Deftly written, pleasantly concise stories about the ghosts of desire, each with its own discrete merits.

LORD JOHN AND THE HAND OF DEVILS

A secondary character from Gabaldon’s Outlander series steps out in three supernatural yarns.

Conflicted raconteur Lord John Grey, last seen in Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade (2007), is back. This triptych includes two stories culled from historical anthologies and one original tale published here for the first time. Gabaldon’s strengths are on full display. The short form forces her to curtail the sprawl evident in the recent Outlander novels, while the historical backdrop serves to showcase her exhaustive research. With his unrequited passion for the Scottish rebel Jamie Fraser still fresh in his mind, Grey stumbles into a secret society hidden in London in “Lord John and the Hellfire Club.” Temptation, blackmail and murder ensue as Grey negotiates the minefields of the British class system. An old-fashioned ghost story lies at the heart of “Lord John and the Succubus,” a companion story to the Prussia-set Brotherhood of the Blade. In the midst of the Seven Years’ War, Grey must establish the connection between a murdered soldier and a towering gypsy temptress with a secret worth keeping. The last story, “Lord John and the Haunted Soldier,” cagily incorporates a thrilling bit of detective work as the noble major ferrets out a traitorous cannoneer among a Royal Artillery Regiment. This last story is the freshest and most thorough portrait of Gabaldon’s multifaceted leading man, so troubled by the events that overtake him. “God knows I am neither ignorant nor innocent of the ways of the world. And yet I feel so unclean, so much evil I have met tonight,” he writes.

Deftly written, pleasantly concise stories about the ghosts of desire, each with its own discrete merits.

Pub Date: Nov. 27, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-385-31139-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 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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