An observant debut novel in which the characters’ selflessness shines through the haze.

THE WOUNDED MUSE

Debut novelist and veteran journalist Delaney offers a thriller set in a modern China that, in the mid-2000s, hasn’t become the open society that many have hoped for. 

It’s the beginning of the new millennium, and the Chinese government is feverishly working to change the cityscape of Beijing in time for the 2008 Olympics—and trying to make people forget things like the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Journalist Jake Bradley’s friend Qiang left a good job in California’s Silicon Valley to come back to his native land and make a documentary about its rapid changes. This draws the attention of the government’s Public Security Bureau, and Qiang goes missing; Jake, who’s in love with Qiang, vows to find and rescue him. In his quest, he has the help of Qiang’s sister, Diane, and Qiang’s ex-husband, Ben. If they can blow the lid off a massive bribery scandal involving the Olympics, they’ll have enough leverage to get Qiang freed. At the same time, Delaney tells the story of Dawei, a hapless young man from the Chinese provinces who also gets mixed up in the main plot. Delaney has been covering China since the mid-1990s for such outlets as Dow Jones Newswires, Bloomberg News, and the South China Morning Post (where he’s currently the U.S. bureau chief), and he’s clearly the right person to tell this story—a trustworthy guide and a fine example of “write what you know.” He ably tells a tale of a China in the midst of transformation, as in a poignant vignette in which a starving Dawei stands transfixed outside a Häagen-Dazs ice-cream parlor, trying to make sense of it all. The author also shows how urban renewal also means urban upheaval, using choking dust and smog as a visible metaphor throughout the narrative. The book offers a thoughtful love story, as well; Ben is willing to take risks to free a man who divorced him, and Jake takes those same risks, not knowing if Qiang will ever reciprocate his love.  

An observant debut novel in which the characters’ selflessness shines through the haze.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-77161-327-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Mosaic Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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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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