Sharp writing, an original plot, and a strong female protagonist make for an engrossing read.

ONCE IN A BLOOD MOON

In this historical novel by Bonneau (To destroy you is no loss, 1992) a young, biracial girl in South Carolina struggles with her status as the heiress to a plantation.

It’s October 1807, just three months before Alexandra de Gambia’s 16th birthday. For the duration of her young life, she’s thought of a black girl named Luluas her playmate. Now, as she grows older, she must confront the fact that their relationship is that of mistress and slave. Heaven’s Hill, the plantation owned by her parents, who live apart, is divided in two. Her biracial mother, Josephine, rules over the big house and its slaves, and her father, a prosperous, black landownerwho goes by the nickname “The Panther,” lives with other free people of color in a village that’s a replica of his Gambian ancestors’ home. The trans-Atlantic slave trade is on the brink of being outlawed, and Alexandra is torn between two worlds: Her mother wants her to “pass” in so-called “high-born” white society, but she also wants Lulu and the other slaves to get their freedom. Alexandra overhears local white men planning to burn down her father’s stables because they think that it “Ain’t right for a darkie to own all this land,” and then a brutally racist new sheriff arrives. Will she be able to bridge the gap between black and white townsfolk? This is a riveting story that addresses the often overlooked and controversial topic of free black people owning slaves in America. Bonneau is a skilled storyteller who also ably weaves African spirituality into her plot. Alexandra’s internal battles with an African ghost, which visits her when she’s weak or fearful, are fascinating: “ ‘You don’t have the courage to do this thing,’ the Ahoelra whispers. ‘I do have the courage,’ she whispers back.” Alexandra is a tenacious heroine who’s easy to root for, and the author elegantly articulates her precarious position between white and black society. Overall, this novel explores issues of equality and personal freedom in thought-provoking ways.

Sharp writing, an original plot, and a strong female protagonist make for an engrossing read.

Pub Date: June 11, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 372

Publisher: Acorn Publishing

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 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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A unique story about Appalachia and the healing power of the written word.

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THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK

One of Kentucky’s last living “Blue People” works as a traveling librarian in 1930s Appalachia.

Cussy Mary Carter is a 19-year-old from Troublesome Creek, Kentucky. She was born with a rare genetic condition, and her skin has always been tinged an allover deep blue. Cussy lives with her widowed father, a coal miner who relentlessly attempts to marry her off. Unfortunately, with blue skin and questionable genetics, Cussy is a tough sell. Cussy would rather keep her job as a pack-horse librarian than keep house for a husband anyway. As part of the new governmental program aimed at bringing reading material to isolated rural Kentuckians, Cussy rides a mule over treacherous terrain, delivering books and periodicals to people of limited means. Cussy’s patrons refer to her as “Bluet” or “Book Woman,” and she delights in bringing them books as well as messages, medicine, and advice. When a local pastor takes a nefarious interest in Cussy, claiming that God has sent him to rid society of her “blue demons,” efforts to defend herself leave Cussy at risk of arrest, or worse. The local doctor agrees to protect Cussy in exchange for her submission to medical testing. As Doc finds answers about Cussy’s condition, she begins to re-examine what it means to be a Blue and what life after a cure might look like. Although the novel gets off to a slow start, once Cussy begins traveling to the city for medical testing, the stakes get higher, as does the suspense of the story. Cussy's first-person narrative voice is engaging, laced with a thick Kentucky accent and colloquialisms of Depression-era Appalachia. Through the bigotry and discrimination Cussy suffers as a result of her skin color, the author artfully depicts the insidious behavior that can result when a society’s members feel threatened by things they don't understand. With a focus on the personal joy and broadened horizons that can result from access to reading material, this well-researched tale serves as a solid history lesson on 1930s Kentucky.

A unique story about Appalachia and the healing power of the written word.

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4926-7152-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Feb. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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