Mediocre fiction is redeemed by considerable empathy in this serious but patchy summer read.

THE ISLAND

A young Englishwoman discovers her family’s secret links to a Cretan leper colony, in an unusually humane saga.

A bestseller in the U.K., British author Hislop’s debut pays affecting tribute to the victims of leprosy and those who helped them. Alexis’s mother Sofia has never discussed her family background, but when Alexis plans a trip to Crete with her decreasingly appealing boyfriend Ed, Sofia gives her an introduction to old family friend, Fortini, in the village of Plaka, across from Spinalonga Island, for years a leper colony, but now deserted. Fortini, with Sofia’s permission, begins to narrate the Petrakis family story, starting with Alexis’s grandmother Eleni in 1939, a saintly, married schoolteacher who developed leprosy, moved to Spinalonga and died there, leaving behind her husband and two daughters, Anna and Maria. Willful Anna marries rich Andreas but flirts with his sexier cousin Manoli, who falls in love with good-natured Maria. Their wedding plans are shattered when Maria realizes she too is infected with leprosy and must go to the island. Under the treatment of kind Dr. Kyritsis, Maria is given drugs, and eventually she and the other sufferers are healed and the colony is closed. Anna, meanwhile, has had an affair with Manoli and given birth to Sofia. On the night of Maria’s return to Plaka, Andreas discovers the affair and shoots Anna. Eventually, Maria marries Kyritsis and they bring up Sofia, not revealing until very late her true parentage. Sofia takes the news badly, moves away and lives a life of shame and guilt for the pain she caused. Now she and Alexis are reunited in Plaka and Ed is given his marching orders.

Mediocre fiction is redeemed by considerable empathy in this serious but patchy summer read.

Pub Date: July 24, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-06-134032-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2007

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

BAREFOOT

Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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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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