An engaging story of love in the worst of circumstances.

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The Shoemaker's Daughter

Block, in her debut novel, tells the desperate tale of a couple attempting to survive the horrors of Nazi occupation.

In September 1939, Aron Matuszienski is captured on the battlefield after the German army launches a surprise invasion of Poland and routs the country’s defense forces. Aron is doubly terrified of his captors, for he’s not just a Polish soldier—he’s also a Jew, and he keeps that fact a secret. It’s an unlikely talent that saves him: Aron is a skilled shoemaker, and despite their sneering disdain for the conquered, the “Germans respected trades, real craftsmen.” For a few months, he’s sufficiently fed and housed in Germany and treated better than other Polish prisoners. During this time, he thinks back to Gitel, the girl he loved before the war, whose memory he can’t erase. His cover is soon blown, though, when he accidentally says a prayer in Hebrew and a Polish rival quickly exposes his true identity. They ship him back to Poland for slave labor, but when he arrives, he’s reunited with Gitel. Against all reason, and in the ruins of their former lives, they embark on a love affair. When their marriage results in a daughter, it forces them to make terrible choices; preserving their family is no longer optional, but the cost of survival may be more than they’re willing to pay. Although the novel begins in 1939, several early chapters jump back to earlier periods in Aron’s and Gitel’s lives; their story continues through the war and into its immediate aftermath. Block writes in a sharp, lurching prose that captures the awful poetry of forced marches, clacking train cars (“The train bucked and strained on the tracks, the wheels buried in four feet of snow groaned to a halt”), and orders barked in many languages. She illustrates not only the desolate, selfish calamity of the war, but also the hard, unsentimental love that takes root in such a setting. The novel perhaps relies a bit too much on history to determine its shape—the ending, for example, tapers rather than terminates—but overall, it provides an affecting look at a truly terrible situation.

An engaging story of love in the worst of circumstances.

Pub Date: Feb. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-1483419619

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Lulu

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2015

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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Shalvis’ latest retains her spark and sizzle.

ALMOST JUST FRIENDS

Piper Manning is determined to sell her family’s property so she can leave her hometown behind, but when her siblings come back with life-changing secrets and her sexy neighbor begins to feel like “The One,” she might have to redo her to-do list.

As children, Piper and her younger siblings, Gavin and Winnie, were sent to live with their grandparents in Wildstone, California, from the Congo after one of Gavin’s friends was killed. Their parents were supposed to meet them later but never made it. Piper wound up being more of a parent than her grandparents, though: “In the end, Piper had done all the raising. It’d taken forever, but now, finally, her brother and sister were off living their own lives.” Piper, the queen of the bullet journal, plans to fix up the family’s lakeside property her grandparents left the three siblings when they died. Selling it will enable her to study to be a physician’s assistant as she’s always wanted. However, just as the goal seems in sight, Gavin and Winnie come home, ostensibly for Piper’s 30th birthday, and then never leave. Turns out, Piper’s brother and sister have recently managed to get into a couple buckets of trouble, and they need some time to reevaluate their options. They aren’t willing to share their problems with Piper, though they’ve been completely open with each other. And Winnie, who’s pregnant, has been very open with Piper’s neighbor Emmitt Reid and his visiting son, Camden, since the baby’s father is Cam’s younger brother, Rowan, who died a few months earlier in a car accident. Everyone has issues to navigate, made more complicated by Gavin and Winnie’s swearing Cam to secrecy just as he and Piper try—and fail—to ignore their attraction to each other. Shalvis keeps the physical and emotional tension high, though the siblings’ refusal to share with Piper becomes tedious and starts to feel childish.

Shalvis’ latest retains her spark and sizzle.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296139-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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