A painstakingly researched war story with complex characterizations.



Schrader, the author of The Emperor Strikes Back (2019), re-creates a pivotal period in World War II in this updated version of her 2007 novel.

In 1940, 24-year-old Royal Air Force fighter pilot Robin Priestman is injured on a difficult mission over France and forced to take leave at home in England. At a local canteen, he meets Emily Pryce, a smart Cambridge University grad, and the two fall quietly in love, foiling Robin’s mother’s plans to marry him to an heiress. When his broken ankle heals, he becomes a flight instructor for the RAF, tasked with turning very young men into flying aces. It’s not easy, and Robin’s anxiety about leading these boys into war is palpable in his solitary moments. In Germany, Klaudia von Richthofen has just joined the German Air Force Female Auxiliaries, surrounded by Nazi pilots, whom she sees as romantic heroes. Parallel stories from the German and British camps emerge: British pilot George “Ginger” Bowles is homesick and self-conscious about his lower-class status; Lt. Ernst Geuke, an inexperienced German wingman, worries he’ll never measure up to the Aryan ideal; he pines for Klaudia, who initially doesn’t give him the time of day. In the background are fears of capture or death by bomb or plane. Scenes exploring the characters’ inner lives are compelling, especially on the German side; for example, to Klaudia, Nazism is just about following rules, fitting in, and living up to her famous surname (she’s related to the infamous “Red Baron”), but back in her home village of Silesia, “Everyone still said good morning rather than ‘Heil Hitler’.” Schrader also succeeds in accurately portraying the bombing raids and defense missions that made up the Battle of Britain military campaign. Despite uneven pacing and occasional typographical errors, the story holds up, building to a satisfying, cinematic finale in which a few characters’ fates collide. Readers may find some of the plentiful military jargon difficult to parse despite the glossary included. However, Schrader’s attention to detail is sure to win over veterans, pilots, and military history buffs.

A painstakingly researched war story with complex characterizations.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73531-394-8

Page Count: 594

Publisher: Cross Seas Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 17, 2020

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Who tells your story? Williams illuminates why women needed to be in the room where, and when, it’s written.


The Herculean efforts required to assemble the Oxford English Dictionary are retold, this time from a fictionalized, distaff point of view, in Williams’ debut novel.

Esme Nicoll, the motherless young daughter of a lexicographer working in the Scriptorium—in reality, a garden shed in Oxford where a team led by James Murray, one of the OED’s editors, toiled—accompanies her father to work frequently. The rigor and passion with which the project is managed is apparent to the sensitive and curious Esme, as is the fact that the editorial team of men labors under the influence of Victorian-era mores. Esme begins a clandestine operation to rescue words which have been overlooked or intentionally omitted from the epic dictionary. Her childhood undertaking becomes a lifelong endeavor, and her efforts to validate the words which flew under the (not yet invented) radar of the OED gatekeepers gain traction at the same time the women’s suffrage movement fructifies in England. The looming specter of World War I lends tension to Esme’s personal saga while a disparate cast of secondary characters adds pathos and depth. Underlying this panoramic account are lexicographical and philosophical interrogatives: Who owns language, does language reflect or affect, who chooses what is appropriate, why is one meaning worthier than another, what happens when a word mutates in meaning? (For example, the talismanic word first salvaged by Esme, bondmaid, pops up with capricious irregularity and amorphous meaning throughout the lengthy narrative.) Williams provides readers with detailed background and biographical information pointing to extensive research about the OED and its editors, many of whom appear as characters in Esme’s life. The result is a satisfying amalgam of truth and historical fiction.

Who tells your story? Williams illuminates why women needed to be in the room where, and when, it’s written.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-16019-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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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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