A formulaic tale about the dangers of temptation.

RESTLESS IN L.A.

A mother beleaguered by stress—and frustrated aspirations—risks it all for an illicit affair in this debut novel.

Alexandra Hoffman’s life is a hectic one. She has three rambunctious kids, one of whom, Ryan, struggles with severe anxiety and attention deficit disorder, and likely falls somewhere on the autism spectrum. Her husband, Jason, is consumed by his corporate job, and his absenteeism has taken a toll on their marriage. Alex’s 40th birthday is fast approaching, and she’s dispirited by unrealized ambitions—she planned to become a novelist and now keeps an anonymous blog detailing her travails as a full-time mom (“Yesterday, I stopped by the Back-to-School Parent Breakfast and made myself a tall cup of Starbucks and shoved a pre-made egg sandwich on seven-grain bread into the pocket of my jacket and left. I didn’t stay for sign-in or icebreakers or speeches”). She looks up an old flame, Matt Daniels, with whom she had an intense romantic affair—they lived together for a year in London. She accidentally friends him on Facebook and, against her better judgment, meets him for dinner. Against anyone’s better judgment, she returns to his hotel room for a glass of water, and they are both overcome by the magnetic draw of their attraction to each other. A torrid affair begins. Finn jumps among the first-person narrative, snippets from Alex’s blog, and flashbacks to her youthful romance with Matt. The author realistically sketches a portrait of a haggard mother, pummeled by relentless obligations and unceremoniously jettisoned dreams. In addition, her account of Ryan’s tribulations as a teen addled with cognitive dysfunction is expertly produced. But the story is at best a familiar one, and maybe shopworn, a problem worsened by the weight of clichés. Consider Alex’s description of her life coach, Lark: “Her dark purple top, purple yoga pants, and tattooed arm lent her the aura of some kind of modern-day shaman.” The pace of the tale is lumbering, and one of its driving premises—that Alex could be a great writer if only she’d believe in herself—is never evidenced by any of the samples shared with the reader, which are unspectacular even by the standards of the blogosphere. While Alex’s frustration is expressively detailed by Finn, the plot is too stale to grip the reader’s attention for long, and the characters too threadbare.

A formulaic tale about the dangers of temptation. 

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2017

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 263

Publisher: Inkspell Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2017

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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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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