THE MASTER OF ALL DESIRES

Another dazzling mix of history, romance, and the occult from Riley, a writer who excels at getting the background right and creating strong intelligent heroines (The Serpent Garden, 1996, etc.). France in 1556 is a troubled place. The Protestants are growing in power; King Henri II ignores his queen, Catherine de MÇdici, in favor of his mistress, Diane de Poitiers; the Dauphin is betrothed to Mary, Queen of Scots, a potentially powerful alliance, but he’s a dull and sickly boy. The noble de la Roche family has its troubles too: the parents hope the arranged marriage of their daughter Sibille to brutish but rich Villasse will pay their debts. But Sibille, an unconventional beauty and aspiring poet with large feet but a courageous heart and a good mind, fires a gun at Villasse and, thinking she’s killed him, flees to her aunt Pauline in OrlÇans. There, she accidentally acquires a box that contains the head of Menander, the “Master of all Desires,” who grants wishes in exchange for souls. Meanwhile, Nostradamus, who has seen the future of France (it’s not good), has been summoned by Catherine, who also wants him to predict the future. Not only that, but she, too, wants Menander’s head, and Sibille soon finds herself caught between the queen’s followers, who insist that she come to court, and Villasse, who wants her killed. Sibille falls in love with Nicholas Montevert, a banker’s son, when he saves her from attack by Villasse’s hired henchman. But true love never runs smoothly: as sorcerers concoct deadly potions, Nicholas is banished; the queen plots her rival’s death; and Sibille, hostage to Menander after she opened the box, is soon in mortal danger. Nostradamus can help rescue Sibille, but France is about to be torn apart by civil war. Stylish and intelligent historical fiction that makes even the supernatural credible.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-670-88450-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1999

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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 best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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