Like James Michener, Saylor the novelist (A Gladiator Dies Only Once, 2005, etc.) is upstaged by Saylor the historian—except...

ROMA

Livy meets Michener in this sprawling, episodic 1,000-year novel of the rise of ancient Rome from its first settlement to the assassination of Julius Caesar.

How to give a millennium of Roman history the coherence of a fictional epic? Saylor uses three devices to shape his story. He chooses his 11 focal points selectively, sometimes leaping hundreds of years between chapters. He focuses on the shifting fortunes of the families descended from two cousins, Potitia and Pinarius, and he traces the descent of a fascinum, a gold amulet in the shape of a winged penis, as it’s passed down from generation to generation of the often warring families. The results are decidedly mixed. Although his discontinuous story requires repeated infusions of arid exposition at the beginning of each chapter, Saylor’s gift for dramatic narrative brings alive familiar tales from Roman history: the establishment of the city by the twins Romulus and Remus, Hercules’ defeat of the monstrous Cacus, Tarquin’s rape of Lucretia, the rise and fall of Coriolanus, Verginius’ sacrifice of his defiled daughter, the sacred geese that raise the cry against an invasion by the Gauls, the campaign against Hannibal and Carthage. Although he freely embroiders on historical events in order to make room for the Potitii and the Pinarii, he makes many of their encounters with historical figures touching and compelling, particularly in the first half of the story, which finds both families dwindling to virtual extinction. After the Gallic siege of the Capitoline, however, Saylor’s resurgent heroes increasingly come to seem like onlookers and spear-carriers to historical events more interesting than they are, and by the time of the Caesars, the clans, although they’ve merged, are clearly showing their age.

Like James Michener, Saylor the novelist (A Gladiator Dies Only Once, 2005, etc.) is upstaged by Saylor the historian—except when he suggests that history itself is fact-based fiction.

Pub Date: March 6, 2007

ISBN: 0-312-32831-1

Page Count: 576

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2007

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 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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