Although it's entering a crowded field of biographies, fictional or not, of various Founding Fathers, Cobbs' meticulous...

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THE HAMILTON AFFAIR

Cobbs' novel chronicles the difficult political and family life of Alexander Hamilton.

Well before the publication date of this novel, the Broadway musical based on Hamilton’s life will in all likelihood have won many Tony awards. Can another fictional re-examination of this controversial statesman succeed in saying anything new about Hamilton—and do it without rap songs? Hamilton’s story certainly invites dramatization. Born the illegitimate son of a runaway wife on the Caribbean island of Nevis and raised in St. Croix, Hamilton is disinherited in early adolescence when his mother dies of a malarial fever. His intelligence and grit net him a clerk position with an importer and then sponsorship to leave the islands for New York to further his education. Swept up in revolutionary fervor, he becomes George Washington’s aide-de-camp, eventually winning his own command but always bucking the disadvantages of his humble beginnings. He meets his future wife, Eliza, whose father, Philip Schuyler, is a New York landholder who throws in his lot with the Continentals. Chapters narrated by Eliza alternate with chapters narrated by Alexander, and the first half of the novel lacks momentum as the characters negotiate the ponderous logistics of courtship, marriage, intrigue, jockeying for position on the battlefield and in Washington’s Cabinet, etc. It isn’t until the end of the Revolutionary War that the plot thickens. Alexander, appointed the United States' first Treasury Secretary, puts out countless fiscal fires threatening the fledgling republic’s economy. He not only refuses to own slaves, but publicly advocates for abolition. He is subjected to much unfair opprobrium, largely, it appears, because he doesn't belong to the post-revolutionary boys’ club. James Monroe, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson come off as particularly ignoble, and Aaron Burr seems downright sociopathic. Cobbs displays how Hamilton’s outsider status leaves him very little wiggle room: an extramarital affair which might have been hushed up in the right circles leads directly to his downfall.

Although it's entering a crowded field of biographies, fictional or not, of various Founding Fathers, Cobbs' meticulous account holds its own—even without catchy tunes.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62872-720-3

Page Count: 408

Publisher: Arcade

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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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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