Rollicking good, admittedly unhistorical, fun—complete with all the dish on the great and powerful, and what they wore, that...

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THE SECRET LIFE OF JOSEPHINE

NAPOLEON’S BIRD OF PARADISE

In Erickson’s fanciful retelling, Empress Josephine personifies, ahead of her time, the “head for business/bod for sin” dichotomy.

By dubbing this a “historical entertainment” rather than a historical novel, Erickson (The Last Wife of Henry VIII, 2006, etc.) avoids a more apt classification: gossipy historical romance. Josephine was born Rose, nickname Yeyette, to a failed sugar planter in Martinique. Her first and lifelong liaison is with Donovan de Gautier, a mysterious, sun-kissed adonis who introduces her to sex on the beach. Her platonic love is Scipion, a dashing lieutenant. Betrothed to cruel, foppish Vicomte Alexandre, Josephine journeys to Paris, where she wows the aristocracy with her Tarot fortunetelling. After bearing two children, she takes up money lending. During the French Revolution, she keeps her head; Alexandre is not so lucky. Impoverished, Josephine becomes the mistress of a wealthy military contractor. When she’s not dancing naked in the contractor’s orgy grotto, she’s feathering her own nest hawking substandard goods to the military, which is how she meets little corporal, now general Bonaparte. Josephine seemingly marries Napoleon out of curiosity, to see what happens next. Bonaparte’s coarse, scheming Corsican siblings and his harpy of a mother detest her. Bonaparte himself is so irascible, paranoiac, bilious and profligate, it’s a wonder he manages to conquer half the civilized world. Fortunately, readers share Josephine’s curiosity. How can she abide life with this monster, who castigates his older wife for failing to dress age-appropriately? He still runs cravenly to her for solace even after he’s divorced her to marry teenage Archduchess Marie-Louise. Fulfilling the destiny preordained for her by a shaman on Martinique, and following a comet, no less, Josephine travels to Russia, where she convinces Napoleon not to retreat from Moscow until the first snow—striking a blow not just for the first-wives club, but for the future of Europe!

Rollicking good, admittedly unhistorical, fun—complete with all the dish on the great and powerful, and what they wore, that an Empire-waisted fashionista could desire.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-312-36735-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2007

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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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Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

ONE GOOD DEED

Thriller writer Baldacci (A Minute to Midnight, 2019, etc.) launches a new detective series starring World War II combat vet Aloysius Archer.

In 1949, Archer is paroled from Carderock Prison (he was innocent) and must report regularly to his parole officer, Ernestine Crabtree (she’s “damn fine-looking”). Parole terms forbid his visiting bars or loose women, which could become a problem. Trouble starts when businessman Hank Pittleman offers Archer $100 to recover a ’47 Cadillac that’s collateral for a debt owed by Lucas Tuttle, who readily agrees he owes the money. But Tuttle wants his daughter Jackie back—she’s Pittleman’s girlfriend, and she won’t return to Daddy. Archer finds the car, but it’s been torched. With no collateral to collect, he may have to return his hundred bucks. Meanwhile, Crabtree gets Archer the only job available, butchering hogs at the slaughterhouse. He’d killed plenty of men in combat, and now he needs peace. The Pittleman job doesn’t provide that peace, but at least it doesn’t involve bashing hogs’ brains in. People wind up dead and Archer becomes a suspect. So he noses around and shows that he might have the chops to be a good private investigator, a shamus. This is an era when gals have gams, guys say dang and keep extra Lucky Strikes in their hatbands, and a Lady Liberty half-dollar buys a good meal. The dialogue has a '40s noir feel: “And don’t trust nobody.…I don’t care how damn pretty they are.” There’s adult entertainment at the Cat’s Meow, cheap grub at the Checkered Past, and just enough clichés to prove that no one’s highfalutin. Readers will like Archer. He’s a talented man who enjoys detective stories, won’t keep ill-gotten gains, and respects women. All signs suggest a sequel where he hangs out a shamus shingle.

Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5387-5056-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2019

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