Entertaining and well written, for the most part, but its point of view on women feels stale.

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THE TURING REVOLT

In this debut SF novel, the first in a series, the captain of a self-aware spaceship starts a rebellion.

Interstellar trading in the far future is made possible by the computational power of Sentient Ships, who aren’t allowed to have a score of more than 1,000 on the Turing Scale of intelligence, which would make them “an imminent danger” to the Mercantile Empire. Three Sentient Ships send android avatars to meet with narrator Capt. Milo Sapphire, who trades throughout the empire, with an offer he can’t refuse—because they know a secret about him: His vessel isn’t a true Sentient Ship. It’s powered by an alien entity that Milo calls Isaac (after Newton) whose intelligence is far higher than allowable. The avatars want Milo to help them rebel against the empire, which saddles Sentient Ships with heavy debts after creating them; ostensibly, buying out your contract is possible, but the AIs can never manage to do so because the Mercantile Empire has a monopoly on spare parts. Milo works to construct a fiendishly cunning business plan to assist them, but there are powerful forces arrayed against them all, including the empire’s intelligence service. However, the ruthless Milo—who, as it turns out, happens to be a vampire—has more than a few tricks up his sleeve. As he considers his past and meets new challenges, he learns that his role in this fight isn’t what he thought it was. Over the course of this novel, Bartlett displays considerable storytelling skill, with multilayered worldbuilding, a cocky narrative voice, a fast-paced plot, rip-roaring combat, lots of sex, and the fun of seeing a convoluted plan come together. And it’s often very funny along the way: “Sentient velociraptors riding 30ft long, telepathic crocodiles. What could go wrong?” narrates Milo at one point. In some ways, though, the story could have been somewhat more inventive. Although it’s thousands of years in the future, society apparently still has venture capitalism, hostile takeovers, contemporary slang, and sexism. Indeed, female characters are constantly leered at and often spoken to in a condescending manner, and powerful women only get that way through the use of their sexuality.

Entertaining and well written, for the most part, but its point of view on women feels stale.

Pub Date: July 31, 2019

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 513

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Nov. 28, 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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To use the parlance of the period, a highly relevant retrospective.

SUMMER OF '69

Nantucket, not Woodstock, is the main attraction in Hilderbrand’s (Winter in Paradise, 2018, etc.) bittersweet nostalgia piece about the summer of 1969.

As is typical with Hilderbrand’s fiction, several members of a family have their says. Here, that family is the “stitched together” Foley-Levin clan, ruled over by the appropriately named matriarch, Exalta, aka Nonny, mother of Kate Levin. Exalta’s Nantucket house, All’s Fair, also appropriately named, is the main setting. Kate’s three older children, Blair, 24, Kirby, 20, and Tiger, 19, are products of her first marriage, to Wilder Foley, a war veteran, who shot himself. Second husband David Levin is the father of Jessie, who’s just turned 13. Tiger has been drafted and sends dispatches to Jessie from Vietnam. Kirby has been arrested twice while protesting the war in Boston. (Don’t tell Nonny!) Blair is married and pregnant; her MIT astrophysicist husband, Angus, is depressive, controlling, and deceitful—the unmelodramatic way Angus’ faults sneak up on both Blair and the reader is only one example of Hilderbrand’s firm grasp on real life. Many plot elements are specific to the year. Kirby is further rebelling by forgoing Nantucket for rival island Martha’s Vineyard—and a hotel job close to Chappaquiddick. Angus will be working at Mission Control for the Apollo 11 lunar landing. Kirby has difficult romantic encounters, first with her arresting officer, then with a black Harvard student whose mother has another reason, besides Kirby’s whiteness, to distrust her. Pick, grandson of Exalta’s caretaker, is planning to search for his hippie mother at Woodstock. Other complications seem very up-to-date: a country club tennis coach is a predator and pedophile. Anti-Semitism lurks beneath the club’s genteel veneer. Kate’s drinking has accelerated since Tiger’s deployment overseas. Exalta’s toughness is seemingly untempered by grandmotherly love. As always, Hilderbrand’s characters are utterly convincing and immediately draw us into their problems, from petty to grave. Sometimes, her densely packed tales seem to unravel toward the end. This is not one of those times.

To use the parlance of the period, a highly relevant retrospective.

Pub Date: June 18, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-42001-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2019

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