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

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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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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be...

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Some very nice, very smart African-Americans are plunged into netherworlds of malevolent sorcery in the waning days of Jim Crow—as if Jim Crow alone wasn’t enough of a curse to begin with.

In the northern U.S. of the mid-1950s, as depicted in this merrily macabre pastiche by Ruff (The Mirage, 2012, etc.), Driving While Black is an even more perilous proposition than it is now. Ask Atticus Turner, an African-American Korean War veteran and science-fiction buff, who is compelled to face an all-too-customary gauntlet of racist highway patrolmen and hostile white roadside hamlets en route from his South Side Chicago home to a remote Massachusetts village in search of his curmudgeonly father, Montrose, who was lured away by a young white “sharp dresser” driving a silver Cadillac with tinted windows. At least Atticus isn’t alone; his uncle George, who puts out annual editions of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is splitting driving duties in his Packard station wagon “with inlaid birch trim and side paneling.” Also along for the ride is Atticus’ childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, another sci-fi fan, whose family lived in the same neighborhood as the Turners. It turns out this road trip is merely the beginning of a series of bizarre chimerical adventures ensnaring both the Turner and Dandridge clans in ancient rituals, arcane magical texts, alternate universes, and transmogrifying potions, all of which bears some resemblance to the supernatural visions of H.P. Lovecraft and other gothic dream makers of the past. Ruff’s ripping yarns often pile on contrivances and overextend the narratives in the grand manner of pulp storytelling, but the reinvented mythos here seems to have aroused in him a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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