A slow-paced, complacent introduction to the excitement to come—we hope!


The launch of what promises to be another blockbuster Bradford series.

Putting aside her Downton Abbey homage (Secrets of Cavendon, 2017, etc.), Bradford returns to her roots chronicling retail dynasties like the Harte family of A Woman of Substance (1979). Readers be warned: The opening volume of The House of Falconer saga appears to be an extended prologue. Replete with opulent décor, beautiful but unassuming rich people, and homey scenes, the narrative is untroubled by the jeopardy this genre demands. A few exceptions: In 1884, 14-year-old James Lionel Falconer, future founder of what is sure to be the Falconer mercantile empire, suffers chest pains while pushing a wheelbarrow near his father’s stall at Malvern Market. His mother, Maude, is afflicted with a cold which could become pneumonia. However, since no outcome ensues for either ailment, we can only assume this is foreshadowing for future novels. When James, now 17, and a friend are set upon by thugs and badly beaten, the police and family suspect a targeted attack, but this loose end is also left dangling. Sent to the port city of Hull, James advances in an uncle’s shipping company and is seduced by an older and cooperatively unclingy widow. James states he “prefer[s] older women”—which bodes well for his future, spoiler alert, liaisons. Meanwhile, Alexis, 25, the auburn-tressed daughter of commercial real estate kingpin Henry Malvern, falls in mutual love at first sight with Sebastian Trevalian, a widowed banker 15 years her senior. Their families approve (including Sebastian’s daughter Claudia, Alexis’ friend), and money is no problem; something has to go wrong, but large swaths of genteel gloating must be endured before it does. As one forgives a dear friend who tends to blather on, readers may tolerate Bradford’s pedestrian, repetitious prose and even enjoy this leisurely stroll through Victorian times, contenting themselves with occasional celebrity references: Doctor Freud, Jack the Ripper, Crown Prince Bertie, among others. The good characters are unambiguously and tediously good, and no believable antagonist arises to create conflict.

A slow-paced, complacent introduction to the excitement to come—we hope!

Pub Date: Nov. 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-250-18739-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2018

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

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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

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