LOSING JULIA

Former Time journalist Hull’s first novel paints a generic portrait of young love and trench warfare, framed by a bracingly unsentimental depiction of old age. The story moves forward simultaneously on three fronts, all chronicled in the diary of American veteran Patrick Delaney. At age 81, he recalls his experiences as a soldier during WWI, when his best friend, Daniel, died horribly after an assault on the German lines; and his brief, enchanted affair with Daniel’s lover, Julia, whom he met in France in 1928 while attending the dedication of a memorial monument. The battle scenes are adequate, but contemporary writers who venture into this arena must suffer comparison to Pat Barker’s breathtaking trilogy (The Ghost Road, 1995, etc.), and Hull falls short in both imaginative empathy and literary skill. Patrick’s account of his liaison with Julia, conducted as his unloved wife and cherished three-year-old son await him in a Paris hotel, fails to convince us that she’s as fabulous as he thinks. However—and this is a big however—the diary’s 1980 portions, chronicling Patrick’s life in a nursing home, have all the specificity and emotional weight the historical segments lack. Compare the bite of —The older I get, the more out of place I feel, like a weekend guest still loitering around the cottage on Sunday night because he’s got no place else to go— with the blandness of —How perfect she looked . . . with the kind of face you instinctively want to touch and kiss.— The lovelorn noodlings of Patrick and Julia aren—t nearly as interesting as the blunt, bitter depiction of physical decay and psychic regret that plague nearly every inhabitant of the Great Oaks Home for Assisted Living. A death scene there would have been a lot more realistic—and challenging—than the phonily romantic one Hull provides. Pretty stale stuff, but those perfectly pitched nursing-home scenes linger in the memory.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2000

ISBN: 0-385-33375-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2000

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Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.

THE WINTER GUEST

An 18-year-old Polish girl falls in love, swoons over a first kiss, dreams of marriage—and, oh yes, we are in the middle of the Holocaust.

Jenoff (The Ambassador’s Daughter, 2013, etc.) weaves a tale of fevered teenage love in a time of horrors in the early 1940s, as the Nazis invade Poland and herd Jews into ghettos and concentration camps. A prologue set in 2013, narrated by a resident of the Westchester Senior Center, provides an intriguing setup. A woman and a policeman visit the resident and ask if she came from a small Polish village. Their purpose is unclear until they mention bones recently found there: “And we think you might know something about them.” The book proceeds in the third person, told from the points of view mostly of teenage Helena, who comes upon an injured young Jewish-American soldier, and sometimes of her twin, Ruth, who is not as adventurous as Helena but is very competitive with her. Their father is dead, their mother is dying in a hospital, and they are raising their three younger siblings amid danger and hardship. The romance between Helena and Sam, the soldier, is often conveyed in overheated language that doesn’t sit well with the era’s tragic events: “There had been an intensity to his embrace that said he was barely able to contain himself, that he also wanted more.” Jenoff, clearly on the side of tolerance, slips in a simplified historical framework for the uninformed. But she also feeds stereotypes, having Helena note that Sam has “a slight arch to his nose” and a dark complexion that “would make him suspect as a Jew immediately.” Clichés also pop up during the increasingly complex plot: “But even if they stood in place, the world around them would not.”

Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7783-1596-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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RIVER'S END

Though Roberts (The Reef, 1998, etc.) never writes badly, her newest mystery romance is more inconsistent than most. Little Olivia MacBride, daughter of two golden Hollywood superstars, wakes up one night to see her coked-up father holding her mother’s bloody body, a scissors in his hand. After her dad is led off to prison, Liv is sent to live with her grandparents, who run a successful lodge in the Olympic rain forest on the Washington coast—a location far across the continent from the Maryland shores of Roberts’s Quinn trilogy, but one that allows her to explore another place of life-giving scenic wonder. And when Liv grows up and becomes a naturalist/guide, she gets to take us on lots of eye-dazzling tours. Into her sheltered paradise comes Noah Brady, the son of the police detective who arrested Liv’s father and has been her friend since childhood. Noah has grown up to be a bestselling true-crime writer, and, against Liv’s will, he wants to write his next book about the MacBride murder case. (Liv’s dad, about to be released from San Quentin, is dying of brain cancer.) Though Liv fights her attraction to Noah, he’s a persistent boy, and on an extended and very sexy camping trip, the two become lovers. Meanwhile, the real murderer, whose identity will probably be obvious to most readers, leaves his own trail of violence up to Washington and a final prime-evil shoot-out. Added to Roberts’s poorly drawn mystery and her interlude of swell lusty love is her usual theme of how wounded children and inner children are healed and nurtured by good nuclear families. If the conventional wisdom is true, that romance readers never tire of reruns of the same old same old, then Roberts won’t have disappointed them.

Pub Date: March 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-399-14470-6

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1999

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