A rigorous work of historical fiction weighed down by a bloated plot.

Downhill from Vimy

Levan’s (Give Us This Day, 2007) novel explores the personal wages of war, love, and sacrifice.

In 1992, when Christopher Levan, a minister, first came upon Gordon Davis, a former soldier of World War I, he found a broken man, mute and mad. Davis had languished in a veteran’s hospital for more than 70 years, but he began to communicate to Levan, however confusedly, in fits and starts. His story turns out to be heartbreaking. He was a ministry student at Wycliffe College in Toronto, on his way to the priesthood, when he enlisted in the military’s medical corps during the Great War. While passing through Montreal with his unit, he made the acquaintance of Bishop Terrance Hinks and his daughter, Joanna, with whom he fell deeply in love. The two pledged to marry once Davis finally returned to civilian life. The horrors of combat took their toll on Davis, but he conducted himself with notable bravery, participating in a battle against the German army at Vimy Ridge and in the bloodbath that was the Battle of Passchendaele. In December 1917, he and Joanna planned to meet at Halifax Harbour, but their plans were stymied due to a catastrophic explosion caused by a ship collision. When Davis couldn’t find her at their designated meeting place, he was prepared to scour the country to find her, but he became entangled in a political scandal involving a powerful priest. His loyalty to Joanna was subsequently tested in a way that has painful reverberations on the remainder of his days. Author Levan, who shares a name with the narrator, writes in a manner that evinces a masterful command of the historical period. He also unravels the romantic power of Davis’ connection with Joanna with patience and delicacy; for example, the character of Levan observes, “Something in those four days silenced [Davis], and it is my guess that it was not the war or the disaster that robbed him of speech. It was deeper than shock and hatred, and the only possibility that makes sense is love.” However, the author also makes the plot leap speedily back and forth in time, which results in a halting pace and a jarring lack of narrative momentum. Even after readers fully piece it together, the congested story will seem more convoluted than complex.

A rigorous work of historical fiction weighed down by a bloated plot.  

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4602-8115-4

Page Count: 426

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2016

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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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A steamy, glitzy, and tender tale of college intrigue.


From the Briar U series

In this opener to Kennedy’s (Hot & Bothered, 2017, etc.) Briar U romance series, two likable students keep getting their signals crossed.

Twenty-one-year-old Summer Heyward-Di Laurentis is expelled from Brown University in the middle of her junior year because she was responsible for a fire at the Kappa Beta Nu sorority house. Fortunately, her father has connections, so she’s now enrolled in Briar University, a prestigious institution about an hour outside Boston. But as she’s about to move into Briar’s Kappa Beta Nu house, she’s asked to leave by the sisters, who don’t want her besmirching their reputation. Her older brother Dean, who’s a former Briar hockey star, comes to her rescue; his buddies, who are still on the hockey team, need a fourth roommate for their townhouse. Three good-looking hockey jocks and a very rich, gorgeous fashion major under the same roof—what could go wrong? Summer becomes quickly infatuated with one of her housemates: Dean’s best friend Colin “Fitzy” Fitzgerald. There’s a definite spark between them, and they exchange smoldering looks, but the tattooed Fitzy, who’s also a video game reviewer and designer, is an introvert who prefers no “drama” in his life. Summer, however, is a charming extrovert, although she has an inferiority complex about her flagging scholastic acumen. As the story goes on, the pair seem to misinterpret each other’s every move. Meanwhile, another roommate and potential suitor, Hunter Davenport, is waiting in the wings. Kennedy’s novel is full of sex, alcohol, and college-level profanity, but it never becomes formulaic. The author adroitly employs snappy dialogue, steady pacing, and humor, as in a scene at a runway fashion show featuring Briar jocks parading in Summer-designed swimwear. The book also manages to touch on some serious subjects, including learning disabilities and abusive behavior by faculty members. Summer and Fitzy’s repeated stumbles propel the plot through engaging twists and turns; the characters trade off narrating the story, which gives each of them a chance to reveal some substance.

A steamy, glitzy, and tender tale of college intrigue.    

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-72482-199-7

Page Count: 372

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 28, 2019

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