A complex coming-of-age story that evokes the enduring effects of war and the latter days of the Jim Crow system.

Hemingway, Three Angels, and Me

From the The Pompey Hollow Book Club series

A boy learns important lessons about prejudice, racism, and courage in post-World War II America in a fictional tale that combines autobiographical elements and the supernatural.

The fourth book in Antil’s (Mary Crane, 2015, etc.) Pompey Hollow Book Club series finds Jerry in 1953, 13 years old and finally settled into the rural community of Delphi Falls, where his family moved four years earlier. Jerry’s father, Big Mike, who owns the town bakery, is disturbed by the ugly signs of prejudice he sees in his upstate New York town. He’s especially worried when Jerry, his brother, Dick, and their mother travel to segregated Little Rock, Arkansas, to help Jerry’s aunt Mary with the birth of her baby. Although WWII ended eight years earlier, it looms large in the narrative, just as it does in the lives of the children who grew up during the early 1940s and the adults still feeling the war’s repercussions. In Little Rock, Jerry learns of numerous injustices, large and small, that arise from racial prejudice, from separate water fountains to discrimination in the military. His guardian angel, Charlie, who first appeared in the second volume of the series, The Book of Charlie (2013), calls Jerry into action to help Anna Kristina, a pregnant African-American girl who’s in danger from the prominent white man who raped her. With the aid of Charlie, two other angels, and a host of other supporters, including Jerry’s war hero uncle and the author Ernest Hemingway, Jerry strives to rescue Anna Kristina and even has a thrilling ride in a B-25 bomber. Antil covers important thematic ground in a narrative in which cooperation and understanding counter segregation, and most of the white characters are as deeply concerned about racism as the characters of color are. As this version of “Papa” Hemingway says, “Racism isn’t about color, Jerry, it’s about…not wanting to know about or care about other cultures.” Some of the book’s explanations are simplistic, and there are occasional anachronisms (such as when a Little Rock churchgoer refers to the rapist who fathered Anna Kristina’s child as a “baby daddy”). But overall, there’s much positive food for thought here, couched in an engaging adventure tale.

A complex coming-of-age story that evokes the enduring effects of war and the latter days of the Jim Crow system.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9971802-0-6

Page Count: 300

Publisher: Little York Books

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2016

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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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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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