A modern take on the Western novel, driven by well-defined characters and a plot both spirited and sweeping.


Honor, Fate, and Faith

A farming family endures and thrives in Texas during the second half of the 19th century.

In this debut Christian historical novel, Ricotta tells the story of the Caldwell family, beginning with patriarch Mason’s departure to fight for the Confederacy in 1861. Mason’s wife, Lydia, and the Caldwell children keep the farm going until Mason returns from war, severely wounded. The postwar years are a time of physical and emotional healing as Mason recovers from his injury and reconnects with his now-adult children. The family expands as neighbors and in-laws become integral parts of the Caldwell circle. The Caldwells face challenges, from violent criminals to a corrupt sheriff and Mason’s war wounds, but triumph over their obstacles through love and faith. Elements of Texas history, particularly the founding of the postwar Texas Rangers, drive much of the story, along with classic elements of the Western, including settlers headed toward the California gold fields, an out-of-control gambler, and posses chasing both justice and vengeance. The cast of characters is notably diverse, including the son of an American missionary and her Chinese husband, a half-Cherokee man looking for a fresh start in ranching, a former slave who helps Mason come to terms with his injury, and a beautiful girl determined to fend for herself from her wheelchair. The depictions are not without their missteps and stereotypes (“He had never been able to get close to anyone because of constant rejection as a half-breed”; a gay character is welcomed only if he remains celibate), but they bring a modern vibrancy and variety often missing from stories of the settling of the West. While the use of dialect can be excessive (“It sure would be grand if’n I could find a gal so fine and have a dandy party like this”) and the prose uneven, the fast-moving plot and compelling characters keep the reader engaged and balance out the limitations of the narrative.

A modern take on the Western novel, driven by well-defined characters and a plot both spirited and sweeping.

Pub Date: March 11, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5127-3132-3

Page Count: 354

Publisher: Westbow Press

Review Posted Online: July 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 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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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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These letters from some important executive Down Below, to one of the junior devils here on earth, whose job is to corrupt mortals, are witty and written in a breezy style seldom found in religious literature. The author quotes Luther, who said: "The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn." This the author does most successfully, for by presenting some of our modern and not-so-modern beliefs as emanating from the devil's headquarters, he succeeds in making his reader feel like an ass for ever having believed in such ideas. This kind of presentation gives the author a tremendous advantage over the reader, however, for the more timid reader may feel a sense of guilt after putting down this book. It is a clever book, and for the clever reader, rather than the too-earnest soul.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1942

ISBN: 0060652934

Page Count: 53

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1943

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