An engrossing, sometimes eerie tale with a pragmatic but remarkable protagonist.

THE DEVIL AND DAYNA DALTON

From the A Bulwark Anthology series , Vol. 9

A woman who has pined over a guy for years unwittingly captures the attention of a handsome but unsettling stranger in this novella.

People in the town of Bulwark, Georgia, generally dismiss Dayna Dalton. Due to her mother’s dismal reputation, some write Dayna off as Becky Dalton’s “white-trash daughter.” A reporter for local newspaper the Bulwark Advance, Dayna has had her choice of potential suitors throughout the years. But there’s only one person she wants: Sheriff Clay Finnes. She’s been drawn to Clay since the two were high schoolers in Bulwark. Although he’s respectful of Dayna, he rejects each one of her advances and wishes simply to be friends. Her longing continues even after Clay ties the knot with nurse Jenna Harper. But Dayna never makes a pass at the sheriff when he’s married, and she seems content with their working relationship, as he provides information on cases for the paper. Dayna typically writes puff pieces for the Advance but is always on the lookout for something juicy. She may have found just that with the wolf that nearly attacks her. But her editor assures her there are no wolves in Bulwark. Consequently, she keeps mum about the red-eyed stranger who apparently rescued her from the animal. When she returns to the woods where she first saw the man, Dayna hears someone calling her name. The stranger then appears in a rousing but surreal encounter, and Dayna later witnesses unexplainable things that make her question if she’s hallucinating or stepping into new, much darker terrain. This is the ninth installment of a multiauthor anthology, with recurring characters and stories set in Bulwark. This brisk, enjoyable novella frequently references Lunden’s (The Knowing, 2019, etc.) Book 1 as well as her pre-anthology, Bulwark-set debut work. For example, there’s a notable scene featuring older townsperson JB Straton. To find out a lot of specifics about this character, readers would need to peruse the earlier stories. But the author suitably incorporates some details about the man in this installment (for example, chasing a possible article on JB ultimately leads to the stranger with blood-red eyes). Dayna, who has also previously appeared in the anthology, is a sympathetic protagonist. She has genuine affection for Clay, and she suffers a contentious relationship with Becky. In the same vein, Dayna’s “series of meaningless affairs” is a sign that she’s trying, and repeatedly failing, to find a deeper connection with someone other than Clay. The story, perhaps unsurprisingly, gets more somber as Dayna gets closer to the stranger. Scenes with the two are ambiguous, which will lead most readers to question, like Dayna, what she’s actually experiencing. Lunden’s writing style delivers titillating moments that still manage subtlety: “A faint exhalation of breath tickled her neck, making every organ in her body sizzle and snap back to life.” The humor is as dark as the plot. Dayna’s former babysitter, Thelma Sweetpea, is now her neighbor, and she has a wanton animosity for the reporter. Mrs. Sweetpea is funny as an elderly woman who evidently disapproves of Dayna’s lifestyle, but the neighbor also becomes progressively creepier.

An engrossing, sometimes eerie tale with a pragmatic but remarkable protagonist.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-950080-02-1

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Chelshire

Review Posted Online: Dec. 4, 2019

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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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