A familiar but enjoyable fantasy with an intriguing heroine.

LOOKING FOR DEI

Two magical friends seek their destinies in this debut YA novel.

Fifteen-year-old Nara Dall, the adopted daughter of Bylo the laborer, doesn’t know anything about her origins or the long scar that runs all the way down her back. Her best friend, Mykel Aragos, is strong and hardworking but self-conscious about the scar from a surgery to heal his cleft palate. Both teens live in the impoverished town of Dimmitt on the southeastern coast of the Great Lands. Dimmit is preparing for its triennial announcement ceremony, during which local adolescents are tested for magical abilities. The town has not produced a gifted teen in many years, but Nara suspects that she might be discovered at the event. “Not only would” talented young people “earn money in royal service or private employment, but the magic was a gift from Dei. A divine blessing. A reminder that they were loved.” Nara learns from Bylo the secret reason no one in Dimmitt has been chosen—and what it has to do with her—and she seeks to rectify the situation. But it doesn’t go as planned, forcing Nara and Mykel to flee for their lives. Nara’s untrained abilities draw them into a power struggle between dark forces that is about to grip the Great Lands, during which she may finally learn about her own mysterious past. In this series opener, Willson writes in a simple prose that delicately summons his fantasy world to life: “A thin-bladed ornate dagger called a ceppit was the instrument used by the priest to reveal a youth’s magic potential. The priest would intone a prayer and use the ceppit to impale each child’s palm.” While the premise and setting come from the most common tropes of YA fantasy, the author does a good job making the realm come alive by peopling it with complex characters and including worldbuilding flourishes like the runes of the Great Land’s holy book, the Cataclysmos. Readers should be happy to return for the next volume to see what Nara and her friends are up to under Willson’s capable eye.

A familiar but enjoyable fantasy with an intriguing heroine.

Pub Date: March 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9996150-2-7

Page Count: 350

Publisher: Seeker Press

Review Posted Online: March 23, 2018

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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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Less bleak than the subject matter might warrant—Hannah’s default outlook is sunny—but still, a wrenching depiction of war’s...

HOME FRONT

 The traumatic homecoming of a wounded warrior.

The daughter of alcoholics who left her orphaned at 17, Jolene “Jo” Zarkades found her first stable family in the military: She’s served over two decades, first in the army, later with the National Guard. A helicopter pilot stationed near Seattle, Jo copes as competently at home, raising two daughters, Betsy and Lulu, while trying to dismiss her husband Michael’s increasing emotional distance. Jo’s mettle is sorely tested when Michael informs her flatly that he no longer loves her. Four-year-old Lulu clamors for attention while preteen Betsy, mean-girl-in-training, dismisses as dweeby her former best friend, Seth, son of Jo’s confidante and fellow pilot, Tami. Amid these challenges comes the ultimate one: Jo and Tami are deployed to Iraq. Michael, with the help of his mother, has to take over the household duties, and he rapidly learns that parenting is much harder than his wife made it look. As Michael prepares to defend a PTSD-afflicted veteran charged with Murder I for killing his wife during a dissociative blackout, he begins to understand what Jolene is facing and to revisit his true feelings for her. When her helicopter is shot down under insurgent fire, Jo rescues Tami from the wreck, but a young crewman is killed. Tami remains in a coma and Jo, whose leg has been amputated, returns home to a difficult rehabilitation on several fronts. Her nightmares in which she relives the crash and other horrors she witnessed, and her pain, have turned Jo into a person her daughters now fear (which in the case of bratty Betsy may not be such a bad thing). Jo can't forgive Michael for his rash words. Worse, she is beginning to remind Michael more and more of his homicide client. Characterization can be cursory: Michael’s earlier callousness, left largely unexplained, undercuts the pathos of his later change of heart. 

Less bleak than the subject matter might warrant—Hannah’s default outlook is sunny—but still, a wrenching depiction of war’s aftermath.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-312-57720-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2012

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