An informative and adventurous story of a wayward journey into another world.

THE LAST PROFESSIONAL

A Silicon Valley programmer leaves his job to ride the rails with an elderly man in Davis’ novel.

At 26, Lynden Hoover has a fine career at Data Dynamics, a hot San Francisco Bay Area tech company. However, he starts to feel that his success is like a prison, and it’s one that he wants to escape: “All programmers were a little crazy up front,” he notes, “and all the good ones knew when to bail.” In sixth grade, he’d jumped on a freight train to search for his absent father, and he wants to roam free once again. It’s now the 1980s, and open boxcars abound, so Lynden hops on one of them and heads east. Along the way, he meets The Duke, an old-fashioned tramp who carries with him the language and customs of the past: “You fight like a punch-drunk Palooka,” he tells Lynden after one squabble. The Duke turns out to have a wealth of information about the locations of “hobo” camps, and he has dirt regarding dangerous characters. Of particular concern is Short Arm, a villainous scoundrel that The Duke claims will kill him on sight. Lynden, now dubbed “Frisco,” and The Duke roll past Reno, the Great Salt Lake, and Grand Junction, and The Duke says that Short Arm is headed to Pennsylvania. But Lynden has a secret that’s tormenting him—one that will bring him even deeper into a dangerous, transient world. Over the course of this novel, Davis presents readers with an adventure that also works well as a tribute to the past, effectively using the perspective of a young character to capture what feels like the last glimpse of a disappearing culture. Lynden’s interest in riding the rails isn’t merely a passing fancy, and the history that connects The Duke and Lynden brings up issues as varied as wanderlust, economics, and sexuality. The characters come across as convincing, real people, and the schemes that they hatch are generally fun. Although the first half of the novel suffers from a general talkiness and aimlessness, the second half establishes a much more clearly defined narrative that will engage readers.

An informative and adventurous story of a wayward journey into another world.

Pub Date: Jan. 25, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-951122-25-6

Page Count: 278

Publisher: Artemesia Publishing, LLC

Review Posted Online: Dec. 29, 2021

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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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