The Kingdom of Gods by N.K. Jemisin

Mortal children are very wise, though it takes a careful listener or a god to understand this.

Following The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (Jemisin’s debut) and The Broken Kingdoms, The Kingdom of Gods closes out the Inheritance trilogy. It is getting hard to parse my favorites out of her body of work, but this one ranks high. (Spoilers for books one and two follow; for this book, however, this review is spoiler-free.)

Book one dealt with Yeine’s relationship with Nahadoth, and her transformation to one of the Three. Yeine and Nahadoth, by the end of that book, had regained power, sending Itempas into exile and a strange, repeating mortality – he can die but always comes right back. In book two, we saw a mortal ‘demon’ (one parent is mortal and the other a god or godling) form a relationship with the exiled Itempas. In book three – as its title promises – we continue to develop the relationships between the Three and between gods, godlings and mortals. Jemisin continues to develop the rules of this wide, wild world – the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, the mortal and gods’ realms, the heavens and hells, and the possibilities of all these worlds. It’s quite expansive, so that the surprises keep coming, in ways I really appreciate. Jemisin is not cutting corners, changing the rules to suit her; but she does let the worlds and the rules keep expanding and changing.

Here, the central character is for the first time not a mortal (Yeine, Oree) but a godling: Sieh, the Eldest Child, the first godling, and although he is the eldest, also the god of childhood, youth, playfulness, impulsiveness; he most commonly manifests as a child or as a cat. (He was also the first god or godling that Yeine met, so we have known him longest.) I’m not sure if it’s just that this is the book I read last, but I might love Sieh’s voice best of all. I don’t want to say too much here, but – the world is changing, for mortals and gods and godlings, for the Three, for Sieh, in ways that are both stimulating and scary. The stakes are the highest they’ve ever been. I did not want this book to end.

And, oh! More wonderful news came in the ‘extras’ at the back of my paperback edition: usually there is a teaser excerpt here from another Jemisin series, but this was a short story, “Not the End,” which turns out to be an epilogue of sorts to this very series – I could not have been more overjoyed with that. (The novel itself has a “Coda” but more is even better! Ha.) I would love to think that this is indeed “not the end” of the Inheritance trilogy, but I fear that it’s up to my imagination from here.

I will continue to read all the Jemisin. She’s one of my favorites.


Rating: 9 surprises.

Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl

This randomly appeared in my mailbox, and it was a perfectly lovely revisiting of some iconic features of one of my all-time favorite authors. We’re missing one familiar element, which is childhood–instead we root for the clever Mr. Fox, his loving wife Mrs. Fox, and four Small Foxes. Our antagonists are appropriately comical and ridiculous: Farmers Boggis, Bunce, and Bean, whose farms respectively produce chickens, ducks and geese, and turkeys and apples. (Bean, the turkey-and-apple farmer, exists entirely on very strong cider.) The wealthy ruling class has too much but still begrudges Mr. Fox the odd poultry to feed his family. Mr. Fox’s wit is generally enough to keep him out of trouble, until the mean farmers band together and trap his family in their den under siege; then our hero will have to turn twice as crafty to save the day, not only for the Fox family but for the other digging critters of the neighborhood (the families Badger, Mole, Rabbit, and Weasel). There is tension and suspense and a final joyous comeuppance for the bad guys. There is a moral lesson: when Badger worries about stealing, Mr. Fox retorts, “My dear old furry frump… do you know anyone in the whole world who wouldn’t swipe a few chickens if his children were starving to death?” Who, indeed? There are also illustrations by Quentin Blake, whose visions of Dahl’s work have always defined my experience of this author, so that’s perfect.

Thanks, Pops. You were right. This was a treat.


Rating: 8 carrots.

rerun: Hemingway’s Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost, 1934-1961 by Paul Hendrickson

A lyrical, textured, and meticulously researched meditation on Hemingway from a fresh new angle.

