34 Booklist December 1, 2016 www.booklistreader.com
sentimentality at the end, this is a powerful
read. —Mary Ellen Quinn
The Flame Bearer.
By Bernard Cornwell.
Dec. 2016. 304p. Harper, $27.99 (9780062250780).
Cornwell’s latest entry in the rousing Saxon
Tales series, following Warriors of the Storm
(2016), will not disappoint devoted fans
who can’t read enough about the adventures
of Uhtred of Bebbanburg. This time around,
an older, wiser, and more reflective Uhtred
stands front and center. Battered but never
defeated, he is still determined to recapture
Bebbanburg, the ancestral home wrested away
by his uncle and now in the possession of his
cousin. The kingdom that would be England
is still partitioned, with various factions holding court in Wessex, East Anglia, and Mercia.
Uhtred, as always, is focused on Northumbria, but he must outwit and outfight Danes,
Norsemen, and Scots in order to reclaim his
birthright. Old friends, enemies, and family
members populate the pages, providing familiar touchstones as a well-seasoned Uhtred
battles his way ever closer to achieving his ultimate goal. —Margaret Flanagan
For the Most Beautiful: A Novel of the
Women of Troy.
By Emily Hauser.
Jan. 2017. 400p. Pegasus, $25.95 (9781681773018).
Hauser, a classics scholar, drew the inspiration
for her first novel from the Iliad, but instead
of focusing on familiar heroes, such as Hector
and Achilles, she fleshes out the stories of two
women who play minor roles in Homer’s epic.
Krisayis, daughter of the Trojan high priest,
hopes to wed Prince Troilus, though her father
has other ideas. And Briseis is newly married
to King Mynes of Lyrnassus. When the Greeks
invade, both Troilus and Mynes are killed, and
Krisayis and Briseis are taken captive. Krisayis
is turned over to Agamemnon to be his slave,
and Briseis becomes the concubine of Achilles.
Krisayis discovers the secret of Achilles’ heel
and determines to make this known to the Trojans. The gods are also busy, engaged in their
own squabbles and amusing themselves by interfering with mortal concerns. The language
tends to be overwrought, and it can be hard
to keep track of Briseis and Krisayis as they
take turns as narrators. But readers interested
in Greek legend and mythology will appreciate
Hauser’s take, a clever reimagining with scholarly underpinnings and the first volume in a
planned trilogy. —Mary Ellen Quinn
Home Sweet Home.
By April Smith.
Jan. 2017. 384p. Knopf, $26.95 (9781101874219).
Smith’s (A Star for Mrs. Blake, 2014) second
historical novel delves into the McCarthy era
and how one family is swept up in its fanati-
cism. Cal and Betsy Kusek leave their hectic
lives in New York City in 1950 to settle on a
ranch outside Rapid City, South Dakota, and
four years later they’re considered valued mem-
bers of their community. Cal is a partner in a
local law firm, and Betsy and their two chil-
dren, Jo and Lance, manage the ranch. Smith
alternates between this set-
ting and scenes in 1985 in
a Rapid City hospital when
Jo returns to visit Lance
and his son after they have
been brutally attacked. The
intervening years are filled
with Cal’s shift to politics,
election to three terms as a
state representative, and run for the U.S. Sen-
ate against a religious, fiercely anticommunist
zealot with his own radio show. When Betsy’s
brief stint, decades earlier, as a Communist
Party member comes to light, the election is
lost as voters in one of the most “virulently
anti-Red” states turn against the Kuseks. Smith
perceptively brings this dark period in U.S. his-
tory to light in her dramatic family saga based
on a true story. —Deborah Donovan
By Tim Pears.
Feb. 2017. 320p. Bloomsbury, $27 (9781632866936).
