Brilliant, but not for the Tom Clancy set.

KILLING ROMMEL

Based on real-life events, Pressfield’s moving novel concerns the daring British and Commonwealth soldiers who challenged German General Erwin Rommel’s desert forces.

The story is narrated by R. Lawrence “Chap” Chapman, a minor player in the dramatic African action of World War II. As a very young British officer, barely out of his teens, the Oxford-educated Chapman was assigned to the Long Range Desert Group (LDRG), a glamorous and much sought-after posting in an outfit prizing resourcefulness and improvisation, qualities essential to surviving LDRG’s ridiculously dangerous assignments. Rommel’s forces in 1942 dominated Northern Africa west of Egypt. The brilliant general had the willing participation of troops, who were in awe both of his tactics and of his almost knightly approach to warfare. His success in Africa was a major obstacle to the Allied Forces who saw the coastline there as the first step to an invasion of Southern Europe. Even more dangerous, were he to take Egypt from the Brits, he would hand the Arabian oil fields to the fuel-starved Axis armies. To save Egypt, the oil fields and prevent an invasion, the Brits, under future Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery, send the units of the LDRG, including the very green Chapman, on a wild mission to kill Rommel and, with him, the German esprit de guerre. The story Pressfield (The Afghan Campaign, 2007, etc.) tells is so rich in details that it is difficult to read without good maps at the elbow, and, given the conceit of a modest man telling the whopping story, it is sometimes slow going. But it’s absolutely worth sticking with for the high-definition picture of a low tech (trucks get repaired in the middle of the dunes) but vicious war, and for the breathtaking gallantry of unpretentious young men and General Rommel. There is, as a lagniappe thrown in at the end, one of the best apologies ever written on behalf of novels as a necessary art form. 

Brilliant, but not for the Tom Clancy set.

Pub Date: April 15, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-385-51970-0

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2008

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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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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