PATTERNMASTER

From the Patternist series , Vol. 1

This is fine, old-fashioned sf about a distant future in which the earth is ruled by Patternists whose psi powers let them control the "mutes" who have no mental voices and do battle with the Clayarks—strange creatures with four legs and human faces. A brief passage two thirds through the book offers a throwaway explanation of how this state of affairs came to be, but the how and why are less important here than the compelling conflict between Teray and his brother Coransee, both of whom seek to become Patternmaster—the ruler of this strange world. Escape fiction in the best Patterned tradition.

Pub Date: July 23, 1976

ISBN: 978-0-385-12197-2

Page Count: -

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: July 9, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1976

Cerebral, wise and compassionate, Gamache is destined for stardom. Don’t miss this stellar debut.

STILL LIFE

From the Chief Inspector Gamache series , Vol. 1

Three Pines, an appealing Quebecois community, is shaken by the death of a beloved longtime village schoolteacher and unsung artist.

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his team find that Miss Jane Neal has been shot through the heart with an arrow. Is it a hunting accident or murder? Gamache sets up shop in the charming village B&B owned by a gay couple but is suspended when he refuses to arrest a local bowman who confesses after his sullen son is fingered for the crime. His longtime associate Beauvoir takes over while Gamache ponders the case. Jane, who never exhibited her work, had just had an astonishing folk art painting accepted for a show. Her obnoxious niece Yolande, who can’t wait to get into Jane’s house, gets a court order to keep the police out. Meanwhile, an equally arrogant trainee has not done her job checking wills, and a new one turns up leaving almost everything to Jane’s neighbor Clara Morrow, a married artist who’d been like a daughter to Jane, whose youthful romance had been quashed by her parents. Because no one had ever been allowed past Jane’s kitchen, everyone’s dumbfounded to find walls, recently covered by Yolande in appalling wallpaper, full of murals. The slight difference Clara notices between the murals and Jane’s painting holds the clue to her murder.

Cerebral, wise and compassionate, Gamache is destined for stardom. Don’t miss this stellar debut.

Pub Date: July 17, 2006

ISBN: 0-312-35255-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Dunne/Minotaur

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2006

Agreeable heroine (only her running is a bore), fine dialogue, a great eye for people and places—so we're looking forward to...

'A' IS FOR ALIBI

From the Alphabet series , Vol. 1

A shakily plotted but otherwise terrific start for a new detective series—with Kinsey Millhone, twice-divorced California private eye, as the enormously engaging narrator.

Funny but not too cute, tough and liberated but not too loud about it, Kinsey is grand company as she re-investigates an old case: eight years ago womanizing divorce lawyer Laurence Fife was poisoned, second wife Nikki was convicted, but now Nikki is out of jail and wants Kinsey to find the real murderer. The main new lead: Laurence's death was shortly followed, it turns out, by the similar fatal poisoning of accountant Libby Glass, who did work for Laurence and partner Charlie Scorsoni. Was Laurence having an affair with Libby? So it seems. But Kinsey leaves no suspect un-suspected: she talks to Laurence's first wife; to the grown kids from that first marriage; to Libby's ex-colleagues, sad parents, and surly old boyfriend; to Laurence's former secretary Sharon, now a dealer in Vegas (who's murdered just before Telling All); to sexy Charlie—whom Kinsey is in bed with fairly soon. And though the two-part solution is a let-down (Grafton stoops, disappointingly, to yet another Maltese Falcon-ry, with Charlie as Mary Astor), the suspects are a consistently interesting group, many of whom work (grooming dogs, sewing, laying bricks) while they talk—a simple but beguiling added texture.

Agreeable heroine (only her running is a bore), fine dialogue, a great eye for people and places—so we're looking forward to "B" through "Z," especially if Grafton can tighten up her plotting.

Pub Date: April 30, 1982

ISBN: 0312353812

Page Count: 324

Publisher: Holt Rinehart & Winston

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1982

Leckie’s novel cast of characters serves her well-plotted story nicely. This is an altogether promising debut.

ANCILLARY JUSTICE

From the Imperial Radch series , Vol. 1

In which a zombie imperialist space cop gets caught up in a complex plot to—well, this enjoyable sci-fi outing gets even more complicated than all that.

