A promising first effort—filled with strong characters—that shines despite its ponderous writing style.

Calypso Sun

A debut novel explores the past and present of a war-torn land and its leaders over the course of one night.

Violence has haunted Braeland for centuries, as different families and regions repeatedly clash in brutal battles punctuated by only tenuous periods of peace. The source of this unending conflict is religion. While most people live in accordance with sacred texts called the Way, which tell the stories of the two brothers Faedelin and Mehsani, the South sees the latter as their ultimate savior, while the North adores the former. The tale focuses on only one night and the tenuous attempt to sign a peace treaty that follows. Flashbacks explore the pasts of four main characters and connect their personal histories to their emotional and physical wounds. Jon Carrow, a Northern general, is unstable and traumatized after years of displacement and rejection, while his compatriot Payton Tallhart puts on a resolute public face as the soon-to-be-queen of Braeland. She quietly wrestles with memories of her turbulent youth and religious fanatic father. Payton maintains a close friendship with the thoughtful Jem Nalda, now a soldier for the South. Jem’s lover is Lanair Mavogar, reputedly the last living descendant of Mehsani and once the adoptive brother of Carrow. Alexander convincingly depicts a complex society riven with deep divisions while also creating fully realized characters whose relationships reflect both personal and political turbulence. The book’s major weakness is a tendency toward laborious writing. Though his characters, worldbuilding, and plot are all intriguing, Alexander often gets bogged down in overly long and complicated metaphors that explore his players’ mental states. These passages elucidate those states far less than sequences that describe these characters in plain language. The story’s many flashbacks sometimes become jarring, as the narrative intercuts between past and present with little indication. The highly complex histories of this sweeping world and the dynamic characters are examined over the entire course of the novel, so acquiring a full understanding requires patience and close reading.

A promising first effort—filled with strong characters—that shines despite its ponderous writing style.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-692-60414-4

Page Count: 422

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 4, 2016

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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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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