A flawed but entertaining thriller set during America’s tumultuous beginning.

Grimm Patriot

A debut novel tells a fictionalized version of the founding of the U.S. Marine Corps.

The year is 1775, and young Joseph Grimm is adrift in Philadelphia, feeling “the pull to wander” and “to see new places.” The city is, of course, a turbulent place: war has broken out, and the Continental Congress scrambles to assemble a military force to face the British. A Dutch merchant and family friend rails against the British royalty and unfair taxes, urging Grimm to fight for the cause of liberty (“the cause needs such as you so desperately”). Seeking purpose and adventure, Grimm joins the newly formed Continental Marines. A grueling training period abruptly ends when he and his fellow Marines are deployed on a secret mission to protect the funding source of the future U.S. Navy. But the Continental forces face many enemies, including Maj. Marcus Phillip Calhoun, a British officer who seeks to undermine the fledgling Navy. Large portions of the novel are not actually Grimm’s story, instead relating the experiences of family, including the patriot’s sister, Gabriella; colleagues; and, most prolifically, Calhoun. He is an intriguing creation—at times cartoonishly fiendish as well as genuinely sympathetic (born to a lower-class mother, he rails against his own military valuing rank over merit). Arndt’s use of multiple perspectives adds movement and richness to the novel—as when intense military confrontations are told from opposing viewpoints—but sometimes the device muddles the narrative (for example, the chapter on Gabriella). While the book’s first third gets bogged down in overlong or sentimental back stories, later portions have a pleasant propulsion as the thriller-esque plot churns along. But Grimm’s storyline eventually feels flat in comparison to Calhoun’s, as the Marine, loyally following his superiors, becomes more of an awed observer than a decision-maker. The tale also veers into simplistic mythmaking (the author sometimes depicts the British, their sympathizers, and the Iroquois enemies of Grimm’s family as physically or spiritually deformed). As in scores of works set in this period, there is oddly little acknowledgment that many Revolutionary leaders owned slaves. Still, the novel strikes true notes of historical complexity, revealing the tensions based on class and region within the Continental cause. Ultimately, Arndt conveys a vivid sense of the overwhelming odds the Continental Marines faced as well as the scrappy ingenuity and bravery they demonstrated.

A flawed but entertaining thriller set during America’s tumultuous beginning.

Pub Date: March 17, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4808-2803-2

Page Count: 338

Publisher: Archway Publishing

Review Posted Online: June 20, 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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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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