This great doorstop of a romantic tragedy illustrates Gregory’s winning formula: A young woman triumphs despite a hostile...

FALLEN SKIES

Gregory (The Other Queen, 2008, etc.) leaves Tudor gowns behind for the Jazz Age in this addictive tale, originally published in the United Kingdom in 1993, of two wounded soldiers and the pervasive cost of war.

The novel begins with Stephen Winters recalling the Flanders fields of World War I, of the deep mud and bits of bodies underfoot, of the unrelenting terror of gunfire. Since his father’s stroke (at the news of favorite son Christopher’s death), Stephen has taken over the law practice, and he finds solace only with Coventry, his mute chauffer and wartime aid. Then he sees Lily Valance singing at the theater and is thunderstruck by the luminous joy of her face and voice—she reminds him of girls before the war, before everything was ruined. He courts her with his wealth, but his advances are rejected; Lily is 17 and in love with the theater’s musical director, Charlie Smith (though devoted to Lily, he refuses to marry her—a war wound has left him impotent). When Lily’s mother dies, Stephen, convinced Lily will cure him of his shell shock, coerces her into wedlock at her most vulnerable. Their honeymoon is a disaster (Stephen is sadistic and controlling), and the marriage continues in this vein when Stephen brings her to live with his mother Muriel, disapproving of the merchant-class theater girl, and his father Rory, upstairs and half-dead. But Lily is bright and resilient, and soon she is singing again professionally (after a fat lip from Stephen). She has Rory up and beginning to speak, and even Muriel begrudgingly admits Lily has an undeniable grace. Their house becomes fashionable with both society mavens and young bohemians—the only one not happy is Stephen, who has become more violent and unpredictable. When they have a little boy, the emotional torment really starts. The only bright spot in Lily’s life is Charlie Smith, who vows to save Lily and her son, if only he’s able before Stephen destroys them all.

This great doorstop of a romantic tragedy illustrates Gregory’s winning formula: A young woman triumphs despite a hostile male society.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-4165-9314-0

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2008

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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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