Although Ballou’s odds don’t feel insurmountable in this uneven tale, readers will likely applaud her determination as she...



A historical novel based on the real life of a 19th-century spiritualist feminist.

Allan (Addie, 2011) has spent the last few years researching and writing about the life of Addie Ballou, a poet in the late 1800s. More than anything, she says, her scholarship has led her to conclude that “the personal stories of women [have] been left untold and at a minimum misunderstood....[U]nspeakable secrets went with them to their graves.” Readers first meet Addie as she returns home from supporting the Union during the Civil War as a battlefield nurse while her husband was off fighting as a soldier. When she arrives, she finds that he disrespects her and is cruel to their children and that his family despises her. She becomes determined to live as independently as possible within the confines of her situation. Fully entrenched in the spiritualist movement, she gains some agency by lecturing across the Midwest and writing poetry for spiritualist publications, but it’s not enough: She’s not allowed any claim to her earnings, and her husband still rules the roost at home. Eventually, she takes her infant daughter and leaves her husband and her young sons, setting out on a path of spiritualism, suffrage and sovereignty. The path isn’t easy, though, as there are some marital reconciliations and legal obstacles Addie must navigate in order to finally get a divorce. Allan’s dedication to highlighting the life of an early proponent of women’s rights is admirable. Spiritualist researchers will be grateful for Allan’s thoroughly researched work (inspired, she says, by Addie’s original diaries). Newcomers to the subject matter may also find Addie’s journey interesting, if not inspirational. Overall, it’s not an especially exciting story: A pattern develops of Addie traveling somewhere to lecture, staying at someone’s house, getting advice from them and then traveling again. As a result, the scenes end up blurring together. The prose is a bit inconsistent; it’s either overwritten (“Addie suddenly saw clarity in the woman’s heretofore rambling collection of data expressed in her dialogue”) or too sparse (“There. It was said. The accusation made”). The terms of spiritualism also aren’t clearly defined, despite a brief introduction before the novel begins.

Although Ballou’s odds don’t feel insurmountable in this uneven tale, readers will likely applaud her determination as she undertakes her journey to freedom.

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2014

ISBN: 978-1499575538

Page Count: 318

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 20, 2014

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A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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

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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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