First-rate historical fiction about the mistreated wife of a Detroit gangster during the Roaring ’20s.

GIACOMO'S DAUGHTER

From the The Sofia Spera Trilogy series , Vol. 1

A young woman of the 1920s must rely on her own savvy and wiles if she’s to escape her abusive mobster husband in this debut novel.

Eighteen-year-old newlywed Sofia Spera, now Mrs. Denaro, plans a picnic on the lake with her husband, Max. It’s a rare night off for him, as he’s the second-in-command of the Scalici Squad, a faction of the Detroit Italian Mafia. Sofia hopes the two can enjoy a quiet meal and a little intimacy. However, when their conversation turns to their courtship, Max’s recollection of meeting Sofia at the Book–Cadillac Hotel, where she was a temporary backup singer, doesn’t remotely resemble hers. Unlike Max’s romantic account, Sofia’s memory is that he took her back to his place and forced himself on her. In fact, Max has been incessantly abusive during their time together, including in his proposal. Sofia has looked for support, but it seems everyone is afraid of Max and his gangster connections, and even her overprotective Sicilian father, Giacomo, is helpless. As Max goes to terrifying lengths to ensure that Sofia is his and his only, Sofia realizes that she has no choice but to help herself, however dark that option may be. The Savone Sisters skillfully craft a timeline-hopping narrative told predominantly through flashbacks; though scenes don’t unfold chronologically, they’re coherent and cohesive. Sofia’s predicament is painful, but it’s invigorating to watch her garner strength, using noticeably different tactics than her repugnant spouse does. Although it’s clear where Sofia’s “mission” is headed, the story is often surprising, with both promising and tragic turns. In their first book in the planned Sofia Spera trilogy, the Savone Sisters aptly detail the time period and enrich the story with lavish prose: “The dark mahogany walls of the grand ballroom dripped with gorgeous overflowing arrays of white and red gladiolus flowers with soft blush pink Tiffany roses.”

First-rate historical fiction about the mistreated wife of a Detroit gangster during the Roaring ’20s. (epilogue, acknowledgements, author bio)

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73446-881-6

Page Count: 334

Publisher: LIV Luhv Rahyt, Inc.

Review Posted Online: March 27, 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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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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