A readable and well-told Southern story.

THE CAPTAIN SEEKS THE LOST

THE CAPTAIN CHRONICLES, 1876

An old foe kidnaps a Georgia preacher’s long-lost son in this historical fiction sequel.

Harry Richardson and his wife, Sarah, are expecting a baby in their small community in northern Georgia. Though now a Baptist preacher, Harry is a former Confederate soldier and cavalry officer. The opening sequence of the novel relates his recurring nightmare from “the battle of Missionary Ridge, when the Confederate forces were defeated and Harry was captured.” He also has a son, Harrison, by way of an affair with Molly Baldwin, the daughter of a family friend from Harry’s adolescence. After their brief affair, Harry departed to serve in the Confederate Army, not knowing he had left her with a son. Now age 13, Harrison has come to live with Harry and Sarah, as Molly is presumed dead. Past secrets and old rivals threaten Harry’s newfound domestic happiness when Charlie—an old foe who married Molly and is Harrison’s stepdad—abducts the boy. Harry then goes in search of Harrison and Charlie in this quickly plotted tale. What ensues is a novel about pursuit and survival, as Harry’s past reveals further secrets and mysteries. Charlie—a man for whom “even the most innocent remark could send him into a rage”—is motivated by a long-held contempt for Harry. At various points, the vindictive Charlie questions Harrison about whom he believes his real father to be and tells him, “I’m going to take everything away from him, just like he took everything away from me.” Throughout, the tale touches on a number of historical tropes, including moonshiners (there is the friendly Michael Gibson) and gold prospectors (Charlie has dreams of going to California). Durbin (The Captain Takes a Wife, 2015) also offers studious descriptions of the Georgia landscape—including the animals that populate it—and of Harry’s day-to-day life “preparing sermons, tilling the land with a borrowed mule to make a garden, cutting stacks of firewood to be ready for next winter, caring for the horses.” Though some backstory may be lost on readers unfamiliar with the first installment, the author relates her tale swiftly and compellingly.

A readable and well-told Southern story.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4908-8582-7

Page Count: 234

Publisher: Westbow Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 24, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 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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An interesting premise imperfectly executed.

THE ORPHAN'S TALE

A Jewish trapeze artist and a Dutch unwed mother bond, after much aerial practice, as the circus comes to Nazi-occupied France.

Ingrid grew up in a Jewish circus family in Darmstadt, Germany. In 1934, she marries Erich, a German officer, and settles in Berlin. In 1942, as the war and Holocaust escalate, Erich is forced to divorce Ingrid. She returns to Darmstadt to find that her family has disappeared. A rival German circus clan, led by its patriarch, Herr Neuhoff, takes her in, giving her a stage name, Astrid, and forged Aryan papers. As she rehearses for the circus’ coming French tour, she once again experiences the freedom of an accomplished aerialist, even as her age, late 20s, catches up with her. The point of view shifts (and will alternate throughout) to Noa, a Dutch teenager thrown out by her formerly loving father when she gets pregnant by a German soldier. After leaving the German unwed mothers’ home where her infant has been taken away, either for the Reich’s Lebensborn adoption program or a worse fate, Noa finds work sweeping a train station. When she comes upon a boxcar full of dead or dying infants, she impulsively grabs one who resembles her own child, later naming him Theo. By chance, Noa and Theo are also rescued by Neuhoff, who offers her refuge in the circus, provided she can learn the trapeze. The tour begins with a stop in Thiers, France. Astrid is still leery of her new apprentice, but Noa catches on quickly and soon must replace Astrid in the act due to the risk that a Nazi spectator might recognize her. Noa falls in love with the mayor’s son, Luc, who Astrid suspects is a collaborator. Astrid’s Russian lover, Peter, a clown, tempts fate with a goose-stepping satire routine, and soon the circus will afford little protection to anybody. The diction seems too contemporary for the period, and the degree of danger the characters are in is more often summarized than demonstrated.

An interesting premise imperfectly executed.

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7783-1981-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2016

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