Paul Hendrickson, NBCC award-winning nonfiction author for Sons of Mississippi, pulls off the remarkable feat of finding a fresh, new angle from which to approach Ernest Hemingway: his boat Pilar. Purchased in 1934 with an advance from his longtime publisher Scribner, she saw him through three wives, great achievements and critical failures in his writing career, big fish and little ones, and the beginnings and the endings of many relationships. Hendrickson suggests that Pilar may have been the love of Hemingway’s life.

This is not a biography but a careful and compassionate rumination on the man through the lens of the boat. Hendrickson has brought to his readers a Hemingway who is neither object of worship nor monster, but a full and complex human who made serious mistakes in his relationships and fought pitched battles against his own demons, and finally lost.

The Hemingway fan will be enthralled with new details of his life, and the study of figures previously treated as minor but now revealing new facets of the man. The less familiar reader will be fascinated by this comprehensive account of the master and his complex spiderweb of varied effects on so many lives, large and small. Hendrickson presents his unusual and noteworthy story with beautifully quiet intensity and contemplation. Hemingway’s Boat achieves a terrific feat in reworking Hemingway’s story.


This review originally ran in the September 23, 2011 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish news.


Further notes… Hendrickson treats Hemingway sort of gently, but doesn’t spare the man in his moments of monstrosity. Hendrickson comes from several different angles, interviewing different people who knew Hem more or less well, unearthing some new details. Hemingway’s Boat approaches the subject with the relatively unique concept that he was just a man – a great artist, but also human, with flaws and moments of everyday beauty. This book was noteworthy in all my reading about Hemingway and the surrounding literature. It made me laugh and cry. I wholeheartedly recommend this book for fans of Hemingway, or of literary biography, or of well-written nonfiction, or for those looking for vignettes in Key West or Havana history.


Gilded Mountain by Kate Manning

This gorgeously evocative novel of the early-1900s American West takes on issues of race, class, labor and women’s rights via a remarkable young woman’s coming of age.

“Strikes are all the same. Same songs. Same reasons. Same hope and rage. In those years it was struggle and strife all over the mountains, in the cities and on the plains of the country, wherever there was industry or toil.” Gilded Mountain by Kate Manning (Whitegirl; My Notorious Life) is an expansive novel of passions: love, beauty, suffering; struggles for labor rights, women’s equality and the rights of formerly enslaved people. Set in the early-1900s Colorado mountains, this enthralling story stars Sylvie Pelletier, who travels west at age 17 to find the world broader, more lovely and more terrible than she’d imagined. Gilded Mountain tracks her coming of age and the troubles of her family and the marble miners of Moonstone.

Sylvie’s father, Jacques, is beloved by his family and his coworkers in the marble quarry, who call him “Frenchy,” but Sylvie’s mother fears he will again meet danger with his union organizing. Sylvie graduates from high school and apprentices as “printer’s devil” to the freethinking K.T. Redmond, who further shocks townspeople by being a newspaperwoman. As conditions in the mines deteriorate and K.T. nurtures Sylvie’s rebellious streak, the young protagonist is also invited into the household of Company owner Duke Padgett and his wife, the Countess. Their royal titles are self-assigned, but their wealth is real. The Duke’s son, Jace, becomes something of a romantic interest, but there is also United Mine Workers’ representative George Lonahan. Sylvie is torn between her principles and love for her family, her class and her boss, and the temptations of the other life. “I forgot to observe with the sharp eyes of a printer’s devil because my sight was dulled by sugar and awe,” she realizes. “My loyalties gnarled and snared me.”

Gilded Mountain is an ambitious novel, swelling to encompass labor rights (complete with Pinkerton Detective Agency goons), women’s rights, the societal role of the free press, the rights of Black Americans immediately following the Civil War, lynching, immigration and more. Starring real characters from history (union organizer Mother Jones, Belgium’s King Leopold II), it contains romance, historical fiction and inspired, high-minded thinking on important issues. Moonstone, Colo., is a fictionalized composite town, but its marble mining and the standard operating procedures of the Company are well based in historical fact. It also contains lovely writing about the natural world: “[T]he Diamond River overflowed its banks and rushed downhill, rooks sang in the trees, and leaves unfurled like new little salads on the ends of their branches. A corduroy of greens softened the hard folds of the mountains, and the meadows bloomed with swaths of blue columbine and dashes of yellow sneezeweed.” The result is a painfully beautiful novel of big ideals, heartbreaks and tragedies, sewn together by an admirable and unforgettable heroine.


