A novel that could have used more melodrama or even drama.

THE CAVENDON WOMEN

Second installment of Bradford’s answer to Downton Abbey.

Most of the major Downton characters, both downstairs and upstairs, have their counterparts in Bradford’s saga of the Inghams, who are striving to maintain their stately home after World War I, when, as Downton viewers know, the British government imposed punishing taxes on the aristocracy. Charles Ingham, the sixth Earl of Mowbray, has not lost the family fortune to foolish investments, but he has married his true love, Charlotte, matriarch of the Swann family, which has served the Inghams for more than 300 years. Most of the family greets the news with sanguinity, including the Earl’s heir, Miles, and his four daughters, whose given names all start with D, a move which is intended to charm but mostly confuses. Even Lady Gwendolyn, the book’s crusty clone of the dowager countess of Grantham, approves the match—although the Swanns are commoners, they are not just any commoners. Only Aunt Lavinia complains and is ostracized by the family until, many pages later, the tragic reason for her snark attack is discovered. There are other token attempts to introduce excitement. One of the D daughters is being slandered at work over a long-ago lesbian entanglement (a problem soon mooted by her respectable betrothal), and the Earl’s ex-wife, Felicity, has absconded with the family jewels. Cecily Swann, a successful fashion entrepreneur in the vein of Bradford’s Emma Harte series, has resumed her affair with Miles even though his estranged wife, Clarissa, won’t divorce him—her obesity has removed her from the remarriage market. However, as if Bradford had no real desire to deal with unpleasantness and would prefer to wax rhapsodic about her favorite subjects—décor, money, and beautiful people—every possibility of interesting conflict is quickly dispatched. The family fortune is only briefly threatened. A desultory murder mystery involving peripheral characters and another of the D’s comes too late to leaven the dullness.

A novel that could have used more melodrama or even drama.

Pub Date: March 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-250-03238-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2015

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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

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. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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