I NEVER CAME TO YOU IN WHITE

Poet and Dickinson scholar Farr (The Passion of Emily Dickinson, not reviewed) observes her favorite, elusive subject at a crucial stage in her adolescence—her unhappy ten-month stint at Mount Holyoke Seminary—in this well-intended debut. Although the letters comprising this narrative span 85 years, the primary focus is on 184748, when young Emily left home to board at the school run by Mary Lyon. The patchwork of perspectives, offering a view of events as they occurred as well as reflections and distortions decades later, reveals a young woman already far along on her brilliant path of isolation. Sharing a room with her most conventional cousin Emily Norcross, she quickly runs afoul of her English teacher, a stern Quaker who believes her new pupil's comparison of the Bible to Shakespeare's plays, as good literature, to be at best wrongheaded, at worst blasphemous, and so undertakes to correct her using measures of increasing severity and unfairness. Emily also suffers for not participating in the current religious revival, rejecting Miss Lyon's persistent calls for her to be saved. She bucks the tide in other ways, sending forbidden, uncensored letters to friends and family—and to one friend in particular. This Amherst pal, Sue Gilbert, to whom Emily has sworn undying love, brings a hint of scandal to the school when they are discovered by the English teacher behind the closed door of Emily's room, but the various interpretations placed on the visit, both at the time and more than 40 years later, when the teacher writes savagely to Dickinson's unbelieving editor of what she saw, remain conjecture. No one would fault the many liberties taken with the historical record, since by bold invention an otherwise unimaginable portrait of Emily D. emerges. But more problematic here is the sameness of tone suffusing the work and its characters, creating only monochromes where full-color images would be infinitely preferable.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 1996

ISBN: 0-395-78840-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1996

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There are unforgettable beauties in this very sexy story.

TELL ME LIES

Passion, friendship, heartbreak, and forgiveness ring true in Lovering's debut, the tale of a young woman's obsession with a man who's "good at being charming."

Long Island native Lucy Albright, starts her freshman year at Baird College in Southern California, intending to study English and journalism and become a travel writer. Stephen DeMarco, an upperclassman, is a political science major who plans to become a lawyer. Soon after they meet, Lucy tells Stephen an intensely personal story about the Unforgivable Thing, a betrayal that turned Lucy against her mother. Stephen pretends to listen to Lucy's painful disclosure, but all his thoughts are about her exposed black bra strap and her nipples pressing against her thin cotton T-shirt. It doesn't take Lucy long to realize Stephen's a "manipulative jerk" and she is "beyond pathetic" in her desire for him, but their lives are now intertwined. Their story takes seven years to unfold, but it's a fast-paced ride through hookups, breakups, and infidelities fueled by alcohol and cocaine and with oodles of sizzling sexual tension. "Lucy was an itch, a song stuck in your head or a movie you need to rewatch or a food you suddenly crave," Stephen says in one of his point-of-view chapters, which alternate with Lucy's. The ending is perfect, as Lucy figures out the dark secret Stephen has kept hidden and learns the difference between lustful addiction and mature love.

There are unforgettable beauties in this very sexy story.

Pub Date: June 12, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6964-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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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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