Those who have seen the film Event Horizon will remember that a starship that got caught up in a time-space-continuum eddy got all, well, weird—or, as its creator puts it, “[w]hen she crossed over, she was just a ship. But when she came back—she was alive!” Debut novelist Leckie’s premise dips into the same well, only her spaceship has become, over thousands of years, a sort-of human that is also a sort-of borg made up of interchangeable-parts-bearing dead people. Breq, aka One Esk, aka Justice of Toren, has his/her/its work cut out for him/her/it: There’s a strange plot afoot in the far-flung Radch, and it’s about to make Breq violate the prime directive, or whatever the Radchaai call the rule that says that multisegmented, ancillary humanoids are not supposed to shoot their masters, no matter how bad their masters might be. Leckie does a very good job of setting this complex equation up in not many pages, letting detail build on detail, as when Breq finds—well, let’s say “herself” for the moment—in an increasingly tangled conspiracy that involves the baddest guy of all, the even more multifaceted head honcho of the Radch. As the action picks up, one just knows there’s going to be some battering and bruising out on the shoulder of Orion.

Leckie’s novel cast of characters serves her well-plotted story nicely. This is an altogether promising debut.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-316-24662-0

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Orbit/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2013

Thoroughly likable debut fiction (the first of a trilogy), narrated in an old-fashioned leisurely style with enough...

MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS

From the Morningside Heights series , Vol. 1

A first novel by Mendelson (Home Comforts, not reviewed) follows the intersecting fortunes of a group of friends and neighbors who live in an enclave of Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

Morningside Heights is one of those pleasant, dull neighborhoods that used to be common in New York. Built largely as a preserve for the well-to-do, it began a long decline during the Depression and for many decades muddled along with a kind of seedy sophistication that was typical in the pre-Guiliani era. When Anne and Charles Braithwaite moved to the Heights in the early ’80s it was a great place to live: adjacent to Columbia University, inexpensive but richly endowed with good schools, bookstores, churches, and parks. Charles was a singer at the Metropolitan Opera, Anne a concert pianist who had stopped performing to devote herself to their three children. By the late ’90s, however, soaring real estate prices had changed the character of the place as families and retirees could no longer afford the rents. When Anne discovers she’s pregnant again, she and Charles reluctantly decide to look for a bigger place in the suburbs—but just then they learn that Anne has been named primary beneficiary in the will of the late Elizabeth Miller, who had lived across the hall from them. Elizabeth, 103 when she died, had never married and for more than 20 years had placed all her business affairs in the hands of Eugene Becker, a shady lawyer who claims that Elizabeth was essentially bankrupt and that at any rate she had made a later will in his favor. Anne and Charles are willing to let the matter pass, but they can’t help wondering: If Elizabeth was truly broke, why did Becker go to the bother of drawing up a new will for her?

Thoroughly likable debut fiction (the first of a trilogy), narrated in an old-fashioned leisurely style with enough subplots, mysteries, and denouements to keep any reader engaged for the duration.

Pub Date: June 17, 2003

ISBN: 0-375-50836-8

Page Count: 340

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2003

A simple and surprising effort to capture everyday life that rewards the time given to it.

MY STRUGGLE

BOOK ONE

From the My Struggle series , Vol. 1

A Norwegian novelist plumbs his interior life, particularly his troubled relationship with his late father, in this curiously affecting opening to a multipart epic.

“Epic,” though, may not be quite the right word to apply to what Knausgaard (Out of This World, 2005; A Time for Everything, 2009), has accomplished. Though the book, a bestseller in his homeland, is composed of six volumes, its focus is on the author’s quotidian, banal, sometimes-frivolous experiences. One extended sequence follows his ham-handed interview as a teenager of a well-known Norwegian author; another covers his ham-handed attempt to play in a rock band; another tracks his ham-handed efforts to get to a New Year’s Eve party. Sense a pattern? Knausgaard is emotionally clumsy to be sure, but remarkably, almost miraculously, his novel never comes off as a plea for sympathy, as so many memoirs (or memoir-novels) are. He means to strip experiences and emotional responses to their bare essences, and over time, the book evokes a feeling of fully inhabiting a character that typical rhetorical somersaulting often doesn’t. That’s not to say the storytelling is aimless or can’t be emotionally piercing: The book concludes with a long section of Karl Ove and his brother, Yngve, clearing out their alcoholic father’s rural home while minding their grandmother, who appears to be succumbing to alcoholism herself. Scrubbing down the impossibly filthy home is dry stuff on the sentence level (“I filled the bucket with water, took a bottle of Klorin, a bottle of green soap and a bottle of Jif scouring cream…”), but the slow accrual of detail masterfully evokes the slow effort to reckon with the past. The title, with its echo of Hitler’s memoir, is a provocation, but a considered one—Knausgaard's reckoning with his past is no less serious for lacking drama and outsize tragedy.

