An informative if starchy novel about a crucial turning point in American history.

VALLEY FORGE

A you-are-there account of George Washington's—and Baron von Steuben's—stalwart efforts to whip the beaten-down Continental Army into the crack fighting force that defeated the British.

Former Speaker of the House Gingrich and Forstchen, co-authors of six previous historical novels, continue their George Washington saga (To Try Men's Souls, 2009, etc.) with the inspirational story of Valley Forge. Having been routed at Brandywine and Germantown and suffered the massacre of a unit at Paoli, Gen. Washington's Continental Army is in shambles, mentally and physically. Underfed, poorly equipped, undermanned and dispirited by the depletion of some 2,000 soldiers, they stand no chance of defeating the more disciplined and professional British infantry. Dissenting brass assailing Washington's "Caesarisms" are calling for his removal. A large number of colonialists, fighting as Loyalists, are aiding the British cause. Enter Baron Friedrich Wilhelm Ludolf Gerhard Augustin von Steuben of Germany. A battle-scarred veteran of the Seven Years' War, he has both the military expertise to upgrade the troops and the psychological astuteness to reach men whose outspokenness, sense of pride and moral outlook are distinctly American. The book, which boasts another European hero in the Marquis de Lafayette, succeeds in putting a human face on the conflict. But except in brief private moments with his loving wife Martha, in which she clearly holds rank over him, Washington is a cardboard figure. The battle scenes are solid, but the reader has to get through a lot of talk and stiff inner reflections to get to them. And while Gingrich and Forstchen effectively link past and present in showing how Washington's men, like today's soldiers, had to cope with a lack of bureaucratic support, the authors may want to remove some of the anachronistic dialogue ("he had tried to wrap his brain around English") in later editions.

An informative if starchy novel about a crucial turning point in American history.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-312-59107-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 23, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2010

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A unique story about Appalachia and the healing power of the written word.

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THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK

One of Kentucky’s last living “Blue People” works as a traveling librarian in 1930s Appalachia.

Cussy Mary Carter is a 19-year-old from Troublesome Creek, Kentucky. She was born with a rare genetic condition, and her skin has always been tinged an allover deep blue. Cussy lives with her widowed father, a coal miner who relentlessly attempts to marry her off. Unfortunately, with blue skin and questionable genetics, Cussy is a tough sell. Cussy would rather keep her job as a pack-horse librarian than keep house for a husband anyway. As part of the new governmental program aimed at bringing reading material to isolated rural Kentuckians, Cussy rides a mule over treacherous terrain, delivering books and periodicals to people of limited means. Cussy’s patrons refer to her as “Bluet” or “Book Woman,” and she delights in bringing them books as well as messages, medicine, and advice. When a local pastor takes a nefarious interest in Cussy, claiming that God has sent him to rid society of her “blue demons,” efforts to defend herself leave Cussy at risk of arrest, or worse. The local doctor agrees to protect Cussy in exchange for her submission to medical testing. As Doc finds answers about Cussy’s condition, she begins to re-examine what it means to be a Blue and what life after a cure might look like. Although the novel gets off to a slow start, once Cussy begins traveling to the city for medical testing, the stakes get higher, as does the suspense of the story. Cussy's first-person narrative voice is engaging, laced with a thick Kentucky accent and colloquialisms of Depression-era Appalachia. Through the bigotry and discrimination Cussy suffers as a result of her skin color, the author artfully depicts the insidious behavior that can result when a society’s members feel threatened by things they don't understand. With a focus on the personal joy and broadened horizons that can result from access to reading material, this well-researched tale serves as a solid history lesson on 1930s Kentucky.

A unique story about Appalachia and the healing power of the written word.

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4926-7152-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Feb. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

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HOMEGOING

A novel of sharply drawn character studies immersed in more than 250 hard, transformative years in the African-American diaspora.

Gyasi’s debut novel opens in the mid-1700s in what is now Ghana, as tribal rivalries are exploited by British and Dutch colonists and slave traders. The daughter of one tribal leader marries a British man for financial expediency, then learns that the “castle” he governs is a holding dungeon for slaves. (When she asks what’s held there, she’s told “cargo.”) The narrative soon alternates chapters between the Ghanans and their American descendants up through the present day. On either side of the Atlantic, the tale is often one of racism, degradation, and loss: a slave on an Alabama plantation is whipped “until the blood on the ground is high enough to bathe a baby”; a freedman in Baltimore fears being sent back South with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act; a Ghanan woman is driven mad from the abuse of a missionary and her husband’s injury in a tribal war; a woman in Harlem is increasingly distanced from (and then humiliated by) her husband, who passes as white. Gyasi is a deeply empathetic writer, and each of the novel’s 14 chapters is a savvy character portrait that reveals the impact of racism from multiple perspectives. It lacks the sweep that its premise implies, though: while the characters share a bloodline, and a gold-flecked stone appears throughout the book as a symbolic connector, the novel is more a well-made linked story collection than a complex epic. Yet Gyasi plainly has the talent to pull that off: “I will be my own nation,” one woman tells a British suitor early on, and the author understands both the necessity of that defiance and how hard it is to follow through on it.

A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-94713-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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