An unusual gold-rush novel and atypical Western offers a hero’s journey with plenty of action and savagery incongruously...


From the The Goldfinder series , Vol. 1

A series opener delivers a tale of gold fever and destiny in the Old West.

Like so many others, John Valory heads to the Sierra Nevada in the early 1850s because of the California Gold Rush. He brings his family, including Magya, his Russian wife; his 17-year-old son, Petr John (Magya claims that “the Valorys were so poor they couldn’t afford ink for the second ‘e’ in Petr’s name”); and his 8-year-old daughter, Annabel Rochele. But the Valorys didn’t come to pan for gold; John and his son are lumbermen, harvesting trees to construct flumes and other wooden structures for an organized group of miners led by Dain King. Two major events threaten the survival of the Valorys: a tragic family secret John and Magya share with King and Petr’s discovery of a mother lode of gold buried in a lake. Annabel follows her beloved brother to the lake and gets lost. In Petr’s tireless journey to find his sister, he discovers truths about himself and his past lives. Throughout her ordeal, Annabel also takes strength from a former life and in the transcendent love she has for Petr. In this novel, the first of four volumes, Clausen (The Black Butterfly Woman, 2013, etc.) adds elements of ancient Egyptian theology, Native American and Norse mythology, Scottish folklore, and a sprinkle of Nazi ideology to his allegorical tale. Though most of the characters are carefully fleshed out, King is a Hitler-esque villain, almost too bad to be true. The writing is muscular, rich with Native American nature symbols and vivid descriptions of the setting. Brisk pacing and multiple well-balanced plotlines keep the narrative moving despite an overreliance on foreshadowing. The mystical book is clearly well-researched and includes a trove of relevant historical facts and anecdotes. But this is not a G-rated Western: rape, murder, and torture are both alluded to and graphically depicted, and sometimes the victims are children.

An unusual gold-rush novel and atypical Western offers a hero’s journey with plenty of action and savagery incongruously spiked with a glittering vein of symbols and stories drawn from diverse myths.

Pub Date: May 18, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5075-8341-8

Page Count: 316

Publisher: BalboaPress

Review Posted Online: June 13, 2017

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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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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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