Larsen creates a darkly sensual world in which evil impulses often triumph, but not always.

THE SECOND WINTER

Danish resistance fighters are often as brutal as the occupying Nazis in Larsen’s (Mania, 2009) luridly dark exploration into the ways that “war can make criminals of heroes…and heroes of criminals.”

In 1939, half-Jewish teen Polina ends up in the clutches of German soldiers who brutally use her for sex. Two years later she has become a prostitute in Copenhagen, where she catches the eye of Lt. Hermann Schmidt, a photographer for Germany’s Ministry of Propaganda who dabbles on the black market. He has a wife and daughter (whose memory of her long-dead father frames the novel), but he obsessively tracks down Polina, buys her from her pimp, and sets her up in the relative luxury of his apartment. Meanwhile, Fredrik Gregersen, the black sheep of “a venerable Danish family," scrapes by as a farmhand in rural Jutland. An amphetamine user and brutal father to his teenage children, Oskar and Amalia, Fredrik occasionally helps a neighbor smuggle escaping Jews to the coast for extra cash. When a transport goes wrong, Fredrik ends up with a Jewish family’s money and jewels. Then a few people close to Fredrik turn up dead and the police begin nosing around, so he sends Oskar to Copenhagen to sell the jewels. Unaware he is being tracked by a Resistance assassin out to retrieve the jewels, Oskar encounters Hermann and Polina and strikes a business deal; the irony is that Hermann buys most of the jewels with money he made selling paintings he had purchased from the strapped Gregersens. A smitten Oskar returns later to slip Polina away from Hermann's apartment, leaving behind an emerald necklace "to buy her freedom." Back in Jutland, Polina becomes a point of contention between Fredrik and Oskar. Her feelings toward Oskar, who loves her, are ambiguous; Fredrik, who sees in her his own animal instincts, both repulses and attracts her. It is not a situation likely to end well despite occasional slivers of tenderness.

Larsen creates a darkly sensual world in which evil impulses often triumph, but not always.

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59051-788-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

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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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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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