Relentlessly, aggressively, inventively and often hilariously silly.

THE PIRATES! IN AN ADVENTURE WITH NAPOLEON

In the fourth of this madcap series (The Pirates! In an Adventure with Communists, 2006, etc.), the Pirate Captain, disillusioned after a crushing loss in the Pirate-of-the-Year pageant, decides to throw over buccaneering for a quiet life of beekeeping.

Unfortunately, the Captain is taken in yet again by Black Bellamy. When his longtime nemesis deeds him the island of St. Helena, the Pirate Captain fails to notice that the document is scrawled on a tiki-bar drinks menu and that the wax seal “is actually the casing from a novelty cheese.” Accompanied by his grumblingly loyal crew (the pirate with a scarf, the pirate with gout, and so on), the Captain voyages to this godforsaken speck that’s supposed to be a tropical paradise, discovers Black Bellamy’s fraud and decides to stay anyway. He will content himself with being the island’s most illustrious inhabitant. He hosts a lavish housewarming, and the Pirate Captain is dazzling his guests with tales of derring-do and plying them with the available foodstuffs (“boiled jellyfish, rain, and pebbles”) when there’s a knock. In walks the newly exiled Napoleon. The two fancy-hatted rivals begin a titanic war of egos, which culminates in a race for headship of the St. Helena Residents’ Association. The campaign is quite funny, with the Pirate Captain compiling a list of his constituents’ likes: “They like Queen Victoria. They like crisps. Bingo! We’ll make a statue of Queen Victoria out of crisps, thus killing two birds with one stone. Honestly, a political mind like mine only comes along once in a generation.”

Relentlessly, aggressively, inventively and often hilariously silly.

Pub Date: May 19, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-375-42398-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2009

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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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