Sentimental and earnest; nevertheless, the tale has charm enough to make you eager for the holidays.

THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PRESENT

A modern Christmas story (with shades of A Christmas Carol) in which a beleaguered single father fights for custody of his sick son.

Patrick Guthrie, drama teacher at an NYC high school, has had a few heartbreaking years: First, his wife suddenly dies from an undiagnosed enlarged heart, and then their son, Braden, is diagnosed with the same condition. Braden is very ill, but it seems he may be a candidate for a lifesaving operation. Finally, Patrick has hope. But as Braden is waiting for operation day, Patrick is laid off and the bills he was valiantly fending off (heat, phone, rent) have all come due. Then, Child Protective Services comes knocking, questioning his ability to care for the soon-to-be-discharged Braden. Patrick knows exactly who sent the watchdogs: Ted Cake, a wealthy industrialist and his former father-in-law. Ted blames Patrick for his daughter’s death and now wants custody of the grandson he’s never met. Patrick gets a job at a pizza parlor, but there is no way he can earn enough to pay all his bills and bank the requisite savings to appease the court. He dons a St. Nick costume, makeup and wig and hits the streets as the Ghost of Christmas Present, from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Patrick begs (although it could be argued he’s really busking) as he recites passages from Dickens and his beloved Shakespeare. He sets up shop close to Ted Cake’s office, and Cake (who longed to be an actor in his youth) grows to appreciate Patrick’s performances. A number of unfortunate turns make it unlikely that Patrick will retain custody of his son unless Ted Cake can see his way toward forgiveness and family unity.

Sentimental and earnest; nevertheless, the tale has charm enough to make you eager for the holidays.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6039-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Howard Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

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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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THE DOVEKEEPERS

Hoffman (The Red Garden, 2011, etc.) births literature from tragedy: the destruction of Jerusalem's Temple, the siege of Masada and the loss of Zion.

This is a feminist tale, a story of strong, intelligent women wedded to destiny by love and sacrifice. Told in four parts, the first comes from Yael, daughter of Yosef bar Elhanan, a Sicarii Zealot assassin, rejected by her father because of her mother's death in childbirth. It is 70 CE, and the Temple is destroyed. Yael, her father, and another Sicarii assassin, Jachim ben Simon, and his family flee Jerusalem. Hoffman's research renders the ancient world real as the group treks into Judea's desert, where they encounter Essenes, search for sustenance and burn under the sun. There too Jachim and Yael begin a tragic love affair. At Masada, Yael is sent to work in the dovecote, gathering eggs and fertilizer. She meets Shirah, her daughters, and Revka, who narrates part two. Revka's husband was killed when Romans sacked their village. Later, her daughter was murdered. At Masada, caring for grandsons turned mute by tragedy, Revka worries over her scholarly son-in-law, Yoav, now consumed by vengeance. Aziza, daughter of Shirah, carries the story onward. Born out of wedlock, Aziza grew up in Moab, among the people of the blue tunic. Her passion and curse is that she was raised as a warrior by her foster father. In part four, Shirah tells of her Alexandrian youth, the cherished daughter of a consort of the high priests. Shirah is a keshaphim, a woman of amulets, spells and medicine, and a woman connected to Shechinah, the feminine aspect of GodThe women are irretrievably bound to Eleazar ben Ya'ir, Masada's charismatic leader; Amram, Yael's brother; and Yoav, Aziza's companion and protector in battle. The plot is intriguingly complex, with only a single element unresolved.  An enthralling tale rendered with consummate literary skill.

 

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4516-1747-4

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2011

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