Call it a Spaghetti Epic: Manfredi’s narration of ancient Greek history owes as much to John Ford and George Lucas as it...

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SPARTAN

Two brothers in ancient Greece, separated at birth, come together to rescue their nation in the Persian Wars.

Italian architect Manfredi (Alexander, not reviewed, etc.) starts with twin brothers in Sparta. One of them, born with a crippled leg, will never be able to fight and so (in accordance with Spartan custom) is left in the woods to die. But he is found by the kindly Helot shepherd Kritolaos, who takes pity on the baby and brings him home to be raised as his own. Talos (as he is named) grows up among the Helots (who were enslaved by the Spartans) ignorant of his true ancestry. Brithos, the other twin, is raised to follow in the warrior traditions of his people. On his deathbed, Kritolaos entrusts Talos with his greatest possession: the armor and sword of Aristodemus, the defeated king of the Helots, which Kritolaos had secretly kept hidden away these many years. But Talos has no ambitions to glory. He tends to his flocks and falls in love with Antinea, the daughter of a local Helot tenant farmer. When Brithos, traveling through the region with some Spartan friends, comes upon Antinea and tries to rape her, however, Talos springs to her defense and discovers within himself a taste for battle he had never known before. Conscripted as an orderly to Brithos, he has his true identity revealed to him by an oracle. Meanwhile, Xerxes the Persian has raised the greatest army ever known and is on the verge of overrunning Greece. Brithos falls in battle, as does his father. Can Talos (now known as Kleidemos) save the day? He can certainly play his part.

Call it a Spaghetti Epic: Manfredi’s narration of ancient Greek history owes as much to John Ford and George Lucas as it does to Herodotus. But while this is a fairly accurate narration of ancient history, the private dramas involved are too outlandish and overdrawn to be read with a straight face.

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 2003

ISBN: 0-7434-7542-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2003

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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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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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