An earnest but odd addition to the Christmas literary canon.


A Christian teenager finds his faith tested during the holiday season in this inspirational debut novel.

It’s Christmastime in Chicago, but 16-year-old Christopher is having trouble getting into the holiday spirit: “Christopher was starting to think the whole celebration was nothing more than a clever lie. Santa Claus wasn’t portrayed accurately, and it wasn’t really Jesus’ birthday. He wondered what was real about the holiday.” He begins to question whether Jesus or God is even real. One night, he finds a gift box in his bedroom. When he opens it, a bright light comes shining out and the room begins to spin. Christopher gets sucked into the box, where he finds himself in a void that takes on the shape of Soldier Field. Here he meets a tall, athletic being named Michael—the same name as his father—who teaches Christopher that seeing isn’t necessarily the same as believing. Armed with only the crystal cross Christopher received as a gift for his Confirmation (and subconsciously reached for as he was being pulled into the box), they begin a journey across the galaxy. Christopher visits alien worlds where the locals still believe in Jesus—though some have fared better than others. Can this trip through the universe help Christopher rekindle his faith in Jesus? DiSalvo’s prose is conversational and clearly imbued with a Chicago-centric worldview. Here Christopher’s father, Michael, is described: “He epitomized the cliché of what a man from Chicago should have been: hardworking, blue collar, and strong yet compassionate.” The novel is essentially a retelling of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, though it is more Jesus-specific and involves aliens. (Whether that sounds like an improvement or not is probably a good measurement for how much readers will enjoy the book.) Even for such an obviously allegorical work, the characters are thin: Christopher and his dad are both stand-up guys whom the whole neighborhood respects. The lessons Christopher learns along his journey do not feel particularly Christian, moral, or personal (à la Ebenezer Scrooge), but rather vaguely fantastical. This may please those looking for some new Christmas fiction, but many readers will be left scratching their heads.

An earnest but odd addition to the Christmas literary canon.

Pub Date: June 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-973663-72-0

Page Count: 166

Publisher: Westbow Press

Review Posted Online: April 17, 2020

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


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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