An immersion in the life of a queen who helped shape the Western world.

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THE SUMMER QUEEN

British author Chadwick (Shadows and Strongholds,2005, etc.) begins a trilogy chronicling the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine, a queen equal to kings.

The tale opens with William, Duke of Aquitaine, mortally ill. To ensure Aquitaine’s future, he arranges the marriage of his daughter, 13-year-old Eleanor—Alienor, as written then—to Louis, the French crown prince. Europe in 1137 was a jumble of fiefdoms, every ruler seeking alliances of power, and so Alienor acquiesces to her fate. At first, Louis proves an acceptable husband, but as king, he stumbles from one disaster to another, quickly becoming "a querulous man, old before his time, full of righteous anger, his guilt and self-loathing twisting within." Daughters are born rather than a male heir, and the marriage collapses. Alienor demands annulment, granted only after politicized negotiations. Freedom brings peril: An "irresistible marriage prize to someone," Alienor risks being kidnapped and forced into marriage by any rogue coveting Aquitaine’s riches. Chadwick’s prodigious research sets the scene, whether in castles, trekking from one dukedom to another or on Louis’ Holy Crusade, all extraordinarily detailed, if occasionally too replete with duplicities, court manners and poisoned clerics with political agendas. Leaving court and bedroom lamentations behind, Chadwick shifts into high gear when Henry, Duke of Normandy and future ruler of England, seeks marriage. Only 18, nine years younger than Alienor, but her equal in intelligence and courage, Henry, "a force of nature carrying all before him," roars into the narrative with the sure-footed power of a king-to-be. Other characters abound, some sympathetic in love and loyalty, like Alienor’s vassal and first love, Geoffrey de Rancon, whom she cannot marry lest she fracture peace in Aquitaine. Chadwick layers on each page the great passions of medieval life, all murderous manipulations and aristocratic ambitions, leaving readers only to speculate how these teenagers stepped astride history to rule.

An immersion in the life of a queen who helped shape the Western world.

Pub Date: July 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4022-9406-8

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2014

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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 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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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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