The Drowning King.
By Emily Holleman.
Apr. 2017. 432p. Little, Brown, $26 (9780316383035).
Cleopatra’s father, the Piper, is dying. But
not quickly enough. Giving fate a shove,
Cleopatra is free to rule, but only within a
union to her teenage brother Ptolemy XIII.
Instead, Cleopatra and her sister and close
confidant, Arsinoe, soon face off in battle
against their brother, until Julius Caesar arrives on the scene. Caesar quickly succumbs
to Cleopatra’s persuasion, and the two become lovers, uniting Egypt and Rome with a
child on the way. However, the two underestimate Arsinoe, and her own desire for power
is soon ignited by the growing distance between the sisters and their disagreements over
Rome’s power over Egypt. Soon Arsinoe ral-lies the troops to free Alexandria from Rome’s
influence and begins her own battle for the
kingdom. Interspersed with tense battles and
smoldering sensuality, Holleman’s follow-up
to Cleopatra’s Shadows (2015) continues the
story of the historically embattled Egyptian
royal family and its overlap with the life of
Julius Caesar. —Stacy Shaw
House of Names.
By Colm Tóibín.
May 2017. 288p. Scribner, $26 (9781501140211); e-book
“Now it is your duty as the son of Agamemnon to revenge his murder,” the late Greek
king’s son is admonished in Tóibín’s latest
brilliant exploration of times past, following
The Master (2010), his fictional homage to the great
American storyteller Henry
James, and The Testament of
Mary (2013), a provocative
portrayal of the mother of
Jesus. Tóibín’s accomplishment here is to render myth
plausible while at the same
time preserving its high drama. The novel
is told alternately from the points of view
of Clytemnestra, Agamemnon’s widow (and
his murderer, a fact that is not kept from
the reader); Agamemnon’s son, Orestes,
who is given the aforementioned advice to
revenge his father; and Electra, the younger
and more practical daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. The older daughter,
Iphigenia, was sacrificed to the gods by
her father in order to be granted favorable
winds to take him to victory over Trojan
forces, an act that inaugurates the internecine struggle Tóibín revisits in this gripping
saga. The selfish side of human nature is a
hoary, always fresh theme for fiction, made
tangible and graphic in Tóibín’s lush prose.
HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: With a
critically acclaimed film version of his novel
Brooklyn (2009) in circulation, Tóibín remains
a big draw, and robust publicity will ensure
notice of his latest.
The Shadow Sister.
By Lucinda Riley.
Apr. 2017. 512p. Atria, $26 (9781476759944).
The D’Apliese sisters were adopted as infants from far-flung corners of the world, too
young to remember anything of their individual histories. After the D’Apliese patriarch
passes away, each sister receives a handwritten
letter and a set of coordinates that indicate
where each baby was adopted. The third book
in Lucinda Riley’s Seven Sisters series dives
into the history of Star D’Apliese, the most
bookish and secretive of the sisters. Star grew
up in the shadow of her outgoing and gregarious sister CeCe, but her father’s letter inspires
her to start forging her own path. After landing a job at a dusty London bookshop, she
befriends the proprietor, Orlando Forbes.
Recognizing a fellow lover of literature, Orlando introduces Star to the diaries of Flora
MacNichol, a shy woman suddenly thrust
into the spotlight of Edwardian high society.
Riley jumps between the lives of Star and
Flora, weaving the narratives together as both
women learn how full their lives feel when
they begin to let others into their orbit. Set in
the bucolic English countryside, this will appeal to fans of Kristin Hannah, Kate Morton,
and Riley’s earlier novels. —Stephanie Turza
Signs for Lost Children.
By Sarah Moss.
Apr. 2017. 424p. Europa, paper, $19 (9781609453794).
Moss’ historical novel is a lush, descriptive
story of a marriage tested by separation and the
limitations of Victorian society. Ally Moberly
has recently become a doctor and married Tom
Cavendish, who appreciates her brain and independence. Shortly after their wedding, Tom
departs on a work assignment to Japan, leaving
Ally just as she begins working at an asylum in
Cornwall. Ally faces discrimination as a female
doctor, which is exacerbated by her questioning the institutionalization of women under
the umbrella of hysteria. Additionally, she is
haunted by her own time spent in an asylum
receiving painful treatments. Tom, though he
faces difficulties in Japan, starts to fall in love
with the country and its customs. Chapters
alternate between Ally and Tom’s stories as
they grow apart emotionally, she retreating
into her mind and he into his environment.
Moss’ writing reflects the times, with beautiful,
dense language and a leisurely pace. Pair it with
Wendy Wallace’s The Painted Bridge (2012) for
a rich portrait of women and mental illness in
the Victorian Age. —Kathy Sexton
The Women in the Castle.
By Jessica Shattuck.
Apr. 2017. 368p. Morrow, $26.99 (9780062563668).
The last party at the ancient von Lingen-
fels castle is the occasion of a meeting of a
group that is committed to resisting the Na-
zis. Among them is Marianne von Lingenfels’
husband. Another resister is her childhood
sweetheart, who extracts from her a promise
to look after Benita, his pregnant wife-to-be.
When the resisters are executed in 1944 for
their part in the plot to assassinate Hitler,
Marianne rescues Benita and her son from
dire conditions in Berlin and takes them to
the castle to live with her and her own three
children. Later, they are joined by Ania, who
has been identified as anoth-
er resister’s widow and has
fled with her two sons as the
Russians advance in the east.
The narrative unfolds in a
fluid way, with most of the
action taking place in 1945,
when the women struggle
through the harrowing last
days of the war, and 1950, when they adjust
to new, postwar realities. The reader is fully
immersed in the experiences of these women,
the choices they make, and the burdens they
carry. Shattuck (Perfect Life, 2009) has crafted
a rich, potent, fluently written tale of endurance and survival. —Mary Ellen Quinn
By Her Touch.
By Adriana Anders.
Apr. 2017. 416p. Sourcebooks/Casablanca, paper, $7.99
Anders continues her Blank Canvas series,
following Under Her Skin (2017). Clay Na-varro is hiding in a small town in Virginia
until he has to testify against the Sultans, a
vicious motorcycle gang in Baltimore, where
he has been an undercover ATF agent for
months. He was almost killed there, and he
has serious PTSD as well as tattoos, mementos of all the violence he saw and had to be
part of to maintain his cover. When he goes to
Dr. Georgette Hadley for tattoo removal, he
finds himself drawn to her and to her soothing
touch. She, in turn, understands intuitively
that the seeming hardened yet damaged man
seeking her help is good, and they slowly fall
for each other until the Sultans arrive, seeking revenge. Anders has created wonderful
variations on the beauty and the beast theme
and the damsel-in-distress trope, a greatly tormented hero, and a powerful mix of menace
and romance. —Mary K. Chelton
Castle of Water.
By Dane Huckelbridge.
Apr. 2017. 288p. St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne, $25.99
In a romantic and semirealistic take on the
desert island tale, first-time novelist Huckelbridge, whose earlier works have been
nonfiction ( The United States of Beer, 2016)
throws an American aspiring painter and an
attractive, young French architect together
on a tiny island in the South Pacific. After
the small plane carrying former financier
Barry and newlywed Sophie crashes, killing
both the pilot and Sophie’s new husband, the
two wash up on a deserted island hundreds
of miles from anywhere, where they spend
years eating bananas, catching fish, building
a boat, and falling in love. Huckelbridge’s
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