Weldon plugs in historic figures like Lord Balfour and Lady Marlborough and some interesting bits of Edwardian social...

LONG LIVE THE KING

Weldon’s second installment in the Edwardian trilogy (Habits of the House, 2013) again revolves around deciding who is to receive prized invitations, this time to Edward VII’s 1902 coronation.

Robert, Earl of Dilberne, and his wife, Lady Isobel, again hold center stage. Son Arthur is now happily married to Chicago heiress–with-a-past Minnie, who has not quite adjusted to British aristocracy. Suffragette daughter Rosina, a spinster at 31, is still hobnobbing with intellectuals and idealists. Having recovered his fortune with the help of his Jewish financial advisor Mr. Baum, Sir Robert has become prominent in ruling circles and will participate in the coronation being organized largely by Lord High Steward "Sunny" Marlborough, nicknamed for his unsunny demeanor, and Lady Marlborough, nee Consuelo Vanderbilt. When Consuelo offers Robert three extra tickets to the big event, Robert plans to give two of them to Mr. Baum and his cultured wife, Naomi (who talks about Zionism with Lord Balfour), evidence that the Baums are rising in society since it was a mere dinner invitation that Isobel resisted offering last go-round. But in a fit of jealous pique over Robert’s apparent intimacy with dashing young Consuelo, Isobel rashly sends the tickets to Robert’s estranged younger brother Edwin, an eccentric minister who lives in miserly religiosity with his wife and ethereal 15-year-old daughter, Adela. Isobel regrets her decision immediately, but the invitation has been mailed. Meanwhile, tragedy befalls Edwin and his wife, Elise, and Adela, scheduled to enter a convent, disappears. As the coronation approaches, Isobel struggles to cover her mistake.

Weldon plugs in historic figures like Lord Balfour and Lady Marlborough and some interesting bits of Edwardian social history and manners, but as a work of fiction, this entry is less than compelling.

Pub Date: May 7, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-250-02800-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2013

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A compulsively readable account of a little-known yet extraordinary historical figure—Lawhon’s best book to date.

CODE NAME HÉLÈNE

A historical novel explores the intersection of love and war in the life of Australian-born World War II heroine Nancy Grace Augusta Wake.

Lawhon’s (I Was Anastasia, 2018, etc.) carefully researched, lively historical novels tend to be founded on a strategic chronological gambit, whether it’s the suspenseful countdown to the landing of the Hindenberg or the tale of a Romanov princess told backward and forward at once. In her fourth novel, she splits the story of the amazing Nancy Wake, woman of many aliases, into two interwoven strands, both told in first-person present. One begins on Feb. 29th, 1944, when Wake, code-named Hélène by the British Special Operations Executive, parachutes into Vichy-controlled France to aid the troops of the Resistance, working with comrades “Hubert” and “Denden”—two of many vividly drawn supporting characters. “I wake just before dawn with a full bladder and the uncomfortable realization that I am surrounded on all sides by two hundred sex-starved Frenchmen,” she says. The second strand starts eight years earlier in Paris, where Wake is launching a career as a freelance journalist, covering early stories of the Nazi rise and learning to drink with the hardcore journos, her purse-pooch Picon in her lap. Though she claims the dog “will be the great love of [her] life,” she is about to meet the hunky Marseille-based industrialist Henri Fiocca, whose dashing courtship involves French 75 cocktails, unexpected appearances, and a drawn-out seduction. As always when going into battle, even the ones with guns and grenades, Nancy says “I wear my favorite armor…red lipstick.” Both strands offer plenty of fireworks and heroism as they converge to explain all. The author begs forgiveness in an informative afterword for all the drinking and swearing. Hey! No apologies necessary!

A compulsively readable account of a little-known yet extraordinary historical figure—Lawhon’s best book to date.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-54468-9

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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