Far-from-compelling in a romantic-historical series about the settling of America, with each installment moving west into a...

INTO THE WILDERNESS

Tomahawks flash and war cries resound, but Bittner’s latest historical is predictable and dull.

Not that she hasn’t done the research—just about every Indian tribe east of the mighty Mississippi circa 1750 gets involved. And they are a bloodthirsty lot, given to munching the still-beating hearts of their vanquished foes. Sixteen-year-old Jessica Matthews has heard of such horrors, and her father has warned her to stay close to the family cabin in the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania. Out for a walk one winter’s day, Jess is attacked by a small band, then rescued by handsome Noah Wilde, a hunter who risks his life to save hers and with whom she falls in love, of course. Turns out he’s a spy for the English, who are fighting the French and Indians (his wife was murdered by a renegade tribe). He promises to return to help the family move back to Albany, New York, where he will marry Jessica in a month’s time. But in his absence another band of Indians slaughter Jess’s father and brother, burn her mother and a friend alive, kidnap her baby brother Billy and take Jess captive. The Indian women are not unkind to her, but she recoils at having her ears pierced and face painted—or sleeping with the young buck who seems to be intent on having her. When Noah rescues her again, after a bloody victory, the two travel through the frontier in a fruitless search for Jess’s little brother. Noah is relieved to find that sweet Jess is still a virgin, whereupon he claims her his own forever. Various historical figures are introduced in you-are-there style, including a wicked French priest who corrupts and exploits the gullible Indians; and the 20-year-old George Washington, as noble, gallant, and stiff as a formal portrait in oils.

Far-from-compelling in a romantic-historical series about the settling of America, with each installment moving west into a new place and time.

Pub Date: April 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-765-30066-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Forge

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2002

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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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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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