The book's visual and verbal components combine to make a narrative of definite—if slightly generic—charm while hinting at...


In her second fictional scrapbook, Preston (The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt, 2011, etc.) uses real "scraps" she’s collected to magnify the effect of WWII on a newly married couple.

The war bride of the title begins her scrapbook in the fall of 1943 when her husband leaves for active duty 20 days after their first meeting. In her first section, “Life Before Perry,” bride Lila uses magazine art, advertisements, a business card, and whatever else can be pasted down to illustrate her childhood as the bright, chubby, “bossy” daughter of middle-class parents in prewar Charlottesville, Virginia. Her upwardly striving mother sends her to posh Sweet Briar, a Southern women’s college near Lynchburg, to make “the right connections”; in reaction, Lila pastes a photo of an unhappy grad with the found caption “I Flunked in Romance.” Although a senior seminar sparks an interest in architecture, she returns home to work in her father’s car insurance business. With headlines from LIFE and Charlottesville’s Daily Progress announcing the war, Lila takes a job at the university’s Bond Drive office, begins sharing a co-worker’s apartment, and loses weight. Ads for shorter skirts and rye crisps display 1940s style in the shadow of war maps. Perry answers Lila’s ad for a new roommate, and the “Our Romance” section begins. Despite his UVA architecture degree and acceptance to the graduate program at Harvard Design School, Bostonian Perry has enlisted in the Army. Movie tickets, recipes, and architectural sketches trace the couple’s platonic first two weeks. Then come the kiss, proposal, and elopement, highlighted by a copy of Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice column against furlough marriage. A short, passionate honeymoon complete with naked sketches follows. Then Perry’s off to Europe. “Life Without Perry” follows the couple’s predictable correspondence—each facing challenges and evolving in ways that will prove consequential—within the context of war memorabilia that WWII enthusiasts will gobble up. Perry’s “Homecoming” is understandably bittersweet.

The book's visual and verbal components combine to make a narrative of definite—if slightly generic—charm while hinting at darker depths under the entertaining surface.

Pub Date: Dec. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-196692-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2017

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

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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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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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