In a novel so awed by the great and near-great, ordinary human characters are outgunned.

OF IRISH BLOOD

An Irish-American from Chicago, fleeing an abusive relationship, moves to Paris on the eve of World War I.

This sequel to Kelly’s Galway Bay (2009) is exhaustively researched, but much of that research is shoehorned onto the page; too often, otherwise-engaging characters become docents spouting informational tracts about all things Irish. In 1903, after battling her way from the switchboard to a career as a fashion designer for Montgomery Ward, narrator Nora Kelly (based on the author’s great-aunt) falls prey to the blandishments of Tim McShane, a charismatic gambler years her senior who initiates her sexually and relegates her to the role of occasional mistress while he squires vaudeville star Dolly McKee publicly. Eight years later, Nora, weary of the arrangement, tries to get free. But McShane, an affable but harmless blowhard in the opening chapters (how else could the independent-minded Nora have fallen for him?), appears to have undergone a not entirely convincing Jekyll and Hyde transformation: He tries to strangle Nora. Aided by Dolly, whom McShane also abuses, Nora escapes to Paris, where she earns a living copying designs for a couturier who serves the near-wealthy and leading tours of Paris for ladies who come to shop. Along the way, she encounters Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein, Henri Matisse, Helen Keller, Coco Chanel and countless other icons. She also falls in love with Peter, a shy, austere professor at the Irish college of Paris, which also is an outpost of the Irish independence movement. Although Nora demonstrates the requisite degree of pluck—at one point she launders funds for the Irish rebellion—she never seems to mature nor gain much insight into the political, amorous and cultural tumult swirling around her. Even as she witnesses the onset of the Great War, serves as a nurse and is privy to an astounding quarrel between Yeats and his muse, Maud Gonne, over his famous poem “Easter, 1916,” Nora remains a cipher.

In a novel so awed by the great and near-great, ordinary human characters are outgunned.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-7653-2913-4

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Forge

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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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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Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her...

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS

Avery Stafford, a lawyer, descendant of two prominent Southern families and daughter of a distinguished senator, discovers a family secret that alters her perspective on heritage.

Wingate (Sisters, 2016, etc.) shifts the story in her latest novel between present and past as Avery uncovers evidence that her Grandma Judy was a victim of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and is related to a woman Avery and her father meet when he visits a nursing home. Although Avery is living at home to help her parents through her father’s cancer treatment, she is also being groomed for her own political career. Readers learn that investigating her family’s past is not part of Avery's scripted existence, but Wingate's attempts to make her seem torn about this are never fully developed, and descriptions of her chemistry with a man she meets as she's searching are also unconvincing. Sections describing the real-life orphanage director Georgia Tann, who stole poor children, mistreated them, and placed them for adoption with wealthy clients—including Joan Crawford and June Allyson—are more vivid, as are passages about Grandma Judy and her siblings. Wingate’s fans and readers who enjoy family dramas will find enough to entertain them, and book clubs may enjoy dissecting the relationship and historical issues in the book.

Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her fictional characters' lives.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-425-28468-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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