A leisurely baseball novel with a heavy dose of the Bard.

A MIDSUMMER MADNESS

In his debut novel, Franks tells the story of a Shakespeare-loving baseball coach wrangling a cast of dramatic players.

In 1986 Connecticut, Shakespeare Louis “Shake” Glover—named for the playwright as well as for baseball legend Lou Gehrig—is the manager of the New Britain Kingsmen, a Double-A baseball team that’s dominated the Eastern League for the past few years: “the Kingsmen were well-coached and full of talent and did one thing consistently—win.” Shake brings his love of the Bard of Avon to the team, as well: He frequently quotes Shakespeare’s work, and an announcer reads passages from even the more obscure plays over the stadium’s public-address system. In fact, many of the club’s members bear striking similarities to Shakespeare’s characters. There’s second basemen Dane Hamilton, a melancholic figure with a “brow knit in perpetual worry”; outfielder Hank Prince, a wayward, would-be star whose play is hindered by his tendency to hang around unsavory characters; and Rex Lyon, the aged baseball club owner with an estranged daughter and questionable mental acuity. As the season progresses, Shake and his Kingsmen meet with all manner of mishaps and unexpected turns—some tragic, some comic, and all of them thoroughly Shakespearean. Franks’ prose is allusive and literary, as one might expect given the overall premise. The dialogue mixes moments of high and low humor, as in this exchange between Shake and his clubhouse manager, Speed. “Speed: Make a what? / Shake: A compilation CD, with everyone’s music on it. / Speed: A copulation seedy?…You have to do your own copulating.” Overall, though, the novel fits comfortably within the genre of band-of-clashing-temperaments baseball narratives; as in many such novels, the meandering plot is forgivable because the personalities are so strong. With its relatively low stakes and light touches, it would make for a good summer-reading experience—not dissimilar to passing the time watching a minor league baseball game. If one’s a fan of Shakespeare, all the better.

A leisurely baseball novel with a heavy dose of the Bard.

Pub Date: May 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5320-4691-9

Page Count: 350

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Oct. 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

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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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