The novelist loves this land and these characters, with their enduring values amid a way of life that seems to be dying.


A heartland novel that evokes the possibility of everyday miracles.

The third novel by Wisconsin author Butler (Beneath the Bonfire, 2015, etc.) shows that he knows this terrain inside out, in terms of tone and theme as well as geography. Nothing much happens in this small town in western Wisconsin, not far from the river that serves as the border with Minnesota, which attracts some tourism in the summer but otherwise seems to exist outside of time. The seasons change, but any other changes are probably for the worse—local businesses can’t survive the competition of big-box stores, local kids move elsewhere when they grow up, local churches see their congregations dwindle. Sixty-five-year-old Lyle Hovde and his wife, Peg, have lived here all their lives; they were married in the same church where he was baptized and where he’s sure his funeral will be. His friends have been friends since boyhood; he had the same job at an appliance store where he fixed what they sold until the store closed. Then he retired, or semiretired, as he found a new routine as the only employee at an apple orchard, where the aging owners are less concerned with making money than with being good stewards of the Earth. The novel is like a favorite flannel shirt, relaxed and comfortable, well-crafted even as it deals with issues of life and death, faith and doubt that Lyle somehow takes in stride. He and Peg lost their only child when he was just a few months old, a tragedy which shook his faith even as he maintained his rituals. He and Peg subsequently adopted a baby daughter, Shiloh, through what might seem in retrospect like a miracle (it certainly didn’t seem to involve any of the complications and paperwork that adoptions typically involve). Shiloh was a rebellious child who left as soon as she could and has now returned home with her 5-year-old son, Isaac. Grandparenting gives Lyle another chance to experience what he missed with his own son, yet drama ensues when Shiloh falls for a charismatic evangelist who might be a cult leader (and he’s a stranger to these parts, so he can’t be much good). Though the plot builds toward a dramatic climax, it ends with more of a quiet epiphany.

The novelist loves this land and these characters, with their enduring values amid a way of life that seems to be dying.

Pub Date: March 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-246971-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 11, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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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.


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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