An introspective tale of self-discovery that’s worth reading for its lyricism and insights.

FRANKIE JONES

In Klein’s debut novel, a man travels across the country and around the world, searching for happiness and meaning in his life.

After starting out with pitifully few advantages, Frankie Jones enjoys a charmed life as an adult. As a baby, he’s abandoned by his father and orphaned a few years later when his mother dies in a factory fire. At age 16, he leaves his orphanage and gets a busboy job in a St. Louis diner, where he’s mentored by a blues-playing cook and his family. He eventually saves enough money to travel abroad, and he goes on to visit 32 different countries; he also has some love affairs along the way. When he tires of roaming, he returns to the United States and goes to college, where he earns a degree in journalism. In Boston, while working as a newspaper reporter, he meets Mercedes Brewster, the woman he will later consider to be the love of his life. Although they’re from different backgrounds—she’s blue-blooded, and he calls himself the “bastard son of a pauper with no history at all”—it doesn’t stop them from falling in love. But soon his restlessness compels him to travel across the country to take a reporting job in San Diego. There, he pines for Mercedes but finds new opportunities for love and friendship, which leads to a betrayal. As Frankie deals with the consequences of his actions, he contemplates the nuanced differences between elusive happiness and attainable contentment. Klein conveys philosophical ideas with beautifully crafted prose and vivid descriptions, such as “A biting mad-dog wind snapped down the street mean as a blister” and “I watched blindly as the orange sun drowned itself in the ocean and the sky fizzled with sparklers of every shade.” The story, told from a distinctly male point of view, has echoes of the work of Ernest Hemingway, particularly during its spearfishing sequences, which are set in Baja California, Mexico. Frankie also comes across as likable, despite his issues with identity and commitment, and although he discusses much with his friends and lovers, much is left unresolved—as often happens in real life.

An introspective tale of self-discovery that’s worth reading for its lyricism and insights. 

Pub Date: June 14, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5327-8246-6

Page Count: 206

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2017

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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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Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her...

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS

Avery Stafford, a lawyer, descendant of two prominent Southern families and daughter of a distinguished senator, discovers a family secret that alters her perspective on heritage.

Wingate (Sisters, 2016, etc.) shifts the story in her latest novel between present and past as Avery uncovers evidence that her Grandma Judy was a victim of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and is related to a woman Avery and her father meet when he visits a nursing home. Although Avery is living at home to help her parents through her father’s cancer treatment, she is also being groomed for her own political career. Readers learn that investigating her family’s past is not part of Avery's scripted existence, but Wingate's attempts to make her seem torn about this are never fully developed, and descriptions of her chemistry with a man she meets as she's searching are also unconvincing. Sections describing the real-life orphanage director Georgia Tann, who stole poor children, mistreated them, and placed them for adoption with wealthy clients—including Joan Crawford and June Allyson—are more vivid, as are passages about Grandma Judy and her siblings. Wingate’s fans and readers who enjoy family dramas will find enough to entertain them, and book clubs may enjoy dissecting the relationship and historical issues in the book.

Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her fictional characters' lives.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-425-28468-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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