Cantor has done her research thoroughly to produce another captivating historical novel. Excellent writing, unusual...

THE LOST LETTER

Moving seamlessly between Austria in 1938 and Los Angeles in 1989, this novel connects a grim history to a more hopeful present.

In Austria, the Nazis begin to roust Jews from positions, homes, and safety. Kristoff, an 18-year-old German, finds an apprenticeship with Frederick Faber, a Jewish engraver of stamps and documents. Frederick, his wife, and their two daughters, 13-year-old Miriam and 17-year-old Elena, become the family Kristoff never had. He comes to respect their traditions and forms a special bond with Elena, who, unbeknownst to her father, secretly practices engraving with Kristoff, a skill they use to forge papers to get Jews to safer countries. In present-day LA, Katie Nelson, soon to be divorced, is cleaning her apartment and finds the stamp collection her father passed along to her when he went into a home for Alzheimer's care. Determined to find something of value in his collection—her father always said he hoped to find a “gem”—she consults Benjamin Grossman, a philatelist, who unearths an unopened letter with a unique Austrian stamp. Benjamin keeps Katie apprised of the results of his research. They discover that Frederick Faber engraved the stamp and that it is addressed to one of his daughters, Fraulein Faber, with no first name. Benjamin finds the former Fraulein Faber in Cardiff, Wales, and he plans a trip to visit her, hoping to unravel the mystery of the stamp in which a tiny symbol is engraved. He offers Katie a ticket—he has lots of free miles—to accompany him. They hope to return home with at least a story about the stamp for her father to enjoy before his memory is totally gone. The past gives up its secrets reluctantly but give them up it does. Katie’s father truly has found his gem, and eventually Katie recognizes hers. Cantor (The Hours Count, 2015, etc.) has mixed historical background with fictional characters for a believable, engaging tale in which the past indeed reconciles with the present.

Cantor has done her research thoroughly to produce another captivating historical novel. Excellent writing, unusual storytelling, and sympathetic characters make a winning combination.

Pub Date: June 13, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-399-18567-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 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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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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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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