A promising tale with quirky characters and fresh insights, marred by a predictable deus ex machina.

Cancer Faith & Butterflies

HOW DO YOU BELIEVE WHEN YOUR WORLD FALLS APART?

A young father faces Joblike trials in this debut Christian novel.

Joey lost both parents in a tragic accident. Now he faces losing the love of his life, Brooke, to breast cancer. Shuffling between the hospital, his home, and work, he reminisces about happier times and wonders how Brooke can maintain her faith in God. His doubt is echoed by Jim Anderson, whose preteen son Jimmy fights cancer in the hospital room next door. Jimmy and Brooke die on the same day, and Joey is left to raise his 8-month-old daughter, Sara, with the help of his sister, Carroll. Like Brooke, Carroll is a Christian. Before Brooke’s funeral, Joey yells at God and accidentally rousts a homeless man, Billy Jones, squatting on the church steps. Billy reveals that Brooke had been kind to him, giving him food and attending services with him over the objections of congregants. Billy also exhorts Joey to find strength in his faith, but the protagonist feels that everywhere he turns he encounters Christians but never God or any real answers. When a lump is discovered below his daughter’s left shoulder, Joey becomes frightened: Brooke had been diagnosed with cancer while pregnant with Sara. A biopsy reveals a malignant tumor, and Joey lashes out at those he loves and recklessly confronts an enemy. Sanchez develops his characters through humorous, astute dialogue and situations, and his writing shines when describing Joey’s and Brooke’s first meeting and Joey’s mentor-friendship with Jimmy. At one point, Joey takes the boy for a ride in his red Chevy (“He looked free as a bird just sitting there with his eyes closed and a smile on his face. It was like all the months in the hospital, the chemo, the pain, had all just melted away…No words were spoken, just the wind in our hair and the hum of the engine”). Joey’s agony over Brooke’s death and his questions about God in the face of it are handled deftly and delicately, but later, the novel spirals into melodrama and propaganda. A convenient set of “coincidences” finally convinces Joey of God’s existence, but his earlier questions remain unanswered. Furthermore, a key scene, in which the police release Joey after only a brief interrogation when he assaults a man, and a natural event that “scientists can’t explain” lack credibility.

A promising tale with quirky characters and fresh insights, marred by a predictable deus ex machina.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2016

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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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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