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A Mistake of Consequence

A quick, pleasant read.

In Karsten’s (Snags and Sawyers: 2000 Miles Down the Arkansas River, 2012, etc.) historical romance, a case of mistaken identity strands a Scottish lass in Colonial Philadelphia.

Impetuous Caroline “Callie” Beaton flees her grandfather’s house in a huff one night, tired of the dull suitors he parades before her. Wandering the docks of Leith, she’s shocked to be bundled into the hold of a ship, mistaken for a young woman who signed a contract of indentured servitude to gain passage to America. Before she knows it, she’s at sea, stranded without anything to prove her true identity; she has no choice but to bide her time until they reach the Colonies, where she can hopefully find a way to contact her family across the Atlantic. Aboard the ship, she befriends other indentured women: blithe, gossipy Peg, and Mary Rawles, whose husband dies during the voyage, leaving her with two small children and a debt to work off. Callie is also drawn to another passenger, handsome Davy McRae, a self-described businessman whose trade remains mysterious. But while she’s attracted to him, getting back home is far more important, and, once in Philadelphia, Callie suffers through her indenture being sold to the Ashers, a wealthy family with a tangled history. The eldest son, Ethan, seems a trustworthy gentleman, and Callie’s overjoyed when he sneaks her paper and ink to write a letter home. Though Ethan promises to send it, there’s no quick reply, and gently bred Callie finds herself working from dawn till dusk, with no thanks from her masters. When the patriarch of the family is murdered, however, she’s the prime suspect and must flee suspicion with none other than Davy McRae. Is their burgeoning romance a distraction from Callie’s homeward mission? Who can she trust in this foreign land? Karsten ably handles the setting, conjuring the sights and sounds of 1754 Philadelphia and the never-ending chores. Callie is likable, if rather too trusting of men, while love interest Davy has a complicated history of his own. Karsten doesn’t break new ground here, but she’s penned an engaging story with some clever plot twists.

A quick, pleasant read.

Pub Date: Feb. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-1458218278

Page Count: 276

Publisher: AbbottPress

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2015

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THE NIGHTINGALE

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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