Equal parts romance, intrigue and history, a flawed but spirited work.

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EVENSONG

A historical novel of a young woman’s return to Europe and her service in the French resistance.

The Cross family ekes out a living in hardscrabble Kelly Flatt, Mo., where they have been brought by their father, an opera prodigy who fought in the Great War. When a lightning-felled tree kills her father, her mother turns to drink, forcing the thrush-voiced and raven-haired Christina Cross to find work in a hotel. There, Senator Liam Caradine discovers her vocal talent. Christina accepts the Senator’s patronage and performs at West Point under the smitten gaze of one Laurent de Gauvion Saint Cyr, grandson of the eponymous World War I general, who has come to seek American collaboration against French horizons dark with Hitler’s rearmament of Germany. In love with the paternal senator, Christina rebuffs Laurent, an infamous paramour, only to find herself again in his company when Germany attacks Austria and she, following in her father’s footsteps, travels to France to serve in the war effort. She brings her sister Nicolette to keep her safe from their drunken mother. They arrive in France just as their uncle, General Philippe Petain, is being sworn in as vice premiere of France. At first loyal to Philippe, Christina soon rejects his complacency toward the Nazis and her loyalty turns to Laurent and the resistance. She joins Operation Cri de Coeur, rescuing babies from Hitler’s camps with a submarine based in North African catacombs. But then the unthinkable happens: Nicolette is captured and sent to a Nazi work camp, eventually becoming a test subject for secret Nazi bio-weapons. Christina mounts a mission to infiltrate the camp and rescue Nicolette. Written with brio and filled with ecstatic reveries and 11th-hour rescues, St. Sure’s prose has a passion that often trumps clarity. Naïveté suitable to the ingénue bleeds into other characters’ speeches, even those of ostensibly great men cribbed from history. This tendency, in combination with a poor farm girl’s implausible relation to a political titan, erodes believability and undermines what manages to be an often action-driven and enjoyable ride.

Equal parts romance, intrigue and history, a flawed but spirited work.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-1-4196-6824-1

Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: March 8, 2011

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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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