A historically exceptional tale with some uneven dramatic elements.

BEYOND THE GATES OF ANI

A historical novel set in the 11th century chronicles the plight of Roman Catholic Armenians under siege by warring Turks. 

In 1064, Arman Chakalian’s home in Ani—located in Turkey, on the Armenian border—is overrun by Turkish soldiers. Arman is Armenian and his father is killed in the invasion. Because Arman’s mother died in childbirth, he is left all alone. He manages to escape Ani with his best friend, Tovmas Valenian, and they decide to travel to Cilicia to find Arman’s grandparents. Then they discover that both of them are dead. The duo resolves to join the Byzantine army as mercenaries in order to fight the Turks, though Tovmas longs to return home to see whether his parents are still alive. Tovmas is entrusted with an ancient religious relic, the Cross of Noah, and asked to secretly shuttle it to Constantinople, where it can be safeguarded until a new Armenian state is established. Both friends travel to Constantinople by sea, and Arman is asked to safely transport Erica, a beautiful young girl, back to her father. He saves her from a vicious attack by a lecherous sailor, and the two fall in love. But they are briefly captured and made slaves by pirates in Cairo. Later, Arman and Tovmas fight courageously against the Turks. Tovmas finally returns home to convince his parents to leave Ani—now under the oppressive thumb of a Turkish ruler—and move to Cilicia, where they can safely begin a new life. Arman marries Erica, but feels shiftless in her native town, Sredets, and the two separate painfully. He pledges to return to Constantinople and rejoin what increasingly seems like a lost cause, defending not only Armenian independence, but also the continued existence of Christianity.  Knott (Beyond the Bitter Sea, 2014) masterfully captures the historical period, and the perilous circumstances into which Armenian Christians were forced. His research is as painstaking as it is wide-ranging—he displays an expert grasp of the era’s political struggles and religious divisions as well as the ancient geography and economy. The principal selling point of the novel is its epochal authenticity—it is hard to imagine an academic treatise providing as full and vivid a picture of the time. In addition, Arman is drawn with fine, nuanced authorial strokes. The character expresses not only the rage Armenians must have felt in the face of their ruthless debasement, but also an ambivalence many had about the religious crusade birthed in response to it, capable of its own merciless savagery: “ ‘I question the morality of this war,’ said Arman. ‘Already it seems that the crusaders are only interested in plunder and killing innocent Jews and even other Christians who fall in their path.’ ” But the plot moves lethargically and has a tendency to meander without narrative discipline. In addition, the story’s dramatic facets aren’t always as persuasive as its historical ones. For example, Arman recovers far too quickly and fully from a personal tragedy to be emotionally believable.

A historically exceptional tale with some uneven dramatic elements.  

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 349

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: May 25, 2019

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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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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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Packed with riveting drama and painful truths, this book powerfully illustrates the devastation of abuse—and the strength of...

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IT ENDS WITH US

Hoover’s (November 9, 2015, etc.) latest tackles the difficult subject of domestic violence with romantic tenderness and emotional heft.

At first glance, the couple is edgy but cute: Lily Bloom runs a flower shop for people who hate flowers; Ryle Kincaid is a surgeon who says he never wants to get married or have kids. They meet on a rooftop in Boston on the night Ryle loses a patient and Lily attends her abusive father’s funeral. The provocative opening takes a dark turn when Lily receives a warning about Ryle’s intentions from his sister, who becomes Lily’s employee and close friend. Lily swears she’ll never end up in another abusive home, but when Ryle starts to show all the same warning signs that her mother ignored, Lily learns just how hard it is to say goodbye. When Ryle is not in the throes of a jealous rage, his redeeming qualities return, and Lily can justify his behavior: “I think we needed what happened on the stairwell to happen so that I would know his past and we’d be able to work on it together,” she tells herself. Lily marries Ryle hoping the good will outweigh the bad, and the mother-daughter dynamics evolve beautifully as Lily reflects on her childhood with fresh eyes. Diary entries fancifully addressed to TV host Ellen DeGeneres serve as flashbacks to Lily’s teenage years, when she met her first love, Atlas Corrigan, a homeless boy she found squatting in a neighbor’s house. When Atlas turns up in Boston, now a successful chef, he begs Lily to leave Ryle. Despite the better option right in front of her, an unexpected complication forces Lily to cut ties with Atlas, confront Ryle, and try to end the cycle of abuse before it’s too late. The relationships are portrayed with compassion and honesty, and the author’s note at the end that explains Hoover’s personal connection to the subject matter is a must-read.

Packed with riveting drama and painful truths, this book powerfully illustrates the devastation of abuse—and the strength of the survivors.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5011-1036-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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