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THE SURFACING

Meditative and spare, this is not a fast read but one worth the effort: underneath all the ice, there is real emotional...

An Arctic expedition gets stuck at sea with a pregnant woman hiding onboard in Irish author James’ hypnotic North American debut that’s less a high-stakes adventure than a slow-burning psychological study.

In 1850, a European crew sets off toward Arctic waters in search of Sir John Franklin’s recently lost Northwest Passage expedition. The dangers involved for Lt. Morgan and his crew are clear: the water could freeze around them; the boat could be crushed by the ice. They could get lost—there’d be no one to rescue them. When a broken rudder forces the crew to stop at an island off the coast of Greenland for repairs, Morgan finds himself involved with the local governor’s sister, Kitty, a woman trapped by the island and desperate to escape. Their courtship, if it can be called that, is a cold one, and when the rudder is fixed, Morgan has no intention of looking back. But once the ship is again at sea, one of the crew makes a discovery: Kitty has stowed herself away on the boat—and she’s pregnant with Morgan’s child. There's little feeling between them at first: for all practical purposes (save one), the two are strangers. But as Kitty’s pregnancy progresses and Morgan comes to terms with his impending fatherhood, he begins to see her—and himself—in a new light. James expertly captures both the terror and the overwhelming boredom of sea life, of being stuck in the ice, of having nothing to do but the monotonous and sometimes impossible task of staying alive. Cold and unmoving at the start, James’ characters—Morgan and Kitty, the ship’s doctor, the cook, the elderly captain, and all the rest—slowly become fully, tragically human.

Meditative and spare, this is not a fast read but one worth the effort: underneath all the ice, there is real emotional depth.

Pub Date: June 2, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-934137-92-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2015

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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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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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