This review originally ran in the September 15, 2022 issue of Shelf Awareness for the Book Trade. To subscribe, click here.


Rating: 8 maraschino cherries.

The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

Following The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms in the Inheritance Trilogy comes The Broken Kingdoms. (I’ve already begun on book three, The Kingdom of Gods.)

Spoilers from book one – not this book – follow.

So, we are continuing in that world in which Yeine becomes a god – or, lives her partner-soul’s god-life. In this installment, we switch protagonists, but continue with a first-person narrator who is still just learning about the world in which she lives and what role she plays in it. Here, the narrator is Oree, who like Yeine is an immigrant from the outer kingdoms to the center – but unlike Yeine, who arrived with some privilege, Oree lives not in Sky proper but in Shadow, the surrounding city where the great tree blocks most of the sunlight. Oree is a working artist who sells her wares in the street to pilgrims, other travelers from outer kingdoms come to pay their respects. (In the new world, it is uneasily permitted to worship not only Bright Itempas but other freed gods and godlings.) Oree is also blind, or nearly blind: she can see magic. Magical objects and places and people glow, and this aids her otherwise dark world. She lives in Shadow because there is so much magic there: she can see better. Or, to put it better, she is drawn to magic. Vision is a happy side effect. Her blindness is fascinating not least because she works as a visual artist, and does her best work as a painter.

This gives Jemisin the opportunity to do some interesting sensory work, playing with the visual arts and other senses, like the smells and textures that accompany different colors of paint. I love the way Oree’s vision and blindness work with magic. Here and in other plot threads, we continue to develop this fictional world and its rules – what happens when gods and mortals have babies, for examples. Also as in book one, there is a mortal who shares sex – and maybe even love – with gods and godlings. This series does involve romance, and sex. We’re talking about only one or two sex scenes per novel, but they are some of the best I’ve read.

Oree is a lovely protagonist and narrator, with a complicated past, frustrated and foolhardy – or brave – enough to stand up to those in power, godlings, even gods. She takes in a mysterious stranger and discovers a murdered godling, and finds herself embroiled in matters way over her paygrade – or are they? Jemisin continues to explore big themes (like the sins of our fathers, for example). Not for the first time, I am reminded that even in sci fi/fantasy, the lessons can be very much about humans. (I’m thinking again about the Lilith’s Brood series, as well as the rest of Jemisin’s outstanding work.) Also, this series is undeniably sexy. I’m pretty excited about book three, and looking for more.


Rating: 8 windows.

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

Brilliant again. I have a new favorite author. Write more, Alix Harrow.

There’s no such thing as witches, but there used to be.

James Juniper Eastwood is the youngest of three sisters, the one left behind. Their mother died when Juniper was born; their late grandmother, Mama Mags, had been a beloved teacher and friend, but their father was abusive. As the book begins, this youngest sister – the wild, reckless one – has left her family’s rural land and headed into the city of New Salem, a fugitive from justice and alone in the world. Imagine her surprise when she immediately encounters the middle sister, the strongest and the beauty, Agnes Amaranth, and the eldest, Beatrice Belladonna, a bookish woman (quiet, listening) now working as (of course) a librarian. She is further surprised to learn that Agnes and Beatrice have not been in touch since they left her behind all those seven years ago.

