Unapologetically over the top.

HOUSE OF THIEVES

A society architect joins a gang of New York, circa 1886.

In the second of architect-turned-novelist Belfoure’s historical homages to his profession (The Paris Architect, 2013), the protagonist, John Cross, is a talented designer whose rank in the city’s rarified old-money society seems assured. His wife, Helen, is related to Caroline Astor, Manhattan’s most revered hostess. Mrs. Astor’s largesse has allowed Cross’ eldest son, George, to attend Harvard, and Aunt Caroline is shepherding and financing Cross’ daughter, Julia, 17, through the byzantine ritual of making her debut. However, one whiff of scandal associated with Cross or his family would be enough to blackball him from Mrs. Astor’s good graces. When George’s intractable gambling habit leaves him owing $48,000 to the suave but depraved gangster James T. Kent, kingpin of Kent’s Gents, Cross indentures himself to the gang to pay off his son’s debt. Cross provides the Gents with blueprints of buildings he designed and instructions on how to locate and spirit away the riches they house. Meanwhile, Julia escapes her remarkably gullible chaperones to follow John Nolan, a dapper pickpocket she spots outside Lord & Taylor. Soon Nolan is introducing her to cockfights and a spectator sport known as “ratting.” Charlie, Cross’ 10-year-old second son, who, unlike Julia, lacks even the semblance of adult supervision, falls in with Eddie, a newsie, and dabbles, for a few hours each day, in the lifestyle of a street urchin. As Cross directs more and more daring heists for Kent’s Gents—Helen actually helps him target which nouveau riche family mansion to pilfer—he finds himself enjoying the thrill. However, when his older brother, Robert, a Pinkerton guard, starts investigating the crime spree, Cross’ plan to avoid scandal, not to mention bodily harm, seems doomed. Despite some improbable situations, an entertaining excursion through Gilded Age New York with all the right architectural details.

Unapologetically over the top.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4926-1789-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015

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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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A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules...

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A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW

Sentenced to house arrest in Moscow's Metropol Hotel by a Bolshevik tribunal for writing a poem deemed to encourage revolt, Count Alexander Rostov nonetheless lives the fullest of lives, discovering the depths of his humanity.

Inside the elegant Metropol, located near the Kremlin and the Bolshoi, the Count slowly adjusts to circumstances as a "Former Person." He makes do with the attic room, to which he is banished after residing for years in a posh third-floor suite. A man of refined taste in wine, food, and literature, he strives to maintain a daily routine, exploring the nooks and crannies of the hotel, bonding with staff, accepting the advances of attractive women, and forming what proves to be a deeply meaningful relationship with a spirited young girl, Nina. "We are bound to find comfort from the notion that it takes generations for a way of life to fade," says the companionable narrator. For the Count, that way of life ultimately becomes less about aristocratic airs and privilege than generosity and devotion. Spread across four decades, this is in all ways a great novel, a nonstop pleasure brimming with charm, personal wisdom, and philosophic insight. Though Stalin and Khrushchev make their presences felt, Towles largely treats politics as a dark, distant shadow. The chill of the political events occurring outside the Metropol is certainly felt, but for the Count and his friends, the passage of time is "like the turn of a kaleidoscope." Not for nothing is Casablanca his favorite film. This is a book in which the cruelties of the age can't begin to erase the glories of real human connection and the memories it leaves behind.

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules of Civility (2011).

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-670-02619-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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