Daring Daughter of the Covenant: A Historical Novel Based upon the Life and Times of Beatrice Nasi Mendes "Dona Gracia," 1510–1569
Emilie M. Barnett. Windjammer Adventure, $24.95 trade paper (402p) ISBN 978-0-615-33790-6
Beatrice Nasi Mendes, a 16th-century Jewish leader, receives a deservedly epic treatment in Barnett's solid historical novel. While not a household name today, even within the Jewish community, Mendes's accomplishments are impressive. At 17, she was living in Lisbon when she discovered her late parents were Jews who had concealed their faith to protect their family. That shock led Mendes to Judaism, propelling her to a leadership position among Jews in many countries, using diplomacy, her intellect, and family financial resources to rescue her co-religionists from the Inquisition. The author somehow manages to make too-good-to-be-true Mendes human and fallible. And while Barnett's prose isn't particularly sophisticated, the overall effect of the heroine's trials and tribulations is impressive. Many readers will be inspired to seek out Cecil Roth's biography of Mendes.
The Wayward Spy
Roger Croft. www.rogercroft.com,$14.95 trade paper (398p) ISBN 978-1-4505-9020-4
Croft's leisurely approach to storytelling is antithetical to advancing the plot in this spy thriller; by the time anything really starts to happen, many readers will have already lost interest. In 1992, veteran journalist Michael Vaux returns to his native England, hoping to use his generous retirement package to fund the purchase of a house across the street from his childhood home. Unknown to Vaux, he is drawn into a bidding war for the house by British intelligence, which hopes to use his desire for the property to enlist him on a covert assignment. Vaux's value to MI6 stems from his past relationship with Ahmed Kadri, a fellow student at university. Kadri now has a high-level position with the Syrian government, responsible for purchasing weapons. With President Bush's efforts to achieve a comprehensive Middle East peace accord stepping up, the British expect that Vaux's connection with Kadri will enable them to learn the truth about Syria's military intentions. Croft deserves credit for building his story line on an unusual foundation, but his pacing and lackluster beginning are a drawback.
Dean M. DeLuke. Grey Swan (www.shedrow1.com), $28.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-9800377-6-0
In DeLuke's lackluster debut, successful Manhattan surgeon Anthony Gianni teams up with a new business partner, gangster Chester Pawlak. Their promising race horse, Chiefly Endeavor, dies under mysterious circumstances, and Gianni realizes he's in over his head. With the young colt dead and a multimillion-dollar insurance policy on the line, everyone from Gianni to veterinarian Steven Highet becomes a suspect. But when the Mafia comes calling, Highet and Gianni must move quickly to protect their families and uncover the truth about Chiefly Endeavor's death. DeLuke takes readers from rural Kentucky through ritzy Manhattan to the poorest hospitals of St. Lucia, demonstrating significant knowledge of surgery and horse racing along the way. However, his characters are often stereotypical and easily recognized—the brutal gangster, the materialistic wife, the menacing hillbilly. While DeLuke's prose is solid and quickly paced, a lack of narrative depth precludes readers from engaging with the story and will most likely leave them feeling vaguely dissatisfied.
The Silver Box
Nikki Elst. Vantage, $22.95 (198p) ISBN 978-0-533-16274-1
This second novel from Elst (The Mouse Oracle), about the life of Minnie Baume, is an oddity that will likely fail to resonate with readers. As an infant in Turkey in 1887, Baume is purchased by an affluent family in Zanzibar. Eleven years later, she returns to Constantinople and meets her birth-mother, who gives her a silver box that may have magical healing powers. Many readers won't make it this far, discouraged by the turgid prose and lengthy one-sentence paragraphs: "Showing great pride in themselves, which may be described as deriving from the pride of being Masai, the warriors leaned on their spears and stared at the white woman as if she were a bat that had just emerged from a cave or hollow log, ready to engage in blind attacks on them." Elst tosses in encounters with angels, descriptions of male genitalia considered exciting by Baume, and a litany of wild animals to which her heroine becomes attached. The result is a bizarre mishmash.
