While sometimes offering a confusing tangle of voices that lack individual features, this tale delivers a fresh and...



A young John the Apostle leaves his home to follow Jesus in this debut biblical novel.

In Bruno’s tale, John, teenage son of Zebedee, has almost wrecked his father’s fishing boat in a foolhardy night voyage with his friends Andrew and Philip. He travels with Andrew from Galilee to Jerusalem to offer doves as a sacrifice for having offended his family. They meet a very young (and fictional) Hezekiah, who helps sell Andrew’s donkey, then tells them of a new prophet who is preaching and baptizing at the Jordan River. Andrew and John travel with friend Nathanael (of Cana) to hear this prophet and are baptized by John the Baptist, who gives John a commentary scroll on Isaiah to study. After encountering new devotees and assisting with the baptisms, John meets Jesus. Seeing his healing powers, John agrees to serve as his lowest servant, to the consternation of the teen’s socially conscious mother. But the position affords John a day-to-day working relationship with the teacher, and Jesus promises him the scroll of Joshua to study. Bruno separates his chapters with exact dates and times (“Thursday 6 March AD 27, 8:00 AM”), meant only to be illustrative. He also gives greater voices to women—Jesus’ mother, Mary, and Concordia, Simon Peter’s wife—than they have in Scripture. Endnotes illuminate prophesies and historical details. The author deftly exposes the bureaucratic, face-saving hypocrisy of Herod, the temple priests, and the Pharisees and Sadducees, which gives proper context for Jesus speaking to the Samaritan woman and his expulsion of the moneychangers. Other scenes, such as Jesus’ baptism and John the Baptist’s arrest, are not dramatized, and the wedding in Cana water-into-wine miracle is anticlimactic. With so many characters, the dialogue seems disembodied at times. And a map with dates would have enhanced Bruno’s timeline. Still, this clever and ambitious reboot of the Gospels succeeds in humanizing these historical figures, and the author’s skillful use of modern slang flows naturally.

While sometimes offering a confusing tangle of voices that lack individual features, this tale delivers a fresh and well-researched fictionalization of the assembling of the Apostles from John’s point of view.

Pub Date: June 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4908-8332-8

Page Count: 162

Publisher: Westbow Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2017

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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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A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.



Continuing his apparent mission to refract the whole of English culture and history through his personal lens, Ackroyd (Thames: The Biography, 2008, etc.) offers an all-prose rendering of Chaucer’s mixed-media masterpiece.

While Burton Raffel’s modern English version of The Canterbury Tales (2008) was unabridged, Ackroyd omits both “The Tale of Melibee” and “The Parson’s Tale” on the undoubtedly correct assumption that these “standard narratives of pious exposition” hold little interest for contemporary readers. Dialing down the piety, the author dials up the raunch, freely tossing about the F-bomb and Anglo-Saxon words for various body parts that Chaucer prudently described in Latin. Since “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” and “The Miller’s Tale,” for example, are both decidedly earthy in Middle English, the interpolated obscenities seem unnecessary as well as jarringly anachronistic. And it’s anyone’s guess why Ackroyd feels obliged redundantly to include the original titles (“Here bigynneth the Squieres Tales,” etc.) directly underneath the new ones (“The Squires Tale,” etc.); these one-line blasts of antique spelling and diction remind us what we’re missing without adding anything in the way of comprehension. The author’s other peculiar choice is to occasionally interject first-person comments by the narrator where none exist in the original, such as, “He asked me about myself then—where I had come from, where I had been—but I quickly turned the conversation to another course.” There seems to be no reason for these arbitrary elaborations, which muffle the impact of those rare times in the original when Chaucer directly addresses the reader. Such quibbles would perhaps be unfair if Ackroyd were retelling some obscure gem of Old English, but they loom larger with Chaucer because there are many modern versions of The Canterbury Tales. Raffel’s rendering captured a lot more of the poetry, while doing as good a job as Ackroyd with the vigorous prose.

A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-670-02122-2

Page Count: 436

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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