Rather sloppy, but Thomas fans may embrace this latest effort.

DAUGHTER OF THE HOUSE

British author Thomas (The Illusionists, 2014, etc.) brings back the Wix family, entertainers who own London’s Palmyra theater, and focuses on the daughter’s story in this historical romance set in the early 20th century and beyond.

Since surviving the sinking of a pleasure steamer during a family excursion, psychically gifted 13-year-old Nancy Wix occasionally sees images of a young victim. Worse, rescued passenger Lawrence Feather pops up at random times, intent on convincing Nancy to channel her powers and communicate with his beloved sister, a passenger who drowned on the cruise. Nancy’s repelled by him and uncomfortable that he recognizes her connection with the Uncanny (as she calls the supernatural world), something she’s never revealed to her parents. Her mother, Eliza, is frail, and her father, Devil, is always busy scheming to keep the Palmyra afloat. Her parents’ relationship is stormy, but the two remain devoted to one another; Nancy, though, often feels alienated from both. They focus their efforts on younger brother Arthur’s future by enrolling him in elite schools and encouraging him to mingle with the upper class. Nancy knows her parents have no such hopes for her eldest brother, Cornelius, or herself, but she’s determined to follow her own path. In her 20s, she becomes involved with Feather's godson, Lion, but abandons conventional expectations to be with the love of her life, wealthy businessman Gil Maitland. Nancy also finds herself slipping into the role of parent while her mother and father become mired in destructive behaviors. To help keep her family afloat, she seeks out Feather—who uses his own weak psychic abilities and knowledge of human gullibility to conduct séances for paying audiences—becomes his student and protégé, and then leaves him to establish her own show at the Palmyra. Thomas focuses more on plot development and characterization in her current offering than she did in the prequel, and she almost manages to pull off an absorbing historical romance. She creates a dynamic protagonist involved in an uncertain romance, and her other principal characters are equally well-rounded. But her heavily ornate style of writing, combined with long superfluous passages and terminology unfamiliar to many readers, detracts from the overall quality of the story.

Rather sloppy, but Thomas fans may embrace this latest effort.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4683-1174-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: June 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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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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