An intriguing and clever work that will appeal to fans of Regency-era fiction.

LADY ROSAMUND AND THE POISON PEN

A ROSIE AND MCBRAE REGENCY MYSTERY

An English aristocrat must contend with ominous letters being sent her way in Monajem’s historical mystery series starter, set in the early 1800s.

Lady Rosamund Phipps is simply trying to get a cup of milk in the middle of the night when she finds one of her footmen dead on the stairs. She takes this news to the magistrate, Sir Edwin; while in his office, she meets Gilroy McBrae of Scotland, whose direct manner of questioning about the servant’s demise challenges her sense of propriety and thoroughly rankles her. Although Rosamund believes the death to be accidental, this doesn’t prevent rumors of criminality from circulating about her—as well as discussion about the agreement she has with her husband, Albert, who’s canoodling with her best friend; the loose talk is brought to life in broadsheet caricatures by a mysterious artist named Corvus. Soon afterward, she begins receiving threatening, anonymous letters that say such things as “I KNOW EVERYTHING ABOUT YOU,” which Rosamund believes were sent to make her go insane. She sets off to investigate the missives herself—and the identity of Corvus. Monajem deftly pens prose that feels distinctly of the Regency era in which the tale is set; Rosamund, in particular, seems very much like an upper-class woman of the period, with her rigid notions of status and gentility. Yet she also has engaging traits that set her apart and keep her from being a stock character, such as the aforementioned arrangement with her spouse and an apparent compulsiveness that requires her to check and recheck things multiple times. Similarly, the characterization of Gilroy is further proof that a companion that’s equal parts dashing and frustrating is often a winning one. The story takes its time getting started, but overall, Monajem succeeds in providing readers with a witty, enjoyable historical mystery.

An intriguing and clever work that will appeal to fans of Regency-era fiction.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-94-791527-5

Page Count: 244

Publisher: Dames of Detection

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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An intriguing meditation on the meaning of “meant to be.”

MEANT TO BE

Giffin’s latest charts the course of true love between an American aristocrat and a troubled fashionista.

Almost immediately, readers will guess that Giffin’s protagonist, Joseph S. Kingsley III, a media darling since birth, is a re-creation of John F. Kennedy Jr. In addition to Joe’s darkly handsome good looks, there are many other similarities, such as his double failure of the New York bar exam and his stint as a Manhattan assistant district attorney. But Joe’s late father was an astronaut, not the president, and locations associated with the Kennedys, such as Hyannis Port and Martha’s Vineyard, have been moved to the Hamptons and Annapolis. Instead of a sister, Joe has a protective female best friend, Berry Wainwright. Readers may be so obsessed with teasing out fact from fiction, and wondering if the outcome for Joe is going to be as tragic as JFK Jr.’s fatal 1999 flight, that they may be distracted from the engaging story of Joe’s co-protagonist, Cate Cooper, who is—apart from a superficial resemblance to Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy—largely a fictional creation. When Joe and Cate meet-cute on a Hamptons beach where Cate, a model, is posing, both are immediately smitten. However, the paparazzi are determined to milk every ounce of scandal from the social chasm separating them. On the surface, Cate is the product of a middle-class upbringing in Montclair, New Jersey, but her interrupted education and her forced flight from an abusive home have shamed as well as strengthened her. Like her real-life counterpart, Cate rises in the fashion industry and becomes known for her minimalist style. The couple’s courtship drags a bit on the page despite witty banter and steamy encounters. It is the conflict brewing when their pedigrees clash, and, particularly, Cate’s consciousness of the disparity, that grips us. Whether these knockoffs can avoid the fates of the originals is the main source of suspense here.

An intriguing meditation on the meaning of “meant to be.”

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-425-28664-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2022

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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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