Plenty to groove on, despite some dull stretches.



Debut author Gudinski presents a story of music and time travel.

Rhiannon Karlson is an 18-year-old in Fresno, California, in the year 2000. She loves playing the drums, and her classic rock cover band is pretty good. They’re so good, in fact, that a record label wants to sign them to a lucrative contract. Rhiannon’s mom, however, hates rock music, and the regular shouting matches between mother and daughter are heated. Everything changes when Rhiannon smokes a powerful hallucinogenic crystal that transports her to 1969 San Francisco. As luck would have it, she happens upon a rock band called the Day Trippers who need a drummer. So begins her journey that involves hippies, drugs, and lots and lots of music. She meets singer-songwriter Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane, drops acid in Golden Gate Park, and as a high-water mark, takes a trip across the country with the Day Trippers to Woodstock. But as the band reaches a modicum of success, trouble lurks just around the corner. There’s also the larger question of whether Rhiannon will ever return to her own time. Some readers may take exception to the fact that the protagonist doesn’t seem to care that her actions in the past could have consequences on the future. Nevertheless, Gudinski doesn’t dwell on such details, instead putting the focus on Rhiannon’s long, strange trip through the titular year. The book deftly describes the excitement around Woodstock and the many voices in its crowd, as when one concertgoer exclaims, “I am He and He is me, we are three—Exist!” The problem is that Rhiannon doesn’t really deal with very much of significance over the course of the tale, and a jolly old drifter and an agitated hitchhiker that she meets along the way seem like little more than stereotypes. It’s only post-Woodstock that the groovy days begin to waver. The real question that will keep readers’ attention is what Rhiannon will do with these experiences. Will it all be forgotten in modern times?

Plenty to groove on, despite some dull stretches. 

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-578-48779-3

Page Count: 569

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2019

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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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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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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