A robust, entrancing debut.

A Cup of Redemption

In this debut novel, a woman undertakes a road trip around France in an attempt to shed light on her family’s mysterious, troubled past.

In 2001, Sophie Zabél Sullivan, a Frenchwoman living in California, gets word that her mother, Marcelle, is near death. Upon arriving back in France, Sophie only has a few moments with her mother, who encourages her to seek out the identity of her grandfather—the father that Marcelle never knew. However, this is far from the only mystery in the family: Sophie’s two brothers, Thierry and Gérard, were both born out of wedlock during the World War II era. Sophie, meanwhile, is haunted by a sexual assault that she suffered at the hands of an elderly relative, suffers from depression, and is troubled by a recurring nightmare she doesn’t understand. Aided by her American friend, Kate, and using some of her mother’s old journals and family correspondence, she traverses France, interviewing family members and old acquaintances, looking for the answers that she and her siblings need in order to heal. As this multigenerational family saga of war, violence, and betrayal plays itself out, the two friends offer each other emotional support, and the trip proves cathartic for all involved. Along the way, the friends indulge in the French foodie obsessions that first brought them together while also taking in the history and folklore of the regions they visit. Bumpus does a remarkable job of capturing the nuances of the French landscapes and culture and of evoking the wartime occupation of France (“Beaten-down women with exhaustion etched into their eyes carried infants swaddled in mud and blood-spattered blankets”). Although the narrative can be a bit sentimental at times—even inducing compassion fatigue on occasion—Bumpus still manages time and again to strike at the emotional hearts of her characters to reveal their weaknesses and niggling vulnerabilities, as when Kate meets the grown daughter she gave up for adoption and later worries that she might have been disappointed with Kate’s weight.

A robust, entrancing debut.

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-938314-90-2

Page Count: 322

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: July 23, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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