Well-researched and entertaining.

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BATTLE OF THE CRATER

Putative presidential hopeful, political lightning rod and prolific author Gingrich (Gettysburg, 2003, etc.) novelizes a little-known Civil War battle.

Joined by Forstchen, Gingrich deconstructs an 1864 Union effort that could have ended the war. The Battle of the Crater occurred after Grant maneuvered away from a bloody stalemate at Cold Harbor to attack near Petersburg, Va. Grant wanted to seize Richmond, the linchpin of the Confederacy. Jerusalem Plank Road, “the aorta of Bobbie Lee,” linked the two cities. However, Grant’s probe soon descended into trench warfare, with Confederate lines anchored by Pegram’s Battery. The 48th Pennsylvania Infantry, led by Lt. Col. Henry Pleasants, volunteers from coal-mining country, realized the fortification was only a few hundred feet from their own lines. The miners believed they could tunnel under no-man’s land until they were beneath the fortification, and then plant enough explosives to blast a hole in the defenses. The daring plan was put in place, although few of the brass believed it would work or offered material support. Pleasants, Burnside, Meade and other officers are well-known figures, but other historical people appear, including Garland White, once a slave to Senator Toombs of Georgia, but then serving as sergeant major of the 28th Colored Infantry. A fictional illustrator for Harper’s Weekly, James Reilly, nourished as a homeless young man by an attorney named Abraham Lincoln, is the now-President Lincoln’s secret eye on the battlefield. His character ties the narrative together. The fractured relationship between Burnside and his superior, Meade, which may have doomed the unorthodox plan, is dissected. The authors also provide insight into the treatment of African-American troops, superbly trained to lead the drive through the breech but relegated to the reserves by prejudice. Reilly’s fictional perspective is gained by hindsight, and there’s a disconcerting random switching from first to surnames, but overall, the action-filled narrative is easily followed through the planning, the battle and the inquiries that followed.

Well-researched and entertaining.

Pub Date: Nov. 8, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-312-60710-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Sept. 27, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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A daring concept not so daringly developed.

THE BOOK OF LONGINGS

In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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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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