One wishes Ballard Godspeed in his wisely chosen new career. This is a fine beginning to it.

WHERE I’M BOUND

The experiences of black soldiers during the Civil War, and the ordeal of a family victimized and fragmented by slavery, are the subjects in this well-researched and solidly written debut novel, by a respected teacher and historian (One More Day’s Journey, not reviewed, etc.).

As the War draws to its close, runaway slave Joe Duckett escapes from a Confederate prison camp and joins the Union Army as a scout, then is soon made sergeant in a Colored Cavalry troop. Meanwhile (and in parallel chapters throughout), Joe’s wife Zenobia, left behind on the Kenworthy plantation in Mississippi, plans to escape to freedom with her youngest children (the two eldest having been sold to another owner), aided by black field-boss Drayton, who not-so-secretly loves her. Ballard leans rather too heavily on melodramatic coincidence: people who in real life doubtless would never have seen one another again manage to keep meeting on various estates and battlefields (the most egregious such examples are Joe’s chance reunion with his oldest son Luke and his man-to-man combat with Colonel Richard Kenworthy). But the story is swiftly paced and filled with vivid incidents, many of which, as an Author’s Note explains, are indeed historical: the court-martial aboard ship (a steamboat carrying cotton to Vicksburg) of a racist civilian who had interfered with a black soldier on sentry duty; Zenobia’s flight by raft in pursuit of a Yankee boat, and her capture by “deserters and irregulars”; and a horrific scene in which the Union Army unleashes maddened bloodhounds against its foe. The narrative is further distinguished by crisp, credible dialogue and scrupulously fair and fascinating portrayals of the wide spectrum of relationships—many of them genuinely loving ones—between embattled, indignant Southerners and “their” blacks. And you won’t soon forget the haunting final scene.

One wishes Ballard Godspeed in his wisely chosen new career. This is a fine beginning to it.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2000

ISBN: 0-684-87031-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2000

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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Shalvis’ latest retains her spark and sizzle.

ALMOST JUST FRIENDS

Piper Manning is determined to sell her family’s property so she can leave her hometown behind, but when her siblings come back with life-changing secrets and her sexy neighbor begins to feel like “The One,” she might have to redo her to-do list.

As children, Piper and her younger siblings, Gavin and Winnie, were sent to live with their grandparents in Wildstone, California, from the Congo after one of Gavin’s friends was killed. Their parents were supposed to meet them later but never made it. Piper wound up being more of a parent than her grandparents, though: “In the end, Piper had done all the raising. It’d taken forever, but now, finally, her brother and sister were off living their own lives.” Piper, the queen of the bullet journal, plans to fix up the family’s lakeside property her grandparents left the three siblings when they died. Selling it will enable her to study to be a physician’s assistant as she’s always wanted. However, just as the goal seems in sight, Gavin and Winnie come home, ostensibly for Piper’s 30th birthday, and then never leave. Turns out, Piper’s brother and sister have recently managed to get into a couple buckets of trouble, and they need some time to reevaluate their options. They aren’t willing to share their problems with Piper, though they’ve been completely open with each other. And Winnie, who’s pregnant, has been very open with Piper’s neighbor Emmitt Reid and his visiting son, Camden, since the baby’s father is Cam’s younger brother, Rowan, who died a few months earlier in a car accident. Everyone has issues to navigate, made more complicated by Gavin and Winnie’s swearing Cam to secrecy just as he and Piper try—and fail—to ignore their attraction to each other. Shalvis keeps the physical and emotional tension high, though the siblings’ refusal to share with Piper becomes tedious and starts to feel childish.

Shalvis’ latest retains her spark and sizzle.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296139-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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