The Rise of Dirck Becker

In this concluding volume of a historical fiction trilogy set in the 1600s, a farm boy with a remarkable memory pursues a new life in Amsterdam while searching for a girl he encountered as a child.

When he was small, Dirck Becker spent a memorable afternoon with an orphaned Gypsy girl. Now in his late teens, Dirck is determined to leave the farm where he grew up and use his rare gift—the ability to remember meticulous details—to find his fortune in Amsterdam and hopefully locate this fascinating orphan girl too. The girl is Nelleke, adopted by a wealthy Amsterdam merchant family, who devotes her days to obsessively studying insects and recording her detailed observations in notebooks. Disappointed in the opportunities afforded to women in the Dutch Republic, Nelleke plans to journey across the ocean to New Amsterdam despite knowing her parents will disapprove. Meanwhile, Dirck worries that his talent for remembering everything from the rules of chess to the parts of a ship will lead others around him to distrust him. These two ambitious young people are destined to meet again—but when it finally happens, their reunion isn’t what Dirck imagined. This installment (following The New Worlds of Isabela Calderón, 2014) guides readers to an earlier era through the sweet smell of the pannekoeken hawked by street vendors on the Dam and the cries of the city’s night watchmen that cut through the dark; readers will likely feel as though they are roaming the streets alongside the characters. But, as in the first two volumes of the Amsterdam Trilogy, the weak link remains Nelleke. With her exotic beauty, unbridled intelligence, and ability to charm everyone she meets through her eccentric enthusiasm, Nelleke veers too far into Manic Pixie Dream Girl territory to be believable. Fortunately, in this volume White (Autumns of Our Joy, 2015, etc.) actually reveals flaws in Nelleke’s character, making her both more realistic and more tolerable. The book ties up loose ends for all of the characters in the trilogy, both major and minor, and should leave readers feeling fulfilled. A satisfying trip back in time takes readers to the Dutch Republic in the 17th century.

Pub Date: July 22, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4917-9853-9

Page Count: 414

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Dec. 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 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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