A gripping, ultimately uplifting story about the power of Christian forgiveness.


The Ravine


Pascuzzi offers a taut debut thriller that opens on a tense note of mystery.

Tony Turner and his wife, Emily, are on a well-deserved vacation in Italy when ominous messages start arriving from their home in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. Tony is the levelheaded, responsible owner of a chain of Steve’s Sporting Goods stores in northern Ohio; one of his store managers is his younger brother Danny, who was a wayward ne’er-do-well while growing up in Tony’s shadow (“Danny was always finding one way or another to screw up his life, from bad financial decisions to marital problems to a less-than-exemplary work ethic”). But since Danny married Rachel and had two boys, he’s seemed more grounded. He leaves Tony a phone message, relating how he just had to fire a problematic employee and that he’s afraid that the man could be dangerous; in a later email message, a worried-sounding Danny gives Tony his life insurance information and asks Tony to take care of his sons. From these initial hints, and with steady, skillful control of his narrative, Pascuzzi effectively unfolds a tale of tragedy: Rachel and son Evan are found shot dead in their suburban home, and Danny is soon discovered dead of a self-administered gunshot wound in the ravine at a quarry. The author shows how the catastrophe rocks the surviving family members to their cores and also shakes the faith that Tony and his loved ones have always used to carry them through the rough parts of their lives. The question arises: “If God cares enough to help someone who’s grieving, why didn’t he stop Danny?” Tony and Emily have their nephew to care for, and they have questions nobody can answer, so Pascuzzi smoothly uses the bulk of the narrative to examine the consolations of religious belief in times of crisis (“Yes, we all experience darkness. But yet, we are given faith. We’re given hope”). Throughout the book, his characters are believably textured, and he dramatizes a trial of faith that feels refreshingly grounded in the real world.

A gripping, ultimately uplifting story about the power of Christian forgiveness.

Pub Date: March 19, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-615-98299-1

Page Count: 236

Publisher: Hope Messenger, LLC

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 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.


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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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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