Wartime romance that refreshingly forgoes the sentimentality.


Almost Eden

In this third novel in a trilogy, a “donut dollie”—a Red Cross volunteer during the Vietnam War—finds love with a soldier, but his experiences in the jungle will have lasting repercussions on their future together.

Izzy Armand is her family’s “guerrilla girl,” born in the Philippine jungles of Luzon during World War II and named for her grandfather’s late love Isabella, a fighter in the Philippine-American War. In death, Isabella has visited members of Izzy’s family and those close to them, acting as a guardian angel or advising spirit. She now comes to Izzy, who’s working at Bethesda Naval Hospital, and urges her to follow her heart; Izzy then decides to join the war effort in Vietnam and volunteer for the Red Cross. On the flight over, she meets Lt. Abe Chastain, a minister’s son from Georgia; the two are quickly smitten. Their duties keep them separated, however, and their mutual longing weighs on them just as the burdens of war. As a “smile girl,” Izzy watches men get killed or injured—the very men whose morale she is tasked with lifting. One night at the Rex Hotel in Saigon, she is even forced to take up arms during a Viet Cong attack. Abe struggles with his own losses, watching his friends die senselessly while he’s injured and exposed to Agent Orange, the latter rendering him ill and unable to give Izzy a child. But the spirit of Isabella has not forsaken this couple she’s brought together, and she pushes Izzy back to Vietnam to find them a child. Through the third entry in Taylor’s (Berlin Rendezvous, 2014, etc.) family saga, this volume will be accessible to those unfamiliar with previous installments, as it touches on previous generations of Armands and their wartime experiences along with the role Isabella played in counseling each of them. Izzy is a charming, atypical protagonist: a strong, resourceful woman whose role as donut dollie offers a unique view of the war. Having served in Vietnam, Taylor brings sensitivity to the subject, humanizing both combatants and civilians, never sensationalizing the violence, and never allowing the impact to become merely a backdrop for a love story.

Wartime romance that refreshingly forgoes the sentimentality.

Pub Date: Dec. 10, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-5033-6288-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2015

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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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

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