A sensitive, sober account of an interesting woman and her times, narrated with respect for the factual record and a minimum...

THE FOREST LOVER

Fictionalized biography of painter Emily Carr by bestselling Vreeland (Girl in Hyacinth Blue, 1999; The Passion of Artemisia, 2002).

Carr (1871–1945) was perhaps the first Canadian woman artist to achieve international recognition, partly thanks to her studies abroad (in America, London, and Paris) and partly thanks to her association with the famed Group of Seven, a Toronto-based salon of painters who revolutionized Canadian art. In her third historical, Vreeland adds some invented characters and situations, but for the most part offers a faithful account of Carr’s career. Born in Victoria, British Columbia, she lost both of her parents early in life and was raised by her domineering elder sister Dede, who disapproved of Emily’s interest in painting and tried to prevent her from enrolling in art school. Because of an interest in Native American art that was unusual for her times, Carr lived for a while among the Squamish Indians of Vancouver Island, studying their crafts and rituals. There, she met Sophie Frank, a Squamish basket weaver who became both a friend and inspiration, as well as Claude Serreau, a French-Canadian fur trapper who was briefly Carr’s lover. The Indian themes that dominated her early work were not well received in Canada, so in 1910 Carr traveled to Paris to immerse herself in the new styles that were coming into vogue among modernists. In France, she befriended New Zealand painter Frances Hodgkins, with whom she spent a happy summer working in the countryside, but she found as little encouragement in Paris as she had in Vancouver. After a year, she returned to Canada and dedicated herself to painting the Native American villages, houses, and totem poles that were fast disappearing. Eventually, she mounted an exhibition at the National Gallery in Ottawa that established her as one of the leading artists of her day.

A sensitive, sober account of an interesting woman and her times, narrated with respect for the factual record and a minimum of heavy breathing.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2004

ISBN: 0-670-03267-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2003

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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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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

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