A compelling portrait wrapped inside a less compelling international plot.

IN OUR OTHER LIVES

The third book from Wheeler (Kings of Broken Things, 2017, etc.) has the form of a post–9/11 thriller, but it's really a psychological novel: What are the mysteries that surveillance can't lay bare, that sleuthing can't solve or pin down?

It's 2008. Tyler Ahls, a former ROTC cadet and Christian missionary from Wisconsin who disappeared months earlier on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, appears in a terrorist propaganda video, startling his sister, Elisabeth Holland, an Omaha nurse. Elisabeth is no stranger to tragedy; three years earlier, her husband abruptly drove away from their Chicago apartment, disappearing without a trace; soon after, their infant son died suddenly. Now, after the propaganda video, FBI Special Agent Frank Schwaller—who, thanks to a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant and a resulting mass of surveillance data, knows much, much more than Elisabeth does about both brother and husband—comes to Omaha to see if he can unravel the knot of connections between and among these three. The novel's strength is in its portrait of the stoic, tough, but uncynical Elisabeth. Her coping mechanism through all the trials of her life—overbearing and hyperreligious evangelical Christian parents, a private-college experience curtailed by an injury that took away her athletic scholarship, runaway husband, the shocking death of her child—has been to move briskly along and then shelter in place, not delving too deeply into her own motives or anyone else's. It's not that she's incurious; it's that she knows that investigating the whereabouts or motives of those who've left her will avail her nothing. That attitude makes her a subject of fascination for Schwaller. Other elements of the book don't quite coalesce, and sometimes details, especially those about federal law enforcement and surveillance, don't quite ring true, but Elisabeth fascinates.

A compelling portrait wrapped inside a less compelling international plot.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5420-1651-3

Page Count: 292

Publisher: Little A

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS

The story of the entangled affairs of a group of exceedingly smart and self-possessed creative types.

Frances, an aloof and intelligent 21-year-old living in Dublin, is an aspiring poet and communist. She performs her spoken-word pieces with her best friend and ex-lover, Bobbi, who is equally intellectual but gregarious where Frances is shy and composed where Frances is awkward. When Melissa, a notable writer and photographer, approaches the pair to offer to do a profile of them, they accept excitedly. While Bobbi is taken with Melissa, Frances becomes infatuated by her life—her success, her beautiful home, her actor husband, Nick. Nick is handsome and mysterious and, it turns out, returns Frances’ attraction. Although he can sometimes be withholding of his affection (he struggles with depression), they begin a passionate affair. Frances and Nick’s relationship makes difficult the already tense (for its intensity) relationship between Frances and Bobbi. In the midst of this complicated dynamic, Frances is also managing endometriosis and neglectful parents—an abusive, alcoholic father and complicit mother. As a narrator, Frances describes all these complex fragments in an ethereal and thoughtful but self-loathing way. Rooney captures the mood and voice of contemporary women and their interpersonal connections and concerns without being remotely predictable. In her debut novel, she deftly illustrates psychology’s first lesson: that everyone is doomed to repeat their patterns.

A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-451-49905-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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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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  • New York Times Bestseller

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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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