Expertly written, with plenty of unexpected twists—a pleasure for Civil War buffs, but also for fans of literary mysteries.

A SEPARATE COUNTRY

A tale of mixed-up foolscap, dark secrets, a dwarf and a wharf.

Tennessee-based Hicks, who debuted with a Civil War novel (The Widow of the South, 2005), ventures here into Reconstruction-era New Orleans. His hero is real-life Confederate warrior John Bell Hood (for whom the Texas fort is named), who settled after the Cause was Lost in New Orleans, where he had 11 children and otherwise kept busy. In Hicks’ tense and tasty account, one of Bell’s occupations is fending off the plague of unwanted characters who seek in one way or another to capitalize on his wartime renown. One is a mysterious chap named Sebastien Lemerle, a companion at arms from antebellum days. “In Texas I was young,” Hood remembers. “I wanted to fight. I wanted to fight Comanche. Sebastien Lemerle and his squad came with me.” For his sins, Hood gets his wish, and plenty more fights to boot. Somewhere along the way he also earns the continued attentions of Lemerle, who comes sniffing around Hood’s door all these years after the Civil War has ended. Not far behind is a “little man” named Rintrah who has his fingers in many a pie, as well as a priest decidedly not on priestly business and a few assorted members of the proto-KKK, to say nothing of the foppish Beauregard, gone from Civil War hero to New Orleans wheeler-dealer and publisher, in whose hands is a manuscript of Hood’s that Hood does not wish to be there. Thus the plot thickens, and Hicks spins a taut tale, told in many voices, of tangled webs, vengeance and other unfinished business.

Expertly written, with plenty of unexpected twists—a pleasure for Civil War buffs, but also for fans of literary mysteries.

Pub Date: Sept. 23, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-446-58164-6

Page Count: 424

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2009

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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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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