Despite sweet moments and intriguing historical insights, this fictional tale about a beloved novelist lacks an...

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THE MARRIAGE OF MISS JANE AUSTEN

VOLUME II

In this second installment of a “what if” trilogy, Jane Austen experiences the wonders of marriage. 

Hemingway’s (The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen: Volume I, 2015, etc.) sequel picks up after Jane’s wedding to the fictional Ashton Dennis. On the homefront, Jane enjoys marital bliss— including a robust sex life—and the difficulties of running a large estate. Despite a few missteps, she eventually has the downstairs staff and her judgmental mother-in-law under control. And happily for Jane and Ashton, they soon find themselves getting ready to welcome a new baby into the fold. While Jane wrestles with the ramifications of her marriage and impending motherhood (particularly a loss of time to devote to writing), Ashton focuses his money and attention on the wonders of technology. Letters between Ashton, Jane, and her sister, Cassandra, detail conversations and experiments involving railroads, high-efficiency stoves, gaslighting, and textile ventures. While these conversations are largely positive, the more complicated pieces of communication involve slavery and the abolitionist movement. Jane and Ashton find themselves drawn into the fray, and their ultimate commitment to helping end the slave trade in England jeopardizes their investments and friendships. Hemingway continues to present a well-researched work of historical fiction about the esteemed Austen. The letters Hemingway presents include historical figures such as the abolitionist William Wilberforce, as well as details about politics, society, and technology in early 19th-century England. Yet the missives are also emotionally satisfying, as they reveal glimpses into the very plausible thoughts and feelings of the characters. The strongest aspects of Hemingway’s story involve Jane and her struggles to reconcile her new identity as wife and mother. Unfortunately, the accounts of science and politics can drag on too long and ultimately detract from Jane’s storyline. Though Jane sets aside her writing and has a baby, there is not much tangible action moving the plot forward. Hemingway seems to be largely laying the groundwork for the final book in his trilogy. Readers will likely be hoping for more adventures and more about Jane in Volume III.

Despite sweet moments and intriguing historical insights, this fictional tale about a beloved novelist lacks an action-packed plot.

Pub Date: Aug. 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5354-4495-8

Page Count: 330

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2017

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Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s...

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THE NICKEL BOYS

The acclaimed author of The Underground Railroad (2016) follows up with a leaner, meaner saga of Deep South captivity set in the mid-20th century and fraught with horrors more chilling for being based on true-life atrocities.

Elwood Curtis is a law-abiding, teenage paragon of rectitude, an avid reader of encyclopedias and after-school worker diligently overcoming hardships that come from being abandoned by his parents and growing up black and poor in segregated Tallahassee, Florida. It’s the early 1960s, and Elwood can feel changes coming every time he listens to an LP of his hero Martin Luther King Jr. sermonizing about breaking down racial barriers. But while hitchhiking to his first day of classes at a nearby black college, Elwood accepts a ride in what turns out to be a stolen car and is sentenced to the Nickel Academy, a juvenile reformatory that looks somewhat like the campus he’d almost attended but turns out to be a monstrously racist institution whose students, white and black alike, are brutally beaten, sexually abused, and used by the school’s two-faced officials to steal food and supplies. At first, Elwood thinks he can work his way past the arbitrary punishments and sadistic treatment (“I am stuck here, but I’ll make the best of it…and I’ll make it brief”). He befriends another black inmate, a street-wise kid he knows only as Turner, who has a different take on withstanding Nickel: “The key to in here is the same as surviving out there—you got to see how people act, and then you got to figure out how to get around them like an obstacle course.” And if you defy them, Turner warns, you’ll get taken “out back” and are never seen or heard from again. Both Elwood’s idealism and Turner’s cynicism entwine into an alliance that compels drastic action—and a shared destiny. There's something a tad more melodramatic in this book's conception (and resolution) than one expects from Whitehead, giving it a drugstore-paperback glossiness that enhances its blunt-edged impact.

Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s novel displays its author’s facility with violent imagery and his skill at weaving narrative strands into an ingenious if disquieting whole.

Pub Date: July 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-53707-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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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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