It’s all a bit overwrought for what is, after all, a boy-loves-girl, boy-swashbuckles-to-win-girl yarn, but it’s competently...

A COLUMN OF FIRE

A flying buttress of a book, continuing the hefty Kingsbridge saga historical novelist Follett began with Pillars of the Earth (1989) and World Without End (2007).

It’s not that Follett’s been slacking between books: he’s been working away at the Century Trilogy, set centuries later, and otherwise building on the legacy of high-minded potboilers he began with Eye of the Needle (1978). Here he delivers with a vengeance, with his Kingsbridge story, set in the shadow of a great provincial cathedral, now brought into the age of Elizabeth. Ned Willard, returning from the Continent on a boatload of “cloth from Antwerp and wine from Bordeaux,” beats a hasty path through the snow and gloom to the lissome lass he’s sweet on, Margery Fitzgerald. Her mom and dad are well-connected and powerful—but, alas, Catholic, not the best choice of beliefs in an age when Tudor Protestantism is taking a vengeful turn and heads are rolling. Rollo, Margery’s brother, turns out to offer good cause for suspicion; having twitted and tormented Ned over the course of the story, he’s sailing with the Spanish by the end. But will Ned keep his head and Margery hers? Or, as Margery wonders lamentingly, “Had Ned caught Rollo, or not? Would the ceremony go ahead? Would Ned be there? Would they all die?” Ah, it is but to wonder. Follett guides his long, overstuffed story leisurely through the halls of Elizabethan history; here Bess herself turns up, while there he parades the likes of Walsingham, Francis Drake, and the whole of the Spanish Armada, even as Margery yearns, the tall masts burn, and Follett’s characters churn out suspect ethnography: “Netherlanders did not seem to care much about titles, and they liked money.”

It’s all a bit overwrought for what is, after all, a boy-loves-girl, boy-swashbuckles-to-win-girl yarn, but it’s competently done. Follett's fans will know what to expect—and they won’t be disappointed.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-525-95497-2

Page Count: 928

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 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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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

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. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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