An enjoyable, solidly paced escape.

THE PIPER'S WARNING

From the Highland Spirits series , Vol. 2

The sound of bagpipes ushers in MacKinnon’s (The Comyn’s Curse, 2019) latest mystery, which features murder, drugs, centuries-old castles, romance—and a couple of ghosts.

The second volume in MacKinnon’s Highlands Spirits Series reconnects most of the cast from the opener. Detective Kate Bianchi of the Harrington, New Jersey, police force has just been assigned to a prestigious new task force investigating the rapid spread of a dangerous new hallucinogen called “Reign” (or “Regicide” in Europe). The drug is apparently being imported from somewhere in the Scottish Highlands. However, before Kate begins working on the case, she learns that her husband, Eddie, has died in a construction accident. She’s distraught and unfocused and put on temporary leave. Aubrey, one of Kate’s best friends, is now living in Scotland and engaged to Fionnlagh “Finn” Cameron, a history professor, part-time guide, and bagpipe enthusiast. Kate takes up residence at Aubrey’s friend Nessie’s rooming house in Inverness. In the same city, at her friend Angus’ bookshop, she meets the handsome, albeit scowling, Detective Investigator Jack MacDonald of the Scottish national police force, which is also working on the Reign enigma. Much to his consternation, Kate is added to his investigative team. So the adventure begins, mixing danger with an engaging lesson in Scottish history and culture—including a unique, running tutorial on bagpipes. When Aubrey, Finn, and Kate check out Dunebrae Castle as a possible honeymoon destination, the past and the present begin to intertwine—in ghostly fashion. The author effectively intersperses a mournful love story from 1644 with the suspenseful events of the current investigation. Along the way, MacKinnon drops perhaps a few too many breadcrumbs, and, as a result, readers are unlikely to be shocked when the villain is revealed. However, the author sufficiently keeps up the tension and the narrative pace, throwing in a few intriguing twists to keep the plot engaging. The text is also peppered with Scottish phrases (a glossary is included), and this adds to the charm of the characters and the atmospheric location.

An enjoyable, solidly paced escape.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-951490-08-9

Page Count: 344

Publisher: DartFrog Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 7, 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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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