Not as cerebral as Patrick O’Brian, but full of interesting war bits. And “Fancy Jack” is an attractive hero.

THE WINTER SOLDIERS

A Victorian military series crosses the Atlantic, picking up the adventures of a proto-commando hero in the middle of the Crimean War.

Alexander Kirk is the semi-aristocrat seeking adventure as a sergeant on special assignments in Her Majesty’s soon-to-be imperial army. Born on the wrong side of the sheets to a blustering, career-army Scottish baronet and his housemaid but raised in the manor by a loving stepmother, Kirk fights under the nom de guerre of Jack Crossman, “Fancy Jack” to his admirers. Keenly intelligent and well educated but with something of a chip on his shoulder, “Fancy Jack” has been shunted out of the mainstream of his regiment to head up a band of commandos doing the kind of intelligence-gathering the more gentlemanly general staffers wouldn’t dream of touching. American readers will need a bit of intelligence-gathering themselves as they’re dropped into the middle of Jack’s career, picking up his story as the French and English lay siege to the Russians in Sebastopol. The Russians may be the enemy, but the aristocratic idiots at the top of the British command, particularly Lord Raglan, seem to be doing the most damage to an army that’s underfed and underdressed in an icy Black Sea winter. In a series of actions, Jack and his almost politically correct band of warriors (a loyal Turk, an American, a woman disguised as a man, etc.) seek out and partially destroy a band of marauding deserters, spy on a corrupt general, destroy a German anti-siege machine, and clean up the half of the marauding deserter band that got away. In the process, Jack is charged with the education of a by-the-book lieutenant and, in a truly odd sidebar, with the education of a classroom full of military brats. There’s occasional time for dalliance with some pretty ladies, including a now-married past love and an equally attractive “cousin.”

Not as cerebral as Patrick O’Brian, but full of interesting war bits. And “Fancy Jack” is an attractive hero.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-7867-1111-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2002

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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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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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