Dark Town Redemption: A Novel of Suspense
Gary Hardwick. HardBooks (www.garyhardwick.com), $12.95 trade paper (260p) ISBN 978-0-9724804-1-3
This latest novel from Hardwick (The Executioner's Game) is a fairly heavy-handed, stereotypical take on race relations in the late 1960s. After combat in Vietnam, African-American Robert Jackson returns home to Detroit in 1967 to discover racial unrest. His family reunion sours when he realizes his younger brother, Marcus, has joined a radical group fighting for civil rights. Meanwhile, rookie cop Thomas Riley is pounding his beat, maintaining family traditions, and trying to come to terms with the police department's rampant racism and brutality. Riley's and Jackson's paths inevitably collide when Marcus is murdered under circumstances that suggest the fatal shot was fired by the police and without justification. Jackson instantly turns radical himself and sets out to find the truth about his brother's death. The plot lacks the ragged edges that would be more consistent with an honest portrayal of the turmoil of the times, and a cloying epilogue does much to vitiate any realism previously attained.
David and Goliath
Bryan Hathaway. WinePress (www.winepressbooks.com), $17.95 trade paper (280p) ISBN 978-1-60615-015-3
Hathaway inaugurates the Guardian Angel Chronicles series with the tale of David Liberty, an old man in a nursing home who cannot speak but whose mind is lively. An angel, Joelle, appears to him in the guise of a physical therapist, offering him a new chance at life if he can successfully complete a series of trials that make him his brother's keeper. David is sent into three different settings, unable to speak but able to act, in an attempt to save lives and souls. This is a classic plot, almost allegorical (David's last name is one obvious device), and reminiscent of The Shack. The novel has imaginative promise but is flawed in execution: characterization is spotty, with some minor characters a bit too far beyond suspension-of-disbelief boundaries, though David is generally engaging and well-developed as he undergoes his trials. Sometimes the author's need to be spiritually edifying produces clunkers ("Sue and John were no longer in a healthy union"), though the dialogue is more surefooted. This will appeal to Christian fiction fans who like spiritual warfare stories.
1919: A Kansas Tale
Dorothy Dierks Hourihan. Vantage, $11.95 (95p) ISBN 978-0-533-16311-3
A family endures and flourishes in Hourihan's poignant, if all too brief, fictional portrait of Flat Rock Kansas, circa 1919. When teenager Nan Heath is out with boyfriend Ned Cane, her entire family (mother Bess, father and Mormon preacher Tom, and little sister Katie) dies in a house fire. Maiden aunt Ella Quinn refuses to take Nan in, but pays for the funerals and eventually establishes a closer bond with her orphaned niece. Ella also pays for Nan's wedding dress when she marries faithful Ned. The young couple embark on a life together, replete with challenges and rewards, and eventually Ella surprises them with the revelation of a family secret and a bequest. Hourihan tells Nan's story with insightful period observations and flashbacks about Nan's grandparents and Ned's parents. Like a sepia-toned photograph of a long-lost family member, Hourihan's sweet testament to family is a treasure.
Georgia Lowe. Lucky Dime (www.luckydimepress.com), $18.95 (398p) ISBN 978-0-615-37145-0
Lowe's debut is a well-done historical epic that captures an undeservedly obscure episode from the Great Depression. In 1932, veterans from across the country converged on Washington, D.C., to demand payment of bonuses earned during WWI. Despite rampant unemployment and hunger, President Herbert Hoover vows to veto any legislation to move up the payment date—the bonuses aren't due for more than a decade—leaving the suffering veterans little recourse but to rally public support for their cause by marching on the Capitol. The vicissitudes of their efforts are nicely illumined through a diverse cast of characters, including L.A. reporter Will Hardy—whose coverage of actor Royal Robertson, who issued one of the calls to march leads him to follow the story across the country—and Col. Pelham Glassford, who uses his position as D.C. police superintendent to both maintain public order and treat the marchers humanely. The author makes good use of her material, some of which is derived from stories from her parents, themselves Bonus Marchers.
The Beads of Lapis Lazuli
Doris Kenney Marcotte. Outskirts Press (outskirtspress.com), $12.95 trade paper (266p) ISBN 978-1-4327-6054-0
A housewife with an active interest in Minoan civilization travels to Greece, where she discovers clandestine societies, a treasure trove, and a secret beyond her wildest dreams in this somewhat predictable adventure novel. After acquiring some beads of lapis lazuli in Crete, Kathryn Marshall's connection to the culture intensifies—particularly her relationship to the legendary story of Theseus and Ariadne. But when she decides to return to Greece, her husband, used to steering the marriage, resists. Undeterred, Kathryn goes without him, in the company of psychic treasure hunter Jake Deupree—a man with whom she shares a mysterious connection. Marcotte clearly possesses significant knowledge of Minoan civilization and demonstrates a fluent understanding of the ancient culture. However, her command of characterization is a bit weaker; most of the characters—and plot points—are drawn from other sources and the book offers little conflict or tension. Still, Marcotte's writing is clear and the imagery strong. Readers interested in Minoan and Greek history may be willing to overlook the shortcomings for the significant historical data.
