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THE TAMING OF THE QUEEN

By pondering the mistakes of her predecessors, Kateryn Parr, sixth wife of King Henry VIII, manages to keep her head.

Gregory, who has written extensively about the Tudors and other British dynasties, now turns her attention to the end of Henry’s reign. The king, though grotesquely obese and suffering from gout and a suppurating leg wound, still fancies himself the warrior, huntsman, and seducer he was in his youth. Kateryn Parr, a widow at 31, is commanded shortly after her husband’s death to come to court, where Henry immediately makes his matrimonial intentions clear. Although she loves Thomas Seymour, brother of the late Queen Jane, who died giving birth to Henry’s heir, Prince Edward, Kateryn knows she has no choice but to marry Henry. As consort, Kateryn strives to avoid, by word or deed, any indication she is other than Henry’s loving helpmeet. Although well-aware that none of his other wives had any control over his mercurial whims—not even best-beloved Jane, who died alone while Henry was off hunting—Kateryn is not planning on providing any ammunition to those who would see her replaced, like the love letter that led to Katherine Howard’s execution or the arrogance that made Anne Boleyn a target. She concentrates on studying and promoting her pet projects, advocating for Scriptures in English and supporting the Protestant Reformation, while appearing never to overtly disagree with the growing faction hoping to restore papism. With a male heir in place, both Princess Mary and Princess Elizabeth are relegitimized thanks to Parr. However, she is warned, by Thomas and others, that if Henry wants her gone, no amount of discretion can save her life. Gregory puts readers at the scene with visceral details like the annoying sounds Henry makes while gorging himself and the smell of his never-healing leg that seeps into Kateryn’s dreams.

Although Kateryn’s studiousness makes for some dull reading, the pace picks up as her intellect becomes her greatest liability.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4767-5879-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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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.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

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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If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be...

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Some very nice, very smart African-Americans are plunged into netherworlds of malevolent sorcery in the waning days of Jim Crow—as if Jim Crow alone wasn’t enough of a curse to begin with.

In the northern U.S. of the mid-1950s, as depicted in this merrily macabre pastiche by Ruff (The Mirage, 2012, etc.), Driving While Black is an even more perilous proposition than it is now. Ask Atticus Turner, an African-American Korean War veteran and science-fiction buff, who is compelled to face an all-too-customary gauntlet of racist highway patrolmen and hostile white roadside hamlets en route from his South Side Chicago home to a remote Massachusetts village in search of his curmudgeonly father, Montrose, who was lured away by a young white “sharp dresser” driving a silver Cadillac with tinted windows. At least Atticus isn’t alone; his uncle George, who puts out annual editions of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is splitting driving duties in his Packard station wagon “with inlaid birch trim and side paneling.” Also along for the ride is Atticus’ childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, another sci-fi fan, whose family lived in the same neighborhood as the Turners. It turns out this road trip is merely the beginning of a series of bizarre chimerical adventures ensnaring both the Turner and Dandridge clans in ancient rituals, arcane magical texts, alternate universes, and transmogrifying potions, all of which bears some resemblance to the supernatural visions of H.P. Lovecraft and other gothic dream makers of the past. Ruff’s ripping yarns often pile on contrivances and overextend the narratives in the grand manner of pulp storytelling, but the reinvented mythos here seems to have aroused in him a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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