NEVER WASTE TEARS

Readers who persevere through the sparse beginning will progress to a more detailed and often heart-rending tale of pioneers...

Fictional diary entries tell the story of two couples who move west to forge new lives during the Reconstruction Era.

Nathan Carter and Rebecca Martin are living in Ohio when the Civil War erupts. Nathan, 13, is left in charge of his father’s store in Eaton when his dad and brothers leave to fight the secessionists. But Nathan dreams of becoming a farmer. Rebecca, 12, is being raised as a proper young lady, as her mother prods her to consider well-to-do suitors. But she has always been smitten with Nathan, whom she sees at the store periodically. He returns her affection and manages to win over her family and secure her hand in marriage. When he announces his intention to move out West with his beloved to farm, Rebecca’s mother is distraught. But Rebecca seems unconcerned about her parent’s worries about “savages.” The couple travel to Independence, Missouri, and join a wagon train, where they meet an older pair, Carl and Hannah Taylor. This is where the story really hits its stride. The journey west is challenging, but reaching their destination, a homestead in Kansas, fails to bring any solace to Rebecca—especially once she realizes she will be living in a house made of sod because there aren’t enough trees in the area to construct a cabin. This is perhaps the least of the trials that the couples will endure. Grief remains a constant throughout their lives. In Kansas-based author Zachgo’s (The Rocking Horse, 2011) historical novel, the prose style differs with every character. For example, Rebecca’s writing is genteel while Carl’s and Hannah’s offerings are less refined. Rebecca’s entries in the beginning of the work are much shorter than Nathan’s and she gets more development through his chronicles than her own. But when the action moves to the prairie, her character gains dimension and her struggles deftly illustrate the loneliness and dangers of life there. At times, these strong passages are wrenching to read. The addition of the Taylors further expands the absorbing story.

Readers who persevere through the sparse beginning will progress to a more detailed and often heart-rending tale of pioneers homesteading in Kansas after the Civil War.

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5023-7668-8

Page Count: 406

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 24, 2017

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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

THE UNSEEN

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Norwegian novelist Jacobsen folds a quietly powerful coming-of-age story into a rendition of daily life on one of Norway’s rural islands a hundred years ago in a novel that was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

Ingrid Barrøy, her father, Hans, mother, Maria, grandfather Martin, and slightly addled aunt Barbro are the owners and sole inhabitants of Barrøy Island, one of numerous small family-owned islands in an area of Norway barely touched by the outside world. The novel follows Ingrid from age 3 through a carefree early childhood of endless small chores, simple pleasures, and unquestioned familial love into her more ambivalent adolescence attending school off the island and becoming aware of the outside world, then finally into young womanhood when she must make difficult choices. Readers will share Ingrid’s adoration of her father, whose sense of responsibility conflicts with his romantic nature. He adores Maria, despite what he calls her “la-di-da” ways, and is devoted to Ingrid. Twice he finds work on the mainland for his sister, Barbro, but, afraid she’ll be unhappy, he brings her home both times. Rooted to the land where he farms and tied to the sea where he fishes, Hans struggles to maintain his family’s hardscrabble existence on an island where every repair is a struggle against the elements. But his efforts are Sisyphean. Life as a Barrøy on Barrøy remains precarious. Changes do occur in men’s and women’s roles, reflected in part by who gets a literal chair to sit on at meals, while world crises—a war, Sweden’s financial troubles—have unexpected impact. Yet the drama here occurs in small increments, season by season, following nature’s rhythm through deaths and births, moments of joy and deep sorrow. The translator’s decision to use roughly translated phrases in conversation—i.e., “Tha’s goen’ nohvar” for "You’re going nowhere")—slows the reading down at first but ends up drawing readers more deeply into the world of Barrøy and its prickly, intensely alive inhabitants.

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77196-319-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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