Worth a look: Obvious and a bit corny, but a good-spirited narration and some interesting western scenery.

EVERY MAN’S HAND

A western farce from Mosher (The Last Buffalo Hunter, 2001), who populates a small Montana town with novelists, blind movie stars, demented cabbies, and civil-service strippers.

If you liked A Confederacy of Dunces but thought it a little much, this might be more your speed. Billy Bristol is a would-be writer and world-class layabout who knows he’s destined to be rich and famous but just can’t seem to break free of obscurity. Born and raised in the old mining town of Butte, Billy has his own apartment (the landlady is threatening to evict if he doesn’t pay up) but no job, and his unemployment benefits are running out. Buff, his demure but sexy caseworker at the unemployment office, comes through with a job referral in the nick of time: There’s a blind, 88-year-old German movie star named Andrea Kauffman in Butte who needs a personal assistant for a few hours each week. How did she end up there, you ask? Let’s keep it under wraps for now. Billy happily escorts Andrea about town, taking her to diners and describing for her all the paraphernalia on display in the town’s old brothel (now a museum). He also develops a highly unprofessional relationship with Buff at the unemployment office—only to discover, just as he’s reached the point of meeting the relatives, that her father is the dean who years ago had him expelled from college. Does Buff want to waste her time on a slacker like Billy? Does Billy want to waste his time on eldercare? It turns out that there’s more to Andrea than anyone had suspected, and Billy is in line for a major career move. Plus it looks like he can take Buff along with him, in more ways than one.

Worth a look: Obvious and a bit corny, but a good-spirited narration and some interesting western scenery.

Pub Date: July 1, 2002

ISBN: 1-58574-458-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Lyons Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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