GRACE

A fictional memoir, intended as a tribute to Ward's grandmother, that crackles with good humor and good dialogue. As a young teen, Ward (The Cactus Garden, 1995) struggled over the break-up of his parents' marriage in the '50s and '60s. He also fought to come to terms with the moral imperatives of the civil- rights movement in Baltimore—where lived his mostly absent Marine captain grandfather and Grace, a grandmother of ``intelligence, passion and guiding spirit.'' Her past, however, hid a baffling mystery. When his parents' bickering finally grew unbearable, 15- year-old Robert hiked off to live nearby with Grace. She was respected in the neighborhood, except by the Walkers, a redneck chorus of stinkers, ``drunken and criminal.'' Life with Grace was never less than interesting, what with her exotic dinner guests, her quest to learn about Gandhi, and her yen for discussing literature. For Grace, who'd been forced to leave school early to work in the mills, was eager for knowledge. Then came the day when Negroes appeared in her lily-white Methodist church. The impressive black preacher/leader heads their way for dinner (while confronting heckling sonic booms from the Walkers), and Robert, who'd decided to integrate the local gym for kids, awaits Grace's active participation in marching for civil rights. Why is she backing down? Robert, trying to fathom the heroic past of his formerly distanced grandfather (Union martyrdom), hears of Grace's own Union past. But still there remains the conundrum of her reluctance to join in the marching—until she confesses her own tortured spirit, the result of an early ``betrayal,'' one that explains sundry cries in the night and Grace's ``spells.'' Triumphant close; ghostly visitation. A convincing portrait, despite some broad brushwork, of an earlier, gutsier Baltimore.

Pub Date: March 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-307-44007-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1998

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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