A smart, engrossing debut from a writer to watch.

A WITCH IN TIME

When Helen Lambert meets her blind date, Luke Varner, at a trendy D.C. bar, little does she know they’ve met before—over several lifetimes.

In this, her debut novel, Sayers cleverly twists the loves-lost-through-time motif. Helen and Luke are not star-crossed, or rather curse-crossed, lovers from the 19th century, doomed to an eternity of thwarted passion. Instead, Sayers binds them together in a complicated codependent triangle: Helen is certainly replaying a thwarted love affair from more than a century ago, but she did not love Luke then. It all begins in 1895, when Juliet LaCompte, a beautiful 16-year-old French farm girl, falls in love with her summer neighbor, Auguste Marchant. Marchant is a Parisian artist who adores painting Juliet, and as the summer progresses, their desires for each other grow. But Marchant is very much married with a heavily pregnant wife, and Juliet is betrothed to a boy whose farm abuts her father’s. Even worse, Juliet’s mother, a skilled herbalist and sometime witch, finds out about their affair. Enraged that Juliet has besmirched the family’s honor and terrified for reasons Juliet cannot understand, her mother casts a spell cursing Marchant. But the spell is sloppily made, and it not only catches Juliet in its web, but also saddles her with a demon administrator: Lucian Varnier (aka Luke), who begins to fall in love with her, too. Sayers builds tension between present-day Luke and Helen by plunging Helen into a dream world, where she relives her time as a 1930s Hollywood starlet and 1970s rock musician, and each incarnation of Juliet becomes more attached to Luke. Moreover, her own powers as a witch have grown, so perhaps this will be the lifetime in which she breaks the curse. But her own feelings for Luke may get in the way.

A smart, engrossing debut from a writer to watch.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-49359-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Redhook/Orbit

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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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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