Well-wrought, unusual, and memorable fiction beautifully illustrated—a keepsake.

ZIZZLE LITERARY

ISSUE 3

Third in a series, this illustrated collection of flash fiction, edited by Dahl (Zizzle Literary: Issue 2, 2019, etc.), for middle schoolers and up focuses on fantasy and magic.

Zizzle Literary publishes concise, imaginative pieces that both parents and kids can enjoy and discuss. Each of the 10 stories is tagged with its reading level, from “Easy” to “Not Easy.” Magic is the theme of this third issue, whether “outright fantasy” or a more subtle variety, according to the Foreword. The opener, “A Reluctant Fairy Tale,” by Karen Heuler, riffs on elements from childhood classics like “Little Red Riding Hood.” Instead of being helpful and complaisant, the heroine refuses to help an old lady—with at first “delicious” and then more disturbing consequences. In other stories, magic can be delicate and poignant, as in “The Shelter of Abandoned Dreams” by Kimberly Huebner. An old woman works at a shelter that reunites people with their lost dreams. By the story’s end, she’s able to nurture her own adrift dream. Other stories tap into the anarchic energy of childhood, such as “Dead Mudge” by Melissa Ostrom; a teacher’s death in the classroom liberates the children’s vitality and creativity. Magic can shade into the sinister, as in “Uncle Frank” by Wendy Nikel. The title character insinuates himself into a family, but the child narrator knows she’s never had an Uncle Frank. In “Serbian Dracula Mysteries” by Kate Felix, magic takes a turn for the funny and sweet. The story’s puckish narrator, Arsen, is sent to school counseling for his pranks. Amateur detection is meant to be a good outlet for him, but investigating the daytime doings of his attic-dwelling uncle reveals nothing ominous. Instead, his uncle smiles at him “with more admiration than I have ever enjoyed from anyone else in my growly, vampiric family.” The book also includes photos, usually of the authors when they were children, and in a final section, contributors talk about their favorite books from childhood. The stories—strong and graceful—raise issues that children and parents could profitably discuss together. “A Reluctant Fairy Tale,” for example, might prompt questions about why it feels good to be bad, what the consequences are of defying such cultural norms as helping old ladies, or why the narrative seems to both admire Eugenia’s defiance and punish her for it. Genre expectations could be another topic. “Serbian Dracula Mysteries,” for example, takes its horror influences in an unexpected direction, with Arsen reinvigorated, not drained, by his encounter with the unknown. Depending on reader taste, some stories could also invite more critical analysis. For example, is Eugenia perhaps too obviously a stand-in for an adult sensibility with dialogue like, “your false tests, your arbitrary trials”? Adding to the issue’s charm are debut illustrator Moriyama’s lovely, otherworldly rabbit-themed paintings resembling Japanese woodblock prints.

Well-wrought, unusual, and memorable fiction beautifully illustrated—a keepsake.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 126

Publisher: Promiseshore

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2019

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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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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