An uneven war tale with a young, spirited protagonist.

MAGNOLIA LANDING

A debut historical novel focuses on the friendship between two teenage girls, one white and the other black, living on a Georgia plantation during the Civil War.

Malayna Wellington and her best friend, Hattie Wellton, were born hours apart in October 1845. Malayna’s father, John, is the wealthy white owner of the 1,920-acre Magnolia Landing plantation. Hattie is the daughter of plantation slaves. Raised in the protected bubble of privilege, Malayna narrates this slim book in a voice filled with youthful innocence. She describes Magnolia Landing as a refuge of sorts for slaves who were treated cruelly on other plantations: “No one ever went without, no matter what the color of the skin.…It was this forward thinking that kept the Wellingtons on the edge of the elite social realms of Southern gentility.” When war breaks out in 1861, John draws up papers giving his slaves (or “necessary helpers,” as Malayna’s mother likes to call them) not only their freedom, but also an acre of plantation land per family. But soon enough, all the able-bodied men join the Confederacy. The two naïve but determined 15-year-old friends, with the help of Malayna’s youngest sister, Johnna, divvy up responsibilities for maintaining the plantation. The harsher realities of war are brought home when Union troops encamp at Magnolia Landing. Northern men and Southern women find they have much to learn about one another in this simplistic yet engaging series opener. There are enough incidents of violence instigated by the novel’s villain, the despicable Union Capt. Sinclair—including spooked horses and an attempted rape—as well as a few budding romances to keep the tale moving. Mallimo’s prose carries a gentle Southern cadence and reflects the more formal linguistic style of the period. The narrative is mainly plot driven, with a large supporting cast of minimally developed secondary characters. And many readers will object to the portrayal of white slave owners as kind and generous. But Malayna is a likable and feisty heroine. In the annoying tradition of old-time magazine serials, the book ends in the middle of an action scene.

An uneven war tale with a young, spirited protagonist.

Pub Date: Sept. 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-72832-653-5

Page Count: 110

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2020

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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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