An elegant, tenderly written story of love and loss.

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The Lingering Cloud

In Hughes’ (Mindful of Him, 2014) latest novel, a young preacher discovers on his wedding night that he’s married a woman with a serious mental illness—one that will devastate both their lives.

Newlyweds Mack Baldwin and Rebecca Allen, both 22, are spending their first night as man and wife when she explains that she strongly believes that sex is sinful. Later, after Rebecca’s behavior grows increasingly erratic, she’s diagnosed with schizophrenia and institutionalized; at one point, she believes that “someone had wired her womb to a hot line in the Kremlin.” Hughes is a terrific storyteller and an even better crafter of characters. In Mack, he’s performed the near miracle of portraying a preacher who’s not preachy; he comes off as more of a saint than a sinner, yet he’s fully human and experiences a realistic gamut of emotions in trying circumstances. Loyal to his wife and his Lord, he wrestles with issues of duty, grief and faith. When he has a moral lapse after years of absolute devotion to Rebecca, who contracts Alzheimer’s later in life, it’s impossible to judge him harshly, even though he berates himself. Hughes’ plot entails more than just the sad, unconsummated relationship between Rebecca and Mack, however; Mack’s life is also revealed through his relationships with friends, parishioners, his in-laws and nature. The older, wiser characters who counsel Mack are a joy to read about. They encourage him to pursue hobbies such as fishing and hiking, and Hughes’ descriptions of the outdoors are often lovely, as in this Gulf Coast scene: “Nowhere was the passing of day into the night more beautiful nor more sweetly sad than when it sank into the ocean—so different than on land.” Hughes sometimes switches points of view from third person to first, and occasionally writes dialogue in a way that makes it unclear who’s speaking; tighter editing would have corrected these distractions and kept readers focused on the novel’s big question: Will Mack get another chance at a happy life?

An elegant, tenderly written story of love and loss.

Pub Date: May 23, 2014

ISBN: 9781496172488

Page Count: 418

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 8, 2014

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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 sadly slapdash World War II adventure.

THE LOST GIRLS OF PARIS

Fictional account of the unsung women operatives who helped pave the way for D-Day.

Jenoff’s (The Orphan's Tale, 2017, etc.) latest alternates between postwar America and war-torn Europe. The novel opens in 1946 as Grace, whose soldier husband died in an accident, is trying to reinvent herself in New York City. In Grand Central terminal she stumbles upon an abandoned suitcase, wherein she discovers several photos of young women. Soon, she learns that the suitcase’s owner, Eleanor, recently arrived from London, has been killed by a car. Flashback to 1943: Eleanor, assistant to the Director of Britain’s Special Operations Executive, suggests sending women agents to France to transmit radio intelligence on Nazi movements in aid of the Resistance and the coming Allied invasion. Women, she points out, are less conspicuous masquerading as civilians than men. A native speaker of French, Marie is an ideal candidate. After rigorous training, she is dropped into an area north of Paris, with scant instructions other than to send wireless transmissions as directed by her handler, Julian, code-named Vesper. For reasons not adequately fleshed out, Grace feels compelled to learn more about the women pictured and their connection with Eleanor. With the help of her late husband’s best friend, Mark, a burgeoning love interest, Grace accesses SOE records in Washington, D.C., only to find puzzling evidence that Eleanor may have betrayed her own agents. We hardly see Marie in action as a radio operator; we know of her transmissions from France mainly through Eleanor, the recipient, who immediately suspects something is off—but her superiors ignore her warnings. In any spy thriller clear timelines are essential: Jenoff’s wartime chronology is blurred by overly general date headings (e.g., London, 1944) and confusing continuity. Sparsely punctuated by shocking brutality and defiant bravery, the narrative is, for the most part, flabby and devoid of tension. Overall, this effort seems rushed, and the sloppy language does nothing to dispel that impression.

A sadly slapdash World War II adventure.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-7783-3027-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Park Row Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2018

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