A highly enjoyable thriller with lots of intelligence and heart.

Assassin's Trap

In Shaftoe’s (Forged in the Jungles of Burma, 2010, etc.) thriller sequel, a newly married couple finds out that marriage can be difficult when people are trying to kill you.

MI-5 agent John Brock has recently returned from the jungles of Burma with his new wife, Caroline, who now works as his administrative assistant. She’s eager to start field training, but after going through hell in Southeast Asia, all John wants to do is to carry out his duties as the head of the counterterrorism unit and keep Caroline safe. But it appears that someone has other plans, and sent an assassin after John. He thinks it’s in his wife’s best interest not to tell her, but Caroline’s desire to be an agent proves to be more forceful than he expected. Soon the couple is working together, and the action moves from London to Oslo to South Korea as they race to find out who wants John dead and why, and what lengths they will go to for revenge. This novel is as much an exploration of what makes a marriage work as it is a spy thriller, interweaving scenes of the Brocks’ relationship with adrenaline-fueled action set pieces. Shaftoe crafts a sequel that stands on its own; the previous book’s plot is easy to pick up, and the new story quickly reels readers in with a mixture of James Bond-style action, political intrigue and sympathetic characters. Although the book is a bit slow to start, it’s difficult to put down once it picks up speed, as this isn’t a generic spy story, but a thoughtful novel populated with real people. The book contains some Christian themes, but these interludes are never preachy or offensive. Shaftoe’s gift for suspense and willingness to put her characters in real danger ups the stakes, resulting in a vividly realized adventure that one can easily imagine seeing on the big screen.

A highly enjoyable thriller with lots of intelligence and heart.

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 2012

ISBN: 978-1469700595

Page Count: 324

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2014

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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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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