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THE LONGEST NIGHT

A smoldering, altogether impressive debut that probes the social and emotional strains on military families in a fresh and...

Scintillating marital drama set at a nuclear testing station in the late 1950s.

Paul Collier is an enlisted man who grew up poor and gambles that a new career as a nuclear operator will pay off and be worth uprooting his family from the West Coast to Idaho; he hardly cares if the experimental reactor’s success means American missiles will be able to “hit pay dirt…if the Soviets did anything stupid”—just one of the sore points between him and his wife, Natalie, a California girl whose outspokenness and nonconformity captured him when they were dating but in his current position make him uneasy. Her husband's soldierly reticence about his colleagues' behavior on and off the test site backfires and drives Nat into a more-than-confiding friendship with a local cowboy named Esrom. Readers are also treated to the hilarious musings of Jeannie Richards—the wife of Paul’s new boss, Mitch; her job is to keep her scurrilous silver-haired spouse from botching his retirement payout. Williams keeps the narrative interest percolating with great period details and by allowing her characters' thoughts and emotions full expression—Jeannie lays out battle dress before a dinner welcoming her husband’s new man (“a bra that would catapult her little ladies upward like rocket boosters”), but Mitch himself keeps undermining her Borgia-esque ambitions. Paul’s buttoned-up personality frustrates the hell out of Nat, but her daredevil nature, even as a mother of young children, confounds him more: "He'd had to sit by and watch strangers cheer her on for something he'd not wanted her to do, as if their approval was more important than his concern.” Meantime, plunked alongside potato fields and cattle ranches, other reactors (human and atomic) threaten to blow their stacks. Spoiler alert: a major mishap is all but promised in the prologue, and the afterword describing the nation's only fatal accident at a reactor will send some readers to look up Idaho’s role in American nuclear history.

A smoldering, altogether impressive debut that probes the social and emotional strains on military families in a fresh and insightful way.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9774-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Nov. 9, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

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THE NIGHTINGALE

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules...

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Sentenced to house arrest in Moscow's Metropol Hotel by a Bolshevik tribunal for writing a poem deemed to encourage revolt, Count Alexander Rostov nonetheless lives the fullest of lives, discovering the depths of his humanity.

Inside the elegant Metropol, located near the Kremlin and the Bolshoi, the Count slowly adjusts to circumstances as a "Former Person." He makes do with the attic room, to which he is banished after residing for years in a posh third-floor suite. A man of refined taste in wine, food, and literature, he strives to maintain a daily routine, exploring the nooks and crannies of the hotel, bonding with staff, accepting the advances of attractive women, and forming what proves to be a deeply meaningful relationship with a spirited young girl, Nina. "We are bound to find comfort from the notion that it takes generations for a way of life to fade," says the companionable narrator. For the Count, that way of life ultimately becomes less about aristocratic airs and privilege than generosity and devotion. Spread across four decades, this is in all ways a great novel, a nonstop pleasure brimming with charm, personal wisdom, and philosophic insight. Though Stalin and Khrushchev make their presences felt, Towles largely treats politics as a dark, distant shadow. The chill of the political events occurring outside the Metropol is certainly felt, but for the Count and his friends, the passage of time is "like the turn of a kaleidoscope." Not for nothing is Casablanca his favorite film. This is a book in which the cruelties of the age can't begin to erase the glories of real human connection and the memories it leaves behind.

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules of Civility (2011).

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-670-02619-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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