An informative and engaging tale of shifting morals in the Victorian era.

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NAKED TRUTH

Hayes tells the story of two real-life pioneering feminists in late 19th-century America in this debut historical novel.

In 1868 New York City, the Claflin sisters are fraudulent mediums at the height of the Spiritualist movement—a time when the public is desperate for contact with deceased loved ones. However, the pair has bigger plans. For example, Tennessee Claflin—who pretends to be a half-naked ghost during a seance—would much rather work as a stockbroker. Their parents, who are longtime con artists themselves, beg for the sisters to perform one last ruse: a magical and sensuous “healing” regimen on a wealthy mark. The target: Cornelius Vanderbilt, one of the richest men in America. Tennessee succeeds in becoming Vanderbilt’s lover, which grants her access to the upper echelons of wealthy New York society. Her married older sibling, Victoria Woodhull, has plans of her own; after adopting the philosophy of “Social Freedom”—which rejects both marriage and religion—the increasingly political Victoria plans to be the first female candidate for the presidency of the United States. To do so, she’ll need to win the support of members of the growing women’s suffrage movement. But when the sisters’ family brings a case against Victoria’s husband, the siblings’ futures are thrown into jeopardy. Hayes’ prose successfully evokes the elegant language of the era in which it’s set, even when discussing the secret and the unpleasant, as when Tennessee notes that “she can only assume that what has plagued her is indeed the French disease. Scars of Venus, courtesy of a devil who gave her the scaling which crawls across her hips, down her inner thigh with an itch, something fierce.” The book is based on a true story, and Hayes writes with such care and authenticity that the reader will likely be unsure where the history ends and the fiction begins. There are a few places where the narrative becomes a bit overcrowded, but for the most part, the author delivers a novel that presents a lifelike portrait of two remarkable (and remarkably modern) women, and an immersive dive into a colorful era’s scammers, activists, and elites.

An informative and engaging tale of shifting morals in the Victorian era.

Pub Date: Feb. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-578-22910-2

Page Count: 322

Publisher: HTPH Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 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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A heartwarming portrait of a broken heart finding a little healing magic.

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IN FIVE YEARS

After acing a job interview and accepting a marriage proposal, Dannie Kohan has had the perfect day. That is, until she awakens to find herself five years in the future with a completely different man.

Just one hour in that alternate reality shakes Dannie to her core. After all, highly ambitious Dannie and her boyfriend, David, have plotted out their lives in minute detail, and the sexy man in her dream—was it a dream?—is most certainly not in the script. Serle (The Dinner List, 2018) deftly spins these magical threads into Dannie’s perfectly structured life, leaving not only Dannie, but also the reader wondering whether Dannie time traveled or hallucinated. Her best friend, Bella, would delight in the story given that she thinks Dannie is much too straight-laced, and some spicy dreaming might push Dannie to find someone more passionate than David. Unfortunately, glamorous Bella is in Europe with her latest lover. Ever pragmatic, Dannie consults her therapist, who almost concurs that it was likely a dream, and throws herself into her work. Pleased to have landed the job at a prestigious law firm, Dannie easily loses her worries in litigation. Soon four and a half years have passed with no wedding date set, and Bella is back in the U.S. with a new man in her life. A man who turns out to be literally the man of Dannie’s dream. The sheer fact of Aaron Gregory’s existence forces Dannie to reevaluate her trust in the laws of physics as well as her decision to marry David, a decision that seems less believable with each passing day. And as the architecture of Dannie’s overplanned life disintegrates, Serle twists and twines the remnants of her dream into a surprising future.

A heartwarming portrait of a broken heart finding a little healing magic.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3744-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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