Although the book falls short of fulfilling its potential, Hearth delivers a mildly amusing story featuring a wealth of...

MISS DREAMSVILLE AND THE LOST HEIRESS OF COLLIER COUNTY

Hearth’s cast of quirky small-town Southern misfits returns to tackle new challenges in this sequel to her debut novel (Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women’s Literary Society, 2012).

Literary Society member Eudora “Dora” Welty Witherspoon has been living in Jackson, Missississippi, for several months, researching her family’s history, when she receives a telegram summoning her home to Naples, Florida. Returning posthaste, she learns her ex-husband, Darryl Norwood, is developing a housing estate that threatens to disturb the ecosystem and displace a number of residents, including former stripper-turned-alligator hunter Dolores Simpson. Dora tries to reason with Darryl but fails to make headway, so her old book club friends rush to her aid. Transplanted Bostonian Jackie Hart, known among Neapolitans as Miss Dreamsville, is outraged that Darryl has usurped her moniker and dubbed the development Dreamsville Estates. She airs her displeasure in a column for the local newspaper and reminds citizens that the ghost of a Native American who was killed by European settlers allegedly haunts the disputed land. Jackie’s editorial wins over some readers, but her words don’t stop Darryl. Amid moments of soul-searching and surprising revelations, the friends coordinate an alternate plan to save the property. As they take action, Dora contemplates information she uncovers about her family; Dolores reflects upon past decisions and longs for the return of her son, who’s living in New York City; and, acutely aware that they’re defying convention, two more book club members care for another’s infant while she attends college in a distant city. Hearth’s sound writing and wit create a pleasant diversion despite superficial attempts to introduce subject matter relevant to Southern society in the '60s and beyond. Her inclusion of topics ranging from racial injustice and single parenthood to economic development vs. environmental protection might have enriched the narrative and propelled it to the next level, but, sadly, these themes are never wholly integrated into the plot.

Although the book falls short of fulfilling its potential, Hearth delivers a mildly amusing story featuring a wealth of eccentric characters.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4767-6574-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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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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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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