Overdrawn yet readable portrait of collective advocacy and friendship at work, spearheaded by a valiant, relatable...

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What the Enemy Thinks

A BECK CARNELL NOVEL

Former women’s shelter counselor Picco, in her debut, traces the intertwining business and personal lives of an altruistic media consultancy executive.

Beck Carnell, a journalist-turned-CEO of media consultancy Social Good, becomes inspired by her agency’s latest media campaign, which involves carefully publicizing a dispute between the local Ontario Teachers’ Union and the Canadian government’s initiative to freeze wages and restrict the union from exercising its right to strike for three years. The intricate strategizing comes from several of Social Good’s best employees, including Yvonne Precipa, an overachieving media relations specialist, and Asmi, an Indian woman growing impatient with her husband Jai’s indifference toward revealing to his parents that they’d been married in secret. Another specialist, Todd Purcell, busies himself with an aggressive breast cancer campaign while facing political red tape and a precarious past. Adding to the mix is persnickety, rogue bookkeeper Tilda Grubbs, who has embezzled thousands and disappeared. Yvonne and Asmi’s storylines are introduced and resolved somewhat simplistically, whereas Beck’s character gets deeper development, particularly with remembrances of her childhood being regaled with her grandfather’s stories of Newfoundland, her high school days, and her impulsive marriage to former husband Anthony, whom she met while a college student. Beck struggles to provide emotional support for her two grown children while navigating their bitter animosity toward their father, and she aids best friend Samantha Reed, who’s learned of a devastating cancer diagnosis. While affable and devoid of the unsavory elements alluded to by the book’s title, Picco’s contemporary narrative suffers from a lack of plot as well as a surfeit of superfluous exposition. Such detail does little to heighten the narrative tension, particularly in a novel over 400 pages long. Nevertheless, the book’s resilient cast will generate compassion as its characters confront the social and political challenges facing teachers and charitable organizations.

Overdrawn yet readable portrait of collective advocacy and friendship at work, spearheaded by a valiant, relatable protagonist.

Pub Date: July 30, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4917-7003-0

Page Count: 318

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2015

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A magnificent achievement: a novel that is, by turns, both optimistic and fatalistic, idealistic without being naïve.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

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THE OVERSTORY

Powers’ (Orfeo, 2014, etc.) 12th novel is a masterpiece of operatic proportions, involving nine central characters and more than half a century of American life.

In this work, Powers takes on the subject of nature, or our relationship to nature, as filtered through the lens of environmental activism, although at its heart the book is after more existential concerns. As is the case with much of Powers’ fiction, it takes shape slowly—first in a pastiche of narratives establishing the characters (a psychologist, an undergraduate who died briefly but was revived, a paraplegic computer game designer, a homeless vet), and then in the kaleidoscopic ways these individuals come together and break apart. “We all travel the Milky Way together, trees and men,” Powers writes, quoting the naturalist John Muir. “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” The idea is important because what Powers means to explore is a sense of how we become who we are, individually and collectively, and our responsibility to the planet and to ourselves. Nick, for instance, continues a project begun by his grandfather to take repeated photographs of a single chestnut tree, “one a month for seventy-six years.” Pat, a visionary botanist, discovers how trees communicate with one another only to be discredited and then, a generation later, reaffirmed. What links the characters is survival—the survival of both trees and human beings. The bulk of the action unfolds during the timber wars of the late 1990s, as the characters coalesce on the Pacific coast to save old-growth sequoia from logging concerns. For Powers, however, political or environmental activism becomes a filter through which to consider the connectedness of all things—not only the human lives he portrays in often painfully intricate dimensions, but also the biosphere, both virtual and natural. “The world starts here,” Powers insists. “This is the merest beginning. Life can do anything. You have no idea.”

A magnificent achievement: a novel that is, by turns, both optimistic and fatalistic, idealistic without being naïve.

Pub Date: April 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-393-63552-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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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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