Despite some awkward POV shifts, the action proceeds briskly, with just enough technical and period detail to sustain...

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THE GLASSBLOWER OF MURANO

First novel melds the stories of a 17th-century master craftsman and his modern-day descendant.

Born in Venice, the product of her mother’s short-lived marriage to vaporetto boatman Bruno Manin, Leonora was raised in England. Now in her mid-30s, Leonora has returned to Venice, fleeing her broken marriage, destroyed by too many futile courses of IVF and by her husband’s infidelity. Leonora uses her divorce settlement to launch two long-deferred quests: to learn more about her late-Renaissance forbear, renowned glassblower Corradino Manin, and to become a Venetian glass maestra herself. First stop: the Isle of Murano, still Venice’s main hub of artisanal glass. In Corradino’s day, craftsmen were sequestered on Murano to prevent them from communicating the secrets on which Venice’s glass monopoly depended. Leonora lands an apprenticeship in the fornace (glass atelier) of Adelino. But Roberto, descended from another fabled Murano glass man, Giacomo del Piero, uses her male colleagues’ gender bias against her. Sexy policeman Alessandro insinuates himself into Leonora’s bed, then goes intermittently AWOL. Desperate to increase sales, Adelino hires a PR crew to capitalize on the Manin cachet, using photogenic Leonora (repeatedly described as a Botticelli-blonde beauty) as a spokeswoman. The campaign backfires when Alessandro’s ex-girlfriend, a tabloid reporter, interviews Roberto, who claims that Corradino sold Venice’s glass formula to France, betraying his teacher and protector, Giacomo del Piero. Now happily pregnant but unemployed, Leonora must rehabilitate the Manin name by proving Corradino wasn’t a traitor. Corradino’s story alternates with Leonora’s. Sole survivor of a noble family massacred by the Doge’s enforcers, The Ten, Corradino, oppressed by constant surveillance, steals away to France to create Louis XIV’s hall of mirrors at Versailles. But can he save his mentor, del Piero, and his secret daughter, Leonora, if The Ten tracks him down?

Despite some awkward POV shifts, the action proceeds briskly, with just enough technical and period detail to sustain interest.

Pub Date: June 2, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-312-38698-6

Page Count: 368

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2009

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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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