An admirable first effort.

THE KINGSLEY HOUSE

A debut historical, spanning 150 years of small-town Michigan life, that smoothly incorporates the growth of America into

the lives of its characters. A descendant of the builders and subsequent inhabitants of the Kingsley House (now a historical museum), Ryan made use of old photographs, documents, and the occasional stroll around the family burial plot in gathering material for this quasi-fiction, amending and vivifying the scattered stories she’d heard about her ancestors. Divided into chronological sections, with each branch of the family tree getting no more than a year, her account begins in 1844 as Mary and Nathan Kingsley are settling into married life. Mary is pregnant with her first child, Nathan is working the fields of their farm, and both are enjoying the prim grandeur of the house he built for his new bride. Into the gentle optimism of the couple’s days comes a runaway seeking shelter. Viewed through Mary’s eyes, the incident bares the horror of a plantation slave’s shackled life. The narrative picks up 19 years later, focusing on the sly exploits of Nathan and Mary’s son, Horace, as he helps phony spiritualists dupe the residents of Livonia who are grieving the loss of native sons in the Civil War. Horace raises his ugly head throughout the work, cheating neighbors, trying to commit his wife to an asylum, attempting to steal Kingsley House from his sister, outliving many of his own children and other family members while casting an evil shadow over the house he was raised in. A diphtheria epidemic, the sweet union of two teenagers who become lifelong mates, and a final romance between a shy schoolmarm and an adventurer after WWII are just some of the stories contained within a long narrative made compelling by a large cast of lovingly rendered characters. Though she occasionally stumbles with odd attempts at colloquialism (“Snipes, you miserable toady”), Ryan generally avoids the weightiness that can mar this genre.

An admirable first effort.

Pub Date: April 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-312-24209-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2000

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

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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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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