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HABITS OF THE HOUSE

If this all sounds more than a little familiar, it is.

Prolific Weldon borrows heavily from both Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs in her first in a series of three novels about Edwardian Britain, all to come out within the next year.

Weldon begins her novel over 10 years earlier than the two TV series, but the dramatic elements are the same: a wealthy family and its servants (although they get short shrift here) reacting to social, economic and political changes. In 1899, Victoria is an aging queen, her son the Prince of Wales is a philandering gambler, and the second Boer War is about to break out in southern Africa. At 17 Belgrave Square, Robert Hedleigh, the Earl of Dilberne, has an unexpected visit from his Jewish banker, Mr. Baum. Mr. Baum has lent the earl quite a bit of money, but Lady Isobel balks at extending a social invitation to Mrs. Baum in return. Now, Mr. Baum explains that the Boer situation has ruined the earl’s African mining investments. The family faces a potential financial crisis that is unlikely to be solved by the earl’s gambling forays with the Prince of Wales. Since suffragette daughter Rosina seems unmarriageable, Lady Isobel—well aware that the earl married her for her father’s money—sets out to find a rich wife for son Arthur, whose current love interests are his steam-engine automobile and the buxom blonde whose rent he pays, unaware that she was kept by his father before him. With the aid of lady’s maid Grace, who has her own romantic history with Arthur, Lady Isobel turns up Minnie O’Brien, a meatpacking heiress from Chicago recently arrived in London with her loudly American mother. Minnie is charming as well as rich; even Grace finds herself won over. But Minnie has her own secrets. Will love and Minnie’s money combine to save the household or will scandal wreak havoc?

If this all sounds more than a little familiar, it is.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-250-02662-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2012

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THE NIGHTINGALE

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

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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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 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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