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MISS DREAMSVILLE AND THE COLLIER COUNTY WOMEN'S SOCIETY

Hearth (Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years, 1994, etc.) goes hog wild with lighthearted humor as she tackles some heavyweight issues in her debut novel.

It’s 1962, and Bostonians Jackie Hart and family have moved to Naples, Fla., a community that’s more country than a bowl of grits. She’s itching to make new friends and become involved in community activities, but of course, that’s easier said than done. Small Southern towns don’t exactly welcome transplanted Northerners with open arms. But Jackie’s an obstinate redhead who starts a reading club that attracts a stereotypical mixture of lovable misfits. The salon, as Jackie calls them, meets each week at the town library to discuss books and everything else under the hot Florida sun, and they quickly form a tight bond. There’s the librarian, the only member of the group who doesn’t carpool with them to the meetings; the gay man who’s the town’s lone Sears employee; a woman who secretly pens magazine articles about romance and sex; a young black maid with aspirations of a better life; an octogenarian who’s also a convicted murderer; and the narrator, a postal clerk who’s known around town as the Turtle Lady because she rescues snapping turtles before they can become roadkill. But Jackie’s the central force and the one who provides impetus for the group’s adventures. In addition to her job as a part-time copy editor at the local paper, she’s the anonymous voice of Miss Dreamsville, a sultry radio personality who lulls listeners to sleep in the late hours of the night. Everyone in town is consumed with finding out Miss Dreamsville’s true identity, but before a climatic showdown at the annual Swamp Buggy Festival, Jackie and the group tackle some very heavy situations, including local reactions to the Cuban missile crisis that result in a mistaken arrest and a run-in with the KKK. In fact, the characters experience/discuss/confront almost every social, political, religious, gender-sensitive and environmental issue that’s relevant in the South during the early ’60s, and each topic is couched in so many Southern colloquialisms and treated with such superficiality that it’s hard to take any of it too seriously—which is just as well.

Fun to read.   

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-7523-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous White policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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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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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

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 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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