So opens The Once and Future Witches in the spring of 1893. New Salem is vibrating with the tension of women’s suffrage and the backlash of a mayoral candidate who claims to offer “light against the darkness” but would really like to reinstate Old Salem’s treatment of suspected witches. Both issues turn on the question of women’s power, or whether they should have any at all. Juniper is predictably full-speed-ahead, unhesitant to stop at any mean’s – including Mama Mags’s spells or wholesale violence – to advance women’s freedoms. Beatrice is inclined to keep her head down. Agnes has been working hard to scrape a living on a mill girl’s salary, and she’s just discovered that she’ll need to scrape as well for the baby she’s carrying. However, despite their wishes, it seems that the Eastwood sisters are tied to each other’s fates – and to the possible return of the Lost Tower of Avalon and the Last Three, Maiden, Mother and Crone, those fabled witches from back when women held real power.

Witching has perhaps not died out entirely. “Back home every mama teaches her daughters a few little charms to keep the soup-pot from boiling over or make the peonies bloom out of season. Every daddy teaches his sons how to spell ax-handles against breaking and rooftops against leaking.” “Witch-blood runs thick in the sewers,” it’s said: poor folk have held onto the minor spells and charms longer than respectable ones have. And if witching sounds very gendered so far, never fear. The Eastwood sisters will explore all sorts of boundaries, including the question of whether men can work women’s magic and vice versa, and whether those categories even make sense. They will find romance with people of various genders; they will reassess the archetypes of Maiden, Mother and Crone. (“Every woman is usually at least one of those. Sometimes all three and a few others besides.”) They will learn to question what it really takes to be a witch in the first place.

This novel is a lightning-paced, page-turning read at over 500 pages; but it does a lot of twisty-turny work in that space, too, and I don’t want to do much plot summary for fear of spoilers. Harrow’s world-building is delightful, but part of the delight is watching the rules shift and change. The sisters do band together, and there are big fights to be fought, along with the other women – and men, and people who challenge those labels – of this big, diverse, fascinating world. (The novel remains set in New Salem, but the battles are decidedly global.) I love how intersectional are the issues: the vote for women, witchcraft, labor rights, class, race, sexuality and gender, pockets. (“This is the precise reason why women’s dresses no longer have pockets, to show they bear no witch-ways or ill intentions.”)

I adore these characters, and the way they both play to type (Maiden, Mother, Crone) and subvert them. Juniper is obviously a hero – she’s the one who knows that “the trick to doing something stupid is to do it very quickly, before anyone can shout wait!” But Agnes and Bella (who eventually drops the more staid ‘Beatrice’ for her mother’s-name, Belladonna) offer perhaps more depths and complexities. Juniper’s devotion to the cause, and to her sisters, could hardly be questioned; but because they spread their loyalties a little further, Agnes and Bella arguably have to make harder choices to stand by what they believe in. There are many loveable, interesting secondary characters, but it is Miss Cleo Quinn, fearless Black journalist and very special friend to one of the Eastwoods in particular, who holds the fourth spotlight on this stage. She has secrets and baggage of her own, but once committed, she never looks back. A handsome union organizer and an older librarian show that men have a lot to offer in this world, too. And that “men really ought to try offers of fealty rather than flowers” more often.

There is so much to love here. Complex plotting, thorough world-building, lovely, growing-and-changing characters, humor, romance, intersectionality, women’s rights, librarians and scholars, badassery. I’m completely sold, just need more from this author.


Rating: 9.5 snake’s teeth.

rerun/reread: Have You Seen Marie? by Sandra Cisneros, illus. by Ester Hernández

I’ll call this one in part a rerun post, since it started that way. But I did reread the book as well, and in a different format. We’ll start with the original review, which ran in 2014.

What a lovely, lovely book. Fans of Sandra Cisneros, don’t be put off by the sometimes-classification of this short fable as a children’s book. Cisneros says in an afterword that she certainly never thought of it that way; she intended it for adults, and I can confirm that it works that way, very well.

This is a short, dreamy, poetic tale of a woman, the narrator, who has just lost her mother; a visiting friend (“I was the only person Rosalind knew in all of Texas”) has lost her cat, Marie. Together, the two women go walking the streets of San Antonio, distributing fliers and asking folks the title question: Have you seen Marie?

