A painstakingly researched war story with complex characterizations.



Schrader, the author of The Emperor Strikes Back (2019), re-creates a pivotal period in World War II in this updated version of her 2007 novel.

In 1940, 24-year-old Royal Air Force fighter pilot Robin Priestman is injured on a difficult mission over France and forced to take leave at home in England. At a local canteen, he meets Emily Pryce, a smart Cambridge University grad, and the two fall quietly in love, foiling Robin’s mother’s plans to marry him to an heiress. When his broken ankle heals, he becomes a flight instructor for the RAF, tasked with turning very young men into flying aces. It’s not easy, and Robin’s anxiety about leading these boys into war is palpable in his solitary moments. In Germany, Klaudia von Richthofen has just joined the German Air Force Female Auxiliaries, surrounded by Nazi pilots, whom she sees as romantic heroes. Parallel stories from the German and British camps emerge: British pilot George “Ginger” Bowles is homesick and self-conscious about his lower-class status; Lt. Ernst Geuke, an inexperienced German wingman, worries he’ll never measure up to the Aryan ideal; he pines for Klaudia, who initially doesn’t give him the time of day. In the background are fears of capture or death by bomb or plane. Scenes exploring the characters’ inner lives are compelling, especially on the German side; for example, to Klaudia, Nazism is just about following rules, fitting in, and living up to her famous surname (she’s related to the infamous “Red Baron”), but back in her home village of Silesia, “Everyone still said good morning rather than ‘Heil Hitler’.” Schrader also succeeds in accurately portraying the bombing raids and defense missions that made up the Battle of Britain military campaign. Despite uneven pacing and occasional typographical errors, the story holds up, building to a satisfying, cinematic finale in which a few characters’ fates collide. Readers may find some of the plentiful military jargon difficult to parse despite the glossary included. However, Schrader’s attention to detail is sure to win over veterans, pilots, and military history buffs.

A painstakingly researched war story with complex characterizations.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73531-394-8

Page Count: 594

Publisher: Cross Seas Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 17, 2020

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An intriguing meditation on the meaning of “meant to be.”


Giffin’s latest charts the course of true love between an American aristocrat and a troubled fashionista.

Almost immediately, readers will guess that Giffin’s protagonist, Joseph S. Kingsley III, a media darling since birth, is a re-creation of John F. Kennedy Jr. In addition to Joe’s darkly handsome good looks, there are many other similarities, such as his double failure of the New York bar exam and his stint as a Manhattan assistant district attorney. But Joe’s late father was an astronaut, not the president, and locations associated with the Kennedys, such as Hyannis Port and Martha’s Vineyard, have been moved to the Hamptons and Annapolis. Instead of a sister, Joe has a protective female best friend, Berry Wainwright. Readers may be so obsessed with teasing out fact from fiction, and wondering if the outcome for Joe is going to be as tragic as JFK Jr.’s fatal 1999 flight, that they may be distracted from the engaging story of Joe’s co-protagonist, Cate Cooper, who is—apart from a superficial resemblance to Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy—largely a fictional creation. When Joe and Cate meet-cute on a Hamptons beach where Cate, a model, is posing, both are immediately smitten. However, the paparazzi are determined to milk every ounce of scandal from the social chasm separating them. On the surface, Cate is the product of a middle-class upbringing in Montclair, New Jersey, but her interrupted education and her forced flight from an abusive home have shamed as well as strengthened her. Like her real-life counterpart, Cate rises in the fashion industry and becomes known for her minimalist style. The couple’s courtship drags a bit on the page despite witty banter and steamy encounters. It is the conflict brewing when their pedigrees clash, and, particularly, Cate’s consciousness of the disparity, that grips us. Whether these knockoffs can avoid the fates of the originals is the main source of suspense here.

An intriguing meditation on the meaning of “meant to be.”

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-425-28664-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2022

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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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