Weaving together Caroline's and Maria’s journeys, Trenow meticulously stitches each piece of this engrossing story into a...

THE FORGOTTEN SEAMSTRESS

British author Trenow (The Last Telegram, 2013) methodically intertwines the lives of two women who live a century apart in a complex and poignant novel.

With understated eloquence and compassion, the author breathes life into the story of Maria Romano, a naïve young seamstress who’s spirited away from her job at Buckingham Palace to spend years of her life confined to a mental hospital. An orphan with exceptional needlework skills, Maria is pressed into royal service in 1911, when she's barely a teenager, and falls in love with Prince Edward, the eldest son of King George V and Queen Mary. Maria can’t believe her good fortune when he singles her out for attention—but then she gets pregnant. The young girl is scared but relieved when the housekeeper tells her she’ll be taken care of, and she’s instructed to gather her bag and get into a carriage. Maria packs up all her worldly possessions, including the beginnings of a patchwork quilt she’s pieced together from scraps of fabric she lifted from a palace cupboard, and assumes she’s being taken somewhere safe to await the birth of her infant. Rather than a regular hospital, however, she’s confined to a mental institution where she hazily recalls giving birth but is told her child died. As the reality of her situation sinks in, Maria attempts to run away, fails and retreats into her own soundless world until a volunteer's encouragement rekindles her interest in stitchery. After 50 years of institutionalization, Maria's childhood friend finds her and arranges for Maria to live in her home—and in 1970, Maria's story is preserved by a student interviewing ex-patients of the mental facility for a research project. Years later, Caroline Meadows struggles with a recent breakup, termination from her banking job and her mother’s descent into dementia as she cleans out the family home. Inside a suitcase, she finds a beautiful patchwork quilt once promised to her by her grandmother, and she’s compelled to explore the quilt’s origins. As Caroline uncovers its secrets, she discovers the threads that bind her to Maria, begins to understand the meaning of home and summons the courage to consider new directions in her life.

Weaving together Caroline's and Maria’s journeys, Trenow meticulously stitches each piece of this engrossing story into a unified—and heartwarming—whole.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4022-8248-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: March 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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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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