An edifying historical saga for readers interested in the evolution of women’s rights.



Russell’s debut historical novel explores the women’s rights movement through the eyes of four successive generations.

In December 1963, great-grandmother Ruby Wright gathers together her daughter, Bess Wright-Pickering; granddaughter, Katy Pickering; and great-granddaughter, Jesi Pickering. She gives them each the task of writing about their “year of awakening,” or, as Bess explains it, “a year of 4 seasons, where the spring seed of an event is born, grows, matures, and becomes winter wisdom as a life-changing realization.” Ruby, who came of age near the turn of the 20th century, discusses her stifling experiences as a Victorian-era housewife and her participation in the nascent women’s suffrage movement. She often brought her bright, obedient daughter, Bess, to the demonstrations, and the girl readily took up her mother’s mantle, later crusading for women’s rights and the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Her daughter, Katy, reveals a time in the 1940s when she traveled to Georgia, the site of her father’s plantation. There, she attempted to find out more about her father, who died before she was born. In the process, she uncovered shocking secrets, and around the same time, she became pregnant with Jesi, who was born with leg deformities and still requires the use of a brace. At first reluctant to write, Jesi soon divulges her experiences with a black boyfriend during the 1960s’ civil rights movement. In this ambitious novel, Russell vividly portrays the sexism and sense of powerlessness that all four women experienced. Each woman writes five chapters, and the novel alternates between them, sometimes abruptly. The author devotes most of the novel to the two eldest women, but Katy’s and Jesi’s stories are no less complex, and seem shortchanged by the narrative. It sometimes isn’t clear whether a character is writing, remembering past events or reading from journals or letters. Readers may feel that it takes considerable time to get to know each character, but once the women become familiar, the story reads much more smoothly. Despite a few grammatical errors and a somewhat protracted length, the novel manages to enliven and enhance a momentous period in history.

An edifying historical saga for readers interested in the evolution of women’s rights.

Pub Date: July 20, 2014

ISBN: 978-1497348936

Page Count: 496

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014

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A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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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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