Curses and Smoke by Vicky Alvear Schecter introduces us to Lucia, the daughter of the owner of a gladiatorial school in Pompeii, and her childhood friend, Tag, a slave who tends to the wounds of injured gladiators. Lucia is unwillingly betrothed to an older man who will invest in her father’s school, and Tag hopes to become a gladiator and buy his freedom. Mount Etna however has other plans for them. The historical setting is compelling and the story suspenseful. I’d especially recommend it for young readers not familiar with the tragedy of Pompeii.
Mrs. Hemingway (Naomi Wood, Penguin): Insightful fictional look at Ernest Hemingway’s four wives. There’s a lot to admire in the women but I still don’t get Hemingway’s appeal.
The Bear (Claire Cameron, Little, Brown): Two children must find their way out of the wilderness after their parents are eaten (really!) by a bear. I can’t say I enjoyed it—so violent and tragic—but I can’t forget it either. Not for children or the faint of heart.
Under the Wide and Starry Sky (Nancy Horan, Ballantine): Fanny Osborne meets and marries Robert Louis Stevenson. The novel follows the couple as they travel the world, Louis writing and Fanny nursing him. I found it engaging.
The Invention of Wings (Sue Monk Kidd, Viking): 19th century abolitionist Sarah Grimke struggles against her upbringing, her family, and other abolitionists as she insists also on rights for women. It’s a lovely, moving book and I enjoyed it wholeheartedly.
I lucked out—all four were excellent and worth reading. Watch for them. Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for advance reading copies.