An affecting novel of female friendship and a desire for independence.

CORA'S KITCHEN

Brown’s debut novel tells the story of a Black wife and mother in 1920s Harlem who yearns to be a writer.

Cora James got to know a young Langston Hughes through her job at a Harlem library, and after he goes away to school, she begins a correspondence with him in which she confesses her ambition to become a full-time author herself: “Part of the pain of hell for me is I don’t think I’m being who I need to be,” she writes. Soon after their letters begin, Cora must help her cousin Agnes by reluctantly taking on her job as a cook for the wealthy, White Eleanor Fitzgerald.In the Fitzgeralds’ kitchen, she surprisingly finds some quiet time to write as she works. When Eleanor discovers Cora’s love of literature and writing, she offers to be her patron and take Cora with her to her house in upstate New York for the summer, so that she can write uninterrupted. Brown, the founder of Georgia-based press Minerva Rising, presents a mix of diary entries, letters, and short stories written by Cora—and sometimes fictional material by Hughes—that creates an immersive world, exploring the literature of the Harlem Renaissance and ideas of contemporary authors, and, ultimately, explores the central character’s identity as a Black woman. Overall, this is a powerful novel that offers excellent historical details, but its discussion of poetry and novels are its highlights. By rooting the novel in domesticity with well-developed female characters, Brown speaks to timeless struggles of women who had ambitions that reached beyond traditional expectations. Moreover, Brown crafts Cora as an incredibly perceptive narrator and foregrounds race-related issues through an absorbing plotline with some unexpected turns, showcasing the importance of intersectionality.

An affecting novel of female friendship and a desire for independence.

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-77133-851-6

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Inanna Publications

Review Posted Online: June 15, 2022

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An intriguing meditation on the meaning of “meant to be.”

MEANT TO BE

Giffin’s latest charts the course of true love between an American aristocrat and a troubled fashionista.

Almost immediately, readers will guess that Giffin’s protagonist, Joseph S. Kingsley III, a media darling since birth, is a re-creation of John F. Kennedy Jr. In addition to Joe’s darkly handsome good looks, there are many other similarities, such as his double failure of the New York bar exam and his stint as a Manhattan assistant district attorney. But Joe’s late father was an astronaut, not the president, and locations associated with the Kennedys, such as Hyannis Port and Martha’s Vineyard, have been moved to the Hamptons and Annapolis. Instead of a sister, Joe has a protective female best friend, Berry Wainwright. Readers may be so obsessed with teasing out fact from fiction, and wondering if the outcome for Joe is going to be as tragic as JFK Jr.’s fatal 1999 flight, that they may be distracted from the engaging story of Joe’s co-protagonist, Cate Cooper, who is—apart from a superficial resemblance to Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy—largely a fictional creation. When Joe and Cate meet-cute on a Hamptons beach where Cate, a model, is posing, both are immediately smitten. However, the paparazzi are determined to milk every ounce of scandal from the social chasm separating them. On the surface, Cate is the product of a middle-class upbringing in Montclair, New Jersey, but her interrupted education and her forced flight from an abusive home have shamed as well as strengthened her. Like her real-life counterpart, Cate rises in the fashion industry and becomes known for her minimalist style. The couple’s courtship drags a bit on the page despite witty banter and steamy encounters. It is the conflict brewing when their pedigrees clash, and, particularly, Cate’s consciousness of the disparity, that grips us. Whether these knockoffs can avoid the fates of the originals is the main source of suspense here.

An intriguing meditation on the meaning of “meant to be.”

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-425-28664-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2022

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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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