THE CORNERSTONE OF DECEPTION

Converting her nonfiction research into historical suspense, first-time novelist Simani challenges the integrity of acclaimed archaeologists Sir Henry Creswicke Rawlinson and George Smith.

In the mid-19th century, archaeologists’ discoveries in the Tigris-Euphrates region altered the biblical timeline. Taking the reader from Mesopotamia to Paris to London, Simani introduces real-life archaeologists Austen Layard, Jules Oppert, Fulgence Fresnel, Rawlinson and Smith, among many others (as the three-page list of characters will attest), showing how their lives and discoveries were intertwined, and how nearly all were affected by the machinations of Rawlinson. Taking on the uneducated, working-class but gifted Smith as his assistant, Rawlinson schools him in matters both archaeological and unethical. What to do if your dig is not as productive as you had hoped? Buy artifacts on the black market. Having trouble with a translation? Make it up. Research challenged by colleagues? Discredit theirs. As if forgery were not enough, Rawlinson also dabbles in anti-Semitism and racism. While he remains reprehensible, Simani’s exquisite character development imbues Smith, a man of humble origins, with sympathy. Oppert vacillates from being a main to a secondary character, but he is probably the most fascinating of the long list of them. The novel’s historical elements are well researched, and Simani displays an additional gift for weaving an engrossing love story, as evidenced by the relationship accounts of Layard, Oppert and Smith. The author occasionally allows her characters to engage in long, dull conversations, rehashing events that occurred off-screen, but otherwise she manages to create a mainly interesting mystery. A riveting tale of archaeological intrigue.    

 

Pub Date: Dec. 7, 2011

ISBN: 978-1461052814

Page Count: 453

Publisher: The Third House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2012

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

BAREFOOT

Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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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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