A Mistake of Consequence

In Karsten’s (Snags and Sawyers: 2000 Miles Down the Arkansas River, 2012, etc.) historical romance, a case of mistaken identity strands a Scottish lass in Colonial Philadelphia.

Impetuous Caroline “Callie” Beaton flees her grandfather’s house in a huff one night, tired of the dull suitors he parades before her. Wandering the docks of Leith, she’s shocked to be bundled into the hold of a ship, mistaken for a young woman who signed a contract of indentured servitude to gain passage to America. Before she knows it, she’s at sea, stranded without anything to prove her true identity; she has no choice but to bide her time until they reach the Colonies, where she can hopefully find a way to contact her family across the Atlantic. Aboard the ship, she befriends other indentured women: blithe, gossipy Peg, and Mary Rawles, whose husband dies during the voyage, leaving her with two small children and a debt to work off. Callie is also drawn to another passenger, handsome Davy McRae, a self-described businessman whose trade remains mysterious. But while she’s attracted to him, getting back home is far more important, and, once in Philadelphia, Callie suffers through her indenture being sold to the Ashers, a wealthy family with a tangled history. The eldest son, Ethan, seems a trustworthy gentleman, and Callie’s overjoyed when he sneaks her paper and ink to write a letter home. Though Ethan promises to send it, there’s no quick reply, and gently bred Callie finds herself working from dawn till dusk, with no thanks from her masters. When the patriarch of the family is murdered, however, she’s the prime suspect and must flee suspicion with none other than Davy McRae. Is their burgeoning romance a distraction from Callie’s homeward mission? Who can she trust in this foreign land? Karsten ably handles the setting, conjuring the sights and sounds of 1754 Philadelphia and the never-ending chores. Callie is likable, if rather too trusting of men, while love interest Davy has a complicated history of his own. Karsten doesn’t break new ground here, but she’s penned an engaging story with some clever plot twists.

A quick, pleasant read.

Pub Date: Feb. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-1458218278

Page Count: 276

Publisher: AbbottPress

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2015

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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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