A novel that could have used more melodrama or even drama.

THE CAVENDON WOMEN

Second installment of Bradford’s answer to Downton Abbey.

Most of the major Downton characters, both downstairs and upstairs, have their counterparts in Bradford’s saga of the Inghams, who are striving to maintain their stately home after World War I, when, as Downton viewers know, the British government imposed punishing taxes on the aristocracy. Charles Ingham, the sixth Earl of Mowbray, has not lost the family fortune to foolish investments, but he has married his true love, Charlotte, matriarch of the Swann family, which has served the Inghams for more than 300 years. Most of the family greets the news with sanguinity, including the Earl’s heir, Miles, and his four daughters, whose given names all start with D, a move which is intended to charm but mostly confuses. Even Lady Gwendolyn, the book’s crusty clone of the dowager countess of Grantham, approves the match—although the Swanns are commoners, they are not just any commoners. Only Aunt Lavinia complains and is ostracized by the family until, many pages later, the tragic reason for her snark attack is discovered. There are other token attempts to introduce excitement. One of the D daughters is being slandered at work over a long-ago lesbian entanglement (a problem soon mooted by her respectable betrothal), and the Earl’s ex-wife, Felicity, has absconded with the family jewels. Cecily Swann, a successful fashion entrepreneur in the vein of Bradford’s Emma Harte series, has resumed her affair with Miles even though his estranged wife, Clarissa, won’t divorce him—her obesity has removed her from the remarriage market. However, as if Bradford had no real desire to deal with unpleasantness and would prefer to wax rhapsodic about her favorite subjects—décor, money, and beautiful people—every possibility of interesting conflict is quickly dispatched. The family fortune is only briefly threatened. A desultory murder mystery involving peripheral characters and another of the D’s comes too late to leaven the dullness.

A novel that could have used more melodrama or even drama.

Pub Date: March 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-250-03238-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2015

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

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

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

THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

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?

more