Another strange delight from one of the United Kingdom’s most interesting authors.

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Eating disorders and suspected murder fuel the latest novel from the author of The Seed Collectors (2015, etc.).

The title of this slim book is as sly and slippery as the narrative itself. Our protagonist, Natasha, is whisked from penury in Russia to a British boarding school when her post-communism, new-money father takes an interest in her. She also establishes herself as one of the girls who leads the student body into disordered eating and light debauchery. Natasha’s transformation includes a fairy godmother in the form of Aunt Sonja, a London-based operator who gives Natasha an iPhone with unlimited data, a black American Express card, and world-weary advice about food and men. But Natasha keeps much of her own tale to herself even as she learns the folklore of her school. Someone named Princess Augusta appears in portraits hung throughout the classrooms and residences, and her story—or, at least, the story that the students tell each other—is both a cautionary tale and an inspiration for girls striving to be the thinnest. Thomas does a fantastic job of capturing the mental and verbal style of a contemporary teen without being precious or exasperating. She also imbues Tash with a signature feature of all adolescents ever, probably: a desire to grow up faster. While Aunt Sonja is cooing over her perfect complexion, Tash is thinking, “But everyone has it, this skin that says I’m young and I know nothing. Literally everyone she knows apart from Lissa has the same skin—and even Lissa’s would be OK if she used the right toner—and so to compete she needs something else. Why do adults not understand that?” The Amex might allow Tash to buy Balenciaga boots, but what she really wants is adventure. She wants to “go into the woods and fight monsters”—a wish that sort of comes true when people at her school start dropping dead. This is a weird, twisty book, and anyone familiar with Thomas’ oeuvre will expect the kind of dark humor that is only possible from a writer of profound compassion. Strong stuff.

Another strange delight from one of the United Kingdom’s most interesting authors.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64009-306-5

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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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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