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ALL THE STARS IN THE HEAVENS

A heartwarming tale of women’s lives behind the movies.

A novice nun suddenly finds herself dismissed from her convent and swept up into the heady world of Hollywood’s golden age.

Alda Ducci did nothing to merit exile from St. Elizabeth’s Infant Hospital, a haven for unwed mothers. Indeed, Alda has worked very hard these past six years: six years of helping unwed mothers give up their babies. Six years since she fled Italy with heartaches and secrets of her own. But her mother superior is convinced that Alda can never let go of her dreams to help these poor women, so she sends her out into the world to become a private secretary to actress Loretta Young. The shift from poverty to luxury jars Alda, as well as the reader, although she endeavors to see the spiritual mission beneath the glamour. Loretta welcomes Alda into her family and her home, which she shares with her three sisters and her mother, Gladys, a talented interior designer and shrewd businesswoman. Within days, Alda has become indispensable to Loretta, and the two women bond to form an indomitable team, although Loretta steals nearly every scene. Dashing men, starry-eyed ingénues, jealous spouses—all the players are well-cast as Alda helps Loretta negotiate the studio system, the Hays Code, and thwarted romances. Loretta works hard, not simply studying her lines, but often rewriting them into a code her dyslexia understands. Yet she can't help but fall in love with her every leading man. Drawn to Spencer Tracy, Loretta must lean heavily upon her Catholic faith—and friend David Niven’s humor—to avoid temptation. Clark Gable proves even more difficult to resist. Trigiani (The Supreme Macaroni Company, 2013, etc.), a filmmaker as well as a bestselling novelist, spins a tale of star-crossed lovers, yet the rather flat prose dims the glow of the silver screen.

A heartwarming tale of women’s lives behind the movies.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-231919-7

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 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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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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