The voice and rhythms and lyrical style that I remember from The House on Mango Street are vibrantly present here. The women ask dogs, cats and squirrels as well as people about the missing Marie, and their reactions are noted, and charmingly represented as being every bit as important as the people’s. On the surface, this is the story of searching for Marie; but it is also the story of Cisneros losing her beloved mother, feeling like an orphan in her own middle age, and gradually coming to understand that “love does not die.”

As I mentioned, Cisneros is careful to point out that this was not meant to be a story for children, but rather one for adults, with the idea of helping others like herself deal with experiences like hers: losing a parent, or a loved one. I am very (very) glad and relieved that I don’t seem to facing this experience now, or soon; but I imagine that this book would indeed help. I appreciate its soothing musical tone and gently loving, inspired advice and creative understanding of death, what it means, the grieving process. It is a tender tale. Cisneros is inventive and calming and this is a beautiful, moving story about family and friendship. I highly recommend it, for anyone.

This audio version is read by the author, and so beautifully; I love her lilt; it’s perfect. I want to very much recommend this version (in both English and Spanish in one edition – one cd of each). But then, the print copy is illustrated by Ester Hernández, and Cisneros is clearly very pleased with that aspect. Hearing her speak about their collaborative efforts on the illustrations (Hernandez came to visit & tour Cisneros’s San Antonio; she calls it documentary-style) made me regret missing the print. So there you are. Both, perhaps?? I think I will go out and get myself a copy of the book, too.


Rating: 10 trees along the San Antonio River.

I did indeed buy the print book, and what I had in mind, in part, was to have it on hand when a friend needed it. That’s taken some years, but I turned to it just recently here with a friend in mind who’d lost a parent, and whose children had therefore lost a grandparent. I picked it up to check it for age-appropriateness for those kids. My conclusion is that it is “safe” for young kids – nothing harrowing about the grief, in fact only gentle reminders that the narrator (the Cisneros character) has lost her mom. It behaves like a children’s picture book: the illustrations are as lovely as I’d imagined, and it relies on refrains and simple language. My only hesitation for kids would be that it’s longer than a typical bedtime story. I did pass it on to my friend with that caution. Maybe it takes a couple of nights to read; maybe it’s for the elder child and not the younger. I also hope my friend will try it on his own first, if only for his own, personal benefit.

It’s also true that I’ve lost somebody close to me recently, too, and I was touched and moved all over again by Cisneros’s small, apparently simple book. Especially the author’s note caught me this time, because it offers a way of thinking about grief that I find charming and, I think, useful. I was also pleased by the cultural flavor of Cisneros’s San Antonio neighborhood. I love that taste of home. And since my original review, I’ve lived near San Antonio, and become a little familiar with its neighborhoods. This was an added bonus. There are a few Spanish-language words sprinkled in, but even with no knowledge of the language, I think any reader will be fine to follow along using context clues.

I am still recommending this book highly, for adults, and with some caution for children as well. I’m sticking with my original rating, and I’m glad I got such a timely chance to revisit.

rerun: Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout by Philip Connors

Trying something new here, friendly readers. Without getting too far into it all, the last weeks have been a stressful time for me, for both personal and work-related reasons. I’ve been a bit overwhelmed, and I’m in danger of getting behind here at the blog. Of the irons in my fire, this is not one I really want adding to the stress. So, an experiment. On occasional blog-post-days, I’m going to rerun old content. We are nearly 12 years old here at pagesofjulia! My hope is that some newer readers may be exposed to reviews they’ve not seen before, and I get another chance to expose you to (or remind you of) some of my favorite books. If this is old news, obviously, skip it, as you please. (Bonus: I had fun going way back to look for reviews to rerun.) I’ll try to keep the editing of my original reviews to a minimum.

Naturally we’re beginning with one of my all-time favorites, Phil Connors’ brilliant first book, Fire Season. I first reviewed this book in May of 2011. You can also read my father’s review, and friend Tassava’s, of same.

Please enjoy.


