A pipe dream of a world in which mere mortals can’t imagine any higher honor than dying aboard the Super Chief.

SUPER

Everyone’s dying to take the Super Chief in TV newsman Lehrer’s 20th novel, which, like his 19th (Oh, Johnny, 2009), is a valentine to the days when life and death seemed simpler, even if the people who lived and died weren’t.

Most Hollywood stars have long since abandoned the railroads by April 1956. But Clark Gable, who hasn’t flown on a civilian aircraft since his wife, Carole Lombard, was killed in a plane crash in 1941, still takes the Super Chief from Chicago to Los Angeles. The King’s routine is so pat that porters who know him can schedule his dinner, his drinks and his assignations with star-struck fans with barely a syllable from him. Gable isn’t the only celebrity on the Super Chief; ex-President Harry S. Truman will board in Kansas City, setting up a memorable non-conversation between the two aging lions. But the real drama revolves around three less distinguished citizens. Hollywood producer Darwin Rinehart is already a has-been at 40. Wheelchair-bound cancer patient Otto Wheeler, a longtime regular aboard the Super Chief, is taking his very last trip to his home town of Bethel, Kan. And Dale L. Lawrence has negotiated privately with a redcap for a sleeper off the company books and a chance to speak to the former President on a matter of life or death. Before the train pulls into Los Angeles, two passengers will be dead by violence, another will be suspected as an imposter and passenger agent Charlie Sanders will find himself cast in the role of accidental detective. This isn’t Murder on the Orient Express, or North by Northwest, which gets prophetically brainstormed in the course of the journey; the plot complications flicker away with the miles. Instead it’s a humane, often gently humorous evocation of an era Lehrer obviously loves and mourns.

A pipe dream of a world in which mere mortals can’t imagine any higher honor than dying aboard the Super Chief.

Pub Date: April 27, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6763-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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