An evocative work of fiction rooted in one of the darkest eras of history.

THE DEVIL'S BREATH

A riveting story of survival, set during the Holocaust.

In 1943, Nazis invade a Jewish settlement in Poland and arrest two leading members of the resistance. The couple, Perla and Shimon Divko, an investigative reporter and former detective for the Warsaw Police, respectively, are transported to Auschwitz. Once there, they’re separated and try their best to survive as prisoners. Perla attempts to document and archive the experiences of those in the camp before becoming a typist for Nazi guard Gisela Brandt, and Shimon finds ways to slightly improve the conditions of his crew in the munitions factory. One day, however, the chief accountant at Auschwitz is found dead and a ledger goes missing from a safe. It turns out that the camp commander, Rudolf Hoss, was making his own gold ingots at the camp—stolen from the prisoners’ possessions, including dental fillings—which have now gone missing, as well. Worried that his operation will be found out, Hoss demands that Perla and Shimon assist him in to tracking down the ledger, the gold, and the murderer. Hogan’s prose is gripping as well as informative about its characters, as when Perla begins working as a recording clerk at the camp: “At first the numbers and their significance had overwhelmed her because she realized that each entry marked the end of a life…she had resolved to remember the lives behind the numbers….It was a resolution that lasted the better part of a month before the numbers overwhelmed her intentions.” Along with the primary plot of the missing ingots and ledger, Hogan also effectively details the grim daily aspects of life in the death camp—from the lack of food to prisoners’ tips for survival. Although the story of the investigation is certainly engaging, it’s also brutal; the author never sugarcoats the horrors of the camp. He deftly presents the heinous, historical truths of Auschwitz within the fictional realm of his story—a delicate balance that Hogan achieves with intelligent, thoughtful prose.

An evocative work of fiction rooted in one of the darkest eras of history.

Pub Date: July 30, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-73694-361-8

Page Count: 274

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Sept. 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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An unexpected treatise on the many forms love and beauty can take, set against the backdrop of Florence.

STILL LIFE

An epic about a family of friends who make the city of Florence their home in the mid-to-late 20th century.

Evelyn Skinner, an art teacher and Englishwoman approaching 64 years of age, meets Ulysses Temper, a 24-year-old private from London, on the side of an Italian road in 1944, while bombs are falling on distant hills. At its core, this slowly unfolding narrative is the story of their friendship, though it is also a story of the creation of a family of friends, transplanted from London to Italy: pub owner Col; pub worker, amateur singer, and eventual mother Peg; pianist Pete; elderly friend Cressy; child Alys; a bright blue parrot, Claude; and ultimately, of course, Evelyn. This story winds and wanders through the years, in the end covering 1901 to 1979, as Ulysses and Cressy establish a successful pensione in Florence, Alys grows up, and Evelyn and the others grow older. This is a slow-paced narrative that unfolds as a love story to Florence and a love story to love—romantic, platonic, familial, parental, friend, community, Sapphic, and gay love are all celebrated. Art history is often mentioned, as are parallels to the pensione in E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View. While this is a book to settle into, the narrative feels almost breathless at times, in part due to the lack of quotation marks around the dialogue, which makes it feel as if the unknown narrator is relating a long story deep into the night.

An unexpected treatise on the many forms love and beauty can take, set against the backdrop of Florence.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-33075-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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