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SOUTH POLE STATION

Jokes lubricate a moving and occasionally preposterous story of love and death in the Antarctic cold.

In the messy human petri dish at the South Pole, a comic novel brews.

Shelby begins her smart and inventive first novel with 11 italicized questions plucked from a psychiatric evaluation: "Are you often sad? Do you have digestion problems due to stress? Do you have problems with authority?..."Any American headed to Antarctica in 2003 via the National Science Foundation must answer them. It’s a nifty way to unpack character and signal why her heroine, Cooper Gosling, has passed only provisionally. Cooper is 30, a drinker and a fine arts painter from the upper Midwest, a smartass who holds that “hotdish had never received its gastronomic due and the fake Minnesota accents in Fargo were the blackface of regional phonology.” Fetching and witty, Cooper becomes the station chief’s favorite and irresistible to a tall and handsome astrophysicist. Their attraction—one of the novel’s key pleasures—is telegraphed within the first few pages. Readers also learn early that Cooper is fleeing the sorrow of her twin’s recent suicide; she carries a pinch of his ashes in a travel-size Tylenol bottle. Thus, Shelby balances Eros with Thanatos in a story composed of barbed dialogue, email, and official memos. A climate-change skeptic arrives to bedevil the polar community, hatching a far-fetched political conspiracy. Clearly, the writer likes agita—politics mixed with science fuels Red River Rising (2004), her nonfiction book about the catastrophic 1997 flood in Grand Forks, North Dakota. She writes well about science and the peculiar, pressurized human ecosystem at the bottom of the world. Bozer, a polar station construction chief, gets his own point-of-view chapter, and it lifts him from caricature to one of the best aspects of the book. Hovering over all is Cooper’s sort-of “spirit animal,” the British explorer Apsley Cherry-Garrard, who wrote the Antarctica classic The Worst Journey in the World. This new book would no doubt confound him but, in the end, bring him delight.

Jokes lubricate a moving and occasionally preposterous story of love and death in the Antarctic cold.

Pub Date: July 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-250-11282-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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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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THEN SHE WAS GONE

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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