A captivating war tale, action-packed and affecting.

BEING LILI

INSPIRED BY A TRUE STORY OF WORLD WAR II PARIS

A young American woman gets recruited to spy on the Nazis in occupied Paris during World War II in this historical novel.

After her love, James Billings, is killed in the war, Lillian Jackson is spurred by rage to join the fight and enlists in the Women’s Army Corps. She finds herself in London and is offered a remarkable mission: parachute into Paris and pose as a Frenchwoman from Toulon—she speaks perfectly fluent French—and land a job as a clerk in one of the Nazi offices. She finds one at the German Military Command’s office in the Hotel Majestic, and, equipped with a lighter that is a clandestine camera, she keeps an eye open for any information that will aid the Allies. Her mission is as dangerous as it is difficult—she is now Lili Villon and must pretend to be a native of a country she has never visited, unable to trust anyone. As the Resistance scores more victories and the Germans lose ground in the war, the Nazis hunt ever more hungrily for spies out of a desperation Lili notices: “Their confidence melts a little more each day. From all the shouting and swearing, I can tell their nerves are raw.” Pezdirtz faithfully captures the demoralization of Paris under harsh Nazi rule—the terrible food shortages, the brutal despotism, and the way in which French citizens were pitted against one another. And for all its dramatic excitement thrillingly conveyed, there is also a tenderly poignant love story, as feelings burgeon between Lili and her French handler, Henri Marnier, a doctor suffering from heartbreak as well. The author doesn’t cover any fresh literary territory—the novel fits neatly into a well-worn genre and flirts with the predictably formulaic. Nonetheless, the story is both historically astute and moving as well as briskly paced with a surfeit of intrigue.

A captivating war tale, action-packed and affecting.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-955656-11-5

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Little Creek Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2022

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Who tells your story? Williams illuminates why women needed to be in the room where, and when, it’s written.

THE DICTIONARY OF LOST WORDS

The Herculean efforts required to assemble the Oxford English Dictionary are retold, this time from a fictionalized, distaff point of view, in Williams’ debut novel.

Esme Nicoll, the motherless young daughter of a lexicographer working in the Scriptorium—in reality, a garden shed in Oxford where a team led by James Murray, one of the OED’s editors, toiled—accompanies her father to work frequently. The rigor and passion with which the project is managed is apparent to the sensitive and curious Esme, as is the fact that the editorial team of men labors under the influence of Victorian-era mores. Esme begins a clandestine operation to rescue words which have been overlooked or intentionally omitted from the epic dictionary. Her childhood undertaking becomes a lifelong endeavor, and her efforts to validate the words which flew under the (not yet invented) radar of the OED gatekeepers gain traction at the same time the women’s suffrage movement fructifies in England. The looming specter of World War I lends tension to Esme’s personal saga while a disparate cast of secondary characters adds pathos and depth. Underlying this panoramic account are lexicographical and philosophical interrogatives: Who owns language, does language reflect or affect, who chooses what is appropriate, why is one meaning worthier than another, what happens when a word mutates in meaning? (For example, the talismanic word first salvaged by Esme, bondmaid, pops up with capricious irregularity and amorphous meaning throughout the lengthy narrative.) Williams provides readers with detailed background and biographical information pointing to extensive research about the OED and its editors, many of whom appear as characters in Esme’s life. The result is a satisfying amalgam of truth and historical fiction.

Who tells your story? Williams illuminates why women needed to be in the room where, and when, it’s written.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-16019-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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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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