by Mary Sharratt ‧ RELEASE DATE: April 19, 2016
An ambitious fictional biography burdened by an overly intricate plot.
The identity of Shakespeare’s Dark Lady is still a mystery, but Sharratt’s picaresque novel portrays one of the worthiest candidates.
Aemilia, illegitimate daughter of Battista Bassano, a Venetian Jew in exile and a renowned musician in Queen Elizabeth’s court, enjoys a privileged upbringing. But her father’s death and her stepsister’s marriage to a ne’er-do-well impoverishes her family. Rescued and educated by a Puritan noblewoman who later abandons her, Aemilia becomes, at 16, the mistress of Lord Hunsdon, Elizabeth I’s chamberlain, himself an illegitimate son of Henry VIII. When Aemilia becomes pregnant at 23, Hunsdon marries her off to Alfonse Lanier, a dissolute Frenchman. After Lanier wastes all her wealth, Aemilia contacts Will Shakespeare, an unsuccessful playwright of dull history plays, with a proposition. With her vivid imagination and superior education, she will co-author plays with the yet-to-be Bard, and they will split the profits. News of an unexpected legacy takes her to Venice, where she keeps her Jewish identity, and often her gender, secret. (She dresses in men’s clothes when she needs to escape the many strictures on women.) Shakespeare, with not a thought for his wife, Anne Hathaway, and their three children, accompanies Aemilia (and Henry, her son by Lord Hunsdon) to Italy, where the two lead an idyllic existence at her inherited Veronese villa, co-writing Twelfth Night and Romeo and Juliet (as a comedy)—and falling in love. Here, Will pens his “Dark Lady” sonnets—but the bloom falls precipitously off the rose when he learns of the death of his son, Hamnet. Plunged into intractable remorse, Will parts ways with Aemilia, and both return to England by separate routes. However, Aemilia has possession of their joint work product—and Will’s unborn child. The many challenges of life in Elizabethan England, particularly for women, are expertly captured by Sharratt, who heretofore has brought similar life to another gifted woman, Hildegard of Bingen (Illuminations, 2012).An ambitious fictional biography burdened by an overly intricate plot.
Pub Date: April 19, 2016
Page Count: 416
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2016
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2016
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by Kristin Hannah ‧ RELEASE DATE: Feb. 3, 2015
Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.
Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.
In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.
Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015
Page Count: 448
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014
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by Madeline Miller ‧ RELEASE DATE: April 10, 2018
Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.
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New York Times Bestseller
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
Page Count: 400
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2018
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018
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