Well executed and full of immersive period detail, but the author would do well to put a little more trust in his readers.

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THE LONG WINTER

INTRIGUE AT VALLEY FORGE

In Stopa’s novel of historical fiction, the Continental Army regroups during its hard winter at Valley Forge and Gen. Washington’s intelligence network works to foil an assassination attempt.

In the winter of 1777, the Continental Army was on the ropes. After spending much of the war outmanned and outmaneuvered by the British, when the rebels set up their winter camp in Valley Forge, Penn., they’re in desperate need of a change in fortune. Henry Nichols, a brigadier in the British Army, senses an opportunity in the rebellion’s troubles. If he can exploit this time of weakness and assassinate George Washington, the rebel army’s charismatic leader, the rebellion might just fall apart. He travels to the colonies with orders from the King himself to carry out the assassination while operating outside the usual chain of command, much to the annoyance of British commander-in-chief Gen. Sir William Howe, who feels the plan is ungentlemanly. Caring little for Howe’s opinion, Nichols coerces John Waterman, a businessman and smuggler recently captured by the English, into taking part. But the strong-willed and resourceful Waterman doesn’t appreciate being forced into Nichols’ plot and works to extricate himself, while hopefully turning a tidy profit in the process. Meanwhile, Lt. Frederick Graham, stationed within British headquarters as Howe’s aide-de-camp, is working as a spy for Washington and must expose Nichols’ machinations before they come to fruition. Stopa clearly knows this period well, as he’s filled his novel with a great deal of compelling historical detail. However, some of the dialogue reads woodenly, and Stopa too often breaks the vaunted “show don’t tell” rule of writing, explicitly stating what’s going on in a character’s mind rather than letting his actions speak for him. Still, the plot moves at a nice clip, and the characters largely ring true.

Well executed and full of immersive period detail, but the author would do well to put a little more trust in his readers.

Pub Date: Nov. 22, 2010

ISBN: 978-1456399580

Page Count: 305

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 25, 2011

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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be...

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Some very nice, very smart African-Americans are plunged into netherworlds of malevolent sorcery in the waning days of Jim Crow—as if Jim Crow alone wasn’t enough of a curse to begin with.

In the northern U.S. of the mid-1950s, as depicted in this merrily macabre pastiche by Ruff (The Mirage, 2012, etc.), Driving While Black is an even more perilous proposition than it is now. Ask Atticus Turner, an African-American Korean War veteran and science-fiction buff, who is compelled to face an all-too-customary gauntlet of racist highway patrolmen and hostile white roadside hamlets en route from his South Side Chicago home to a remote Massachusetts village in search of his curmudgeonly father, Montrose, who was lured away by a young white “sharp dresser” driving a silver Cadillac with tinted windows. At least Atticus isn’t alone; his uncle George, who puts out annual editions of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is splitting driving duties in his Packard station wagon “with inlaid birch trim and side paneling.” Also along for the ride is Atticus’ childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, another sci-fi fan, whose family lived in the same neighborhood as the Turners. It turns out this road trip is merely the beginning of a series of bizarre chimerical adventures ensnaring both the Turner and Dandridge clans in ancient rituals, arcane magical texts, alternate universes, and transmogrifying potions, all of which bears some resemblance to the supernatural visions of H.P. Lovecraft and other gothic dream makers of the past. Ruff’s ripping yarns often pile on contrivances and overextend the narratives in the grand manner of pulp storytelling, but the reinvented mythos here seems to have aroused in him a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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