This is an amazing book. The first sentences immediately grabbed me. Connors works summers in a teeny, tiny tower room way up in the sky in the Gila National Forest in New Mexico, as a fire lookout. His job is to spot smoke and call it in for control or “management” of the fires. But his “field notes” tell so much more than the story of his career as a lookout. This is the story of his time alone in the Gila, and of the visitors he receives and the visits he pays back to town; it’s the story of his and his dog Alice’s interactions with nature. It’s the story of fire and smoke and the Forest Service’s management of fire. It’s a history of fire, of the Forest Service, of the Gila, of so very many aspects of our nation’s history, and the natural history of the southwest. Connors discusses the varied reactions the government has had to fire: the policy of fire suppression, consistently and in every case, versus the concept of “controlled” or “prescribed” burns, and the ongoing debates. He contemplates society, its benefits and our occasional desire to escape it. He discusses his unique model of marriage, in which he spends some five months a year living alone and mostly out of touch. He also relates ecological issues like fire as a natural control mechanism, erosion, and the preferences of flora and fauna. And more.

I found Fire Season astounding and important. There’s a zen-like balance in it. Connors is a rather balanced man, in that he still craves human contact; he’s not an entirely back-to-the-wild isolationist, nor does he fail to appreciate cold beer and a variety of media. But he achieves a special and rare state of commune with nature, too. His writing, for me, parallels this balance. He can wax philosophical, crafting lyrical, beautiful odes and hymns of reverence to nature, fire, and life; but he never gets overly wordy, tempering the poetry with (still beautifully written) narrative history.

Connors tells so many little stories I would love to pull out of this book and share as vignettes. For example, the story of Apache Chief Victorio’s last stand (that lasted over a year) in the vicinity of the lookout tower where Connors is stationed:

That September day in 1879, on the headwaters of Ghost Creek, marks a peculiar moment in America’s westward march: black soldiers, most of them former slaves or the sons of slaves, commanded by white officers, guided by Navajo scouts, hunting down Apaches to make the region safe for Anglo and Hispanic miners and ranchers. The melting pot set to boil.

Or the history of the smokejumpers, which I didn’t know before – the parachuting firefighters who pre-date paratroopers and taught them their trade. Or the tale of the Electric Cowboy. Or the story of the little fawn. I cried, mostly because I empathized. Really, it could be read as a series of anecdotes; but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The larger story is important, too. I even glimpsed traces of the training I’ve received in trail-building and (more broadly) land management.

The history, the lore, the anecdotes, the author’s relationship with nature, his relationship with his wife, the landscape of the Gila, the details about local species of bird, fish, and game… there are so many gems in this thoughtful, loving, lovely book. I am not doing it justice. It’s a very special book and I strongly recommend this to everyone, no matter who you are. But I especially recommend it if you are… a nature lover, a hiker, a dog lover, a government bureaucrat, a pyromaniac, an environmentalist, a city dweller, a romantic, a firefighter, a skydiver, a cribbage player, a whiskey drinker, a writer, a loner, a philosopher, a historian, a student, or a teacher.

This review originally ran before I instituted a rating system, but obviously –


Rating: 10 phobias.

In the Mouth of the Wolf: A Murder, a Cover-Up, and the True Cost of Silencing the Press by Katherine Corcoran

The unsolved murder of a Mexican journalist has implications for the free press and free society everywhere in this in-depth investigation.

In the Mouth of the Wolf: A Murder, a Cover-Up, and the True Cost of Silencing the Press is American journalist Katherine Corcoran’s first book, focusing on the murder of Mexican journalist Regina Martínez in 2012, its aftermath and implications for the free press in Mexico and beyond. Corcoran details the years she spent investigating Martínez’s death, without the satisfaction of a final conclusion; the case remains unsolved, along with many other cases of slain journalists.

