Series best, and for those who see the Civil War as this country’s defining drama, simply not to be missed.

THAT ANVIL OF OUR SOULS

A NOVEL OF THE MONITOR AND THE MERRIMACK

The iron ships duke it out in the third of Poyer’s banner Civil War at Sea cycle (Fire on the Waters, 2001; A Country of Our Own, 2003).

Since there was no way you could hurt them, ironclads were able to hang around and eventually blow you out of the water, thus consigning wooden-ship warfare to naval history. The Merrimack, Yankee at birth, captured, refitted and reborn as the Virginia, was the South’s great hope to legitimize the Confederate States of America in the eyes of Britain and France, gain their aid and perhaps even hurry the end of hostilities by demonstrating a weapon powerful enough to defy countermeasure. Enter “the cheese box.” Compared to its hulking rival, the diminutive Monitor at first generated more amusement than concern. But that didn’t last. In March of 1862, seagoing David and Goliath bombarded each other for almost four hours; at the end of that time, both remained essentially what they had been at the outset, still impregnable. Serving aboard the Merrimack/Virginia is Lieutenant Lomax Minter—resplendently red-haired, magnetically handsome, totally insufferable. In the view of the ship’s wise and weary doctor, he is one of the “lovely fiery fools,” easily capable of bringing death to them all. To which the quintessential cavalier replies with a shrug. Minter’s theme: “What was life for but glory?” Serving on the Monitor, meanwhile, is Chief Engineer Theo Hubbard—short, solemn, as unprepossessing as his ship and as different from Minter as two brave men could ever be. Through them, mostly, readers experience the epic battle. And who really won? It’s arguable both ways, though in his darker moments Poyer seems to suggest that no one did.

Series best, and for those who see the Civil War as this country’s defining drama, simply not to be missed.

Pub Date: July 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-684-87135-1

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2005

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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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