Despite the novel's faults, the period setting comes alive thanks to O’Connor’s lively prose and dialogue.

READ REVIEW

BECOMING BELLE

A late-19th-century music hall artiste dares to assail class boundaries in a novel based on a sensational court case.

Isabel “Belle” Bilton, daughter of a military officer and a frustrated actress, leaves the barracks town where she was raised to seek her fortune on the London stage. Theater buffs, hoping for an insider look at the antecedents of today’s musicals, be advised: There is very little backstage drama and even less about Belle’s day-to-day challenges as a singer, dancer, and actor. Billed as the Sisters Bilton, Belle and her sister Flo are an instantaneous hit—although O’Connor tells rather than shows readers that the sisters’ talent is not just skin-deep. Flo quickly settles for a safe but dull marriage, but Belle frequents bohemian nightspots like the Corinthian Club, where she succumbs to the blandishments of Alden Weston, a self-proclaimed baron, who is later convicted of fraud and imprisoned. Pregnant by Weston, Belle is helped by her only true friend, wealthy antiques merchant Isidore Wertheimer, who, as a gay Jewish man, inhabits a demimonde of another sort. After farming her infant out to a wet nurse, Belle soldiers on with her career. Her romantic zeal is reignited by William, an Irish viscount who takes up with her in defiance of his father, the Earl of Clancarty, who threatens to disinherit him. They marry in secret, but the Earl sends his son to Australia almost immediately thereafter. Isidore again shelters Belle as she anxiously awaits William’s return—only to hear that, despite the occasional fervid love letter, William has petitioned for divorce. The ensuing jury trial is the most compelling portion of the book, which has thus far languished without much of a plot. Belle’s characterization is anemic: Is she naïve? An opportunist? A gold digger? A slave to love and/or lust? Her emotions, traits, and intentions are duly cataloged, but Belle’s essence remains decorative and unknowable.

Despite the novel's faults, the period setting comes alive thanks to O’Connor’s lively prose and dialogue.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1440-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

Google Rating

  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2014

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • National Book Award Finalist

  • Pulitzer Prize Winner

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more