This unconventional spin on a children’s classic is a captivating read and unquestionably aimed toward adults.

BITTER GREENS

Forsyth blends fact and fiction in a novel that combines the story of a young woman with long hair who's been locked in a tower with the tale of the real-life Frenchwoman who wrote the story we know as "Rapunzel."

After King Louis XIV banishes his cousin Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force to a convent in 1697, she has a hard time getting used to a life of austerity and isolation in the French countryside. She misses the excitement and luxury of the daring, robust court life she once led and yearns for the young husband for whom she renounced her religion. An elderly nun takes Charlotte-Rose under her wing and, as they tend the nunnery’s garden, relates the story of Margherita, a young Venetian girl imprisoned in a remote tower by an evil sorceress. The witch, La Strega Bella, weaves tresses into the girl’s fiery mane and regularly uses her long locks to climb the tower in order to bring Margherita food and extract droplets of her blood. The magical tales of the girl and the sorceress unfold in segments around Charlotte-Rose’s first-person account of her tenuous positions as a ward of the court, a Huguenot and a headstrong female who sometimes risks the king’s wrath to pursue her own interests or help others. Her story serves as a balance between Margherita’s innocence as she secretly explores the tower and makes a ghastly discovery and La Strega Bella’s shadowy actions, which feed her obsession for maintaining eternal youth. Each of the three finds love, but the outcomes of their relationships differ. Despite many lusty encounters that add little substance to the tale, Forsyth undertakes an ambitious plot and, with a creative presentation, makes it work. She convincingly conveys a fairy tale–like quality in her writing and peppers the narrative with historical detail and some interesting twists that neatly tie together the strands of the story.   

This unconventional spin on a children’s classic is a captivating read and unquestionably aimed toward adults.

Pub Date: Sept. 23, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-250-04753-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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