A genuinely involving example of that rarest of birds: first-rate historical fiction about Eisenhower.

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THE GENERAL’S WOMEN

A work focuses on Dwight D. Eisenhower, his wartime mistress, and his wife.

This historical novel from bestselling author Albert (Death in Hyde Park, 2016, etc.), who penned the very affecting Loving Eleanor (2016) and the long-running murder mystery series starring China Bayles, centers on a subject that might at first seem unpromising ground for drama: the love life of Gen. Eisenhower. During the war, lovely and vivacious former fashion model Kate Summersby draws chauffeur duty for Eisenhower in London. The burden of commanding the war effort weighs heavily on the general’s shoulders, and he’s a long way from his loving and dutiful wife, Mamie, back in Washington, D.C. In Albert’s careful, nuanced pacing, Eisenhower and Summersby begin developing feelings for each other despite the fact that he is still corresponding faithfully with Mamie and Summersby is engaged to an American colonel. “I’ve never been in love with anyone else,” Eisenhower writes in one letter to Mamie, after his own feelings have become so compromised that he believes he should add such an uncharacteristic emphasis. After Summersby’s fiance is killed, her relationship with the general quickly escalates into stolen kisses (“For a brief hour, they were just two people in love in the midst of war, holding on to each other as the world threatened to pull them apart”) and a passionate affair. Suddenly Albert has somehow fashioned a mature, gripping emotional drama out of a set of characters most readers associate with bland postwar suburbia. Most of the dense, engrossing narrative splits between Eisenhower’s wartime theater—minor characters like Gen. George Patton are deftly realized—and Mamie’s domestic world back home. Albert is so skillful at creating historical atmosphere and realistic period dialogue that the homefront scenes are every bit as compelling as the ones taking place in the ruins of Europe. The arc of the multifaceted novel follows the three main characters and a host of secondary ones right through the war and back into civilian life, and at every point Albert smoothly incorporates an obviously vast amount of research into a tale of raw emotional conflict that can make for some wonderfully uncomfortable reading. Perhaps ironically, both Eisenhowers remain stubbornly less intriguing than Summersby herself, but the difference remains marginal.

A genuinely involving example of that rarest of birds: first-rate historical fiction about Eisenhower.

Pub Date: March 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9892035-8-6

Page Count: 412

Publisher: Persevero Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2017

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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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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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