Beguiling, wise, and wonderful.

THE BLUE MOON CIRCUS

Bottom-tier circus enchants the big, empty West in the last days before mass entertainment.

With no safety net, Raleigh (In The Castles of the Flynns, 2002, etc.) takes a spectacular highwire route over the dangerous bogs of metaphor and sentiment, making it all look easy in this captivating tale of a decent man in a very hard world. Lewis Tully, orphaned young, flees his last adoptive home, taking with him fellow orphan M.J. Shelby. The refuge the two find is the circus, and they never leave that welcoming home. Neither do they ever get rich or make it to the big time—the manic prosperity of the 1920s hasn’t reached the agrarian West where Tully and Shelby ply their trade. And their luck has been bad. Tully’s last little circus was flooded out years ago, forcing them to fill in with horse-training work. But Tully, entering his 50s, is ready for a last try with his own Blue Moon Circus. From his scruffy camp in Oklahoma he puts out a call to the best acts he ever worked with, many now retired. And they come—because they love the life, because they’re proud of their work, and because Lewis Tully is a wonderfully decent man in the shaky world of circus entertainment. That’s also why Tully’s sister Alma sends him nine-year-old Charlie, another orphan who, started on a bad track, needs a man to show him the way. The way will be tough. Tully’s got nothing but some beat-up trucks, a patchwork tent, and circus wagons from the last century. And there are two competing circuses, one good, one nasty, on the same poor, small-town circuit. But Tully’s stars—ancient magician, whacked-out snake charmer, beautiful bareback rider, Russians fleeing the Bolsheviks, Tully’s long-lost love Helen—come through again and again, until they reach the town of Tully’s dreams.

Beguiling, wise, and wonderful.

Pub Date: April 1, 2003

ISBN: 1-4022-0015-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2003

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

BAREFOOT

Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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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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