Warm, smart, and original: a swift Snake in Eagle’s Shadow kick to all the Bridget Jones clones.

COFFEE & KUNG FU

A young woman’s guide to life—as seen through classic Jackie Chan films.

Newcomer Brichoux scores a coup by venturing into the cliché-strewn, warmed-over waters of Gen-X chick-lit and coming up with a bright, fresh, exciting new spin on the genre. This time, the mid-20s woman awash in neuroses and self-doubt is Nicci Bradford, who (get this) doesn’t live in New York or London and doesn’t work in publishing. Disgruntled with her graphic work at a Boston ad firm, Nicci consoles herself with brewing the perfect pot of jasmine tea and watching classic, rare, kung fu flicks, the highly moral, extremely low-budgeted operatic action comedies from which she gains most of her insights into life. The wry, endearing and rootless daughter of overseas missionaries (she was raised mostly in the Philippines), Nicci’s not quite a tomboy, but she’s not far from it and has no white-knight delusions about her future. For most of the story, there’s not even a shoulder for her to cry on because her best friend Carol thinks Nicci was hitting on Carol’s husband (in truth, the guy was coming on to her and Nicci had to knee him in the groin—the only shaolin-style karate, sadly, she’s called upon to do in the book). Nicci’s got a new boyfriend, the rich, confident Rob, who pleases her to no end in bed (and on his yacht) but has next to nothing to talk with her about, and she finds herself fantasizing more and more about that quiet guy who works at the coffeeshop. While Brichoux knows the chick-lit conventions (just as Nicci knows and worships the conventions of the chopsocky genre), the last fourth of the tale breaks free of them and allows Nicci to restart her life on her own terms.

Warm, smart, and original: a swift Snake in Eagle’s Shadow kick to all the Bridget Jones clones.

Pub Date: June 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-451-20902-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: NAL/Berkley

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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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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