Sublime, if a smidge too magical.

DISTANT MUSIC

Love transcends the eons in a story that travels the globe and tackles the repetitive nature of history.

The Jewish Emmanuel, early in the fifteenth century, was 12 when he ran away to sea. Little did he know he would wind up in Madeira and meet and fall for Esperança, a poor Catholic girl who would give him cherries for his stories. Esperança was a prodigious reader, though no one believed she could actually read at all. Many years later, she is reminded of Emmanuel again when she meets, in old age, a man who can read the Hebrew letters Emmanuel taught her so long ago. She is left, lonely, by the sea that took everyone she cared about: “The sea lay spread below her like a great blue bird drying its wings in the sun, a bird that was also a god, claiming tribute.” The story is repeated in Faro, 60 years later, in 1489, with lovers who go by the same names—“the two had no need for the ritualized, tentative exercises that can transform strangers . . . . Each knew the other’s essence.” And a London woman’s research centuries later, on the Internet, the finding of tidbits linking the historical narratives, reveals the manner in which history resembles a fugue. It’s that sense of echo that British author Langley (Persistent Rumors, 1994, etc.) is after, with similar stories being repeated as the same lovers prove that there are only so many stories to tell, and that history is impotent in repairing the rifts between traditions. When the lovers are reborn again in 1855 in Lisbon—at a bookstore, in a time of murders—the plot flirts with the supernatural when the more ambitious turn would have been to rely simply on the nice portraits of historical Europe we’ve got through the exhaustive research here. When we finally catch up with the woman searching the Internet, the tactic is a bit strained even as Langley’s message shines through.

Sublime, if a smidge too magical.

Pub Date: June 1, 2003

ISBN: 1-57131-040-1

Page Count: 332

Publisher: Milkweed

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2003

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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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A clever, romantic, sexy love story.

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RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE

The much-loved royal romance genre gets a fun and refreshing update in McQuiston’s debut.

Alex Claremont-Diaz, son of the American President Ellen Claremont, knows one thing for sure: He hates Henry, the British prince to whom he is always compared. He lives for their verbal sparring matches, but when one of their fights at a royal wedding goes a bit too far, they end up falling into a wedding cake and making tabloid headlines. An international scandal could ruin Alex’s mother’s chances for re-election, so it’s time for damage control. The plan? Alex and Henry must pretend to be best friends, giving the tabloids pictures of their bromance and neutralizing the threat to Ellen's presidency. But after a few photo ops with Henry, Alex starts to realize that the passionate anger he feels toward him might be a cover for regular old passion. There are, naturally, a million roadblocks between their first kiss and their happily-ever-after—how can American political royalty and actual British royalty ever be together? How can they navigate being open about their sexualities (Alex is bisexual; Henry is gay) in their very public and very scrutinized roles? Alex and Henry must decide if they’ll risk their futures, their families, and their careers to take a chance on happiness. Although the story’s premise might be a fantasy—it takes place in a world in which a divorced-mom Texan Democrat won the 2016 election—the emotions are all real. The love affair between Alex and Henry is intense and romantic, made all the more so by the inclusion of their poetic emails that manage to be both funny and steamy. McQuiston’s strength is in dialogue; her characters speak in hilarious rapid-fire bursts with plenty of “likes,” “ums,” creative punctuation, and pop-culture references, sounding like smarter, funnier versions of real people. Although Alex and Henry’s relationship is the heart of the story, their friends and family members are all rich, well-drawn characters, and their respective worlds feel both realistic and larger-than-life.

A clever, romantic, sexy love story.

Pub Date: June 4, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-31677-6

Page Count: 432

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

Review Posted Online: March 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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