MASTER OF HIS FATE

A slow-paced, complacent introduction to the excitement to come—we hope!

The launch of what promises to be another blockbuster Bradford series.

Putting aside her Downton Abbey homage (Secrets of Cavendon, 2017, etc.), Bradford returns to her roots chronicling retail dynasties like the Harte family of A Woman of Substance (1979). Readers be warned: The opening volume of The House of Falconer saga appears to be an extended prologue. Replete with opulent décor, beautiful but unassuming rich people, and homey scenes, the narrative is untroubled by the jeopardy this genre demands. A few exceptions: In 1884, 14-year-old James Lionel Falconer, future founder of what is sure to be the Falconer mercantile empire, suffers chest pains while pushing a wheelbarrow near his father’s stall at Malvern Market. His mother, Maude, is afflicted with a cold which could become pneumonia. However, since no outcome ensues for either ailment, we can only assume this is foreshadowing for future novels. When James, now 17, and a friend are set upon by thugs and badly beaten, the police and family suspect a targeted attack, but this loose end is also left dangling. Sent to the port city of Hull, James advances in an uncle’s shipping company and is seduced by an older and cooperatively unclingy widow. James states he “prefer[s] older women”—which bodes well for his future, spoiler alert, liaisons. Meanwhile, Alexis, 25, the auburn-tressed daughter of commercial real estate kingpin Henry Malvern, falls in mutual love at first sight with Sebastian Trevalian, a widowed banker 15 years her senior. Their families approve (including Sebastian’s daughter Claudia, Alexis’ friend), and money is no problem; something has to go wrong, but large swaths of genteel gloating must be endured before it does. As one forgives a dear friend who tends to blather on, readers may tolerate Bradford’s pedestrian, repetitious prose and even enjoy this leisurely stroll through Victorian times, contenting themselves with occasional celebrity references: Doctor Freud, Jack the Ripper, Crown Prince Bertie, among others. The good characters are unambiguously and tediously good, and no believable antagonist arises to create conflict.

A slow-paced, complacent introduction to the excitement to come—we hope!

Pub Date: Nov. 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-250-18739-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Sept. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2018

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THE UNSEEN

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Norwegian novelist Jacobsen folds a quietly powerful coming-of-age story into a rendition of daily life on one of Norway’s rural islands a hundred years ago in a novel that was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

Ingrid Barrøy, her father, Hans, mother, Maria, grandfather Martin, and slightly addled aunt Barbro are the owners and sole inhabitants of Barrøy Island, one of numerous small family-owned islands in an area of Norway barely touched by the outside world. The novel follows Ingrid from age 3 through a carefree early childhood of endless small chores, simple pleasures, and unquestioned familial love into her more ambivalent adolescence attending school off the island and becoming aware of the outside world, then finally into young womanhood when she must make difficult choices. Readers will share Ingrid’s adoration of her father, whose sense of responsibility conflicts with his romantic nature. He adores Maria, despite what he calls her “la-di-da” ways, and is devoted to Ingrid. Twice he finds work on the mainland for his sister, Barbro, but, afraid she’ll be unhappy, he brings her home both times. Rooted to the land where he farms and tied to the sea where he fishes, Hans struggles to maintain his family’s hardscrabble existence on an island where every repair is a struggle against the elements. But his efforts are Sisyphean. Life as a Barrøy on Barrøy remains precarious. Changes do occur in men’s and women’s roles, reflected in part by who gets a literal chair to sit on at meals, while world crises—a war, Sweden’s financial troubles—have unexpected impact. Yet the drama here occurs in small increments, season by season, following nature’s rhythm through deaths and births, moments of joy and deep sorrow. The translator’s decision to use roughly translated phrases in conversation—i.e., “Tha’s goen’ nohvar” for "You’re going nowhere")—slows the reading down at first but ends up drawing readers more deeply into the world of Barrøy and its prickly, intensely alive inhabitants.

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77196-319-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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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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