The Book of Longings
By Sue Monk Kidd. (Penguin Random House, 418 pages, $28.)
Sue Monk Kidd’s latest novel has a provocative premise, set in biblical times when people are rebelling against Roman tyranny and believe that a man named Jesus is the foretold Messiah. He’s also the husband of Ana, the protagonist of this engaging narrative. Yet in many ways, Jesus barely figures in this story. Ana is the vehicle through which we experience the ancient caste system of class, male supremacy and the eternal power of seeking revenge. Ana comes from a wealthy family in Galilee, but she also is a secret writer, a scribe inspired by the tales of women who have suffered bravely. She longs to be a voice for others. After she refuses an arranged marriage, a local carpenter says he will marry her and she begins a rustic new life in Nazareth. There, her husband grows distracted by larger forces in his soul. But, again, this is an aside to the compelling relationships Ana forges with a beloved aunt, a tortured friend, a castoff cousin, a sympathetic slave. We know where this story is heading all along, but never suspect the unexpected routes. Kidd’s author’s note at the end is crucial reading, as she offers a defense of sorts — although never sounding defensive — as to how she came to this idea. Her research is meticulous; someone really did record the lives of otherwise forgotten women. Ultimately, though, she marvels at how little we know about the life of Jesus. Was there an Ana? Could have been. Maybe not. Not really the point. Read and ponder. Read and enjoy. Read and reject, if you must. But “The Book of Longing” makes you think, and isn’t that often a leap of faith?
By Yrsa Sigurdardóttir. (Minotaur Books, 368 pages, $28.99.)
The title does the job of marketing “The Absolution” as part of a thriller series whose previous entries are “The Reckoning” and “The Legacy,” but it doesn’t have much to do with the book, so good luck figuring out who’s absolved. One of CrimeRead’s most anticipated mysteries of the year is a bit of a disappointment from Sigurdardóttir, whose supernatural horror novels, such as “I Remember You,” tend to be better than her procedurals. This one’s about child psychologist Freyja and snappish cop Huldar, on the trail of a killer who targets bullies and who sends Snapchat photos of the crimes to all the victims’ friends and family members. Sigurdardóttir is adept at pace and at creating an atmosphere of clipped, Icelandic dread (names such as Boldur, Haukur and Mordur help) but too many coincidences and undifferentiated suspects make for an unsatisfying resolution.