by Larry Beckett ‧ RELEASE DATE: April 15, 2021
An often vivid but overlong set of works about America’s idols.
A massive collection of long-form poems inspired by legendary American figures and folklore.
This magnum opus of poetry is divided into 10 sections, with the first, “U. S. Rivers: Highway 1,” describing the path on the titular road from Key West, Florida, to Maine. Each state contains its own rich history that plays a part in the country’s larger narrative. “Old California” is a subtly comedic take on that state’s residents, with a special focus on Monterey. “Paul Bunyan” retells the story of the mythical lumberjack while “John Henry” catalogs the life and death of that steel-driving man in a rhyming, songlike structure. War and its legacy are at the center of “Chief Joseph,” and the Wild West features heavily in “Wyatt Earp.” The circus comes to town, with all its hyperbole and mischief, in “P. T. Barnum,” and a ghost laments that Amelia Earhart’s death is a key aspect of her fame in a section named after the doomed aviator. “Blue Ridge” is a pastoral poem that involves time travel. “U. S. Rivers: Route 66” again takes readers onto the open road. The collection concludes with sheet music for two songs, “On the balcony, the moon” and “Ballad of Mattie.” Beckett has clearly done his research in order to provide details that capture the spirit of the United States and of major figures who made their mark on the country. He endeavors to use historically accurate diction, from full Spanish sentences in “Old California” to African American Vernacular English in “John Henry,” and his descriptions are often powerful, as in a line that paints Paul Bunyan as “A man mountain, all hustle, all muscle and bull bones” or a passage from the perspective of a deceased Amelia Earhart: “as the fish knock / my ribs, and coral grows on my white bones, / unsleeping, in the lurid current, clouds / foam, in seaweed.” But at more than 750 pages, this tome sorely needed pruning, as its excessive length will dissuade even the most ambitious readers from attempting to conquer it.An often vivid but overlong set of works about America’s idols.
Pub Date: April 15, 2021
Page Count: 770
Publisher: Running Wild Press
Review Posted Online: June 23, 2021
Review Program: Kirkus Indie
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by James McBride ‧ RELEASE DATE: Aug. 8, 2023
If it’s possible for America to have a poet laureate, why can’t James McBride be its storyteller-in-chief?
Awards & Accolades
Best Books Of 2023
New York Times Bestseller
McBride follows up his hit novel Deacon King Kong (2020) with another boisterous hymn to community, mercy, and karmic justice.
It's June 1972, and the Pennsylvania State Police have some questions concerning a skeleton found at the bottom of an old well in the ramshackle Chicken Hill section of Pottstown that’s been marked for redevelopment. But Hurricane Agnes intervenes by washing away the skeleton and all other physical evidence of a series of extraordinary events that began more than 40 years earlier, when Jewish and African American citizens shared lives, hopes, and heartbreak in that same neighborhood. At the literal and figurative heart of these events is Chona Ludlow, the forbearing, compassionate Jewish proprietor of the novel’s eponymous grocery store, whose instinctive kindness and fairness toward the Black families of Chicken Hill exceed even that of her husband, Moshe, who, with Chona’s encouragement, desegregates his theater to allow his Black neighbors to fully enjoy acts like Chick Webb’s swing orchestra. Many local White Christians frown upon the easygoing relationship between Jews and Blacks, especially Doc Roberts, Pottstown’s leading physician, who marches every year in the local Ku Klux Klan parade. The ties binding the Ludlows to their Black neighbors become even stronger over the years, but that bond is tested most stringently and perilously when Chona helps Nate Timblin, a taciturn Black janitor at Moshe’s theater and the unofficial leader of his community, conceal and protect a young orphan named Dodo who lost his hearing in an explosion. He isn’t at all “feeble-minded,” but the government wants to put him in an institution promising little care and much abuse. The interlocking destinies of these and other characters make for tense, absorbing drama and, at times, warm, humane comedy. McBride’s well-established skill with narrative tactics may sometimes spill toward the melodramatic here. But as in McBride’s previous works, you barely notice such relatively minor contrivances because of the depth of characterizations and the pitch-perfect dialogue of his Black and Jewish characters. It’s possible to draw a clear, straight line from McBride’s breakthrough memoir, The Color of Water (1996), to the themes of this latest work.If it’s possible for America to have a poet laureate, why can’t James McBride be its storyteller-in-chief?
Pub Date: Aug. 8, 2023
Page Count: 400
Review Posted Online: May 9, 2023
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2023
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by Mitch Albom ‧ RELEASE DATE: Nov. 14, 2023
A captivating allegory about evil, lies, and forgiveness.
Truth and deception clash in this tale of the Holocaust.
Udo Graf is proud that the Wolf has assigned him the task of expelling all 50,000 Jews from Salonika, Greece. In that city, Nico Krispis is an 11-year-old Jewish boy whose blue eyes and blond hair deceive, but whose words do not. Those who know him know he has never told a lie in his life—“Never be the one to tell lies, Nico,” his grandfather teaches him. “God is always watching.” Udo and Nico meet, and Udo decides to exploit the child’s innocence. At the train station where Jews are being jammed into cattle cars bound for Auschwitz, Udo gives Nico a yellow star to wear and persuades him to whisper among the crowd, “I heard it from a German officer. They are sending us to Poland. We will have new homes. And jobs.” The lad doesn’t know any better, so he helps persuade reluctant Jews to board the train to hell. “You were a good little liar,” Udo later tells Nico, and delights in the prospect of breaking the boy’s spirit, which is more fun and a greater challenge than killing him outright. When Nico realizes the horrific nature of what he's done, his truth-telling days are over. He becomes an inveterate liar about everything. Narrating the story is the Angel of Truth, whom according to a parable God had cast out of heaven and onto earth, where Truth shattered into billions of pieces, each to lodge in a human heart. (Obviously, many hearts have been missed.) Truth skillfully weaves together the characters, including Nico; his brother, Sebastian; Sebastian’s wife, Fannie; and the “heartless deceiver” Udo. Events extend for decades beyond World War II, until everyone’s lives finally collide in dramatic fashion. As Truth readily acknowledges, his account is loaded with twists and turns, some fortuitous and others not. Will Nico Krispis ever seek redemption? And will he find it? Author Albom’s passion shows through on every page in this well-crafted novel.A captivating allegory about evil, lies, and forgiveness.
Pub Date: Nov. 14, 2023
Page Count: 352
Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2023
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023
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