Historian (Gunfighter Nation, 1992, etc.) and novelist Slotkin (The Return of Henry Starr, 1988; The Crater, 1980) offers an impressively detailed re-creation of the early years of our myth-enshrouded 16th president. In a leisurely narrative that spans the years 1810'32, Slotkin portrays the ungainly Abe as both the muscular “rail-splitter” of popular legend and a conscientious autodidact who patiently endures his unhappy father’s exploitation of his physical strength, while slowly absorbing learning but without formal schooling (“At fourteen the boy could read and write as well as a growed man needed to, and his ciphering not far behind”). We observe the Lincoln family’s hopeful moves from Kentucky to Illinois to Indiana, and a colorful succession of experiences that challenge Abe’s courage and wit, as well as steadily shape his character: the death of his beloved “Mam” from the virulent “Milk-sick” epidemic; a vivid account of the hunt for “a wounded hungry mean smart angry bear”; misadventures in the “Gin Sang” (i.e., ginseng) trade; a revealing acquaintance with socialist Robert Owen’s experiment in communal living at “New Harmony,” Indiana; and'in the long sequence that’s the real heart of the novel'a journey by flatboat down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans, featuring encounters with bibulous Shakespearean actor Junius Brutus Booth, slaveholding vigilante “Regulators,” and numerous defenders and enemies of the institution of slavery itself: the moral quandary that, we infer, will raise its head again as Abe begins his career in local politics, earning fame as a debater and beginning to take an interest in lively young “Annie” Rutledge . . . at which point the story (perhaps to be followed by a sequel?) ends. Slotkin does stack the deck rather obtrusively, contriving one scene after another that emphasizes the dawning of the idea of full equality for all men in Abe’s churning mind. That objection aside, this is an absorbing, highly satisfying historical fiction: an appropriate culmination of Slotkin’s obviously herculean researches, and his best yet.

Pub Date: Feb. 8, 2000

ISBN: 0-8050-4123-0

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2000

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


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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