An unusual but imperfectly realized blend of trivia and tragedy.

THE LOST VINTAGE

A wine expert in training visits her family’s vineyard in Burgundy only to discover a cellar full of secrets.

Kate Elliott, a San Francisco sommelier and daughter of a French expatriate, is preparing for a notoriously difficult wine-tasting exam. If she passes (most don’t), she will be one of a tiny cadre of certified Masters of Wine worldwide. She has repeatedly flunked the test; her weakness is French whites, so some serious cramming at Domaine Charpin, her ancestral vineyard, is in order. There, Kate rejoins Heather, her best friend from college, who married her cousin Nico, the Domaine’s current vintner. Kate herself almost wed a vigneron, Nico’s neighbor Jean-Luc, but feared being trapped in domesticity. Decluttering the family caves, Kate and Heather discover the World War II–era effects of one Hélène Charpin—her great half-aunt, Kate learns. Why, then, do the Charpins, particularly dour Uncle Philippe, seem determined to excise Hélène from family memory? Interspersed with Kate’s first-person narration are excerpts from Hélène’s wartime diary, which her descendants have yet to find. A budding chemist whose university plans were dashed by the German invasion of France, Hélène and her best friend, Rose, who is Jewish, are recruited by the Resistance. Hélène’s father, Edouard, is also a Résistant, unbeknownst to her stepmother, who embraces the new status quo. In the present, the little Kate is able to glean from the historical archives reveals that Hélène was punished as a collaborator, one of the women whose heads were shaved, post-Occupation, as a badge of shame. An extensive subplot, concerning a hidden wine cache and another sommelier’s duplicity, adds little, whereas the central question—what is up with the Charpins?—is sadly underdeveloped. The apparent estrangement not only between the Charpins and Philippe’s sister Céline, Kate’s mother, but between mother and daughter remains unexplored. Wine buffs will enjoy the detailed descriptions of viticulture and the sommelier’s art. Mah deserves credit at least for raising a still-taboo subject—the barbaric and unjust treatment of accused female collaborators after the Allied liberation of France.

An unusual but imperfectly realized blend of trivia and tragedy.

Pub Date: June 19, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-282331-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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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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