A thoughtful, well-written work that breathes new life into past personalities and events.

ONCE THERE WAS FIRE

A NOVEL OF OLD HAWAII

In Shender’s debut historical novel, an 18th- and 19th-century Hawaiian ruler unites the island’s people through war, diplomacy, and intrigue in the years before, during, and after the arrival of European explorers.

Benjamin Namakeha, a contemporary of Kamehameha I (circa 1736-1819), tells of the events of the story after the fact, with the perspective of age and in the very different culture of mid-19th-century Hawaii. When Kamehameha was a youth, Namakeha says, he exceled at training in the arts of war; he gained strength and sharpened his wits, which served him well when navigating court intrigue, including multiple attempts to poison him. As Shender traces the Hawaiian hero’s life, he seamlessly integrates Hawaiian words, making the language easy for readers to pick up while also adding realism and flavor: “The older boy hurled the insult at Kamehameha like a short ihe spear.” In 1778, British captain James Cook lands in Hawaii; his arrival coincides with the foretold return of the god Lono. This coincidence, and the new arrivals’ advanced technology, convinces many Hawaiians that the foreigners (or “haoles”) are divine. Kamehameha is skeptical, however, and learns as much as he can about their weaponry, and he uses this knowledge in future battles. Shender’s delightful depictions of the first exchanges between strange cultures are spot-on, as when an interpreter for the British says, “he will pay generously in cloth and iron,” and a Hawaiian asks what iron is: “Ailon’e? What is ailon’e?” Although Cook is killed in a confrontation with islanders, Kamehameha and his people continue their trade with Europeans. In time, Kamehameha consolidates his power, dealing not only with military enemies, but also family problems. The story shows the engaging parallels between Kamehameha’s story and European mythology as well as religious tales. For example, when Kamehameha is born, his mother has a dream that frightens the island’s rulers, who then try to have him killed. Later, in a story that mirrors King Arthur’s, Kamehameha moves the Naha Stone—a deed that prophesies his destiny as ruler. Overall, this novel should gratify historians and general readers alike

A thoughtful, well-written work that breathes new life into past personalities and events.

Pub Date: Dec. 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-692-77133-4

Page Count: 562

Publisher: Pai'ea Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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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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