If McInerney fans search hard enough, they’ll find a faint heartwarming message somewhere in the midst of this ho-hum plot.

LOLA'S SECRET

Life can be both good and bad, and you’re guaranteed heaps of both in McInerney’s follow-up to The Alphabet Sisters (2004).

Just ask great-grandmother Lola, the crusty doyen of the Quinlan family. The octogenarian has encouraged the entire family to take separate vacations during the Christmas holiday while she stays at the family-owned Australian Valley View Motel and holds down the fort. Of course, her family believes that Lola’s just looking forward to some much-needed rest since the motel doesn’t have any bookings while they’re gone. But wily old Lola, who’s become somewhat of an expert using the Internet, has other plans. She’s actually booked free rooms for a handful of people who have some very messy personal problems. Not that Lola’s aware that these people have problems, and not that their problems are really very central to the overall plot, since each problem is resolved before any of the potential guests show up at the motel. So, if Lola doesn’t have to deal with all the guests and their problems—after they happily resolve their issues, they cancel their reservations—what does she have to worry about? For one, Lola’s son wants to sell the motel and pursue different interests, and that kind of throws Lola’s future into disarray. Plus, Lola’s 12-year-old great-granddaughter is acting like a brat because her father is dating again five years after the death of her mother, and Lola’s surviving adult granddaughters, Bett and Carrie, are also acting pretty bratty and arguing like, well, like sisters. Then there’s the pushy volunteer at the local charity store where Lola spends a great deal of her time. She insists that they decorate the display window for the annual Christmas competition using her design. Lola, of course, applies the wisdom of her advanced years to straightening out every situation, while briefly reconnecting to her past and resolving her own future.

If McInerney fans search hard enough, they’ll find a faint heartwarming message somewhere in the midst of this ho-hum plot.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-345-53403-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

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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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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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