A historically authentic and intelligently crafted period drama that’s romantically stirring.

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THE ORANGE GROVE

In this historical novel set in 18th-century France, the mistress of a powerful aristocrat becomes caught between her principles and prosperity. 

Henriette d’Augustin is one of several mistresses kept by Duc Hugo d’Amboise and, as a result, lives a life of comfortable leisure in his chateau with her daughter, Solange. But the Duc becomes infatuated with his most recent romantic addition, Letitia du Massenet, “ravishing and virginal,” who “possesses an uncommon wit for a girl of eighteen.” The Duc desperately pines for a son, one thing his wife, Charlotte, despite years of effort, has proven unable to give him. She feels predictably threatened by Letitia’s hold on her husband. Charlotte is encouraged by Madame Céline de Poitiers, another mistress who is worried that she too will be cast aside and left penniless, to conspire against Letitia. Their collaborative efforts grow increasingly diabolical, all the more so after Letitia becomes pregnant. Charlotte recruits the help of Romain de Villiers, an old friend and tarot reader with whom she engages in an illicit romance. Murdoch (Stone Circle, 2017) deftly portrays the unenviable way in which Henriette becomes entangled in the web of Charlotte’s campaign to ruin Letitia. Henriette wants to defend Letitia, who is sorely dependent on the Duc for funds, but is wary of crossing Charlotte, for whom loyalty is a zero-sum game. Henriette has her livelihood, reputation, and daughter to protect as well as a closely guarded secret that, if uncovered, could spell her downfall. The author expertly re-creates high-society France at the beginning of the 18th century—this is a well-researched and historically valid depiction. In addition, she skillfully keeps the plot a tensile cord of suspense, revealing and concealing just enough to keep readers immersed and guessing. And while she doesn’t break any new literary ground, this book isn’t an overly sentimental iteration of the genre. Consider Henriette’s counsel to Letitia: “You see child, men are quite stupid and simple. They do not plan, devise, or see subtleties the way we do. This is our advantage.”

A historically authentic and intelligently crafted period drama that’s romantically stirring. 

Pub Date: Oct. 11, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-947548-22-0

Page Count: 253

Publisher: Regal House Publishing

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2019

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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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