Engaging, sweeping historical fiction that complicates politics by teasing out the domestic and romantic repercussions of...

FATES AND TRAITORS

On April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. But how did Booth come to such a point? And how did his loved ones miss the warning signs?

Rather than telling Booth’s tale from his own perspective, which would necessitate imagining the intellectual machinations of one of the 19th century’s most notorious criminals, Chiaverini (Christmas Bells, 2015, etc.) uses the perspectives of the four women arguably closest to Booth, the four women who might have foreseen and forestalled his ignominious moment in the spotlight. Beginning with Mary Ann Holmes’ whirlwind romance with Booth’s father, the renowned actor Junius Brutus Booth, Chiaverini expands the dimensions of Booth’s tragedy to classic proportions: just as his father played the hero to glory on the theatrical stage, so did Booth play the villain on the political stage. Booth’s sister, Asia, adored him, but she found his increasing sympathies with the slaveholding states more and more difficult to explain away. Unlike his brothers, June and Edwin, Booth struggled to memorize lines, yet his good looks not only smoothed over many of his acting flaws, but also landed him in the good graces of many women, including Lucy, the impressionable second daughter of Sen. John Parker Hale of New Hampshire. Despite her family’s reservations, Lucy fell head over heels in love with the actor, offering Chiaverini the opportunity to cast shadows over Booth’s conspiring to kidnap (and later to assassinate) Lincoln: as Booth hoodwinks Lucy, Chiaverini keeps the reader’s eye on Lucy’s anxiety rather than Booth’s sedition. Lastly, Mary Surratt enters the tale. As the proprietress of the boardinghouse where Booth plotted with his accomplices, her perspective emphasizes the collateral damage of Booth’s act.

Engaging, sweeping historical fiction that complicates politics by teasing out the domestic and romantic repercussions of treason.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-525-95430-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: June 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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

THE UNSEEN

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. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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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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