey, the sick room of a tubercular widow, and Belgium in the throes of WWI. The depth and breadth of the characterization is truly impressive, the story line immersive, and the prose richly evocative as the novel ranges from tragic to nail-biting to hilarious. Smith’s tale is as luminous as celluloid projected on a silver screen hung from a dirigible floating over the Hudson (yes, this happens). Highly recommended.
PositiveBooklistBarenbaum’s debut focuses less on the science of Vanya’s quest in favor of Miri’s self-doubt about her surgical abilities and entanglements of the heart. The result is a romantic adventure with a neatly dovetailed ending that will appeal to fans of Kristin Hannah and Pam Jenoff.
Niklas Natt Och Dag
PositiveBooklistEngrossing and gross. The imagery is vividly conveyed and not for the faint of heart or stomach. Yet for those who like their mysteries dark, this is a standout. The characterization is excellent, as is the evocation of eighteenth-century Stockholm, an uncommon historical setting that provides a vibrant backdrop for this unusual mystery. Natt och Dag’s side-plots dovetail neatly, his pacing is skillful, and he explores with aplomb his novel’s main theme, Homo homini lupus est —Man is wolf to man.
PositiveBooklist\"Hall’s observers paint a picture of not just one man but of humanity ... Each narrator has a unique and convincing voice in this compelling novel centered on the man who saw himself as \'Death, the destroyer of worlds.\'
RaveBooklist\"Briseis is flawlessly drawn as Barker wisely avoids the pitfall so many authors stumble into headlong, namely, giving her an anachronistic modern feminist viewpoint. Instead, the terror of her experience of being treated as an object rather than a person speaks (shouts) for itself ... The army camp, the warrior mindset, the horrors of battle, the silence of the girls—Barker makes it all convincing and very powerful. Recommended on the highest order.\
Simone van der Vlugt, trans. by Jenny Watson
PositiveBooklistCatrin is appealing, her motivations realistic and relatable. Already a European best-seller, the novel proceeds at a brisk clip, and certain elements guarantee that those who loved Girl with a Pearl Earring (2000) will enjoy this, as will fans of well-written women’s and historical fiction.
Charles B Rosenberg
PositiveBooklistWashington [as in The Trial and Execution of Traitor George Washington an intriguing characterization, allowing Rosenberg to explore the importance of force of personality in leadership and victory. He also offers an interesting take on American-British relations ... The plotting showcases how “slow” things used to be (months for news of any battle), while at the same time giving a sense of immediacy to the American cause.
Kirsten Imani Kasai
RaveBooklist Online\"Kasai, a self-described \'biracial feminist author with Southern roots,\' focuses on identity and race, themes often subsumed by a plot that reads like a thrilling gothic horror story of vodou, sexual obsession, and insanity. The prose is replete with graphic descriptions of violence (primarily self-mutilation) and sex, offering disturbing imagery that is at once gripping and repulsive. This compelling and grim novel is a propulsive read, full of commentary on ethnic identity, mental illness, and power. Recommended for literary fiction collections, especially those focusing on diversity.\