The Serial Lover: An Annie March Novel
Amanda Matetsky. www.amandamatetsky.com/annie.html,$14.98 trade paper (312p) ISBN 978-1-4392-6887-2
In this sequel to her first romantic mystery featuring Long Island freelance writer Annie March, Matetsky (The Perfect Body) offers a light story that will appeal to readers with a penchant for plucky amateur heroines who heedlessly plunge into dangerous situations. When March is honored by the mayor of Rockville Center for her role in tracking down a killer, the resulting publicity reunites her with Georgina Lake, an old friend now soap opera star, who invites March to an engagement party. At the party, Lake's fiancé, Grant Woods, hits on March. But before March can warn her friend about Woods, he turns up dead. Rejecting the advice of her boyfriend, Nassau County detective Eddie Lincoln, March works to exonerate Lake, who's been arrested for the crime. Almost everyone will spot the truth about the killing long before March does, but Matetsky tosses in a few sex scenes to satisfy readers for whom the whodunit plot is secondary.
A New Birth of Freedom: The Visitor
Robert G. Pielke. Altered Dimensions (www.cyberwizardproductions.com), $14.95 trade paper (226p) ISBN 978-1-936021-23-9
Pielke draws in the reader with an intriguing opening section—in which a mysterious figure seeks out Abraham Lincoln in 1849 with a very unusual request—before this historical sci-fi novel goes off the rails. Edwin Blair encounters the future president on a train and pays him $100 to agree to meet with him again in 14 years. In need of cash, Lincoln agrees, and in 1863, while in the White House dealing with the Civil War, Lincoln grants Blair an audience at a turning point in the conflict. Blair reveals himself as a visitor from the distant future, 2163, who needs the help of both the Union and Confederacy to save Earth from alien invaders known as the Pests. While the story will continue in at least one additional volume, Blair's indifference to how his intervention in a seminal event in U.S. history would change the future evidences a failure of imagination that will disappoint sci-fi fans. Civil War buffs will find better fictional depictions of the major figures elsewhere.
Day of Revenge
Deanna Proach. Inkwater (www.inkwaterbooks.com), $21.95 trade paper (308p) ISBN 978-1-59299-502-8
The French Revolution provides a vivid backdrop for Proach's passionate, fast-paced anti-"Vive le Republique!" historical romance debut. More than four years have passed since the 1789 Bastille riots, and the summer of 1793 finds a counter-revolutionary plot brewing against the bloodthirsty Citoyen Robespierre and his red caps. Young Lyon nobleman Emmanuel d' LeVasque and his family, along with other deposed aristocrats like Samuel La Font, fear Robespierre's next move after Jacobin Capt. Citoyen Henri Varennesh arrests their friend Pierre La Metz for possessing a counter-revolutionary letter. Varennes becomes disenchanted with Robespierre and eventually joins the counter-revolutionaries. After Metz is guillotined, a prison rescue of young Dauphin Louis is launched. Proach makes a valid point about Robespierre's fanaticism, and she also includes feverish romance: Emmanuel's brother Emil pursues a relationship with orphaned vineyard worker Elle, while Emmanuel is tempted by La Font's cousin Lisabetta. Featuring a well-developed cast of characters, this is a sympathetic portrait of imperiled French aristocracy.
Roads of Bread: The Collected Poems of Eugene Ruggles
Eugene Ruggles. Petaluma River (petalumariverpress.com), $22 trade paper (234p) ISBN 978-0-9819725-2-7
This moving collection of poems includes work from the late Ruggles's various collections (The Lifeguard in the Snow; Spending the Sun; Enough) as well as a handful of unpublished and stirring love poems. Ruggles's oeuvre is shaped by his deeply felt, evolving experience, with poems ranging from the explosive "Eros" of the late 1960s to the more recent "Inscription for the Door," in which he acknowledges no enemies, only "some friends who are late." Ruggles was a poet of the people, and his early work set in the Michigan farmland of his youth reflects a deep pathos. In "An Old Man on the Bum Sitting in an All-Night Detroit Diner," he writes, "He lets the counter drift higher/ around his shoulders,/ and then raises with care/ completely with both hands/ the white warm cup/ like a breast and drinks." Impressions meld into epiphanies concerning war, the masses ("Who will speak/ for the simple and dumb/ with their voices/ in shoes and gloves/ all their lives/ hanging onto their homes"), and small, lovely moments between men and women. Ruggles possesses a compelling social vision and workingman's sensibility.