An edgy, swiftly paced thriller with laudable female characters.


A metal band guitarist realizes he’s an essential part of a satanic cult’s dark prophecy in this supernatural novel.

Alec Lowell takes a gunshot to the heart during a performance with his Los Angeles band, the Great. Though the unidentified shooter gets away, Alec miraculously survives. His near-death prompts a reunion with Belinda Allen, the girlfriend he left years ago. When he learns the two have a son, Jake, Alec returns to Wisconsin with Belinda. While Alec is constantly paranoid that someone is watching him, Belinda suggests he make amends with his estranged family: his father, Brent, and younger sister, Ilene. But Brent, a devout Roman Catholic, had been abusive, which led to the Great’s ostensibly satanic stage performances—though they’re only for notoriety. Alec is later startled by the news that his dad had actually belonged to a satanic cult. Keeping an eye on Alec in Wisconsin is a reputed Great fan, Lucas, who readers know is a cult member. It seems the “secret Satan society” believes Alec is a prophet, who may play a role in the Dark Lord’s ultimate rise to power. But gathering intelligence on the cult is dangerous, as members target Belinda, Jake, and even Alec, when he proves to be an uncooperative prophet. Johnson’s (The Schoharie, 2017) thriller thrives on suspense, because many characters surrounding Alec may belong to the mysterious cult. Supernatural elements slowly creep in but don’t overwhelm the plot; Alec, for one, has an apparent healing capability. While the author truly excels at character development, including Lucas’ unsettling backstory, the men are generally dense and make questionable decisions. But the women are exceptional, from Belinda to the Great’s lead singer, Claire “Cleo” LeCroix, who calls everyone “hon,” a term either affectionate or condescending, depending on whom she’s speaking to. Despite the book’s heavy religious overtones, the story stays fairly middle-of-the-road, attributing good or evil to individuals rather than their beliefs. The final act piles on twists, and though one is predictable, the others are genuinely shocking.

An edgy, swiftly paced thriller with laudable female characters.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5439-3948-4

Page Count: 376

Publisher: BookBaby

Review Posted Online: April 1, 2019

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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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.


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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