A generally solid novel about baseball and growing up in a time of change.

MICKEY MANTLE’S LAST HOME RUN

Falco’s (Grandpa Gordy’s Greatest World Series Games, 2002) coming-of-age historical novel blends baseball and the social upheaval of the 1960s.

New Jersey teenager T.J. plays shortstop on the high school baseball team and is an avid fan of the New York Yankees, particularly Mickey Mantle. However, as the story begins in early 1968, T.J. is reluctant to admit that his hero’s career is coming to an end. T.J., who’s white, hears of the assassinations of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy, and his closest friendship with classmate and fellow ballplayer Jonathan, who’s black, is tested as racial tensions escalate in the community. The boys fight for their spots on the field, test their limits on parent-free trips to games in New York, and learn the limits of sociocultural expectations. The metaphorical role of baseball is evident from the opening pages (“Jonathan said that 1968 was a year when everybody did a lot of respect paying, so he might as well do it for Mick’s playing career”), and Falco writes excellent, detailed scenes of the characters observing and playing the game, which will appeal to fans of good sportswriting. He also does a good job of depicting the boys’ day-to-day relationship (“Jonathan was the king of goofing off, and Frankie was the prince of shooting the breeze”). The book is a bit uneven in its treatment of races, though; one section, for instance, intriguingly describes how Jonathan uses a technique that he calls “blacknosing” to deal with white teachers who are uncomfortable with black pupils, but most observations about race are presented from T.J.’s white-centered perspective (“When Jonathan came over that Saturday afternoon, it must have been the first time a black person other than the garbage man ever walked through our neighborhood”). For the most part, however, this is an emotionally satisfying story of friendship and a well-written sports tale.

A generally solid novel about baseball and growing up in a time of change.

Pub Date: Dec. 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5320-5208-8

Page Count: 226

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 12

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2018

  • New York Times Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

more