An engaging fictionalized review of the fight for Texas that should resonate with history buffs.

DEFENDER OF THE TEXAS FRONTIER

A HISTORICAL NOVEL

Gross’ (A Mexican Adventure, 2017, etc.) latest historical novel traces the formation and adventures of the Texas Rangers during the Mexican War under the leadership of a bold young man from Tennessee.

The narrative opens in 1836 with John Caperton and John Coffee “Jack” Hays, two adventure-seeking 19-year-olds, having drinks at a bar in Nacogdoches in the Republic of Texas. They’ve been friends since they were young boys learning how to “live rough” in Tennessee; now they’ve joined a volunteer force to fight the Mexican Army. Before they go, Big Al Cranston, the town bully, threatens to punch Jack for smiling, and Jack shoots the man dead before he can even throw a punch. Caperton acts as a narrator as Gross stitches together the events leading up to the Mexican War, highlighting Jack and an ensemble of real and imaginary characters. Readers tag along on a mission to Goliad to scout for enemy soldiers in advance of Gen. Thomas Jefferson Rusk’s army and get an account of the Battle of Coleto, in which more than 400 Texan soldiers, after surrendering, are massacred by the Mexican army. Similar vignettes offer detailed descriptions of Comanche culture, military aggression, and diplomacy with other Native American nations. By 1845, when Texas applies for statehood, Jack’s regiment of scouts is known as Hays’ Texas Rangers and plays an important role in securing the Texas border during the battles at Painted Rock and Monterrey. Gross’ novel is loaded with intriguing period detail, such as how Comanche hunters use every part of a slain buffalo except the heart, which, as war chief Buffalo Hump explains, “is left to show the Creator of all things that our people are not greedy.” The plethora of names and locations detracts from the action and may occasionally leave readers confused about the time and place of particular events. Although the character development is minimal, except for Hays’, Gross’ descriptions consistently offer vivid imagery: “Our silent, measured, advance frustrated the war chief. He rode back and forth in front of his warriors, shouting at us.”

An engaging fictionalized review of the fight for Texas that should resonate with history buffs.

Pub Date: April 4, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5320-7156-0

Page Count: 242

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: July 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 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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