Literary readers will prefer Michael Shaara and Shelby Steele, and unliterary ones will want their Newt Gingrich. But...

CAIN AT GETTYSBURG

Action-packed treatment of one of the bloodiest episodes of the Civil War, rendered with all due gruesomeness.

Michael Shaara’s 1974 novel The Killer Angels, writes Peters (The Officers’ Club, 2011, etc.), is the gold standard of fiction about the Battle of Gettysburg, adding that it appeared in a time when regard for the military was low and “citizens had to be reminded that towering heroes wore our country’s uniform.” Or, perhaps better, our country’s, and another country’s, uniforms. Whatever the case, Peters, a former military officer, is more reverentially disposed to the people who fight wars in a time when the culture seems worshipful of armed might. His version of Gettysburg, therefore, is vigorous, decisive, stern and otherwise populated by heroic figures. Regardless of the two authors’ respective attitude toward the business of killing, Peters is both historically accurate and a well-practiced storyteller. He also has a good sense of the language and culture of the time; when Robert E. Lee enters the scene, for instance, Peters’ prose becomes somber and portentous: “Still a mere John Churchill, he had seen to it that new shoes awaited his soldiers along his line of march. But Lee had men who had gone without shoes for months. At Chancellorsville, he had hoped for a Blenheim, but ended with a gory Malplaquet.” When Lee’s counterpart, George Meade, is on stage, Peters’ back-and-forth is snappier, suggesting Meade’s impatience; he even provides Meade with a motivation for success, for “fending off Lee would secure his family’s place in Philadelphia for generations.” Among the many strong points of Peters’ version is his attention to the immigrant players on the battlefield, the Polish and Irish and German soldiers from North and South who fought and died for their version of freedom. Familiar figures—Chamberlain, Longstreet—are here too, but these overlooked characters add depth and diversity to the tale.

Literary readers will prefer Michael Shaara and Shelby Steele, and unliterary ones will want their Newt Gingrich. But Peters’ novel holds up well, and it’s welcome in the vast library of books about the Civil War’s great turning point.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-7653-3047-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Forge

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2012

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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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Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her...

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS

Avery Stafford, a lawyer, descendant of two prominent Southern families and daughter of a distinguished senator, discovers a family secret that alters her perspective on heritage.

Wingate (Sisters, 2016, etc.) shifts the story in her latest novel between present and past as Avery uncovers evidence that her Grandma Judy was a victim of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and is related to a woman Avery and her father meet when he visits a nursing home. Although Avery is living at home to help her parents through her father’s cancer treatment, she is also being groomed for her own political career. Readers learn that investigating her family’s past is not part of Avery's scripted existence, but Wingate's attempts to make her seem torn about this are never fully developed, and descriptions of her chemistry with a man she meets as she's searching are also unconvincing. Sections describing the real-life orphanage director Georgia Tann, who stole poor children, mistreated them, and placed them for adoption with wealthy clients—including Joan Crawford and June Allyson—are more vivid, as are passages about Grandma Judy and her siblings. Wingate’s fans and readers who enjoy family dramas will find enough to entertain them, and book clubs may enjoy dissecting the relationship and historical issues in the book.

Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her fictional characters' lives.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-425-28468-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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