An upbeat and thoughtful blend of romance and politics.

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LOVE, ACROSS THE DIVIDE

In Ford’s debut novel, an unwed woman has her sights set on political office and searches for a powerful partner to help get her there. 

Soon after U.S. Rep. White (R-Florida) secures another term, he taps his campaign manager, Megan Thompson, to be his 2018 successor, and he offers her a job as his aide in Washington, D.C., in charge of energy and environmental legislation. However, the fact that she’s a single woman—she recently called off a wedding when she discovered that her fiance cheated on her with her best friend—could be off-putting to voters, especially social conservatives. So White arranges for Megan to go on a dating tour to find a “strategic power match,” though she largely finds disappointment instead. Eventually, though, she meets Brock Tolbert, a spokesman for the National Rifle Association who’s charming, well-connected, and handsome—politically perfect. Meanwhile, she sees her new roommate, Andrew Croswell, as the bane of her existence; she thinks that he’s a smug, opinionated, “liberal libido killer.” He works for a group that’s lobbying for a more robust approach to climate change. Although his and Megan’s relationship begins in mutual acrimony, their enmity soon eases into friendly détente and then sweetly flirts with something deeper—and less platonic. Author Ford pulls off an impressive trick, artfully combining two seemingly incongruent genres in a companionably lighthearted romance and an astute political commentary on transcending partisanship. The author has a refreshing talent for humanizing ideological conflict, and both Megan and Andrew turn out to be far more complex than their political leanings would suggest. The plot occasionally loses its steam and slows to a meandering stroll, and the novel as whole would benefit from a shorter page count. Also, Andrew is initially presented as so insufferably shrill, that it isn’t easy for Ford, or the reader, to get rid of that first impression. However, this is a subtly ambitious work that doesn’t shy away from contentious subjects, such as same-sex marriage and climate change, and it squarely confronts the most controversial topic of the day—the presidency of Donald Trump. 

An upbeat and thoughtful blend of romance and politics. 

Pub Date: July 15, 2018

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 448

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2018

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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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To use the parlance of the period, a highly relevant retrospective.

SUMMER OF '69

Nantucket, not Woodstock, is the main attraction in Hilderbrand’s (Winter in Paradise, 2018, etc.) bittersweet nostalgia piece about the summer of 1969.

As is typical with Hilderbrand’s fiction, several members of a family have their says. Here, that family is the “stitched together” Foley-Levin clan, ruled over by the appropriately named matriarch, Exalta, aka Nonny, mother of Kate Levin. Exalta’s Nantucket house, All’s Fair, also appropriately named, is the main setting. Kate’s three older children, Blair, 24, Kirby, 20, and Tiger, 19, are products of her first marriage, to Wilder Foley, a war veteran, who shot himself. Second husband David Levin is the father of Jessie, who’s just turned 13. Tiger has been drafted and sends dispatches to Jessie from Vietnam. Kirby has been arrested twice while protesting the war in Boston. (Don’t tell Nonny!) Blair is married and pregnant; her MIT astrophysicist husband, Angus, is depressive, controlling, and deceitful—the unmelodramatic way Angus’ faults sneak up on both Blair and the reader is only one example of Hilderbrand’s firm grasp on real life. Many plot elements are specific to the year. Kirby is further rebelling by forgoing Nantucket for rival island Martha’s Vineyard—and a hotel job close to Chappaquiddick. Angus will be working at Mission Control for the Apollo 11 lunar landing. Kirby has difficult romantic encounters, first with her arresting officer, then with a black Harvard student whose mother has another reason, besides Kirby’s whiteness, to distrust her. Pick, grandson of Exalta’s caretaker, is planning to search for his hippie mother at Woodstock. Other complications seem very up-to-date: a country club tennis coach is a predator and pedophile. Anti-Semitism lurks beneath the club’s genteel veneer. Kate’s drinking has accelerated since Tiger’s deployment overseas. Exalta’s toughness is seemingly untempered by grandmotherly love. As always, Hilderbrand’s characters are utterly convincing and immediately draw us into their problems, from petty to grave. Sometimes, her densely packed tales seem to unravel toward the end. This is not one of those times.

To use the parlance of the period, a highly relevant retrospective.

Pub Date: June 18, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-42001-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2019

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