“To the foreigner, Mexico charms, cajoles, and seduces. There are so many Mexicos: so many climates, cultures, foods, and languages; contiguous, concentric, stacked; native and colonial; current and past; invisible yet present.” With this same attention to multiplicity, Corcoran relates the complicated nature of a single murder case and all that it represents. Already familiar with Mexican culture, politics and journalism, Corcoran, as Associated Press bureau chief in Mexico City, had also received threats to her staff by the time that Martínez was brutally killed in the bathroom of her own home in Xalapa, Veracruz. Killings of journalists had been on the rise, but this case was different, not least because Martínez was nationally known: “Everyone, including me, knew she was beyond reproach. I had tried to hire her once.” Martínez was known for covering potentially dangerous subjects, frequently including the connection between government corruption and organized crime. No one in her tight-knit circle of journalist friends could say what she’d been working on when she was killed, and the official line quickly became that she had been the victim of a crime of passion–something none of her friends believed, but a difficult theory to disprove.

Into a mess of stories and theories, and still under threat of surveillance and violence years later, steps Corcoran, with archival research and hundreds of interviews with a dizzying cast of characters (helpfully listed in the front of the book) from the media, politics, organized crime, and Martínez’s family and friends. She brings a journalist’s careful accounting of where truth meets speculation, where the author has chosen between versions of the same story, where corroboration has been impossible. In the Mouth of the Wolf offers the results of this research, numerous unconfirmed theories and the personal story of a journalist chasing an elusive truth. By its finish, Corcoran has become alarmed by the state of the free press in the United States as well as in Mexico, and concludes that Martínez’s unsolved murder–and so many like it–have chilling effects not only on the freedom of the press but on society itself, all over the world. This compelling, carefully researched investigation is a sobering clarion call.


This review originally ran in the August 26, 2022 issue of Shelf Awareness for the Book Trade. To subscribe, click here.


Rating: 7 vests.

The White Hare by Jane Johnson

Love and mourning, betrayal and hope, ancient legends and modern conflicts come together in the atmospheric Cornish countryside in this engrossing novel.

Jane Johnson (The Sea Gate; The Tenth Gift) transports readers to rural Cornwall in the years just after World War II in The White Hare, a fanciful novel of family, village life, history, mythology and more.

In the opening pages, first-person narrator Mila, her daughter, Janey, and her mother, Magda, arrive at their new home, a grand but dilapidated Cornish seaside estate, in the summer of 1954. Timid Mila is fleeing an unnamed scandal in London; the irascible Magda has taken charge of their little troop. Janey, age five, is eager to explore her new surroundings, accompanied by Rabbit, her stuffed toy and best friend. The estate, purchased with unexplained but apparently significant funds, has a mysterious history; locals make foreboding remarks and then clam up. “Best not talk about unlucky things too much, or you may attract unwanted attention,” Mila is warned. Magda plans to refurbish and open a grand guest house, with Mila to cook and clean. Immediately and surprisingly latching on to their odd household is Jack Lord, a local who is (like all these characters) unforthcoming about his past, but handy with repairs and good with high-spirited, imaginative, clever Janey. Things go bump in the night, there are hints of ghosts and old crimes, and the vicar in town is inexplicably, aggressively sinister.

Mila and her parents immigrated from Poland just before the war, so she must deal with several layers of outsider status in this insular and remote setting. Janey and Rabbit are oddly at home in the natural world and its legends, while Mila struggles with local culture; her mother’s hostility is considerable, but Jack’s influence is calming, if enigmatic. The White Hare is jam-packed with slowly released secrets: those between mothers and daughters, those kept by the villagers, and those locked away within traumatized minds. It addresses class and war, mysticism and folklore, the persistent influence of history and bloodshed; it dabbles in romance, but remains centrally concerned with the relationships of family, community and place. With lush descriptions of fashion, food and especially nature, Johnson’s prose appeals to sentiment and expertly evokes an often-menacing mood. The intrepid, uncanny Janey and her Rabbit, however, joined by several wise women of the village, offer hope that Mila and her family can move into a happier future in the end. The White Hare is enthralling, as filled with secret passages as the stately home in which it’s set.


This review originally ran in the August 22, 2022 issue of Shelf Awareness for the Book Trade. To subscribe, click here.


Rating: 6 Latin phrases.