A bright, funny, hopeful tale of untangling family knots.



For generations, the second-born daughters of the Fontana family have been cursed with loveless lives. Can Emilia and her cousin Lucy finally break the spell?

Enraged that her beautiful younger sister might have beguiled her boyfriend, Filomena Fontana cast the curse long ago. Since then, family lore has held that every second-born daughter is doomed. Two hundred years later, Emilia and her older sister, Daria, scoffed. That is, until 7-year-old Emilia had to make a family tree for her social studies class and noticed the inescapable truth: There were no marriages among the second daughters. Even her free-spirited cousin Lucy, herself a second daughter, can’t manage to keep a boyfriend past the fourth date. Now pushing 30 and still single, Emilia’s resigned to her fate of working in the family bakery and living in her tiny third-floor apartment in the family home in Bensonhurst, aka Brooklyn’s Little Italy. Her Nonna Rose rules the roost with an iron first, watching Emilia’s every move and even banning her from communicating with her mysterious Great Aunt Poppy, herself a second daughter and the only relative willing to talk about Emilia’s late mother. But when Poppy sends Emilia and Lucy an invitation for an all-expenses-paid trip to Italy—and promises that she can break the curse—how can Emilia refuse? Nonna might be furious, but the possibility of learning more about her own mother makes up Emilia’s mind for her. Once in Italy, Emilia and Lucy discover the truth about not only the curse, but also themselves, not to mention Poppy’s own secrets. Spielman (Sweet Forgiveness, 2015, etc.) deftly spins Emilia’s story, layering in the backstory of how Poppy and Rose immigrated to America, with Rose following her husband, Alfonso, but Poppy losing the love of her life. Or did she? Along the way, Spielman twists our fairy-tale expectations about love, curses, and happy endings.

A bright, funny, hopeful tale of untangling family knots.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0316-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.


Thriller writer Baldacci (A Minute to Midnight, 2019, etc.) launches a new detective series starring World War II combat vet Aloysius Archer.

In 1949, Archer is paroled from Carderock Prison (he was innocent) and must report regularly to his parole officer, Ernestine Crabtree (she’s “damn fine-looking”). Parole terms forbid his visiting bars or loose women, which could become a problem. Trouble starts when businessman Hank Pittleman offers Archer $100 to recover a ’47 Cadillac that’s collateral for a debt owed by Lucas Tuttle, who readily agrees he owes the money. But Tuttle wants his daughter Jackie back—she’s Pittleman’s girlfriend, and she won’t return to Daddy. Archer finds the car, but it’s been torched. With no collateral to collect, he may have to return his hundred bucks. Meanwhile, Crabtree gets Archer the only job available, butchering hogs at the slaughterhouse. He’d killed plenty of men in combat, and now he needs peace. The Pittleman job doesn’t provide that peace, but at least it doesn’t involve bashing hogs’ brains in. People wind up dead and Archer becomes a suspect. So he noses around and shows that he might have the chops to be a good private investigator, a shamus. This is an era when gals have gams, guys say dang and keep extra Lucky Strikes in their hatbands, and a Lady Liberty half-dollar buys a good meal. The dialogue has a '40s noir feel: “And don’t trust nobody.…I don’t care how damn pretty they are.” There’s adult entertainment at the Cat’s Meow, cheap grub at the Checkered Past, and just enough clichés to prove that no one’s highfalutin. Readers will like Archer. He’s a talented man who enjoys detective stories, won’t keep ill-gotten gains, and respects women. All signs suggest a sequel where he hangs out a shamus shingle.

Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5387-5056-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2019

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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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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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