A simple and surprising effort to capture everyday life that rewards the time given to it.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-914671-00-8

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Archipelago

Review Posted Online: Jan. 29, 2015

Very dark and very scary, with no simple answers provided—fantasy for grown-ups, in other words, and very satisfying indeed.

THE MAGICIANS

From the The Magicians Trilogy series , Vol. 1

Grossman (Codex, 2004, etc.) imagines a sorcery school whose primary lesson seems to be that bending the world to your will isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

When Quentin manages to find Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy and pass its baffling entrance exam, he finally feels at home somewhere. Back in the real world, Quentin and fellow students, like brilliant, crippling shy Alice and debonair, sexually twisted Eliot, were misfits, obsessed with a famous children’s series called Fillory and Further (The Chronicles of Narnia, very lightly disguised). Brakebills teaches them how to tap into the universe’s flow of energy to cast spells; they’re ready to graduate and…then what? “You can do nothing or anything or everything,” cautions Alice, who has become Quentin’s lover. “You have to find something to really care about to keep from running totally off the rails.” Her warning seems apt as he indulges in aimless post-grad drinking and partying, eventually betraying Alice with two other Brakebills alums. The discovery that Fillory actually exists offers Quentin a chance to redeem himself with Alice and find a purpose for his life as well. But Fillory turns out to be an even more dangerous, anarchic place than the books suggested, and it harbors a Beast who’s already made a catastrophic appearance at Brakebills. The novel’s climax includes some spectacular magical battles to complement the complex emotional entanglements Grossman has deftly sketched in earlier chapters. The bottom line has nothing to do with magic at all: “There’s no getting away from yourself,” Quentin realizes. After a dreadful loss that he discovers is the result of manipulation by forces that care nothing about him or his friends, Quentin chooses a bleak, circumscribed existence in the nonmagical world. Three of his Brakebills pals return to invite him back to Fillory: Does this promise new hope, or threaten more delusions?

Very dark and very scary, with no simple answers provided—fantasy for grown-ups, in other words, and very satisfying indeed.

Pub Date: Aug. 10, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-670-02055-3

Page Count: 404

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2009

When not lengthily bogged down in angst, a readable, non-formulaic police procedural with a twist. It’s ultimately the...

IN THE WOODS

From the Dublin Murder Squad series , Vol. 1

The discovery of a body near a spooky wood forces a murder-squad detective in Ireland to confront his own horrific past, in an engrossing if melancholy debut.

This mystery, heavy on psycho-drama, is set in the Dublin suburb of Knocknaree and is the first in a sequence to feature detectives Cassie Maddox and Adam Ryan. Adam has hidden his secret from everyone in the police force except his partner and best friend Cassie. She alone knows that he was the surviving child of three who went missing in the wood in 1984. Adam was found clinging to a tree, his shoes full of blood; there was no trace of his pals Peter and Jamie, nor could Adam remember a thing. Now, 20 years on, Katy Devlin’s battered body has been found by the same wood, where an archaeological dig is in progress, under threat from plans for a new road. The investigation—Operation Vestal—evokes queasy sensations and flashes of recollection in Adam. The relationship with Cassie goes awry after the two sleep together. Adam eventually solves the Katy Devlin murder, but in this meditation on lost innocence, psychopathology and fear, his success is ruined when his own history emerges, leading to demotion.

When not lengthily bogged down in angst, a readable, non-formulaic police procedural with a twist. It’s ultimately the confession of a damaged man.

Pub Date: May 21, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-670-03860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2007

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