A deep dive into Caribbean history which requires, and ultimately rewards, close reading.

THE SUMMER COUNTRY

A tale of two sugar plantations on Barbados before and after the abolition of slavery.

In 1854, Emily Dawson and her cousin Adam arrive on the island of Barbados in the British West Indies, he to secure contracts for the family shipping company and she to take possession of Peverills, the plantation she unexpectedly inherited from their late grandfather, Jonathan Fenty. Fenty, once the bookkeeper at Peverills, had been a "Redleg"—the Barbadian term for poor whites—but then he had escaped to England and made his fortune. On arriving in Barbados, Emily and Adam meet their grandfather’s wealthy business associate, Mr. Turner (a former slave), and his nephew, Nathanial Braithwaite, a medical doctor, who will figure heavily in Emily’s future. During an uprising of enslaved people that led to emancipation in 1816, Peverills was burned down and has laid in ruins ever since. Beckles, the neighboring plantation, is run by the imperious Mrs. Davenant with the assistance of her grandson, George. The action shifts back and forth between 1812-1816 and 1854 as the tangled histories of the two plantations painstakingly emerge. In 1812, Charles Davenant, the older son lately returned from England, has inherited Peverills, much to the chagrin of his younger brother, Robert. Charles tries to mollify Robert by encouraging him to court Mary Anne, heiress to Beckles. Charles’ heart belongs to Mary Anne’s enslaved maid, Jenny, the mixed-race daughter of Mary Anne’s uncle. Jenny is torn between loving Charles and her struggle for freedom. Complications, rivalries, and plot points ensue, leading up to mysteries surrounding Emily’s lineage. Willig's (The English Wife, 2018, etc.) decision to alternate chapters between the two time periods, rather than adopt a more straightforward chronology, means that information about who’s who is withheld in a way that slackens the book's momentum. Characters of all races are fully fleshed out as Willig confronts the island’s complex racial dynamics, in particular the sexual exploitation of enslaved women and its consequences.

A deep dive into Caribbean history which requires, and ultimately rewards, close reading.

Pub Date: June 4, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-283902-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2019

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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