Peopled with some enduring characters and driven by both compassion and sarcasm, this is a vivid, surprising page-turner.

Never Enough Flamingos

From the Never Enough series , Vol. 1

A dark secret hides just below the surface in Sweethome, Kansas, where the Great Depression and drought have brought poverty and despair to the peaceful Mennonite farming community.

Diller (The Virus, 2015), a member of the Mennonite Church, grew up in Kansas listening to the Depression-era and World War II stories her parents and grandparents shared over the years. She is also well-versed in Mennonite history going back to the 16th century. All this forms the backdrop for a poignant novel that depicts the gradual breakdowns of three fictional families: the Peters, Schmidts, and Yoders. It is a testament to Diller’s authorial strength that, through the despair, she weaves in disarming humor: “Jesus kept saving and so did we. We saved string, found new uses for baling wire, and recycled everything.” Catherine “Cat” Peters, born in 1925, 6 or 7 years old when the novel opens, is wonderfully three-dimensional. Narrating this first-person retrospective, Cat sounds much like Diller herself: “I come from a long line of storytellers….I can never just tell you something. I have to give you the context.” She begins her tale with a ride into town with her father to make the final payment on his farm. It’s a joyous moment. But on the way home, they run into Elroy Perky, who announces that the Sweethome bank has just closed—permanently. Cat’s father, Ezra, pulls out the paid mortgage documents and sees that the bank has not signed them. Distraught, he drives to the home of Simon Yoder to enlist his help. Simon is the pride and joy of Sweethome, wealthy, philanthropic, and powerful. He immediately agrees to accompany Ezra to the home of banker Bernard Hibble—minutes before a tragedy occurs. And so begins almost a decade of struggle. Yoder’s generosity is the only source of hope for the financially and emotionally beaten-down Mennonites. He doles out small but critical amounts of cash and employs some of the teenagers. In return, he receives undying gratitude and less savory perks.

Peopled with some enduring characters and driven by both compassion and sarcasm, this is a vivid, surprising page-turner.

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-936376-21-6

Page Count: 338

Publisher: WorldTrek Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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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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