A blithe wartime comedy.



In Ziebell’s (Gorky, Russia; First Man In, 2017, etc.) lighthearted novel, a skilled World War II waist gunner, when not in combat, spins tales of his family and youth. 

Boe Klein is 18 years old when the U.S. government drafts him into the Army in 1942. He leaves his Tennessee home for boot camp and, later, gunnery training camp. He’s an adept marksman, having honed his ability under the tutelage of his father. Boe soon begins regular combat missions aboard a B-24 bomber in “an unnamed country.” As a waist gunner who has to defend his plane against enemy fire, he quickly earns the respect of officers and fellow airmen alike. He also gets a nickname, Click-Click, derived from his response to a bomber captain’s gunner roll call. Click-Click is, moreover, a frequent storyteller, describing how he once witnessed an aunt and uncle’s rather unusual feud and recounting tales like that of his grandfather’s “planting” chickens to grow more of them when the older man was a boy. His adventures continue in the Army, even during downtime or a furlough. In one instance, his assisting 1st Lt. Jean M. Klin leads to a dinner invitation, to which Click-Click can only respond after learning what RSVP means. Ziebell, who’s previously written nonfiction, pens a surprisingly upbeat war story. While the combat missions are unmistakably dangerous, the narrative concentrates on humorous moments. For example, one soldier reacts to a traumatic near-death experience by speaking backward, which is apparently subconscious. Combat is likewise the only indication of violence, which the novel tones down with a faceless, nameless “enemy” that never explicitly dies. Ziebell’s straightforward prose prompts a number of genuinely funny scenes and a few suspenseful ones, too, as when Click-Click undergoes a top-secret mission. However, the protagonist’s potential romance with neighbor Cutie (whom readers hardly see) is underdeveloped. Wilding’s black-and-white artwork rounds out the book: simple, bold-lined renderings primarily of the story’s most amusing bits, such as an exploding can of spaghetti.

A blithe wartime comedy.

Pub Date: June 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-973665-66-3

Page Count: 154

Publisher: Westbow Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 29, 2020

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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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A sadly slapdash World War II adventure.


Fictional account of the unsung women operatives who helped pave the way for D-Day.

Jenoff’s (The Orphan's Tale, 2017, etc.) latest alternates between postwar America and war-torn Europe. The novel opens in 1946 as Grace, whose soldier husband died in an accident, is trying to reinvent herself in New York City. In Grand Central terminal she stumbles upon an abandoned suitcase, wherein she discovers several photos of young women. Soon, she learns that the suitcase’s owner, Eleanor, recently arrived from London, has been killed by a car. Flashback to 1943: Eleanor, assistant to the Director of Britain’s Special Operations Executive, suggests sending women agents to France to transmit radio intelligence on Nazi movements in aid of the Resistance and the coming Allied invasion. Women, she points out, are less conspicuous masquerading as civilians than men. A native speaker of French, Marie is an ideal candidate. After rigorous training, she is dropped into an area north of Paris, with scant instructions other than to send wireless transmissions as directed by her handler, Julian, code-named Vesper. For reasons not adequately fleshed out, Grace feels compelled to learn more about the women pictured and their connection with Eleanor. With the help of her late husband’s best friend, Mark, a burgeoning love interest, Grace accesses SOE records in Washington, D.C., only to find puzzling evidence that Eleanor may have betrayed her own agents. We hardly see Marie in action as a radio operator; we know of her transmissions from France mainly through Eleanor, the recipient, who immediately suspects something is off—but her superiors ignore her warnings. In any spy thriller clear timelines are essential: Jenoff’s wartime chronology is blurred by overly general date headings (e.g., London, 1944) and confusing continuity. Sparsely punctuated by shocking brutality and defiant bravery, the narrative is, for the most part, flabby and devoid of tension. Overall, this effort seems rushed, and the sloppy language does nothing to dispel that impression.

A sadly slapdash World War II adventure.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-7783-3027-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Park Row Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2018

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