Geni continues to create works of art with perfect voices that are simultaneously thrillers and meditations on nature. It is...

THE WILDLANDS

Geni’s (The Lightkeepers, 2016) fascination with the borders between human and animal drives this distinctive sophomore novel.

Darlene, Tucker, Jane, Cora: Already motherless, they are transformed in seconds into modern orphans when a massive tornado sweeps their small piece of the Oklahoma plains, disappearing their childhood home, their barn animals, and their father. More transformations await. Darlene, now a legal guardian, scrapes together a subsistence for the siblings instead of going to college. Their new life is sufficient for Jane and for Cora (whose memories extend no further back than the tornado) but is untenable for Tucker. He runs away to nurse a streak of wildness, becoming a dangerously zealous animal rights activist, returning to bomb a cosmetics factory close to home and releasing the bewildered test animals. And while the tornado is catalytic, catastrophe occurs when Tucker kidnaps 9-year-old Cora. He needs someone to tend his gruesome wounds from the bombing but seemingly desires a spiritual accomplice as well. Cora joins her big brother lovingly and willingly. On the lam, she sees more and more to make her uneasy; bombing is but one of the destructive crimes Tucker is willing to commit in the name of the animals. But Cora is enthralled by the fairy tale Tucker spins around their adventure and confused by the new identity Tucker has given her as a boy named Corey. Back home, Darlene’s devastation is palpable, as are her anger, desperation, and strength of will. She and Jane find an ally in a local police officer, but their hope of finding Cora wanes along with the summer. Cora’s experience, narrated in first-person chapters, is tender and terrifying. Tucker is almost exclusively viewed through her eyes, but readers can see the abhorrence of his actions clearly. At the same time, Geni uses him to limn the intelligence and order of the animal world and to raise valid, troubling questions about humans’ treatment of their fellow beasts. Darlene, an impressive example of grit, provides a counterpoint. The question of the novel is what Cora will become—what any of us could become—when placed in the eyes of that storm.

Geni continues to create works of art with perfect voices that are simultaneously thrillers and meditations on nature. It is an incredible trick.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-61902-234-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: June 18, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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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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