Alive with the difficulties of an ancient era, this Greek sailing adventure remains hampered by portions of overexplanation.

RETURN TO LESBOS

From the Arion's Odyssey series , Vol. 4

A young man with a mission must travel to the island of Lesbos in volume four of a historical fiction series set in ancient Greece.

It is August 427 B.C. and a man named Arion finds himself in a precarious situation. Arion owes money to an unpleasant individual known as Smerdis and he has only eight days to repay his debt. The stakes are high for Arion, as failure on his part will end in his own enslavement. His only hope lies in sailing to the city of Mytilene (on Lesbos), where he will attempt to save his family estate from his treacherous Uncle Erxandros. Meanwhile, the Peloponnesian War is under way and the Athenian empire has just finished suppressing a revolt in, as it just so happens, Mytilene. Initially, the Athenians would like to put to death every man in Mytilene and sell all of the women and children into slavery. Athenian hearts soften, however, and the harsh orders are revoked. The only problem is that a ship has already been sent to carry out the orders. The Athenians must now send a faster vessel if the people of Mytilene are to be spared. Luckily for Arion, he is not only headed in that direction, but he is also a powerful oarsman. After obtaining a rowing position on the ship carrying the rescindment order, he has quite the set of tasks ahead of him. Fortunately, Arion’s duties are ones that manage to make excellent use of the time period that the story portrays. The threat of enslavement and massacres were, after all, not alien concepts to the ancient Greeks, and Arion’s challenging situation is based on historical events. But Sten’s (Life After Death at Ipsambul, 2015, etc.) dramatization of the hero’s predicaments often leans toward the obvious, such as when the reader is told: “To Arion this ship is a symbolic connection between this shore and that, as ships always have been, whether for commerce or war.” The reader is likely to already know the many uses for ships, and while Arion does eventually proceed on his way, such sentiments only manage to slow this otherwise well-paced action tale.      

Alive with the difficulties of an ancient era, this Greek sailing adventure remains hampered by portions of overexplanation.

Pub Date: Feb. 8, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5374-6379-7

Page Count: 234

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2017

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A compulsively readable account of a little-known yet extraordinary historical figure—Lawhon’s best book to date.

CODE NAME HÉLÈNE

A historical novel explores the intersection of love and war in the life of Australian-born World War II heroine Nancy Grace Augusta Wake.

Lawhon’s (I Was Anastasia, 2018, etc.) carefully researched, lively historical novels tend to be founded on a strategic chronological gambit, whether it’s the suspenseful countdown to the landing of the Hindenberg or the tale of a Romanov princess told backward and forward at once. In her fourth novel, she splits the story of the amazing Nancy Wake, woman of many aliases, into two interwoven strands, both told in first-person present. One begins on Feb. 29th, 1944, when Wake, code-named Hélène by the British Special Operations Executive, parachutes into Vichy-controlled France to aid the troops of the Resistance, working with comrades “Hubert” and “Denden”—two of many vividly drawn supporting characters. “I wake just before dawn with a full bladder and the uncomfortable realization that I am surrounded on all sides by two hundred sex-starved Frenchmen,” she says. The second strand starts eight years earlier in Paris, where Wake is launching a career as a freelance journalist, covering early stories of the Nazi rise and learning to drink with the hardcore journos, her purse-pooch Picon in her lap. Though she claims the dog “will be the great love of [her] life,” she is about to meet the hunky Marseille-based industrialist Henri Fiocca, whose dashing courtship involves French 75 cocktails, unexpected appearances, and a drawn-out seduction. As always when going into battle, even the ones with guns and grenades, Nancy says “I wear my favorite armor…red lipstick.” Both strands offer plenty of fireworks and heroism as they converge to explain all. The author begs forgiveness in an informative afterword for all the drinking and swearing. Hey! No apologies necessary!

A compulsively readable account of a little-known yet extraordinary historical figure—Lawhon’s best book to date.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-54468-9

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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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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