A sharp historical tableau of early-20th-century France that is undermined by uneven writing.

SOME DAMN FOOL THING

A debut historical novel chronicles the lives of four young Parisians living under the specter of potential war.

In 1905, Robert d’Avillard is studying civil engineering in Paris at the Ecole Polytechnique and is part of a spirited young group of student intellectuals who gather regularly to discuss political currents. The topic of the day is the alarming aggressiveness of Germany and its encouragement of an independence movement in Morocco. Robert is inspired by the patriotic commitment of a soldier, Col. Ferdinand Foch, who implores him to join the military, which will desperately need talented engineers to fortify its infrastructure in advance of an increasingly inevitable German invasion. Meanwhile, Robert falls in love with Sarah Morozovski, a student of law and political philosophy, who is fiercely antagonistic to the general threat of militarism and sympathetic with socialist causes. But the two are pulled apart just as their romance blooms, when Robert joins the corps of army engineers and Sarah accepts a position working for a journalistic publication in Berlin. In her absence, Robert begins a new relationship with Marie Bonneau, a young musician, but even as their courtship hurtles toward eventual matrimony, he never forgets Sarah, and those feelings are reignited when they meet again years later in Paris. Robert’s cousin, Thomas, who was a student of philosophy and theology, becomes a priest but also becomes fond of Marie just as Sarah re-enters the scene. While the book follows the entangled romantic complications of the four friends, the backbone of the story is really the inexorable march toward World War I and the impact it has not only on the novel’s protagonists, but also France and Europe. Whitaker skillfully captures the crisis of impending world war and the national anxiety this created for a whole generation of young French men and women whose lives were permanently altered by its arrival. The author’s knowledge of the era’s geopolitical particulars is beyond reproach. But the tale’s drama is deflated by the wooden, overly genteel prose, especially evident in the dialogue. Consider Robert asking Sarah out to dinner: “If you don’t feel that you need to go home to change, we can go to a place that my family has known for years, which I think you will not only find quite hygienic but also quite special.”

A sharp historical tableau of early-20th-century France that is undermined by uneven writing.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5320-3140-3

Page Count: 468

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2017

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.

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THE TESTAMENTS

Atwood goes back to Gilead.

The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), consistently regarded as a masterpiece of 20th-century literature, has gained new attention in recent years with the success of the Hulu series as well as fresh appreciation from readers who feel like this story has new relevance in America’s current political climate. Atwood herself has spoken about how news headlines have made her dystopian fiction seem eerily plausible, and it’s not difficult to imagine her wanting to revisit Gilead as the TV show has sped past where her narrative ended. Like the novel that preceded it, this sequel is presented as found documents—first-person accounts of life inside a misogynistic theocracy from three informants. There is Agnes Jemima, a girl who rejects the marriage her family arranges for her but still has faith in God and Gilead. There’s Daisy, who learns on her 16th birthday that her whole life has been a lie. And there's Aunt Lydia, the woman responsible for turning women into Handmaids. This approach gives readers insight into different aspects of life inside and outside Gilead, but it also leads to a book that sometimes feels overstuffed. The Handmaid’s Tale combined exquisite lyricism with a powerful sense of urgency, as if a thoughtful, perceptive woman was racing against time to give witness to her experience. That narrator hinted at more than she said; Atwood seemed to trust readers to fill in the gaps. This dynamic created an atmosphere of intimacy. However curious we might be about Gilead and the resistance operating outside that country, what we learn here is that what Atwood left unsaid in the first novel generated more horror and outrage than explicit detail can. And the more we get to know Agnes, Daisy, and Aunt Lydia, the less convincing they become. It’s hard, of course, to compete with a beloved classic, so maybe the best way to read this new book is to forget about The Handmaid’s Tale and enjoy it as an artful feminist thriller.

Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54378-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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