Despite moments of liveliness, this period piece fails to ignite much warmth, let alone a spark.

READ REVIEW

THE DOLLHOUSE

A debut novel about the renowned Barbizon Hotel and the generations of women who might have lived there.

Darby McLaughlin is a plain girl from a small Ohio town. In 1952, she moves to New York to enroll in secretarial school. Her father has died, her mother remarried, and Darby, who doesn’t expect much in the way of marriage prospects, would like to find a way to support herself. She moves into the Barbizon Hotel for Women, famed residence for luminaries such as Grace Kelly, Lauren Bacall, and others. By some administrative fluke, Darby is placed on a floor of aspiring models, among whom she doesn’t exactly feel at home. She’s lonely and struggling when she meets Esme, a young maid who works at the hotel. As the two become friends, Esme draws Darby into an underworld of jazz and drugs. She even convinces the shy Darby to perform at a nightclub. Darby’s story is intertwined with another, set more than 50 years later. Rose Lewin, a journalist, is living at the Barbizon, which now houses condos, and working on a story about the hotel’s earlier, more glamorous days. Rose’s personal life is disintegrating, but as it does, she delves deeper into her story, interviewing longtime residents and becoming obsessed with a certain “Miss McLaughlin” who lives in the apartment beneath her own. She begins to uncover a conspiracy of hidden identity, drug trafficking, and undercover police. This is Davis’ debut novel, and it’s a lively one, tripping along at a sprightly clip. But her story lacks emotional depth, and her characters never quite come alive. The conspiracy isn’t convincing, and, worse than that, neither is her 1950s New York. Neither the Barbizon nor the spicy, mysterious nightlife outside it ever quite evoke the vivid portrait that Davis seems to have sought. Instead, her flat characters stay trapped in their flat landscape.

Despite moments of liveliness, this period piece fails to ignite much warmth, let alone a spark.

Pub Date: Aug. 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-98499-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016

  • New York Times Bestseller

HOMEGOING

A novel of sharply drawn character studies immersed in more than 250 hard, transformative years in the African-American diaspora.

Gyasi’s debut novel opens in the mid-1700s in what is now Ghana, as tribal rivalries are exploited by British and Dutch colonists and slave traders. The daughter of one tribal leader marries a British man for financial expediency, then learns that the “castle” he governs is a holding dungeon for slaves. (When she asks what’s held there, she’s told “cargo.”) The narrative soon alternates chapters between the Ghanans and their American descendants up through the present day. On either side of the Atlantic, the tale is often one of racism, degradation, and loss: a slave on an Alabama plantation is whipped “until the blood on the ground is high enough to bathe a baby”; a freedman in Baltimore fears being sent back South with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act; a Ghanan woman is driven mad from the abuse of a missionary and her husband’s injury in a tribal war; a woman in Harlem is increasingly distanced from (and then humiliated by) her husband, who passes as white. Gyasi is a deeply empathetic writer, and each of the novel’s 14 chapters is a savvy character portrait that reveals the impact of racism from multiple perspectives. It lacks the sweep that its premise implies, though: while the characters share a bloodline, and a gold-flecked stone appears throughout the book as a symbolic connector, the novel is more a well-made linked story collection than a complex epic. Yet Gyasi plainly has the talent to pull that off: “I will be my own nation,” one woman tells a British suitor early on, and the author understands both the necessity of that defiance and how hard it is to follow through on it.

A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-94713-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

Did you like this book?

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

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

Google Rating

  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • New York Times Bestseller

  • Pulitzer Prize Winner

  • National Book Award Finalist

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more