An uneven novel that nevertheless provides an accessible introduction to an overlooked hero and the birth of religious...

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Rekindled

A fictional reconstruction of Roger Williams’ fight (and flight) for religious freedom in 17th-century England and New England.

In this historical novel, debut author Irizarry traces the steps of the founder of Providence from his childhood in England to his life in Massachusetts and his eventual travel to Rhode Island to escape religious persecution. (The novel chronicles many people and places, but Williams’ life is the thread that ties the story together.) As a smart lad in London, he learns a secret form of shorthand to carry messages from imprisoned religious separatists and, later, to record parliamentary proceedings for a London lawyer and mentor, Sir Edward Coke. Williams grows up to become a minister, hoping someday to preach Christianity to Native Americans. Although he finds himself in opposition to the ruling religious and civil powers, he learns to make connections and compromises. In 1631, he migrates to Massachusetts with his wife, but his religious beliefs soon put him in conflict with Puritan orthodoxy. He flees a court summons, escaping into the frozen wild, where he’s saved by Indians. Eventually, he reaches Narragansett Bay, where he’d purchased the use of land from the Narragansett tribe. Other religious dissidents join him and help found alternative faiths in a community based on religious tolerance. The book ends with an imaginary Q&A between a 21st-century interlocutor and Williams about modern subjects, such as gay marriage. This well-researched novel provides fine portraits of Williams and his contemporaries, and of a crucial but often overlooked chapter in American history. It offers multiple viewpoints—including those of a Puritan, a dissident, and a Narragansett, among others—and some powerful passages: “We are the people of the ages,” a young Nipmuc brave tells Roger. “We came before, and we will stay after.” However, the book could have used more and better physical descriptions of its people and places. The prose also has other weaknesses, including needless explanation (“This was not a good situation,” the narrator notes after John Winthrop the Younger is captured by Pequots) and sometimes-anachronistic narrative language and dialogue—“How’s the missus?” Williams asks a friend—that detract from the otherwise authentic-sounding historical tone.

An uneven novel that nevertheless provides an accessible introduction to an overlooked hero and the birth of religious freedom in the North American colonies.

Pub Date: May 29, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5049-1123-8

Page Count: 488

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2015

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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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

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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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