Deftly moves through a complex web of personal relationships, religious zeal and political fervor.

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BY FIRE, BY WATER

Debut novelist Kaplan depicts a turbulent period in 15th-century Spain, focusing on the story of Aragon’s royal chancellor.

Luis de Santángel’s grandfather was a converso, one of the many Jews forced to convert to Christianity. The chancellor retains an interest in his Jewish heritage, a dangerous prospect given the “New Inquisition” that has recently come to Spain. While Luis is influential and has the ear of King Fernando, he feels threatened by Chief Inquisitor Pedro de Arbués, charged with ferreting out apostates and all those who may have fallen from the true faith. Luis colludes in Pedro’s assassination, but faces more danger when Inquisitor General Tomás de Torquemada arrives to track down the conspirators. Torquemada captures Luis’s brother Estefan, and we learn in grisly detail how the Inquisition extracted “confessions of faith” from those who legitimately felt they had nothing to confess. Religious issues become even more complicated when the forces of Fernando and Ysabel push south into Granada to expel the Moors, an act prompted partly by religious fervor, partly by political expediency. When Ysabel finds out about a spurious anti-Christian manuscript entitled Toledoth Yeshu, she is led to an act of intolerance—the expulsion of all Jews from the kingdom—that rivals the cross-examinations and tortures of the Inquisition. Meanwhile, Cristóbal Colón, desperately trying to get funding for his voyage of discovery, needs to persuade those in power that going west is indeed a viable route to the Indies. Luis becomes Colón’s influential advocate at court, even putting up some of his own considerable fortune to fund the expedition. The chancellor’s political life becomes intertwined with his personal life when Luis falls in love with Judith, a beautiful Jew and talented silversmith.

Deftly moves through a complex web of personal relationships, religious zeal and political fervor.

Pub Date: May 18, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-59051-352-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2010

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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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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