Ashe is more flag-bearer of the rampant Montfort lion than objective storyteller, but her sharp eye for human drama and...

MONTFORT THE FOUNDER OF PARLIAMENT

THE VICEROY 1243-1253

A full-blooded second installment of Ashe’s historical fiction, in which the seeds of rebellion against Henry III’s economic tyranny are sown in the mind of Simon de Montfort, the founder of Parliament.

More assuredly ensconced in the saddle than she was in her first volume, a volant Ashe (Montfort the Founder of Parliament: The Early Years, 2010) charges ahead, taking the reader along on a largely gripping ride. This volume opens with dark tidings that Palestine, gloriously secured by Simon in the First Crusade, has fallen. Plunged into an orgy of grief, he lashes himself until he passes out. He wants to immediately jump on his horse and head to the Holy Land, but the king has other plans; Henry sends his finest general to subdue the notoriously rebellious French province of Gascony. Although the fine detailing of the three Gascony campaigns occasionally plods, Ashe does her best to mine it fully to build up the antagonism that will eventually explode into civil war. Pitted against a spiteful, changeling Henry who plies him with favors only to then humiliate him by trusting the word of the Gascon lords over his, Simon is tried for treason but acquitted. The official charge against him is his ruthlessness in Gascony, but the real treason has taken place in the bedroom, with Simon lapsing back into his affair with Queen Eleanor. In the background is a quiet but dangerous campaign launched by Simon’s archbishop-mentor and chancellor of Oxford, Robert Grosseteste, to curb Henry’s arbitrariness by appointing a council. This could be seditious but it has a deep appeal for the barons and clergy bled to death by a king addicted to wars and keeping his foreign in-laws in velvet (literally—the fabric was new to the court, as, incidentally, was Roger Bacon’s rudimentary canon). The sanctimoniously loyal Simon initially dismisses Grosseteste’s talk with “Henry is no Tiberius,” but, in a deftly turned phrase by Ashe, he is soon bitterly aware that trusting Henry is akin to “leaning on Aaron’s staff that would one day turn serpent and sting him.”

Ashe is more flag-bearer of the rampant Montfort lion than objective storyteller, but her sharp eye for human drama and historic detail, together with strong characterization, keep the reader absorbed to the very end.

Pub Date: May 27, 2011

ISBN: 978-1450574235

Page Count: 265

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2011

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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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