From the start, one wonders how Wolas is possibly going to pay off the idea that her heroine is such a genius. Verdict: few...

THE RESURRECTION OF JOAN ASHBY

A literary prodigy allows her husband to convince her to reverse their decision not to have children.

Can you be a mother and also be an artist—or, by extension, pursue any serious ambition at all? This is the question taken up with urgency and all due complexity in lawyer and film producer Wolas' debut novel. The book opens with a hugely laudatory magazine profile of a fictional writer named Joan Ashby, revealing that at age 13 Ashby articulated nine rules for herself. No. 7 was “Do not entertain any offer of marriage,” and No. 8 was “Never ever have children.” Then, the article explains, after having taken the world by storm with two story collections, Ashby got married and became pregnant at 25—and that was the last she was heard from for nearly three decades. After revealing this much, and providing reprints of two of Ashby’s famous stories, the article cuts off with this line: “Continued after the break.” The “break” is a 500-plus–page narrative exploring Ashby’s struggles during these decades. It’s a tribute to Wolas’ plot that most of it cannot be decently revealed. And heaven knows, a book this big needs its plot. Wolas provides not only the main story, but several more excerpts from Ashby’s work. Maybe she goes a little too far with these digressions, but even in a scene where Ashby is teaching a writing class and the first lines of a dozen student stories are included—they're all great first lines! Like John Irving’s The World According to Garp, this is a look at the life of a writer that will entertain many nonwriters. Like Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies, it's a sharp-eyed portrait of the artist as spouse and householder.

From the start, one wonders how Wolas is possibly going to pay off the idea that her heroine is such a genius. Verdict: few could do better.

Pub Date: Aug. 29, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-250-08143-8

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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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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  • Pulitzer Prize Winner

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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Why you double-crossing little double crossers! Fiendishly clever.

PRETTY THINGS

The daughter of a grifter plans to fund her mother’s cancer treatment with a revenge con.

Rich people suck, don’t they? Nina Ross found this out in her adolescence, when her romance with Benny Liebling was broken up by his status-obsessed, old-money father, who found them screwing in the guest cottage of the family’s Lake Tahoe estate. Back then, Nina had a future—but she’s since followed her con-artist mother into the family business with the help of a handsome blue-eyed Irish confederate named Lachlan. “Here’s my rule,” Nina tells him. “Only people who have too much, and only people who deserve it.” Of course, he agrees. “We take only what we need.” With her art history background, Nina is usually able to target a few expensive antiques they can lift without the rich dopes even noticing they’re gone. But now that Nina's mother is hovering at death’s door without health insurance, she’s going after the $1 million in cash Benny mentioned was in his father’s safe all those years ago. So back to Lake Tahoe it is. The older Lieblings are dead, and Benny’s in the bin, so it’s his sister Vanessa Liebling who is the target of the complicated caper. Vanessa is a terribly annoying character—“I couldn’t tell you how I went from a few dozen Instagram followers to a half-million. One day, you’re uploading photos of your dog wearing sunglasses; and the next you’re begin flown to Coachella on a private jet with four other social media It Girls…”—but, in fact, you’ll hate everyone in this book. That is surely Brown’s (Watch Me Disappear, 2017, etc.) intention as she’s the one making them natter on this way. She also makes them vomit much more than is normal, whether it’s because they’re poisoning each other or because they’re just so horrified by each other’s behavior. Definitely stay to see how it all turns out.

Why you double-crossing little double crossers! Fiendishly clever.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-47912-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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