Readers who wade through the slowly paced narrative may appreciate its rich historical detail and lavish descriptions of the...

THE SEA GARDEN

In three loosely connected novellas, Lawrenson (The Lantern, 2011) has created a tale of love and mystery with shifting characters, eras, locations and tones.

Award-winning landscape designer Ellie Brooke is on a ferry to Porquerolles, a French Mediterranean island, when a young man goes overboard in an apparent suicide. That event sets the tone for her brief 2013 visit. Ellie has been asked to restore a memorial garden, but she's gripped with foreboding as a mysterious man appears and disappears and nightmares invade her sleep. Forced to stay the night at her host’s estate, she meets the garden’s owner, a crazy old woman; decides to reject the job; then unwisely returns the next day to retrieve a lost item. Years earlier, during the closing months of World War II, 20-ish blind woman Marthe Lincel lives with the Musset family and works in their perfume and soap refinery. The Nazis have occupied Provence, but the Musset family is allowed to continue production. Although many consider them Nazi sympathizers, they actually serve in the Resistance. Putting her Braille expertise to use, Marthe joins the movement, and when a key member fails to return from a mission, Marthe volunteers to replace her. Her courageous actions—and a chance meeting with an American soldier the Musset family is trying to move out of the country—change her future. Also participating in the war effort, Iris Nightingale is a junior intelligence officer in London who finds herself in close contact with operatives flying into and out of France. She becomes romantically involved with Frenchman Xavier Descours, who then goes on a mission and never returns. Obsessed with uncovering information about his life and fate, Iris searches for answers and, years later, discovers the truth.

Readers who wade through the slowly paced narrative may appreciate its rich historical detail and lavish descriptions of the French coastline, but the revelations that weave the three stories together are anticlimactic and disappointing.

Pub Date: June 24, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-06-227966-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 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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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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