A lovely Midwestern tale that’s as cozy and charming as a B&B.

Sweetland of Liberty Bed & Breakfast

In Cronk’s inspirational debut novel, a woman moves back to her old hometown to pursue a dream of opening a bed-and-breakfast inn.

Samantha Jarrett is still healing from the recent death of her husband, Roger, when she loses her job as an executive assistant at a small college in Ohio. She returns to her hometown of Freedom, Ind., where she and Roger had once wondered what it would be like to run an inn. To that end, Sam wants to purchase the old Foster house, a prized historic home where elderly June Foster lives; Foster’s family owned a prominent food business in town. More than a few folks in Freedom covet the house, but Mrs. Foster chooses Sam to be the new owner. Sam soon moves in to renovate the place she calls Sweetland of Liberty, but she’s unknowingly made an enemy of her former classmate Ellen Madison, a scion of one of Freedom’s oldest families, who wanted the home for herself. Ellen plots to have the B&B shut down and send Sam packing for Ohio, but she doesn’t know that Sam also relies on her faith in God to help keep the business alive. Cronk’s prose is simple and straightforward (“Sam daydreamed about what life might be like a year or two from now when surely everything had smoothed into a calm routine, and she had a chance, at last, to relax on her own porch, in her own life”), and Sam is a sympathetic heroine, whether she’s getting grief from city fathers over a sign ordinance or baking granola for her guests at midnight. Ellen is a fine villain, and her scenes crackle with tension. The short, snappy chapters will keep readers turning pages, and a climactic courtroom scene offers several surprises. In fact, the author hits such a high note with the scene that it’s a letdown that the book doesn’t end there; it’s as if the story is traveling 100 miles an hour and suddenly hits the brakes to coast. This is a small quibble, however, in a terrific debut, which also includes a separate list of the recipes mentioned in the story.

A lovely Midwestern tale that’s as cozy and charming as a B&B.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-1493570362

Page Count: 174

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 24, 2014

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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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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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