Compassionate and insightful, authentic and poignant.

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HOUR GLASS

The infamous frontier woman Calamity Jane stumbles into the role of surrogate mother for two orphaned youngsters.

There’s a smallpox epidemic around Deadwood, South Dakota. From a canvas-sided cabin "in the gulch near the creek," 12-year-old Jimmy Glass loads his pox-stricken father into a ramshackle wagon and pulls him into town, bringing his little sister, Flower, along. There, the youngsters meet Calamity Jane, who has them carry their father to the “pest tent.” Jane then installs the children in her own room at Dora DuFran’s bar, restaurant, and house of ill repute. As much as this is historical fiction (several characters are real persons reimagined) and a coming-of-age story, it’s primarily an attempt to humanize the outsize legend of Calamity Jane, a woman who's pugnacious, vulgar, and a touch feminist. That summer, the year of Jane’s lover Wild Bill Hickok’s death, Jane can be found at “at the pest tent, passed out drunk by the outhouse, or drinking at Dora’s saloon.” Jimmy sees the real Jane and knows she shares his worry over the fragile Flower, his half Lakota sister, whom he calls “mine to care for, mine to watch over.” Flower seems to have autism: "She talks to me, but normally doesn't with other people," Jimmy tells Jane. "She don't much like lookin' at people, either." Amid the Deadwood dangers, Jimmy, already capable, grows in emotional maturity as well, finding love among Diddlin’ Dora’s ladies in the wise soul of teenage Missy, who always smelled of cinnamon. Set against the background of rough-and-tumble Deadwood, probing the legend of Calamity Jane to discover the true heroic frontier woman, Rene's (I Once Knew Vincent, 2014) focused narrative never strays from its themes.

Compassionate and insightful, authentic and poignant.

Pub Date: Feb. 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-944995-49-2

Page Count: 294

Publisher: Amberjack Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 28, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2017

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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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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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