A heartwarming tale of women’s lives behind the movies.

ALL THE STARS IN THE HEAVENS

A novice nun suddenly finds herself dismissed from her convent and swept up into the heady world of Hollywood’s golden age.

Alda Ducci did nothing to merit exile from St. Elizabeth’s Infant Hospital, a haven for unwed mothers. Indeed, Alda has worked very hard these past six years: six years of helping unwed mothers give up their babies. Six years since she fled Italy with heartaches and secrets of her own. But her mother superior is convinced that Alda can never let go of her dreams to help these poor women, so she sends her out into the world to become a private secretary to actress Loretta Young. The shift from poverty to luxury jars Alda, as well as the reader, although she endeavors to see the spiritual mission beneath the glamour. Loretta welcomes Alda into her family and her home, which she shares with her three sisters and her mother, Gladys, a talented interior designer and shrewd businesswoman. Within days, Alda has become indispensable to Loretta, and the two women bond to form an indomitable team, although Loretta steals nearly every scene. Dashing men, starry-eyed ingénues, jealous spouses—all the players are well-cast as Alda helps Loretta negotiate the studio system, the Hays Code, and thwarted romances. Loretta works hard, not simply studying her lines, but often rewriting them into a code her dyslexia understands. Yet she can't help but fall in love with her every leading man. Drawn to Spencer Tracy, Loretta must lean heavily upon her Catholic faith—and friend David Niven’s humor—to avoid temptation. Clark Gable proves even more difficult to resist. Trigiani (The Supreme Macaroni Company, 2013, etc.), a filmmaker as well as a bestselling novelist, spins a tale of star-crossed lovers, yet the rather flat prose dims the glow of the silver screen.

A heartwarming tale of women’s lives behind the movies.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-231919-7

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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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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