A well-crafted mash-up of romance and prison life.

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Song of the Blackbird

In this first installment of a planned, prison-set series, a new doctor takes a job where her half brother is incarcerated, but she hides their relationship from the attractive warden.

Emma Edwards arrives for her first day as a doctor at California’s Albatross Prison, outside of LA, to witness warden Maxim Chambers giving a disciplinary beating to an inmate. She’s particularly appalled at this, due to her sympathy for prisoners. Her younger half brother, Sam Morris, is doing time for having drugs on him when he was interviewed by police, after killing his abusive father to protect Emma’s now-deceased mother. Emma took this job to find and reconnect with Sam, and she soon discovers that he works as one of the prison doctors’ porters. He warns her to leave, because if authorities find out that she’s hiding their kinship, it would hurt her career. He’s also traumatized by his own past and troubled by new prison pressures. As Emma tries to get Sam and other prisoners better medical assistance, she and Maxim spar over their different attitudes toward inmates as well as their growing attraction to each other. Emma soon learns the sad reason for Maxim’s tough attitude, which drove the wealthy man to take a job as a warden. Maxim, meanwhile, feels new emotions in Emma’s presence, including an urge to protect her and jealousy over her dealings with Sam and a handsome prison psychiatrist. By novel’s end, after several deaths and scary physical attacks, Emma and Maxim eventually arrive at a clearer understanding of each other, their love, and past tragedies. Debut novelist Michaels, a doctor herself, brings verve and veracity to this smooth-flowing hybrid romance/suspense tale. Emma’s clinic scenes, which showcase both prisoners’ manipulations and their mitigating circumstances, are particularly realistic and resonant. Michaels also weaves in lovely, literary through-lines, such as the half siblings’ mutual love of birds and comets, which becomes a linchpin in the overall plot. Although the romance has some over-the-top, fairy-tale elements, such as the convenient fact that the brawny warden is also wealthy, Michaels has produced a captivating story overall.

A well-crafted mash-up of romance and prison life.

Pub Date: June 21, 2016

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 301

Publisher: Dream Tower Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2016

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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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To use the parlance of the period, a highly relevant retrospective.

SUMMER OF '69

Nantucket, not Woodstock, is the main attraction in Hilderbrand’s (Winter in Paradise, 2018, etc.) bittersweet nostalgia piece about the summer of 1969.

As is typical with Hilderbrand’s fiction, several members of a family have their says. Here, that family is the “stitched together” Foley-Levin clan, ruled over by the appropriately named matriarch, Exalta, aka Nonny, mother of Kate Levin. Exalta’s Nantucket house, All’s Fair, also appropriately named, is the main setting. Kate’s three older children, Blair, 24, Kirby, 20, and Tiger, 19, are products of her first marriage, to Wilder Foley, a war veteran, who shot himself. Second husband David Levin is the father of Jessie, who’s just turned 13. Tiger has been drafted and sends dispatches to Jessie from Vietnam. Kirby has been arrested twice while protesting the war in Boston. (Don’t tell Nonny!) Blair is married and pregnant; her MIT astrophysicist husband, Angus, is depressive, controlling, and deceitful—the unmelodramatic way Angus’ faults sneak up on both Blair and the reader is only one example of Hilderbrand’s firm grasp on real life. Many plot elements are specific to the year. Kirby is further rebelling by forgoing Nantucket for rival island Martha’s Vineyard—and a hotel job close to Chappaquiddick. Angus will be working at Mission Control for the Apollo 11 lunar landing. Kirby has difficult romantic encounters, first with her arresting officer, then with a black Harvard student whose mother has another reason, besides Kirby’s whiteness, to distrust her. Pick, grandson of Exalta’s caretaker, is planning to search for his hippie mother at Woodstock. Other complications seem very up-to-date: a country club tennis coach is a predator and pedophile. Anti-Semitism lurks beneath the club’s genteel veneer. Kate’s drinking has accelerated since Tiger’s deployment overseas. Exalta’s toughness is seemingly untempered by grandmotherly love. As always, Hilderbrand’s characters are utterly convincing and immediately draw us into their problems, from petty to grave. Sometimes, her densely packed tales seem to unravel toward the end. This is not one of those times.

To use the parlance of the period, a highly relevant retrospective.

Pub Date: June 18, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-42001-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2019

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