A gripping plot and the author’s research get buried in backstory, exposition and subplots.

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FLOWER FROM CASTILE

THE ALHAMBRA DECREE

A young woman learns a secret about her past while Columbus plots to explore the world in this historical novel set during the Spanish Inquisition.

Isabella, a young noblewoman in Castile, is soon to marry her love when she is kidnapped and thrust into the world of persecuted Jews. She learns that her parents weren’t really the Catholic nobles who raised her. Her captors hide her in the harem of a Moorish king. Meanwhile, a young rebel called Miguel Costa fights for religious freedom, and Christopher Columbus plots to convince Queen Isabella, who is focused on ridding her domain of Moors, to support his worldly explorations. Gafni’s understanding of the time period seems paramount, and her plot is solid. Isabella’s movement between different cultures allows readers to explore what it was like to be a Catholic, Jew or Moor during one of history’s darkest periods. However, Gafni’s omniscient third-person narration overreaches, so that instead of focusing on a few touchstone characters, Gafni delves into backstories, emotions and motivations of countless characters. As a result, the novel feels unfocused, and many sections could have been edited out without affecting the novel. Scenes of negotiation between Columbus and Queen Isabella, though they may be important to the story in the grand scheme, only distract from the more interesting trajectory of Isabella’s awakening to the deadly bigotry in her world. The author frequently editorializes about characters’ actions or motivations instead of letting words or actions speak for themselves. For example, telling a reader that “Isabella stood in the middle of her bedchamber feeling lost and powerless. It was an overwhelming feeling” does little to evoke emotion or interest. Furthermore, the author is prone to revealing her hand too easily. The reader knows long before Isabella who her real parents are, so the reader feels no surprise when it is finally revealed to Isabella herself.  

A gripping plot and the author’s research get buried in backstory, exposition and subplots.

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2011

ISBN: 978-1463744588

Page Count: 396

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2012

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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Cheerfully engaging.

WHAT ALICE FORGOT

From Australian Moriarty (The Last Anniversary, 2006, etc.), domestic escapism about a woman whose temporary amnesia makes her re-examine what really matters to her.

Alice wakes from what she thinks is a dream, assuming she is a recently married 29-year-old expecting her first child. Actually she is 39, the mother of three and in the middle of an acrimonious custody battle with her soon-to-be ex-husband Nick. She’s fallen off her exercise bike, and the resulting bump on her head has not only erased her memory of the last 10 years but has also taken her psychologically back to a younger, more easygoing self at odds with the woman she gathers she has become. While Alice-at-29 is loving and playful if lacking ambition or self-confidence, Alice-at-39 is a highly efficient if too tightly wound supermom. She is also thin and rich since Nick now heads the company where she remembers him struggling in an entry-level position. Alice-at-29 cannot conceive that she and Nick would no longer be rapturously in love or that she and her adored older sister Elisabeth could be estranged, and she is shocked that her shy mother has married Nick’s bumptious father and taken up salsa dancing. She neither remembers nor recognizes her three children, each given a distinct if slightly too cute personality. Nor does she know what to make of the perfectly nice boyfriend Alice-at-39 has acquired. As memory gradually returns, Alice-at-29 initially misinterprets the scattered images and flashes of emotion, especially those concerning Gina, a woman who evidently caused the rift with Nick. Alice-at-29 assumes Gina was Nick’s mistress, only to discover that Gina was her best friend. Gina died in a freak car accident and in her honor, Alice-at-39 has organized mothers from the kids’ school to bake the largest lemon meringue pie on record. But Alice-at-29 senses that Gina may not have been a completely positive influence. Moriarty handles the two Alice consciousnesses with finesse and also delves into infertility issues through Elizabeth’s diary.

Cheerfully engaging.

Pub Date: June 2, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-399-15718-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Amy Einhorn/Putnam

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2011

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