BY THE HANDS OF MEN

BOOK ONE: THE OLD WORLD

In the midst of World War I, a relationship develops between an English lieutenant and a young Russian nurse—a surprising tenderness against the backdrop of war.

With elements reminiscent of Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, Griffis’ (The Big Bang: Volume One of The Lonesome George Chronicles, 2008) first book of a two-part series, subtitled “The Old World,” features English lieutenant Robert meeting 18-year-old Russian nurse Charlotte Braninov as she tends to a severely wounded soldier at a Casualty Clearing Station during the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917. While she considers Robert chivalrous from the outset, she initially tries to ignore any thoughts of romance, given their setting; she knows her focus must be on tending to the injured soldiers. But when their paths cross again shortly after at the base hospital where they are both stationed to work, several seemingly small incidents reveal Robert’s true character to Charlotte, and a romance develops. Their courtship is not without challenges, though; the hospital is under constant threat of attack, and Robert’s career has all but stalled. His assignment at the hospital is a form of punishment for an incident on the battlefield. Griffis provides rich detail about the action, both in war scenes and in the calmer interactions between Robert and Charlotte, but the reader must often piece together the story, as at times the nonlinear storytelling is disorienting with each of the five parts of the book taking place in a different location and often in different timeframes. It isn’t always clear at the outset whether the scene is set in present day or in previous weeks or even years. Yet, the level of detail helps to overcome this difficulty. While the focus is heavily plot-oriented rather than deep explorations of the characters, the reader gets a glimpse into the characters’ beliefs and values in the way they interact with each other and in how they carry out their official duties. Still, the reader is left wanting to know more about the characters and, as a result, the story feels incomplete. Readers must wait until Book Two to complete the picture, but with likable characters, spending more time in the Old World is an appealing prospect.

 

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2011

ISBN: 978-1466398047

Page Count: 262

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2012

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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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