An absorbing look at how the high-stakes circumstances of war reveal character.

THE KOMMANDANT'S HOUSE

Two women fight to preserve family, love, and truth in this debut historical novel.

Marguerite is 14 years old when her French village is invaded by the German army during World War II. It’s 1940, and the early days of the occupation remain relatively peaceful on the orders of Maj. Wolfgang Müller, the area’s Kommandant. Although her mother despises all Germans, Marguerite agrees to cook for the Kommandant and his staff and is surprised to observe that Müller is a kind, upright man. The novel alternates between Marguerite’s observations and the Kommandant’s letters and diary entries, which show that he remains a devoted husband and father, treats French citizens with dignity, and believes that his ultimate goal is to send the message that “Germany is beginning its momentous task of moulding Europe into its own likeness.” For Marguerite, the most momentous change is that she falls in love with a young German soldier and must hide her affair from her family. Meanwhile, the Kommandant faces a challenge from an officer who believes the area needs harsher policies, and he worries about the motivations of Nazis like this man, whom he considers “a bully in a uniform.” From this dramatic first section, the book jumps ahead 50 years to follow Catherine Swannell, who has been invited to visit her distant cousin Marguerite. Catherine becomes engrossed in reassembling the past, searching for answers to lingering questions about what happened long ago. In this thoughtful novel, Rowan brings the French countryside to life with gentle, lyrical descriptions. Nations may grapple with war around the globe, she suggests, but beauty can still be found amid the “rippling river,” the “silky golden stubble” of wheat, and the “rustling of birds settling” in the hedgerows of this close-knit village. The layered, sympathetic figure of the Kommandant provides the story’s major questions: How can good compete with an evil that follows no rules or code? And at what point do your intentions clash with your reality? There’s a sentimental streak to the romantic passages, but overall the author capably adds nuance to familiar set pieces.

An absorbing look at how the high-stakes circumstances of war reveal character.

Pub Date: Aug. 29, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-909979-83-3

Page Count: 278

Publisher: Crux Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

Did you like this book?

more