Don't expect a neatly structured plot, but the acute sense of time and place, coupled with a cast of characters drawn with...

FALLING FROM HORSES

Gloss (The Hearts of Horses, 2007, etc.) presents moviemaking as anything but glamorous in this fictional memoir by an aging artist recalling his year as a movie extra/stuntman in 1938 Hollywood.

In a matter-of-fact, laconic, utterly authentic-sounding voice, narrator Bud Frazer describes the year he tried breaking into movies, as well as his childhood on a hardscrabble Oregon ranch and, to a lesser extent, the years after he left Hollywood to become an artist. Part of Bud’s charm is his own distrust of his memories, so readers forgive the old man (and by extension Gloss) for Bud’s tendency to ramble and repeat himself. Four years after his undemonstrative but loving family was rocked by his younger sister’s accidental death, barely 19-year-old Bud was working as an itinerant ranch hand in Oregon when he decided to head to Hollywood and become a movie cowboy. On the long bus ride south, he sat beside Lily Shaw, whose ambition was to write screenplays. Almost from the start, Bud makes it clear that while he and Lily would never be more than friends, their friendship was crucial to him while they were in Hollywood and has remained important long since their paths diverged. Lily began a slow rise from secretary to reader to writer while Bud’s first job at a barn supplying horses for low-budget films segued into work as a cowboy stuntman. The elder Bud looks back and second-guesses choices he made as a kid. But even as he drank and partied with a fast crowd, he continued attending movies with Lily once a week. While Lily persevered past her disillusionment to become a successful writer, Bud’s experiences on movie sets—the novel is brimming with instances of brutality to horses and their riders—made him realize Hollywood was not for him, and he moved on.

Don't expect a neatly structured plot, but the acute sense of time and place, coupled with a cast of characters drawn with unsentimental but abiding affection, makes for a hypnotic read.

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-544-27929-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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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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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

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

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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