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A tragedy built on accumulating misunderstandings between people of different political persuasions should be riveting in...

In 1950, an idealistic New York couple and their two kids resettle on a cattle ranch in South Dakota only to find their initial success undermined and destroyed by right-wing fanatics in a novel based loosely on the actual case of a family victimized by anti-Communist hysteria in Okanogan, Washington, during the McCarthy era.

As the novel opens in 1985, Jo Kusek returns after 20 years to Rapid City under heartbreaking circumstances: a home invasion has left her younger brother Lance’s wife dead, Lance and his young son in critical condition. Smith (A Star for Mrs. Blake, 2014, etc.) then cuts to 1950: 4-year-old Jo and baby Lance arrive in Rapid City with their parents, Cal, a 42-year-old Yale-educated sometime union lawyer and WWII fighter pilot, and nurse Betsy, who briefly belonged to the Communist Party in her teens. They've decided to start over in Rapid City, where Cal’s Army buddy Scotty Roy lives. Quick learners, the Kuseks buy a spread and, despite total agricultural ignorance and inexperience, are soon among the most successful ranchers in town. Democrat Cal also builds an increasingly successful political career for himself in heavily Republican South Dakota. But religious bigotry (neighbors wonder if they're Jewish, though they're not) and virulent anti-communism flourish alongside neighborliness in Rapid City until xenophobic fearmongering turns all the Kuseks’ lives upside down. Unfortunately, by painting Cal and Betsy as such maddeningly superior individuals—“There were no jobs, really, either one couldn’t perform”—compared to the narrow-minded, cartoonishly dimwitted but more colorfully portrayed locals, Smith diminishes both the political and personal drama. Although the novel returns in intervals to the 1985 crime, there is little suspense in the episodic reveal, and the connections between events in 1985 and 30 years earlier, meant to create drama, feel manufactured at best.

A tragedy built on accumulating misunderstandings between people of different political persuasions should be riveting in this political season, but flat prose and a self-righteous tone make for a dreary read.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-101-87421-9

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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DEVOLUTION

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z(2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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