An authentic, well-considered work of military fiction entwined with a coming-of-age tale.

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The Junior Officer Bunkroom

A NOVEL

In Zerr’s debut novel, two naval pilots come to terms with military life at the end of the Vietnam War.

The year is 1970, and the policy of “Vietnamization” has decreased the number of combat troops in Vietnam, leaving America’s young men adrift, including Jon Zachery and Amos Kane. Late one night, Jon asks his wife, Teresa, if she remembers when he was in basic jet training in Meridian, Mississippi. He tells her, “the squadron XO there said I had a magnet in my butt that attracts trouble.” Jon’s ambition to serve his country—and the reality that the Vietnam War is over—leads to an existential crisis: as the officer said, he needs trouble to thrive. For Amos, the transition between the pro- and anti-war movements is no less fraught. With the help of girlfriend Charlotte Wilkins, Amos turns his back on the war effort and adopts an anti-war philosophy. With four years of service left, however, Amos is bound by his commitment to the Navy. Amos and Jon are stationed together aboard an aircraft carrier in the Tonkin Gulf, and their different attitudes toward war illuminate the struggles of those in combat. The two men now must face the futility of military action in the absence of a clear objective. In a letter to his wife, Jon writes, “I was so driven to get out here, to the war. Now that I’m here, it doesn’t amount to much.” While Zerr skillfully weaves military details such as the career trajectory of a military professional and uncelebrated hours of boredom throughout the novel, the true brilliance of the book are his depictions of the complexity of war and the ideology that sends young men into battle.

An authentic, well-considered work of military fiction entwined with a coming-of-age tale.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4917-6675-0

Page Count: 282

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 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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