Waiting for the Queen: A Novel of Early America by Joanna Higgins; Milkweed Editions, 256 pages ($16.95). Ages 8 to 12.
This fascinating novel is based on a little-known footnote of American history: French aristocrats, fleeing the terrors of the French revolution, found asylum in the wilderness of northeastern Pennsylvania, on about 1,600 acres of land in a bend of the Susquehanna River in a settlement that would be known as French Azilum. Higgins tells her story through the voices of two girls, in alternating chapters: 15-year-old Eugenie de La Roque, among the first arrivals at the rude settlement with its handful of cabins, and Hannah Kimbrell, a young Quaker who has left her home with her father and brother to work for the wealthy French exiles in hopes of earning enough money to buy their own farm. Higgins crafts a fascinating tale of culture clash, of French nobility demanding the Americans show them obeisance by bowing and curtseying and who have nothing but complaints about the physical discomforts, and the simple Quaker folk who abhor slavery and will not bow to anyone, even though it results in the deduction of money from their wages. Higgins does a fine job painting a vivid setting and historical backdrop (the French exiles do not yet know the queen they are waiting for has already gone to the guillotine). And while some of the drama seems a bit exaggerated, she creates memorable voices of the two girls and an appealing coming-of-age tale. The Azilum site is now a national park.
– Jean Westmoore
Downfall by Jeff Abbott; Grand Central, 464 pages ($27)
Jeff Abbott continues his winning streak with “Downfall,” his third thriller starring ex-CIA spy Sam Capra.
Abbott is a master at bringing readers who haven’t read the first two books up to speed.
The extremely likable Sam had a tough time in the first two books, what with learning his wife was a wicked double agent, and then having their infant son kidnapped by the bad guys. The evil bride now rests in a coma in an undisclosed location and doesn’t come into play in “Downfall,” and their child is safe in New Orleans with a nanny.
In “Downfall,” Sam, who’s been helped along the way by an international, fringe CIA-like group that operates way off the books, has settled into doing simply what they’ve asked him to do: serve as owner-shepherd of a bevy of bars worldwide that are also safe houses for various covert operations. But while doing a routine check on the San Francisco bar, Sam’s world gets blasted apart when a young woman stumbles in, pursued by evildoers, looks into Sam’s eyes and utters “Help me.” She flees into the night, and one of the nasty dudes ends up dead at Sam’s hands. Investigation leads him to that guy’s brother, who also succumbs to a fight with Sam. Sam decides the only way to spare himself incarceration and-or death is to find the woman.
The thriller’s intensity is leavened by Sam’s sense of humor, even when he’s being hunted, tortured or betrayed.
– Joy Tipping, Dallas Morning News