More cerebral than many of Ursula’s prior escapades but still an authentic Elizabethan cliffhanger.

A WEB OF SILK

The fallout from a previous exploit comes back to haunt Queen Elizabeth’s half sister.

Mistress Ursula Stannard, who’d like to lead a quiet life caring for her estates and raising her son, Harry, is disturbed by a visit from Sir Robert Dudley, who tells her that he’s just sold neighboring Knoll House to widower Giles Frost, a Catholic merchant. When Ursula receives a message from Walsingham, the queen’s spymaster, she knows something unpleasant is coming her way. Before she can answer his summons, her servant Roger Brockley, her partner in many a dangerous adventure, finds his son, Philip Sandley, shot dead by a crossbow. Although Philip had been involved in the kidnapping of Harry (The Reluctant Assassin, 2018), Brockley grieves his only child and vows to find his killers. When Ursula travels to Greenwich Palace, Walsingham asks what seems like a small favor: for her to go to Knoll House with her companion, expert needlewoman Sybil Jester, and teach her new neighbor Frost’s twin daughters, Joyce and Jayne, to embroider while dropping false information about the British fleet that Frost will pass on to the Spanish. But first she must take up the problem of a stained glass window in the local church that is so gruesome that it disturbs children and parishioners alike. She hires Master Julius Stagg, a designer and creator of stained glass, to replace the window, which someone’s just broken. On a visit to the studio he shows her a magnificent chest that holds a stunning silver salt cellar he’s giving his niece Eleanor as a part of her wedding dowry. Soon thereafter, Stagg and a tearful Eleanor beg her to search for the chest, which they claim has been stolen and hidden at Knoll House. Despite her misgivings and the advice of her friends, Ursula agrees—a mistake that will put her and Brockley in far worse peril than some of her most harrowing tasks for the queen.

More cerebral than many of Ursula’s prior escapades but still an authentic Elizabethan cliffhanger.

Pub Date: June 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-78029-113-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Severn House

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2019

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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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