Fans of romantic suspense with an art historical bent will appreciate the vigor of Albanese’s reimagining of the family saga...

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STOLEN BEAUTY

Two haute bourgeois Austrian-Jewish women see their world upended by fin de siècle libertinism, the onset of the Nazi regime, and the theft of all they hold most dear.

Sparking off the same source material as the film Woman in Gold (2015), Albanese conjures the voices of Adele Bloch-Bauer and her niece Maria Altmann, whose lives overlapped briefly but whose biographies are forever conjoined by a work of art. Here, as in life, handsome, clever, and rich Adele is an intellectually famished, aspiring salon hostess whose tolerant husband, an uncultured but benevolent sugar-beet magnate, indulges her interest in the philosophical debates of the day (though the novel imposes no burden on readers to wrestle with them). She eventually persuades him to commission Gustav Klimt—monk-cloaked, lupine, and a notorious seducer with multiple illegitimate children—to do her portrait. It takes him three years to complete. While conscious of ugly talk rippling through the Ringstrasse—a failed and embittered applicant to Vienna's Art Academy, who will one day come to power in Germany, is glimpsed briefly at one of Adele's salon meetings—Adele is forced to pull back from their potentially scandalous relationship for reasons less social than private. By turns breathless and rueful at the memory of the erstwhile affair—“His gaze was intoxicating. I’m embarrassed to remember how little it took to keep me talking”—Adele will take up other causes and protégés. One is her young niece Maria, whose story commences in 1938 and makes for a gritty, suspenseful counterpoint (with a few historical liberties taken) to the lip-smacking linzer torte of Adele’s bildungsroman. Less worldly than her aunt (who was long dead by the time Hitler comes to power), Maria is shocked when the Gestapo turns up at her home to oversee the transfer of Jewish property into Aryan hands. But she quickly readjusts her inner compass, proving wily and doughty in ways Aunt Adele would approve. Taking the lead from her husband—an amateur opera singer hooked on female adoration—she organizes their escape, not a hot-second too soon. Though given shorter shrift here than the romance/suspense plots, Maria’s nervy and unprecedented campaign to seek restitution for her family’s looted art collection—including the shimmering Klimt portrait of Adele hidden in plain sight in Vienna’s most prestigious gallery—provides a satisfying coda: “The Nazis were inside my uncle's palais....If you’re lucky, life teaches you to survive.”

Fans of romantic suspense with an art historical bent will appreciate the vigor of Albanese’s reimagining of the family saga behind the masterpiece long regarded as Vienna’s Mona Lisa.

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5011-3198-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

ALL ADULTS HERE

When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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A daring concept not so daringly developed.

THE BOOK OF LONGINGS

In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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