This block-sized blockbuster can’t be faulted for timidity—and, as an entertaining fictional primer to mid-19th-century Western history, very nearly justifies its hubris.

The year 1848 is this epic’s most memorable character. Andersen (Turn of the Century, 1999, etc.) crams paragraphs with personality and incident, but he’s best at making the past palpable. A world-shaking annus mirabilis, 1848 saw California’s gold rush, widespread cholera and trans-European monarch-toppling. Dillydallying in Bohemian life, upscale Brit Benjamin Knowles hits Paris right when it explodes. A gamin happens to hand him a homemade bomb as gendarmes approach. Mistaken for a rebel, Ben flees, finding his best friend murdered in rioting and the fetching grenadier slain by an avenging reactionary. His adventures elaborately cross-cut with those of the siblings Lucking—fireman and Mexican war vet Duff and actress-hooker Polly—ablaze with lefty, demimonde fever in a Big Apple straight out of Scorsese’s Gangs of New York. Add Daguerreian-era tabloid journalist Timothy Skaggs to this posse of raffish visionaries—“Modernity glows,” Skaggs exults—and the pursuit of happiness, fresh starts and Manifest Destiny commences as they heed Greeley’s injunction: “Go West.” Just one of a cast of true-life cameos, Greeley joins wasted genius Edgar Allan Poe, compulsively farting Charles Darwin and ever-eager Walt Whitman in the book’s vast backstory. That backstory, teeming with slave trade and robber-baron anecdotes, gossip about Dickens and Thackeray and explanations of utopian socialist politics, steals thunder from the actual tale, as no protagonist is especially sympathetic and the plot proves dizzyingly frenetic. Basically, what makes this a thriller is the breathlessness of the historical moment itself.

Over-the-top fireworks.

Pub Date: March 13, 2007

ISBN: 0-375-50473-7

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2007

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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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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There are unforgettable beauties in this very sexy story.


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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