A thoughtfully written, rewarding read.

ANGEL FALLS

A spunky ballet teacher has to choose between her small-town sweetheart and a suave, Scottish newcomer.

After her New York City dance career fell flat, Casey Alexander came home to open a studio in Angel Falls, Alabama, a “dinky little deep-south town on the backside of nowhere.” To add insult to injury, she has to face Ben, the high school sweetheart who promised to follow her to New York but knocked up her best friend Melody instead. Three kids later, Melody is living the happily-ever-after life that should have been Casey’s. After a reconciliatory shopping trip ends in a freak car accident, Melody’s dying wish is that Casey take Ben back, and it looks like Casey could get that perfect-seeming life after all. However, Ian Buchanan, a newspaper mogul who has just bought the Angel Falls Informer and the building that houses Casey’s studio, has also put in a bid for Casey’s heart. Steamy nights with Ian, blissfully domestic moments with Ben, and bouts of survivor guilt result in a cocktail of emotions “as heady and confusing as Long Island Iced Tea.” Both prospects are not without their flaws. Ben’s version of caring for his kids—Jake, Maryann, and Amy—consists of foisting them on Casey at a moment’s notice. Ian is so surly that Casey initially nicknamed him the Newspaper Nazi, and he still bears the scars from a tragic first marriage. But when it comes to Ben and the kids, Casey will always be second best. De Jongh’s debut novel hits all its marks and blends romantic comedy, drama, and suspense. The characters are well-crafted—there’s no perfect Prince Charming—and Ben’s kids make for a compelling complication to the love triangle. Three-year-old Amy amplifies Casey’s guilt, and Jake’s rebellious preteen antics create opportunities for Ian to come to the rescue, though middle-child Maryann feels underdeveloped. Nevertheless, this is a lovely story about the intersections of love, friendship, duty, and self-care.

A thoughtfully written, rewarding read.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9979398-1-1

Page Count: 332

Publisher: Tranquil Dragonfly Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 22, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2017

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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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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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