Quietly powerful and a masterpiece of
subtle metaphor, Pears’ latest novel, first in
a new series, takes readers back to 1911, just
before the Great War, a time when the land-
ed gentry both controlled
and cared for a multitude
of workers on huge estates
and when children only oc-
casionally moved outside
the strictures of tradition
and social caste. In Somer-
set, England, Leo Sercombe
pushes those limits. His
skill with horses and inquisitive fascination
with nature (and Miss Charlotte) make him
a curiosity, a boon, and a danger. After failing
as a scholar, he hopes to work in the mas-
ter’s stables, and after proving he can train a
colt, his future looks bright. While very little
action occurs in this leisurely tale of country-
side and farm, a sense of unease creeps into
the story as estate life darkens. The novel is
told in short vignettes that at first seem dis-
jointed, but the larger picture paints itself in
the reader’s mind, bit by bit, until the final
scene completes it. Gorgeous, evocative lan-
guage and characters who feel drawn from
the earth itself make this unforgettable gem
similar to Molly Gloss’ The Hearts of Horses
(2007) and to Wendell Berry’s homespun,
reflective Port William novels. —Jen Baker
Leopard at the Door.
By Jennifer McVeigh.
Jan. 2017. 400p. Putnam, $26 (9780399158254).
When her mother died, 12-year-old Ra-
chel was sent from Kenya to live with her
grandparents in England. Six years later, she
returns, eager to resume what she remembers
as an idyllic life on the remote farm her par-
ents settled. But things have changed. Her
father’s new love interest, Sara, has taken Ra-
chel’s mother’s place in the house. Relations
with the Kikuyu who live and work on the
farm have shifted. And there are disturbing
stories about Mau Mau attacks against Euro-
peans. As Rachel tries to come to terms with
her new “sense of unbelonging,” she crosses
paths again with two men from the past, one
a predatory district officer and the other a
young African who once served as her tu-
tor. With violence edging ever closer to the
farm, Rachel’s naïveté gives way to a grow-
ing awareness that nothing is as simple as she
once believed. Though the ending tips into
melodrama, McVeigh ( The Fever Tree, 2013)
does a good job of charting Rachel’s growth
amidst political and personal turmoil, set
against a backdrop of Kenya’s wild beauty.
—Mary Ellen Quinn
YA: Teens will likely appreciate Rachel’s
teenage perspective of both the tumultuous
political climate she finds herself in and
her concurrent coming-of-age. SH.
The Lonely Hearts Hotel.
By Heather O’Neill.
Feb. 2017. 400p. Riverhead, $27 (9780735213739).
Abandoned as infants to the nuns in a
Montreal orphanage in 1914, Rose and Pier-
rot pass dreary years of hunger and abuse
until their stage talent push-
es them into entertaining
wealthy orphanage patrons
(making money for the sis-
ters). Later, a rich man is
enchanted by Pierrot’s pia-
no performance and brings
him home as a companion,
while Rose is eventually en-
gaged as a (very bad) governess. Apart they
flounder, sinking into impoverishment and
depravity, but finally they reconnect and re-
new their dream of staging a show they call
“Snowflake Icicle Extravaganza.” Suddenly
the story plunges into a whirlwind of daz-
zling imagery, as visual and outré as Moulin
Rouge. O’Neill is a mistress of metaphor
and imagery (“her sobs were flung on the
deck”). This is brilliant tragicomedy, filled
with story, setting shifts, shady characters,
and nearly too many clever similes (“horses
hooves sounded like a room full of children
with hiccups”), all moiling around in a mel-
ancholy love story that brings to life the
bygone days of theatrical revues. It’s a little
weird and a lot of fun, evoking a sad smile,
like Margaret Drabble’s melancholy but wit-
ty The Sea Lady (2007) and Juliette Fay’s The
Tumbling Turner Sisters (2016), which offers
a lighter look at vaudeville-era showmanship
and its personalities. —Jen Baker
The Magdalen Girls.
By V. S. Alexander.
Jan. 2017. 304p. Kensington, paper, $15
Teagan Tiernan and Nora Craven were
unlikely friends, but the Sisters of the Holy
Redemption brought them together. Deep in
the heart of the Dublin convent, they traded
stolen whispers, comforted each other, and
shared memories they would never forget.