Hats off to this compelling historical mystery.



In this Michigan-based mystery set in the 1930s, there are hints that a farmer’s much-younger wife had something to do with his deadly accident.

The newspaper report that 41-year-old Samuel R. Forrest died “in an unfortunate farm accident” omitted the gory details. The gate to the pen holding Black Devil, the farm’s bull, had been left open. The beast got out, apparently became enraged, and tore apart Sam’s body, ripping away his face. The paper also didn’t say that Sam’s wife, Polly Wolcott Forrest, “as pretty as any screen star,” is a mere 20 years old. Polly’s sister, Sarah Wolcott Johnson, older by 11 years, lives on the farm next door with her husband, the Rev. Wesley Johnson, and their three children. Wesley remembers how Polly once flirted with him, and his “unhealthy desire for Polly had kept growing.” Townspeople notice the fashionably dressed, blue-eyed blond does not look or play the part of a grieving widow. Polly stops attending church and starts cruising the town with former neighbor Jacob Frond in his Model A. Because of reports that the Forrests had an unhappy marriage—“everyone in the congregation had seen Polly’s bruises,” and there were rumors that Sam’s weight loss was due to poisoning by his wife—the local sheriff conducts multiple interviews with Polly and the Johnsons. The lawman wants to determine who left the gate open to Black Devil’s pen. Sarah, Wesley, and Polly take turns narrating different chapters of Whitney’s book. Polly’s portion, primarily epistolary, has her writing to her Connecticut-based mother, encouraging her to visit and relaying her dreams of becoming a milliner (she labels veils “the fashion statement of the moment”). The different points of view and the clues to Sam’s personality and death are quite engaging. The pacing moves the story along briskly, and historical references enrich the novel. Setting the Depression-era tone are conversations about massive job losses and President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s agricultural programs, plus vivid descriptions of patched hand-me-downs and “long, hungry, gaunt faces.” Yet a hopeful tone prevails, and images of Michigan meadows, apple picking, and sunshine layered through puffy clouds are skillfully laced in the engrossing tale.

Hats off to this compelling historical mystery.

Pub Date: March 15, 2022

ISBN: 979-8-9851601-0-9

Page Count: 310

Publisher: Lake William Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 28, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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An intriguing meditation on the meaning of “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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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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