Tales that often contain witty, compelling turns of phrase, even when they don’t provide satisfactory endings.

All Over the Place

A COLLECTION OF SHORT STORIES

A series of people, many of them British, make journeys large and small in this short story collection.

Hindle (HMRC: Her Majesty’s Roller Coaster, 2014) offers a collection of tales centered loosely on concepts of travel and distance. Sometimes they present these concepts literally, as in “The Spoonmaker’s Diamond,” about a tourist’s trip to Istanbul and subsequent participation in an investigation surrounding a dazzling gem. At other times, the concepts are metaphorical, as in “Stalking David Sedaris,” which highlights the distance between fantasy and reality. In it, a man obsessed with Sedaris believes he sees the humorist at a hotel and waits expectantly to appear in one of his stories. Readers unacquainted with the day-to-day lives of middle- to upper-class British citizens and expatriates may be unfamiliar with some details in these tales, but the underlying themes will be familiar. Although Hindle is guilty of some repetitive language, as when he refers to Sedaris multiple times as a “Greek-American,” he also has a very vivid way with words, as when his narrator describes a set of apparent “semi-celebrities” as having “professional sycophantic smiles showing off teeth as perfectly formed as a row of SIM cards.” His strongest stories, however, say as much in their silences as in their words. “Fear of Not Flying,” for example, lets readers draw their own connections between a traveling woman’s thoughts, the things she learns from an anxious seatmate, and a teacher who recently died. But not all the stories manage such a feat, and many might have benefited from an additional paragraph to tie up their threads. Warren’s illustrations, however, add whimsy; for example, the opening of “Death on a Reformer” is accompanied by a depiction of a Pilates instructor’s body tangled in exercise equipment.

Tales that often contain witty, compelling turns of phrase, even when they don’t provide satisfactory endings.

Pub Date: June 15, 2015

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 214

Publisher: Working Words

Review Posted Online: Sept. 8, 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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The characters are paper thin, the plot twists mostly telegraphed, but the betting here is that the Baldacci army will once...

DELIVER US FROM EVIL

In Baldacci’s 19th (True Blue, 2009, etc.), boy and girl monster-hunters meet cute.

Evan Waller, aka Fadir Kuchin, aka “the Butcher of Kiev,” aka “the Ukrainian psychopath,” is one of those deep-dyed villains a certain kind of fiction can’t do without. Serving with distinction as part of the Soviet Union’s KGB, he joyfully and indiscriminately killed thousands. Now, many years later, posing as a successful businessman, he’s vacationing in Provence where, unbeknownst to him, two separate clandestine operations are being mounted by people who do not regard him with favor. Reggie Campion—28 and gorgeous—spearheads the first, an ad hoc group of monster-hunting vigilantes. Studly, tall Shaw (no first name supplied) is point guard for a rival team, shadowy enough to leave the matter of its origin ambiguous. While their respective teams reconnoiter and jockey for position, studly boy meets gorgeous girl. Monster-hunters are famous for having trust issues, but clearly these are drawn to each other in the time-honored Hollywood fashion. Shaw saves Reggie’s life. She returns the favor. The attraction deepens and heats up to the point where team-members on both sides grow unsettled by the loss of focus, singularly inopportune since, as monsters go, Waller rises to the second coming of Caligula—ample testimony furnished by a six-page, unsparingly detailed torture scene. In the end, the stalkers strike, bullets fly, screams curdle the blood, love has its innings and a monster does what a monster’s got to do.

The characters are paper thin, the plot twists mostly telegraphed, but the betting here is that the Baldacci army will once again show the stuff it’s made of.

Pub Date: April 20, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-446-56408-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Avon A/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2010

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