by Mary Sharratt ‧ RELEASE DATE: April 27, 2021
Sharratt’s gift for grounding larger issues in everyday lives makes for historical fiction at its best.
With this novel about Margery Kempe, mother of 14–turned–pilgrim and preacher, Sharratt’s obsession with medieval women mystics continues.
Margery, like most middle-class young women in 14th-century England, is not allowed to choose her own husband, and her true love is lost at sea. At first, she’s resigned to her parents’ choice for her, John Kempe, a brewer in the provincial town of Bishop’s Lynn, but after the birth of their first child, she suffers what now might be diagnosed as postpartum psychosis: She is hounded by hellish visions of demons, but one day, an unforgettable vision of Christ restores her to sanity. Her contentment with domesticity sours over years of nonstop childbearing—the effects of 14 pregnancies are recounted in chilling detail. In desperation, Margery insists that John join her in a mutual vow of chastity, and he acquiesces, letting Margery embark on longed-for pilgrimages, first to Jerusalem and later to Spain, to follow the path of Santiago de Compostela. Before leaving England, she meets Julian of Norwich, a mystic and “anchoress” voluntarily confined in a cell attached to a church. (Readers will recall Hildegard von Bingen’s ordeal as an anchoress’s companion in Sharratt's 2012 Illuminations.) Julian validates, by example, Margery’s belief in a personal relationship with God, free of clerical mediation. Julian also entrusts her own manuscript—doubly transgressive because it's in English and a woman wrote it—to Margery. In the Holy Land, Margery’s religious ecstasies, marked by loud weeping, are offensive, as Sharratt wryly notes, only to English Catholics; Eastern Christians are fine with it. Drawn from Kempe’s actual autobiography, the novel is enhanced by Sharratt’s storytelling ability. The pilgrimage sections are rescued from tedium by Margery’s heedlessness of social opprobrium and her resulting clashes with fellow pilgrims. Readers will root for Margery as she wins friends among a minority of kindred spirits, who, like her, dare to imagine such heresies as Scriptures in English and women writing books.Sharratt’s gift for grounding larger issues in everyday lives makes for historical fiction at its best.
Pub Date: April 27, 2021
Page Count: 320
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Review Posted Online: Dec. 25, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021
Share your opinion of this book
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
Share your opinion of this book
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
Share your opinion of this book
Hey there, book lover.
We’re glad you found a book that interests you!