This flapper-era cocktail ultimately has more fizzle than fizz.

THE GIRL FROM THE SAVOY

A spunky young woman dances her way up from a job as a chambermaid at London’s grandest hotel to a chorus girl and beyond during the Roaring ’20s.

Dorothy Lane is not known as Dolly Daydream for nothing. She may be washing clothes at London’s famed Savoy Hotel, but her head is filled with Jazz Age fantasies of appearing in the West End or Hollywood. The hotel is full of celebs and glitterati, the so-called Bright Young People of British society, who fill the bustling ballrooms. In the first of a number of improbably lucky coincidences, Dolly literally bumps into Perry Clements, the brother of Loretta May, her superstar idol, on the street. Shortly thereafter, in another stroke of unlikely good fortune, Perry advertises for a “muse,” and—surprise of surprises!—Dolly coincidentally answers the ad. At 32, Perry’s sister is the breathtaking beautiful darling of the gallery girls, of whom Dolly is one: shop girls and domestics who fill the cheap theater seats and live on tabloid accounts of the stars. Though she's only a few years older than Dolly, Loretta is world-weary, awash in gin and morphine, with secret health issues. In a blend of “Cinderella” and Pygmalion, (spoiler alert, but isn’t it predictable?), Dolly miraculously becomes Loretta’s protégée. Gaynor (The Girl Who Came Home, 2012, etc.), a good storyteller, mars her tale by straining too hard for profundity and relying on hyperbole; Loretta describes Dolly as “the kind of girl one discovers perhaps once in a decade, a rough diamond waiting to be polished and brought out to dazzle for all the world to see.” Though the book more than teases with romance-novel tropes—will Dolly end up with Perry or with her hometown amour Teddy Cooper, a solder broken by the Great War?—the only real romance here is between Dolly and the stage.

This flapper-era cocktail ultimately has more fizzle than fizz.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-240347-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2016

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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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