Allende’s tale risks but resists descending into melodrama at every turn. The up-to-date, even postmodern ending makes for a...

ZORRO

A graceful imagining of the saber-wielding, justice-dispensing freedom fighter of yore.

Children of the ’50s may happily remember Guy Williams’s TV portrayal of the legendary Zorro, who carved his signature initial into his enemies’ flesh with the point of his sword and kept the entire Spanish army in Alta California busily searching for him. Latter-day Californian Allende (Kingdom of the Golden Dragon, 2004, etc.) provides a backstory that brims with modern concerns: In her hands, Zorro is an ever-so-slightly tormented revolutionary whose sense of justice comes from the accident of his birth. The child of a Spanish officer and a Shoshone Indian woman, Diego de la Vega grows up with a profound knowledge of the injustices wrought by Europeans on California’s native peoples. He takes his vulpine identity—zorro is Spanish for "fox"—early on, after a fox delivers him from danger; says his grandmother, helpfully, "That zorro is your totemic animal, your spiritual guide. . . . You must cultivate its skill, its cleverness, its intelligence." He does, reaching adolescence "with no great vices or virtues, except for a disproportionate love of justice, though whether that is a vice or a virtue, I am not sure." A Rousseauian child of nature, de la Vega travels to Spain to acquire a continental education. Becoming radicalized in the bargain, he defies the country’s Napoleonic rulers and joins an underground alliance to battle them, then takes the fight back to America. But first de la Vega must endure being shanghaied by pirates, who, neatly enough, haul him before the legendary über-pirate Jean Lafitte for a parlay. He acquires yet more education in the bayous, then makes for California once more to visit mayhem on corrupt officialdom on behalf of truth, justice and the Spanish way of life.

Allende’s tale risks but resists descending into melodrama at every turn. The up-to-date, even postmodern ending makes for a nice touch, too, and will gladden the heart of anyone ready in his or her heart to carve a few Zs into the bad guys.

Pub Date: May 4, 2005

ISBN: 0-06-077897-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2005

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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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