A lively history of romance in the dens of iniquity, love despite vice.

LOVE AND OTHER CONSOLATION PRIZES

Too old to dream of being adopted, Ernest Young is raffled off at the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific World Exposition to Madame Flora, who runs a notorious brothel. His adventures have just begun.

Ernest has already lived a lifetime of surprises and indignities. After his starving Chinese mother secured her only son a spot on a freighter to America, Ernest, only 5 years old, had to learn swiftly how to navigate a world that denigrated him not only for being an orphan, but also, and perhaps worse, for being of mixed blood. Ernest never knew his white father, but his youth and mixed heritage enabled him to make friends with both the Chinese girls on the ship and the lone Japanese girl, Fahn. Once Ernest survived a month captive in the hold of the ship, not to mention a near drowning, he became a ward of the state in Seattle and eventually attracted a wealthy sponsor, who sent him to an exclusive boarding school, where he endured racism and discrimination, and then, when he has the temerity to tell her he would rather go to another school, she has him raffled off at the World's Fair. Surprisingly, life in the bordello is exciting, not least because there Ernest meets Madame Flora’s tomboyishly charming daughter, Maisie, and reunites with Fahn. Falling in love with both, however, can only lead to heartache, since life in a brothel exacts certain prices. Ford (Songs of Willow Frost, 2014, etc.) casts this complex love story against the backdrop of the little-known history of Chinese and Japanese orphans, who found slavery and indentured servitude rather than opportunity in America. Now in his 60s , Ernest faces his wife Gracie's declining control over her memory, which endangers the secrets he has kept from their daughters. But now their eldest, an investigative reporter, has begun to discover some potentially scandalous secrets. Alternating between Ernest’s past and present, Ford captures the thrill of first kisses and the shock of revealing long-hidden affairs.

A lively history of romance in the dens of iniquity, love despite vice.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8041-7675-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

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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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