An engaging and effective romp rich with historical details.

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A RING OF TRUTH

From the A Henrietta and Inspector Howard Novel series

In this second installment of a mystery series, a young woman navigates her future with her fiance and the unfriendly world of the upper class.  

After a hasty engagement, Henrietta Von Harmon, a former usherette and taxi dancer in Depression-era Chicago, discovers that her intended, Clive Howard, isn’t just the dashing police inspector she thought he was. He also happens to be the scion of an elite family living on the wealthy North Shore of the city. Henrietta settles into the family’s estate, Highbury, only to struggle with the unspoken proprieties of the upper class and her disapproving future mother-in-law. As she befriends the servants, whom she feels much more at ease with, she quickly becomes embroiled in a minor intrigue: the Howards’ old cook loses a family ring and suspects the gardener of stealing it. Meanwhile, Clive works to solve a mystery of his own: a series of grisly murders in the city. While Henrietta’s delinquent younger brother acts out and her mother hides secrets about her past, the heroine and Clive grapple painfully with what their marriage would mean for each of their futures. Cox (A Girl Like You, 2016) successfully leads the reader through the suspenseful plot’s many unanswered questions and manages to keep the story moving even with her characters’ long introspective sessions. Those episodes imbue them with personality and life, though the author sometimes resorts to using incredibly long sentences to mimic internal monologue, which can become bewildering (“Henrietta had never seen anything like this, except perhaps in the movies, of which she had seen very few, actually, and she couldn’t pull her eyes away, so mesmerized was she, despite her new betrothed sitting beside her, his fedora hat placed firmly on his head and a pipe gripped loosely between his teeth”). The author adroitly uses indirect speech to present a cast of colorful personalities—the book switches effortlessly between voices as distinct as that of Mrs. Howard’s arch scheming and Henrietta’s sister Elsie’s naïve awe. The result is a complex yet engrossing web of interactions. And, as the story progresses, the connections between the threads tighten dramatically, culminating in a somewhat abrupt but nail-biting resolution.

An engaging and effective romp rich with historical details.

Pub Date: April 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-63152-196-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2017

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Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s...

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THE NICKEL BOYS

The acclaimed author of The Underground Railroad (2016) follows up with a leaner, meaner saga of Deep South captivity set in the mid-20th century and fraught with horrors more chilling for being based on true-life atrocities.

Elwood Curtis is a law-abiding, teenage paragon of rectitude, an avid reader of encyclopedias and after-school worker diligently overcoming hardships that come from being abandoned by his parents and growing up black and poor in segregated Tallahassee, Florida. It’s the early 1960s, and Elwood can feel changes coming every time he listens to an LP of his hero Martin Luther King Jr. sermonizing about breaking down racial barriers. But while hitchhiking to his first day of classes at a nearby black college, Elwood accepts a ride in what turns out to be a stolen car and is sentenced to the Nickel Academy, a juvenile reformatory that looks somewhat like the campus he’d almost attended but turns out to be a monstrously racist institution whose students, white and black alike, are brutally beaten, sexually abused, and used by the school’s two-faced officials to steal food and supplies. At first, Elwood thinks he can work his way past the arbitrary punishments and sadistic treatment (“I am stuck here, but I’ll make the best of it…and I’ll make it brief”). He befriends another black inmate, a street-wise kid he knows only as Turner, who has a different take on withstanding Nickel: “The key to in here is the same as surviving out there—you got to see how people act, and then you got to figure out how to get around them like an obstacle course.” And if you defy them, Turner warns, you’ll get taken “out back” and are never seen or heard from again. Both Elwood’s idealism and Turner’s cynicism entwine into an alliance that compels drastic action—and a shared destiny. There's something a tad more melodramatic in this book's conception (and resolution) than one expects from Whitehead, giving it a drugstore-paperback glossiness that enhances its blunt-edged impact.

Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s novel displays its author’s facility with violent imagery and his skill at weaving narrative strands into an ingenious if disquieting whole.

Pub Date: July 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-53707-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 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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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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