This offbeat, refreshingly absorbing Civil War novel features impeccable research and well-realized main characters.

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LIBERTY BAZAAR

In Chadwick’s (High Seas to Home, 2012) historical novel, an escaped slave girl and a former Confederate general meet in 1863 Liverpool.

This modified epistolary novel alternates between two first-person documents: “Experiences in the Life of a Slave Girl by Trinity Giddings” and “Recollections of a Confederate General by Jubal de Brooke.” Trinity is a 24-year-old slave in Charleston, South Carolina. With her family dead and her master’s unwanted sexual attentions becoming hard to avoid, she seizes a chance to escape using a fake pass and a mariner’s uniform. Trinity’s voice is distinctive, and her syntax and folksy vocabulary suit her time and station: “Short time later, this child was spying for President Lincoln. Yes I was!” she exults. She provides the novel’s life and soul, much like the character Handful in Sue Monk Kidd’s 2014 book The Invention of Wings. She sails to London and meets the American minister to Britain, and she takes the moral argument against slavery to Liverpool, “the most formidable Confederate bastion outside Dixie.” Jubal de Brooke, an unpopular man in the Confederate army due to his vocal opposition to slavery, has been sent to that city to use his dubious family connections to solicit financial help for the wartime cause. Meanwhile, he tries to overcome his debilitating battle flashbacks. Trinity soon learns that the British are building an ironclad warship for the Confederacy, and she becomes embroiled in a scheme to steal the plans and take them to the U.S. consulate. Jubal is romantically involved with a shipbuilding heiress but also drawn to Trinity; meanwhile, he hopes that the Grand Liberty Bazaar, a fundraiser for the Southern Prisoners’ Relief Fund, is a success—as his family name depends on it. Along with the two well-drawn narrators, the novel boasts several wonderful secondary characters, including Lord Harrowby, “Britain’s oldest dandy”; States Rights Rankin, a villainous Southern senator; and Josiah Mill, a black apothecary. Shades of Charles Dickens’ work, meanwhile, appear in the novel’s descriptions (“Chilly October day. Liverpool drab-grey below an endless wash of overcast”), its twisty plot, and its quirky character names (such as “Cuthbert Longinch” and “Lazarus Hotchkiss”).

This offbeat, refreshingly absorbing Civil War novel features impeccable research and well-realized main characters.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1906582920

Page Count: 300

Publisher: Aurora Metro Press

Review Posted Online: April 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2015

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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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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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