Funnier and nastier than the two earlier volumes but still lukewarm and without much fizz.

THE NEW COUNTESS

Weldon (Long Live the King, 2013, etc.) completes her Edwardian trilogy, a lightweight amalgam of Downton Abbey and her own Upstairs Downstairs, as Lord and Lady Dilberne prepare for a visit from King Edward VII.

Three years have passed since the last installment. Edward, now king, has invited himself and his entourage, including his mistress, to the Dilberne estate for a hunting weekend, much to Lady Isobel Dilberne’s chagrin. Since Lord Robert is actively involved in the government now, not to mention with his new mistress, she is the one who is burdened with installing new plumbing and heating and completely redecorating their large but antiquated home. At the moment, son Arthur, the car enthusiast, is living at the estate with his wife, Minnie, and their two young sons. Arthur married Chicago-born Minnie for love, not the money she stands to inherit from her rich but crude Irish-American parents, and despite knowing she was an “experienced” bride. But, devoted to his auto manufacturing company that has yet to produce a commercially viable vehicle, Arthur now takes Minnie for granted. Lonely, homesick for the United States and oppressed by Lady Isobel’s interference in her children’s upbringing, Minnie assumes the worst when she walks in on Arthur with a female journalist in an apparent state of undress. Minnie decamps to stay with Arthur’s sister Rosina. Recently returned from Australia a wealthy widow, with her finished manuscript on the sexual habits of the Aborigines ready to publish, Rosina has joined the literary and sexually liberated set on Fleet Street, Weldon’s satiric swipe at the Bloomsbury crowd. Will Minnie succumb to the temptations of Fleet Street or reunite with Arthur? Will Rosina find passion with her editor’s sister? Will Lady Isobel become romantically involved with the handsome, much younger police inspector assigned to arrange security in preparation for the royal visit? Will that visit end in triumph or disaster or both?

Funnier and nastier than the two earlier volumes but still lukewarm and without much fizz.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-250-02802-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2013

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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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