Want to end the war to end all wars? Put a mountaineer—and a woman mountaineer—to the task.

Willa Alden isn’t just any mountaineer, at least not by genre novelist Donnelly’s account. In a thick, overly long narrative peopled by a few returnees from The Winter Rose (2008, etc.), Willa is a standout, admirable in her many strengths. But then, just about everyone in this story is strong in his or her own métier, from Winston Churchill to charm-the-pants-off-anyone Kaiserian spy Max von Brandt. Heck, even the Dalai Lama is a brick—and a pal of Willa’s, natch, who “on occasion…would drink with her, sing Tibetan songs with her, and swap bawdy stories.” But all these are wimps next to Willa’s true amour, Seamus Finnegan, fearless polar explorer and breathless lover, who has gotten himself into countless scrapes with her and left her wanting only once, and then by way of something in a limb. (You’ll have to read the book for the details.) “You’re a very dashing figure, you know,” says one admirer of Seamie’s. “You’ve achieved so much, done so many amazing things.” Seamie knows, yet the one thing he wants eludes him. Meanwhile, old Max is up to no good, for these, after all, are the stirring years of World War I, and his job is to embarrass smarty-pants Britons and exalt Teutons everywhere. By the end of this endless exercise in historical fiction, one that gets all the details right except the way people spoke to each other a century ago, Max, Seamie and Willa have been replaying the Perils of Pauline in the company of Lawrence of Arabia, a perplexing and improbable turn of events that at least moves the plot along. Thank goodness Willa has picked up conversational Arabic and Turkish along the way. “Jamal Pasha is coming! Jamal Pasha is coming!” But is Max that much a rotter, and Seamie that much a hero? Read this aspirational potboiler and find out. Or not.


Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4013-0104-0

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2011

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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


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

Did you like this book?