With its busy plot, its drinking and smoking, its crisp wit and contemporary soundtrack (Peggy Lee, “Winter Weather,” etc.),...

FREYA

In 1950s England, an unconventional young woman develops her reputation as a bold journalist while cherishing—and sometimes forfeiting—a profound female friendship.

Prizewinning British novelist Quinn (Curtain Call, 2015, etc.) opens his epic-length saga of Freya Wyley’s life on VE-Day, May 1945, in the riotous streets of London as crowds celebrate the end of World War II. Freya, who served in the Women’s Royal Naval Services, meets and gets very drunk with unsophisticated Nancy Holdaway, an aspiring writer with a place at Oxford University, like Freya herself. Thus begins a story of female connection, professional ambition, and romantic questing set against a backdrop of England’s social and political postwar shifts. At Oxford, Freya mixes with a colorful group—like flamboyant, foppish actor-wannabe Nat Fane and secretive but handsome Alex McAndrew. Later, in London, where Freya and Nancy share an apartment, some of these figures recur and other semirecognizable ones join the circle. Is that Lucian Freud over there? Meanwhile the spy drama and sexual scandals in which Freya finds herself involved cleverly echo the actual headline stories of that era. Quinn’s finely detailed portrait of the times creates a rich backdrop for a heroine of debatable qualities: “arrogant, devious, and unprincipled”; “fond of stickin’ [her] fork in other people’s dinners.” But in spite of her vanity and pushiness, Freya is a compelling figure, standing up for her work and opinions and learning, usually from her mistakes, that her relationship with quiet, beautiful, and eventually successful Nancy is the backbone of her life.

With its busy plot, its drinking and smoking, its crisp wit and contemporary soundtrack (Peggy Lee, “Winter Weather,” etc.), Quinn's novel delivers evocative, high-quality entertainment that may well leave readers hoping for a sequel.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-160-945-415-9

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2017

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 15

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2018

  • New York Times Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

more