An absorbing and suspenseful story of intergenerational family ties.


Armed with fortitude and a .357 Magnum, a California grandmother and her young grandson go up against a crooked corporation and big pharma in Ragano’s thriller.

Seventy-something retiree Stella Valentine is recovering from cancer. She’s now healthy thanks to her participation in a trial for Helixin, a new drug. But her troubles begin when Great American Superstore takes over Stella’s former employer, Caruso’s Supermarket. After the corporation cancels her pension plan, she can no longer afford the Helixin treatment. Neither Great American reps nor her doctor, Dr. Whittier, will help her, and Stella’s son, Frank, only makes things worse. He owes thuggish millionaire Lester Cummings after a failed real estate venture. To satisfy Lester’s demand for “escrow,” Frank puts his mother in Shady Palms, a Lester-owned retirement home. To escape, Stella gets assistance from her 11-year-old grandson (and Frank’s son), Johnny. The familial duo takes a stand against Shady Palms’ fixed bingo games before going after the free Helixin samples Dr. Whittier is stockpiling. They soon realize, however, they can help others by providing prescription drugs, which will require boosting the drugs from Great American delivery trucks. All of this, of course, incites menacing individuals, but Stella and Johnny pair their tenacity with Stella’s personal revolver. Notwithstanding the playful title, Ragano (The Voting Machine, 2012, etc.) generally takes the story seriously. Stella and Johnny, for example, are constantly under threat by men willing to harm them or worse. Nevertheless, the author wisely tones down the violence, as Stella never fires a gun with intent to kill. Dialogue is likewise relatively tame, as Stella, despite her “teeth clenched with rage,” drops a “Doggone it” in lieu of something harsher. Detective Rebecca Little is a laudable supporting character, sympathetic to the Valentines but also a reminder that they’re lawbreakers. At the same time, a transparent but still convincing anti-capitalism theme makes the villains apparent; prosperous Whittier’s racquetball tournament unquestionably takes precedence over Stella, his patient.

An absorbing and suspenseful story of intergenerational family ties.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4701-2537-0

Page Count: 386

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 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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