Zany fun in an exciting adventure.

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Escape from Dorkville

It falls upon 14-year-old Wilkin Delgado and his partner in crime, tug of war champion Alice Jane Zelinski, to save the universe again in the latest installment of Ammerman’s (Waiting for the Voo, 2014, etc.) adventures.

Fifteen-year-old Alice Jane knows she’s not cut out for the provincial life in “Dorkville,” aka Warrensberg, Minnesota. She misses Kansas City: “Here in Central Nowhere you can’t get real barbecue or honest-to-god hot sauce, all they play is polka music and they put corn in their gasoline.” Worse, since Alice Jane lives with her mom in Wilkin’s house, she also has to put up with the clueless 14-year-old. She has found a way to hang in there, managing her anger by getting in touch with her inner chi. But relief soon appears in the form of old friend Cardamon Webb, who recruits Wilkin and Alice Jane on yet another adventure to save the universe. Soon, Wilkin and Alice Jane are off on a quest, escaping Dorkville. Their task is almost an impossible mission: the universe is drying up, and Cardamon suspects it’s a problem with fresh water at the Source. To get at the crux of the matter, the team must “travel from the Outside through the Inside to the Other Side” and “pay a visit to the All and Everything.” On the odyssey, they have to make pilgrimage stops at Carthrobrite Cave, the City of the Dead, and the Oracle of the Swamp, not to mention battle evil forces such as Maldavis Chum. The story is a little too glib when it glosses over Maldavis Chum’s “cleansing” activities, which involve killing hundreds of thousands of people, but it’s probably beyond the scope of this wild roller coaster ride. The familiar trope of heroes on a quest gets an enjoyable makeover with endearing Wilkin and spunky Alice Jane, who, along with their sidekicks, make for a lovable pair. As they narrate the adventure in alternating chapters, their distinctive personalities make for memorable storytelling. And how can any middle grader resist a story that begins: “I now have a greater appreciation of toilets.”

Zany fun in an exciting adventure.

Pub Date: Aug. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-98-468224-9

Page Count: 202

Publisher: Kabloona

Review Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

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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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