A seafaring epic with bloodcurdling raids and political intrigue to spare.

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THE SEA QUEEN

Now fighting opposite her brother, Svanhild must decide how to navigate an ever more treacherous Norway in Hartsuyker’s follow-up to The Half-Drowned King (2017).

Things aren’t going exactly as planned for Ragnvald, who has fought in King Harald’s quest to unite Norway for six bloody years. As a warrior, Ragnvald is used to raids and war, but he is often startled by Harald’s penchant for revenge. Even after all the warring is said and done, Vikings have strict codes of honor, and Harald pushes Ragnvald into ever more gruesome confrontations that trouble his conscience. In a surprising move, Ragnvald’s sister, Svanhild, has married his enemy, Solvi, a skilled sailor and warrior rousing an army to resist Harald’s conquests and burdensome taxes. This puts the two siblings at odds, even after Svanhild leaves Solvi and returns to Ragnvald’s camp a grieving mother. As the factions continue to war, Svanhild is caught in the middle. Will she stand by her brother’s side or lie to protect the man she still loves? New characters, like Ragnvald’s stepbrother, Sigurd, give us insight into the labyrinthine political machinations, back-stabbings, and betrayals at work in the Viking age, taking us straight into the camp of one of Harald’s betrayers. Like many second books in a trilogy, this one can get bogged down trying to put all of the players in the right places at the right time, and the novel relies heavily on exposition. But Hartsuyker is a skilled storyteller, and the moral battles her characters wrestle with on and off the battlefield add compelling psychological depth to an old and epic tale. She also restores women’s work and political maneuverings to Ragnvald’s story, and Svanhild emerges as a complicated, talented, and shrewd warrior in her own right. “Should I give you a ship and a crew so you can fight my sea battles for me?” King Harald asks Svanhild after she proves herself a worthier sailor than many of his men. Svanhild, of course, doesn’t miss a beat. “Yes...I think you should.” It’s a good thing Harald listens.

A seafaring epic with bloodcurdling raids and political intrigue to spare.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-256373-6

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 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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A unique story about Appalachia and the healing power of the written word.

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THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK

One of Kentucky’s last living “Blue People” works as a traveling librarian in 1930s Appalachia.

Cussy Mary Carter is a 19-year-old from Troublesome Creek, Kentucky. She was born with a rare genetic condition, and her skin has always been tinged an allover deep blue. Cussy lives with her widowed father, a coal miner who relentlessly attempts to marry her off. Unfortunately, with blue skin and questionable genetics, Cussy is a tough sell. Cussy would rather keep her job as a pack-horse librarian than keep house for a husband anyway. As part of the new governmental program aimed at bringing reading material to isolated rural Kentuckians, Cussy rides a mule over treacherous terrain, delivering books and periodicals to people of limited means. Cussy’s patrons refer to her as “Bluet” or “Book Woman,” and she delights in bringing them books as well as messages, medicine, and advice. When a local pastor takes a nefarious interest in Cussy, claiming that God has sent him to rid society of her “blue demons,” efforts to defend herself leave Cussy at risk of arrest, or worse. The local doctor agrees to protect Cussy in exchange for her submission to medical testing. As Doc finds answers about Cussy’s condition, she begins to re-examine what it means to be a Blue and what life after a cure might look like. Although the novel gets off to a slow start, once Cussy begins traveling to the city for medical testing, the stakes get higher, as does the suspense of the story. Cussy's first-person narrative voice is engaging, laced with a thick Kentucky accent and colloquialisms of Depression-era Appalachia. Through the bigotry and discrimination Cussy suffers as a result of her skin color, the author artfully depicts the insidious behavior that can result when a society’s members feel threatened by things they don't understand. With a focus on the personal joy and broadened horizons that can result from access to reading material, this well-researched tale serves as a solid history lesson on 1930s Kentucky.

A unique story about Appalachia and the healing power of the written word.

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4926-7152-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Feb. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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