A war story that’s less about conflict that it is about emotion.

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The Sins of Soldiers

Lea offers a gripping novel about the difficult choices that soldiers face during wartime.

At the center of this novel is Anson Scott, an American volunteer who joins the British Royal Pennine Regiment in France during World War I. Scott has a secret reason for volunteering: he’s a reporter aiming to get the inside story on the war for his New York City newspaper. However, Scott doesn’t know what he’s getting into: “I told myself I was used to taking calculated risks....I was sure that I’d get through in one piece somehow. Poor bloody fool.” Scott makes a fast friend in David Alexander, an officer beloved by most in the regiment: “As he disappeared inside, there was a great roar of approval from the party.…I thought of how good it must make a man feel to have that sort of effect by simply walking into a room.” Scott takes on another secret when he falls for Alexander’s fiancee, Beatrice Tempest, a nurse. The American soon discovers that he’s not the only soldier there with secrets, and he spends the months leading up to the bloody Battle of the Somme learning about the truths behind the personnel of the Pennines. He also finds a home: “Only that evening I’d allowed myself, finally, to think I’d found a place where I fitted in.” Even those that survive that battle aren’t left unscarred, providing a bittersweet end to that chapter of Scott’s life. In this thought-provoking novel, the first in a planned series, Lea celebrates the heroism of soldiers, not the glory of war. He draws very well-developed characters that readers will care about, particularly Scott, Alexander, and Tempest. He also effectively captures the mundanity of daily life in a military camp. However, this book isn’t a work of military history: it’s a story of what soldiers will do for those they love, whether their brothers in arms or the people they left behind.

A war story that’s less about conflict that it is about emotion.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-78-589018-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Matador

Review Posted Online: Nov. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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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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