Balson’s dialogue is stilted and his prose is workmanlike, but the survivor’s tale is the main attraction and does not...

KAROLINA'S TWINS

The third in Balson’s promising series about a husband-and-wife investigation team specializing in Holocaust cases.

Hard-bitten Chicago private eye Liam Taggart and his attorney wife, Catherine Lockhart, met while solving a Holocaust-related mystery in the first installment, Once We Were Brothers (2013). Now, as the pair is anticipating the imminent birth of their firstborn, they are contacted by Lena Woodward. A wealthy widow in her 80s, Lena hopes to locate the twin daughters of her friend Karolina, who perished during the Holocaust. Lena relates her story to Catherine incrementally throughout the book. Her survivor account becomes the main source of suspense, since she is reluctant to reveal the full horror of what she experienced until the end. Meanwhile, her son, Arthur, is suing for control of her affairs, claiming that Lena suffers from dementia. The basis for his petition for guardianship is his mother’s sudden obsession with an impossibly quixotic quest. At least that is the ostensible reason—Arthur’s real motivation, Catherine suspects, is that he fears his mother will dissipate his inheritance on a wild goose chase. We learn that Lena was orphaned after the Nazis occupied her small Polish town, Chrzanow, that she was assigned to work with Karolina in a coat factory in the ghetto, and that Karolina’s German lover kept the two girls supplied with enough food to survive. Ultimately, the ghetto is liquidated and the two girls are sent, again through the intervention of a sympathetic German, to Gross-Rosen, a less lethal—comparatively speaking—concentration camp. On the train, Karolina is warned that the Nazis will kill her infants upon arrival at the camp. The desperate measure the friends take to save the twins may have caused their deaths and has haunted Lena her entire life. Scenes involving a cantankerous probate judge demonstrate that Balson, a practicing Chicago attorney, knows his way around a courtroom.

Balson’s dialogue is stilted and his prose is workmanlike, but the survivor’s tale is the main attraction and does not disappoint.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-250-09837-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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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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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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