A fascinating, electric account of a heroic woman.

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HALL OF MIRRORS

VIRGINIA HALL: AMERICA'S GREATEST SPY OF WORLD WAR II

This debut tells the story of Virginia Hall, an American spy for the Allies in World War II.

Hall (1906-1982) was a real woman and an amazing one. But rather than tell the story as straight history, Gralley has chosen to turn it into a novel with Hall as the protagonist and first-person narrator—an inspired decision. As if her life would not prove challenging enough, early on, Hall lost her lower left leg in a hunting accident. As a result, she gained an intimate lifelong companion, a wooden prosthesis that she named Cuthbert. It was, needless to say, a love-hate relationship. She would sometimes encourage Cuthbert, but more often, she would berate him. Hall spent the early years of the war under various guises as a spy based in Lyon. The northern half of France was German occupied; the southern half—the Vichy government—was also under German control but existed under the thinly veiled illusion that it was free. Danger was a constant. Right off the bat, Hall’s “pianist,” her “covert radio operator,” was found out and killed. The high point in the story is her escape into Spain, trudging over the Pyrenees in winter, the Gestapo hot on her trail. There is no question that Hall was indefatigable. But Gralley’s treatment really brings that aspect home. We get to know Hall firsthand, in all her tortured and scary moments. What pervades the novel like a miasma is the sensation of being a spy, a deceiver, to be always—always—on guard. She has the human feelings that we all have, but she cannot indulge them, and this, too, eats at her. The fact of Cuthbert has shut off avenues to advancement, but there is also the fact that she is a woman. Time and again she has to prove herself (and prove herself she does), but it seems never enough until a final triumph. She receives commendations from Britain and her own country but dodges the accompanying ceremonies, having further work to do. 

A fascinating, electric account of a heroic woman.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-73354-150-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Chrysalis Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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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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