A fascinating subject and fine storytelling merge in this novel of a Spanish gender-bender.

CATALINA

A TRUE STORY

A rollicking, captivating account of Catalina d’Erauso, a real-life 17th-century Spanish woman who went to the New World and lived as a man.

Based on Catalina’s own autobiography of her life as the “Lieutenant Nun,” and other historical documents, German debut novelist Orths creates a thoroughly modern narrative filled with tangential tall tales and odd bits of history as Catalina renegotiates the territories of custom and gender. As this version goes, Catalina was born in 1592 in San Sebastian, Spain, on an auspicious day of sun and rain. Her older brother Miguel helped with her birth and from then on was the headstrong Catalina’s primary caretaker. It is when Miguel leaves to run the family’s silver mine in Bolivia that young Catalina hatches her plan—she will risk everything to join Miguel in New Spain. She joins a convent (the only way a young girl can get a good education) and proceeds to become a model student, where the discipline and self-degradation she practices will steel her for the arduous journey. As a young woman, she runs away from the nunnery, taking shelter in a cave in the hills and transforming herself into Francisco Loyola. She moves to the city, where she becomes a physician’s assistant to Juan de Arteaga, and, more importantly, practices the ways of men. She scratches and curses and makes sly eyes at the ladies who pass, takes fencing lessons, roughens her hands and builds muscle so that no one will question her. On a mysterious ship of mute sailors, Francisco and Juan sail to the Americas together, where Catalina secretly searches for her brother. In South America, Catalina/Francisco becomes a soldier, renowned on the field for blood lust, then becomes a gambler, a murderous brawler, is cruel to women and—in short—engenders every undesirable trait of a stereotypical male. Orths refrains from simplifying this portrait of a gender-bending heroine, questioning instead the permeability of identity.

A fascinating subject and fine storytelling merge in this novel of a Spanish gender-bender.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2006

ISBN: 1-59264-165-2

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Toby Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2006

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

BAREFOOT

Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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