Though her narrative spans nearly 50 years of Chilean and American history, it’s Allende’s remarkable flair for character...

PORTRAIT IN SEPIA

Complex, intriguing, ambitious, and uneven sequel to Oprah selection Daughter of Fortune (1999), continuing the story of Eliza Sommers, as told by her granddaughter, Aurora del Valle.

Aurora fondly remembers her gentle grandmother and Chinese grandfather, Tao Chi’en, and doesn’t understand why she was adopted at the tender age of five by her formidable Chilean grandmother Paulina, who ruled the del Valle family and fortune from an opulent Nob Hill mansion during San Francisco’s Gilded Age. Aurora never knew her real father, Matias del Valle, a bisexual roué and opium addict who seduced and deflowered young Lynn, an artist’s model, then abandoned her when he learned she was pregnant. Matias’s cousin Severo, passionately in love with the naïve and beautiful girl, interceded and married her. Grief-stricken when she died giving birth to Aurora, Severo provided handsomely for the little girl despite his aunt’s desire to forget about it all. Mind you, scandal has besmirched the del Valle name before; Paulina’s public revenge on philandering husband Feliciano was the talk of the robber-baron elite. No matter. Her greatest pleasures now are amassing money and devouring pastries. Bejeweled and bedecked in fussy Victorian finery, becoming ever more corpulent but no less vain, the grotesque old lady fascinates her spoiled granddaughter. They return to Chile, where Aurora is raised amid a host of relatives both wise and eccentric, although she learns little about the world beyond the conservative confines of Chilean society. Married off as fast as possible to the good-for-nothing scion of a distinguished South American family, Aurora takes up the then-new art of photography and copes with her husband’s eventual betrayal and Paulina’s slow death from cancer. Yes, she grows up at last—but she’s nowhere near as interesting as her redoubtable grandmother.

Though her narrative spans nearly 50 years of Chilean and American history, it’s Allende’s remarkable flair for character that makes it all come alive.

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 2001

ISBN: 0-06-621161-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2001

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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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Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her...

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS

Avery Stafford, a lawyer, descendant of two prominent Southern families and daughter of a distinguished senator, discovers a family secret that alters her perspective on heritage.

Wingate (Sisters, 2016, etc.) shifts the story in her latest novel between present and past as Avery uncovers evidence that her Grandma Judy was a victim of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and is related to a woman Avery and her father meet when he visits a nursing home. Although Avery is living at home to help her parents through her father’s cancer treatment, she is also being groomed for her own political career. Readers learn that investigating her family’s past is not part of Avery's scripted existence, but Wingate's attempts to make her seem torn about this are never fully developed, and descriptions of her chemistry with a man she meets as she's searching are also unconvincing. Sections describing the real-life orphanage director Georgia Tann, who stole poor children, mistreated them, and placed them for adoption with wealthy clients—including Joan Crawford and June Allyson—are more vivid, as are passages about Grandma Judy and her siblings. Wingate’s fans and readers who enjoy family dramas will find enough to entertain them, and book clubs may enjoy dissecting the relationship and historical issues in the book.

Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her fictional characters' lives.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-425-28468-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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