Impressive research, solid characters and a compelling plot held back by an excessive history lesson.

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A Lieutenant of Hussars

This historical novel follows a former cavalry lieutenant as he rises through the ranks in the British air force during World War I.

Lt. Michael Howard is dispatched to the front lines in 1914 as part of the 9th Hussars, a cavalry regiment, though a change in commanders prompts him to enlist in the Royal Flying Corps. As the war progresses, airplane technology improves by leaps and bounds, and as he alternates between the front and periods in England as a trainer and test pilot, Howard is promoted, wounded and decorated. Author Mercer fills the book with so much fascinating discussion of technology that his book almost becomes a historical techno-thriller. The research is excellent, not just on the development of warplanes, but also on the progress of the war as a whole. In fact, Mercer’s workmanlike writing seems so intent on creating historical context that the text goes too far with information not directly relevant to the storyline. Much of this detail could be left out or added in a way that doesn’t interrupt the plot. Only after 100 pages can readers begin to connect with the characters. Even afterward, frequent changes in narrative tone can be jarring and distracting from the main action. Elsewhere, the narrative unnecessarily foreshadows upcoming events and inserts clumsy asides on the fates of minor characters. The passage of time is often very fast and confusing, and though the characters are reasonably well drawn, a less breakneck pace would allow for some needed depth and development. Mercer also spends several pages at the end of the book describing postwar events, then alludes to a continuation of the story during World War II. Perhaps it would have been more effective to end this volume at the Armistice and leave the interwar period and World War II to their own volumes.

Impressive research, solid characters and a compelling plot held back by an excessive history lesson.

Pub Date: Nov. 8, 2013

ISBN: 978-1490529189

Page Count: 444

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2014

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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