Gothic lite meets chick lit in a slow potboiler.

CHASING SOPHIA

Dahlia has a secret, and so does Lucius, and Uncle Brother, and Aunt Baby, and the albino gravedigger.

Dahlia is a successful, beautiful, middle-class African-American woman living in California with a handsome husband and darling daughter. But when we meet her, her need to forget her traumatic past is about to drive her over the edge. A mysterious woman named Phoebe plots to steal Dahlia’s husband, daughter and house. Meanwhile, back in Dallas, her estranged father, Lucius, resists a nervous breakdown while running the funeral home that’s been in the family for three generations. Lucius’s young wife, Mercy Blue, bored with adding red dresses to her collection, is despondent and hysterical. Aunt Baby’s corns are throbbing—a sure sign of trouble—and Percival Tweed, the black albino gravedigger, is restless. What’s everybody so upset about? After 100 pages or so of repetitive set-up and hand-waving (Look! Big Family Trauma!), Pina finally begins to move her plot along, only to quickly halt it again with a series of “revelations” that only occasionally thrill or surprise in spite of their lurid content. The author’s habit of moving from viewpoint to viewpoint provides plenty of stories, but they don’t cohere into a larger one, and the characters don’t emerge as anything but quick, albeit colorful, sketches identified by their quirky habits or physical characteristics. This is particularly problematic with would-be protagonist Dahlia and is exacerbated by the nature of the plot, which requires her to disappear for long stretches. The prose is, on the whole, enjoyable, and thus many readers will overlook the clichés and lack of depth, but fans of Toni Morrison will quickly recognize this author’s inspiration and unfulfilled ambitions.

Gothic lite meets chick lit in a slow potboiler.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-345-47619-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2006

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged White mom and her Black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a Black boy hoping to go with a White girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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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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