A well-written, entertaining novel that both enacts and subverts the tropes of android fiction.

PLUM RAINS

A Filipino care worker’s livelihood is threatened by an android in future Japan.

The year is 2029, and in Japan, technology rules every aspect of life. But Angelica Navarro still provides an essential service to her employer, Sayoko Itou, an elderly woman rapidly approaching her 100th birthday. She is a caregiver, closely monitoring Sayoko’s health, preparing her food, and helping her in even more basic ways. But when Sayoko’s son arranges for a new android prototype to be delivered to Sayoko’s home, Angelica begins to worry about her future. Sayoko, normally technology averse, is soon taken with the android and begins telling him long-suppressed stories about her childhood that even her son does not know. The android, who names himself Hiro, develops according to Sayoko’s needs and seems to outdo Angelica at every turn. Angelica has other problems to contend with: debt to pay back to her uncle who helped her immigrate to Japan, worrying news about her brother in Alaska, and an unexpected medical problem of her own. But the longer she fights against Hiro, the more she begins to wonder whether he might not be the enemy she initially suspected after all. This sci-fi tale by Romano-Lax (Behave, 2016) is hardly groundbreaking: In concocting the charming, wholly human Hiro, she draws heavily on other android literature and cinema, most notably Blade Runner. But, refreshingly, her spin on the genre focuses on an elderly woman and a male android, a dynamic that provides the novel with its most original and engaging material. Though the plot is somewhat lacking in incident, the thoughtful depictions of old age, memory, and trauma are refreshing. Angelica’s actions are sometimes frustrating or inexplicable, and the worldbuilding is wonderfully specific one moment and maddeningly vague the next. But on the whole, this is a compelling, enjoyable addition to the genre.

A well-written, entertaining novel that both enacts and subverts the tropes of android fiction.

Pub Date: June 5, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-61695-901-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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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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Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her...

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS

Avery Stafford, a lawyer, descendant of two prominent Southern families and daughter of a distinguished senator, discovers a family secret that alters her perspective on heritage.

Wingate (Sisters, 2016, etc.) shifts the story in her latest novel between present and past as Avery uncovers evidence that her Grandma Judy was a victim of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and is related to a woman Avery and her father meet when he visits a nursing home. Although Avery is living at home to help her parents through her father’s cancer treatment, she is also being groomed for her own political career. Readers learn that investigating her family’s past is not part of Avery's scripted existence, but Wingate's attempts to make her seem torn about this are never fully developed, and descriptions of her chemistry with a man she meets as she's searching are also unconvincing. Sections describing the real-life orphanage director Georgia Tann, who stole poor children, mistreated them, and placed them for adoption with wealthy clients—including Joan Crawford and June Allyson—are more vivid, as are passages about Grandma Judy and her siblings. Wingate’s fans and readers who enjoy family dramas will find enough to entertain them, and book clubs may enjoy dissecting the relationship and historical issues in the book.

Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her fictional characters' lives.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-425-28468-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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