A sweet memorialization of a real-life female business pioneer in San Antonio.


Di Maio’s (The Beautiful Strangers, 2019, etc.) take on a shocking American drama pleasantly blends romance and historical fiction inspired by the true story of a Texas brewing tycoon and his wife.

The year is 1942, and Americans are suffering from the effects of World War II. Nineteen-year-old Mabel Hartley has lost both of her brothers overseas, and her father—widowed, alcoholic, and deeply depressed—can’t support her, so she lives on her own and works as a secretary in Baltimore. Desperate for a new start, Mabel answers an alluring newspaper ad for “An aspiring female writer who is interested in recording the story that an old woman would like to tell.” From hundreds of applicants, she is chosen to travel to San Antonio to work for 83-year-old Emma Koehler, renowned businesswoman and wealthy widow of German-born Otto Koehler. The two of them become close as Mabel takes dictation from Emma, who shares the story of her tumultuous marriage, a disastrous automobile accident, and her fierce love for the Pearl Brewing company, which she led through Prohibition. Emma even shares the details of her husband’s scandalous death in the presence of his two mistresses, both nurses in the Koehler employ and both also named Emma. However, the defining attributes of her life are the drive and the acumen with which she’s steered her business, and Mabel takes an empowering message from her story. Meanwhile, living at the Koehler mansion brings her into the orbit of her employer’s extended family, and romance blossoms between Mabel and one of Emma’s young, male relatives. Mabel is a good-natured and resilient, if somewhat naïve, heroine. Her perspective offers interesting insights into the challenges of the period, such as wartime rationing and the prejudice against those of German descent. Despite the grim subject matter, the story is more lighthearted than many World War II accounts. Di Maio’s spirited writing carries the reader quickly through the narrative. The two storylines, alternating between Mabel’s perspective and Emma’s recollections, balance each other well.

A sweet memorialization of a real-life female business pioneer in San Antonio.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-948018-76-0

Page Count: 326

Publisher: Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 29, 2020

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

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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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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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