Reed’s confident debut amiably reimagines Hawthorne’s tragic heroine as a brave lady in tumultuous times, making this sequel...

HESTER

Continuation of The Scarlet Letter follows Hester Prynne and her wild daughter to Oliver Cromwell’s England.

A year after Arthur Dimmesdale confessed that Pearl was his illegitimate child comes the death of Roger Chillingworth, Hester’s vindictive estranged husband. Surprisingly, Roger’s will leaves all his substantial wealth to the girl who is not his daughter. Fearing that Pearl will never make a marriage in Puritan Boston, where she is called a witch-baby, Hester takes the eight-year-old to England. But the merry old land of her youth is gone, replaced by a dour nation under the rule of Cromwell. Dancing, theater and Christmas have been banished, and everyone wears somber gray clothes. Hester reunites with her childhood friend Mary Wright, moving with Pearl into the Wrights’ grand London house. After years of loneliness and shame, Hester and Pearl enjoy a cozy intimacy with Mary and her children. It’s when Robert Wright returns from battle in Ireland that Hester’s troubles begin. Mary’s husband is a member of Cromwell’s inner circle, and he has told the Protector of Hester’s rare gift. Since leaving Boston, she has been able to read the sin of anyone she looks at. Adulterers and hypocrites squirm in her presence, and she’s avoided at parties, but pious Cromwell uses her to root out traitors; Hester’s second sight sends many men to the Tower, to her dismay. As Cromwell becomes more paranoid and dangerous, Hester falls in with a band of Royalists (including a dashing libertine lord with whom she enjoys a casual affair) attempting to restore the monarchy. Her confidant, the newly enthroned King Charles II, helps Hester achieve her greatest wish, a good match for Pearl.

Reed’s confident debut amiably reimagines Hawthorne’s tragic heroine as a brave lady in tumultuous times, making this sequel to his literary classic a standard-issue historical novel.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-312-58392-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Dec. 28, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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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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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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