A somewhat entertaining but mostly predictable story; Champagne fans and readers who can’t get enough WWII fiction will...

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THE WINEMAKER'S WIFE

Harmel (The Room on Rue Amélie, 2018, etc.) returns with another historical novel set in France during World War II.

This novel alternates between 1940 at the Chauveau Champagne winery near Reims as the German occupation begins and the present day in the same area, where recently divorced Liv Kent’s 99-year-old grandmother, Edith, has brought her so that Edith can attend to some “business.” Gradually Liv begins to understand they are in Reims so she can learn what happened in 1940 that changed the futures of her grandparents, their friends, and the Chauveau winery. She discerns this in part from the new man in her life, Julien, grandson and partner of Edith’s longtime lawyer. Harmel weaves in real historical figures such as Otto Klaebisch, the “weinführer” in Champagne during the war, and Count Robert-Jean de Vogüé, Resistance leader and head of Moët & Chandon. The story of fictional Resistance member and Champagne proprietor Michel Chauveau may be realistic, but parts of the story about his young wife, Inès, are less convincing. The Chauveaus employ winemaker Theo Laurent, whose wife Céline’s family is Jewish. While Inès’ naïve insistence that Céline’s family is far from danger is somewhat understandable—many people were unable to believe what was happening at the time—it doesn’t square with her recollection of her WWI veteran father insisting “You can never trust the Huns!” Inès’ vacillating sympathies might reflect her youth, but they set up a chain of events that leads to dramatic changes in her life, which in turn set up the dramatic unveiling of Edith’s secrets in the modern section of the book. All of which requires suspension of disbelief. Liv’s love interest, while sudden, is somewhat more believable, as is Edith’s reluctance to tell Liv the family history. Even in those sections, Harmel resorts to formulaic moments, such as a mix-up about whether Julien is married and a scene where a character is welcomed to heaven with forgiving words from other characters.

A somewhat entertaining but mostly predictable story; Champagne fans and readers who can’t get enough WWII fiction will probably still enjoy it.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-9821-1229-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 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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