Another gutsy, dagger-flashing, chain-rattling, wit-wrestling tale of danger, dark agonies, and royal power-plays, by Finney (The Firedrake's Eye, 1992, etc.), again centered in the 16th-century reign of that complex, brilliant, and terrifying Tudor, Elizabeth I of England. Set four years after the events of Firedrake (in which the queen was saved from assassination), the story here picks up with the search for a book containing Elizabeth's youthful confession, a personal diary that, if found by enemies, could topple her Crown. In 158687, the Thames freezes and Londoners play on the ice, while in the Tower a soldierly man without a memory (thanks to a blow to the head) is being tortured as a ``Papist'' at the direction of spymaster Davison, a religious fanatic among the Queen's advisors. The prisoner, David Becket, turns out to be not what he seems, and he's eventually moved to Fleet Prison, where he finds that his cellmate is Simon Ames, presumed dead, his former friend and partner in saving the Queen. Eventually, David and Simon, with the help of a Catholic priest, manage to escape Fleet. Meanwhile, plotters, spies, and counterspies are hard at work: David and the priest (with different agendas) work in harness to trace the diary; ancient Mary, a drunken ex-nun in rags, hides it, planning a dowry for her grandchild; the ``Queen's Fool,'' Thomasina, a minute person ``a yard high,'' profitably roams London's streets in the guise of a child; and back at the palace, Elizabeth faces blackmail. Many will die, but Elizabeth, once ``bent like a damascene steel blade . . . whips back with devastating effect.'' A hot-blooded, noisy cast, including the great Queen; shudderingly graphic details of torture chambers and executions; and an exhilarating facsimile of the grandeur and grunge of Elizabethan London: in all, a roaring good tale, with a poetic sensibility and judicious sense of humanity at its core.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 1998

ISBN: 0-312-18201-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1997

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 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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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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