Expansive, complex, and utterly engrossing.

DELAYED RAYS OF A STAR

Lee Koe’s (Ministry of Moral Panic, 2013) decade- and continent-spanning novel follows the intersecting lives and careers of three 20th-century film greats.

At the Berlin Press Ball 1928, three young women meet: Anna May Wong, an up-and-coming Chinese-American actress in Hollywood; Marlene Dietrich, a loudmouthed German trying to break into the business; and Leni Riefenstahl, a striving director just embarking on a career making Nazi propaganda films. From there the narration branches out, in alternating, braided sections, to trace the arcs of their lives. An octogenarian Marlene, bedridden in a Paris apartment, receives flirtatious phone calls from a mysterious young man who recites Rilke to her every Sunday, and she’s cared for by a Chinese maid named Bébé, who has fled her rural village in Taishan and a prostitution ring in Marseilles. Anna May wrestles with her romantic feelings for Marlene after a brief post–Press Ball tryst as they co-star in Shanghai Express, and she battles against regular takedowns in the Chinese press, her laundry-owning parents’ disapproval of her career, and Hollywood’s—and the world’s—limited roles and expectations for a Chinese-American woman. “And where are you from? Los Angeles, Anna May said. Before that? Anna May shook her head, repeated herself: Los Angeles. But where were you born? Los Angeles, she said.” Leni Riefenstahl shoots her film Tiefland in the Bavarian Alps, using Roma and Sinti extras from a concentration camp while navigating her relationships with Hitler and Goebbels, and eventually faces public vitriol and rape threats for those Nazi ties. For a novel so dense with historical fact and larger-than-life celebrity cameos (everyone from John F. Kennedy to Walter Benjamin to David Bowie), its portrayals are nuanced enough that each character comes off as deeply human regardless of their fame or importance to the novel’s plot. “In retrospective appraisal, [Marlene] divided her affairs not by gender or duration, but those for whom she’d cooked pot-au-feu and those she had not.…Marlene would not have guessed that she had one more pot-au-feu left in her, and for an anonymous caller no less.” It’s the steady accumulation of intimate details like these that creates a sweeping sense of history that feels truly alive.

Expansive, complex, and utterly engrossing.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54434-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2019

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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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Relentlessly suspenseful and unexpectedly timely: just the thing for Dick Cheney’s bedside reading wherever he’s keeping...

WITHOUT FAIL

From the Jack Reacher series , Vol. 6

When the newly elected Vice President’s life is threatened, the Secret Service runs to nomadic soldier-of-fortune Jack Reacher (Echo Burning, 2001, etc.) in this razor-sharp update of The Day of the Jackal and In the Line of Fire that’s begging to be filmed.

Why Reacher? Because M.E. Froelich, head of the VP’s protection team, was once a colleague and lover of his late brother Joe, who’d impressed her with tales of Jack’s derring-do as an Army MP. Now Froelich and her Brooks Brothers–tailored boss Stuyvesant have been receiving a series of anonymous messages threatening the life of North Dakota Senator/Vice President–elect Brook Armstrong. Since the threats may be coming from within the Secret Service’s own ranks—if they aren’t, it’s hard to see how they’ve been getting delivered—they can’t afford an internal investigation. Hence the call to Reacher, who wastes no time in hooking up with his old friend Frances Neagley, another Army vet turned private eye, first to see whether he can figure out a way to assassinate Armstrong, then to head off whoever else is trying. It’s Reacher’s matter-of-fact gift to think of everything, from the most likely position a sniper would assume at Armstrong’s Thanksgiving visit to a homeless shelter to the telltale punctuation of one of the threats, and to pluck helpers from the tiny cast who can fill the remaining gaps because they aren’t idiots or stooges. And it’s Child’s gift to keep tightening the screws, even when nothing’s happening except the arrival of a series of unsigned letters, and to convey a sense of the blank impossibility of guarding any public figure from danger day after highly exposed day, and the dedication and heroism of the agents who take on this daunting job.

Relentlessly suspenseful and unexpectedly timely: just the thing for Dick Cheney’s bedside reading wherever he’s keeping himself these days.

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-399-14861-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2002

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