THE VOLCANO LOVER

The first novel in over 20 years by America's preeminent belletrist is a historical tour de force. This tale of 18th-century romance and revolution is certain to charm readers who enjoy the postmodern potboilers of Umberto Eco and A.S. Byatt. After a pretentious prologue about her role as author, Sontag dives into the grand drama of the English nobleman William Hamilton, ambassador to the Kingdom of Two Sicilies, the Bourbon monarchy based in Naples. "Il Cavaliere," as he's called by his hosts, fancies himself "an envoy of decorum and reason" to the grotesque King. Where Sir William delights in collecting art and artifacts, and exploring the great volcano at Vesuvius, the fat King devotes himself to gluttony and impregnating his ambitious wife. After the Cavaliere's frail wife dies at age 44, the melancholic ambassador returns to England, where he grows infatuated with his nephew's mistress, a stunning beauty from the lower classes who mixes charm with vulgarity. Seeking a wealthy wife, the nephew passes his mistress to his uncle, now back in Naples. And soon follows a scandalous marriage between the 56-year- old ambassador and the 20-year-old lady of dubious virtue. A quick study, as well as a much-painted subject, Lady Emma Hamilton becomes the toast of Naples and the Queen's confidante. Her fall into infamy begins when she meets the hero of the age, Lord Nelson, "the saviour of the royalist cause." In outline, this seems little more than the Vivien Leigh melodrama That Hamilton Woman. But Sontag adds such historical texture to her saga of sexual intrigue that it all comes to sordid life, full of passion and politics. Her warts-and-all version of history relies on a profound imagining of each character's point of view. At once heady and heartfelt, this is Sontag's best bid for a popular audience.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-28516-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1992

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There are unforgettable beauties in this very sexy story.

TELL ME LIES

Passion, friendship, heartbreak, and forgiveness ring true in Lovering's debut, the tale of a young woman's obsession with a man who's "good at being charming."

Long Island native Lucy Albright, starts her freshman year at Baird College in Southern California, intending to study English and journalism and become a travel writer. Stephen DeMarco, an upperclassman, is a political science major who plans to become a lawyer. Soon after they meet, Lucy tells Stephen an intensely personal story about the Unforgivable Thing, a betrayal that turned Lucy against her mother. Stephen pretends to listen to Lucy's painful disclosure, but all his thoughts are about her exposed black bra strap and her nipples pressing against her thin cotton T-shirt. It doesn't take Lucy long to realize Stephen's a "manipulative jerk" and she is "beyond pathetic" in her desire for him, but their lives are now intertwined. Their story takes seven years to unfold, but it's a fast-paced ride through hookups, breakups, and infidelities fueled by alcohol and cocaine and with oodles of sizzling sexual tension. "Lucy was an itch, a song stuck in your head or a movie you need to rewatch or a food you suddenly crave," Stephen says in one of his point-of-view chapters, which alternate with Lucy's. The ending is perfect, as Lucy figures out the dark secret Stephen has kept hidden and learns the difference between lustful addiction and mature love.

There are unforgettable beauties in this very sexy story.

Pub Date: June 12, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6964-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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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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