An expressive and striking story that examines what one does for family and for oneself.


A novel about an ambitious young woman who navigates familial trauma while working as a copy boy in late-1930s San Francisco.

At the height of the Great Depression, 17-year-old Jane Hopper arrives home one night to find her pregnant mother packing their possessions into the car of federal labor camp manager Uno Jeffers. Her mother wants them to move, and when Jane’s father, Abraham, arrives home inebriated and angry, a domestic brawl ensues. Jane feels an obligation to her mother, who blames her for the death of Jane’s stillborn fraternal twin, Benjamin, so she fights her father. During the melee, she hears her brother’s voice in her head urging her on, and she leaves Abraham for dead. Her mother has left without her, so Jane flees to San Francisco for a fresh start. Three months later, she’s working for a newspaper called the Prospect and posing as a boy with her brother’s name, Benny Hopper. While working as a copy boy, Jane meets a woman named Vee who says, “I’ve got a story for you, rookie.” They make an appointment to meet, which Jane doesn’t keep; then Vee is attacked and hospitalized. Jane finds a picture of Vee and decides to look into the woman’s life, which leads her to uncover a story of corruption that ties Jane’s own new life to her former one. In her debut, Blanton-Stroud, who teaches writing at Sacramento State University, effectively evokes the dichotomy of Jane’s rural and urban lifestyles, particularly when highlighting Jane’s family’s poverty. The author’s descriptive language is robust, especially when setting scenes: “Benjamin Franklin Hopper was born into a shattered bulb, shards buried under the loose, gray silt of a ravaged Texas plain.” There are occasional minor errors, and the device of Jane repeatedly hearing Benjamin’s voice in her head doesn’t add very much to the narrative aside from a very strong opening. Even so, Blanton-Stroud’s book remains an engrossing work of fiction.

An expressive and striking story that examines what one does for family and for oneself.

Pub Date: June 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63152-697-8

Page Count: 264

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2020

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Who tells your story? Williams illuminates why women needed to be in the room where, and when, it’s written.


The Herculean efforts required to assemble the Oxford English Dictionary are retold, this time from a fictionalized, distaff point of view, in Williams’ debut novel.

Esme Nicoll, the motherless young daughter of a lexicographer working in the Scriptorium—in reality, a garden shed in Oxford where a team led by James Murray, one of the OED’s editors, toiled—accompanies her father to work frequently. The rigor and passion with which the project is managed is apparent to the sensitive and curious Esme, as is the fact that the editorial team of men labors under the influence of Victorian-era mores. Esme begins a clandestine operation to rescue words which have been overlooked or intentionally omitted from the epic dictionary. Her childhood undertaking becomes a lifelong endeavor, and her efforts to validate the words which flew under the (not yet invented) radar of the OED gatekeepers gain traction at the same time the women’s suffrage movement fructifies in England. The looming specter of World War I lends tension to Esme’s personal saga while a disparate cast of secondary characters adds pathos and depth. Underlying this panoramic account are lexicographical and philosophical interrogatives: Who owns language, does language reflect or affect, who chooses what is appropriate, why is one meaning worthier than another, what happens when a word mutates in meaning? (For example, the talismanic word first salvaged by Esme, bondmaid, pops up with capricious irregularity and amorphous meaning throughout the lengthy narrative.) Williams provides readers with detailed background and biographical information pointing to extensive research about the OED and its editors, many of whom appear as characters in Esme’s life. The result is a satisfying amalgam of truth and historical fiction.

Who tells your story? Williams illuminates why women needed to be in the room where, and when, it’s written.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-16019-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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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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