Despite its length, a fast-paced narrative propelled by Capella’s masterful characterizations of his principals, Wallis and...


A coffee-taster in fin de siècle London experiments with love, coffee varietals and the commodities market in Capella’s robust latest (The Wedding Officer, 2007, etc.).

Robert Wallis is a dandified dilettante who pens verse, spouts aphorisms and aperçus and spends beyond his meager allowance on smoking jackets and other wardrobe items worthy of his idol (at least sartorially) Oscar Wilde. Coffee importer Samuel Pinker overhears Wallis disparaging a café’s brew, and hires his palate. Collaborating with Pinker’s daughter Emily, Wallis concocts a tasting kit of small vials of coffee flavors, enabling Pinker’s buyers to identify superior beans on their travels abroad. Although he visits prostitutes nightly, Wallis finds himself falling in love with Emily and supporting her campaign for women’s suffrage. When he proposes marriage, however, Pinker exiles him to Abyssinia to farm coffee under the tutelage of crusty Scotsman Hector Crannach. Wallis and Hector are accompanied by coffee broker Ibrahim Bey, and Bey’s two slaves, Fikre, a gorgeous African, and her eunuch guardian Mulu. Entranced, Wallis forgets Emily. Emily, meanwhile, mistakes politician Arthur Brewer for a kindred spirit. Wallis barters his last shilling for Fikre, and after a honeymoon of ecstatic lovemaking Wallis learns he’s been swindled: Ibrahim and Fikre have colluded to bankrupt him. Fikre escapes with Mulu, her true love. After Hector’s death (he’s mauled by a leopard) Wallis finds letters disclosing Hector’s affair with Emily. Disillusioned, Wallis returns to London, equipped with valuable life lessons from the tribesmen he’d tried and failed to exploit. He finds Emily married to Brewer, now an MP who’s shown his true male chauvinist colors. Back in Pinker’s employ, Wallis unwittingly abets Pinker’s conspiracy to manipulate the coffee market. Demonstrating that commodities futures and investor gullibility haven’t changed in a century or so, the ensuing “correction” benefits only Pinker and a few other major players. Finally proving his moral mettle, Wallis bows out, renouncing a fortune.

Despite its length, a fast-paced narrative propelled by Capella’s masterful characterizations of his principals, Wallis and Emily.

Pub Date: Sept. 2, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-553-80732-5

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2008

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2018

  • New York Times Bestseller


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

Did you like this book?

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 21

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

Did you like this book?