A conspiracy-filled thriller that works by hinging on the family’s struggle for answers and by not providing the easy ones.

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THE ULTIMATE ARENA

THE SACRIFICE OF AN AMERICAN GLADIATOR

An American soldier’s death during a mission in Afghanistan seems to be part of a government conspiracy in Ireland’s debut military thriller inspired by the life of Pat Tillman.

Matt Crystal left behind his new wife, Melissa, and a promising NFL career so he could join the military, but his time is cut short when he’s killed by friendly fire from his own platoon. Fellow soldier John Ryan delivers a coded message to Matt’s high school football coach and mentor, Bob Heller, which Bob interprets as a call to investigate the death. After John goes AWOL, Bob starts to suspect that the military-industrial complex is orchestrating a coverup of a tragic accident or, even worse, Matt’s murder. The author deftly handles the story’s conspiracy angle; in addition to a cryptic message from Matt (relayed by John), Bob learns that Matt was vociferously opposed to the war in Iraq and that he befriended an Afghan Military Forces soldier who was also killed. Matt also kept notebooks—possibly with incriminating evidence—one of which mysteriously disappeared. Ireland smartly provides a perspective from Bob, as well as Matt’s family. With no clear-cut villain, readers might, like Coach Bob and the family, view organizations, namely the government and MIC, as villainous. For instance, Lt. Col. Coffee, who stonewalls the family’s questions with vague responses, is more a representative of government than an individual. There’s a great deal of back story to coincide with the main plot, including Bob’s divorce and Matt’s aspirations to play football as a high school freshman, but some of the stories feel like tangents: Matt’s uncle Ronnie, psychologically tormented by a corporal who heads PsyOps in Vietnam, has very little to do with the botched Afghanistan mission. And there are numerous character names and plot points to recall as Bob and others continue to look into Matt’s death. Ireland nevertheless excels at keeping the various plot elements in line, with helpful touches such as Matt’s mom, Jenny, explicitly listing “at least eight issues” that she wants clarified (like the drone that troops claimed to have heard soon after her son was killed). But Ireland does lose track of a few of the names: Matt is inaccurately called Pat several times, and his brother, Vince, is occasionally referred to as Kevin.

A conspiracy-filled thriller that works by hinging on the family’s struggle for answers and by not providing the easy ones.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-1493159901

Page Count: 244

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2014

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 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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