This all feels familiar from various Dickens stories—the orphan, the orphan’s patrons, the illusions, the unfriendly...


In post–World War II England, an orphan named Reggie Rainbow struggles to make ends meet as a “disappearance boy”—the invisible helper of a struggling illusionist.

Reggie is first introduced as an orphan standing nearly naked in rags on a railroad track, hoping that if he dies he will be reunited with his dead mother, who he imagines is an angel. Instead, he’s whisked off the rails; the next time we see him after this dramatic, Dickensian setup, he’s a young adult on his way to work. His unusual job is to hide in small contraptions to help make the illusionist Mr. Brookes’ female assistant successfully vanish from the audience’s view. Unfortunately, London’s interest in magic shows has subsided, and Mr. Brookes fires his female assistants with regularity. There are long scenes describing precisely how the tricks work (or fail to work), and instead of being revealing, they feel procedural and tedious. The narrator rather unsuccessfully addresses the reader in the second person, as if we are audience members watching the show: “As you can see, the Lady is indeed missing.” This creates a flatness in the prose, removing elements of surprise from the story. Reggie looks like he might be out of work, but things turn around, and Mr. Brookes picks up a gig in a new place, Brighton, and a new, more self-assured female assistant named Pamela, who takes the job thinking, “How hard can being made to disappear be?” Unfortunately, Pamela, like those who preceded her, finds herself under Mr. Brookes’ thumb. It’s Reggie’s friendship that saves the day when he uses a bit of magic he’s learned to turn the tables on his unkind employer.

This all feels familiar from various Dickens stories—the orphan, the orphan’s patrons, the illusions, the unfriendly businessmen, the saviors—and the 1950s setting isn’t enough to refresh the great expectations.

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-62040-725-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


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

Did you like this book?