A novel at its most engaging when it shows the protagonist’s struggle to recover from trauma.


A Virginia woman contemplates revenge against her new boss—the very same man who raped her years ago—in Mikalsen’s (The House by the Cypress Trees, 2019, etc.) thriller.

Emma and Aidan Shephard are both worried about their jobs. The owner of Davis & Parsons, the pharmaceutical company where the couple works, is planning to sell. But the unexpected buyer is Avias Global, which is set to merge with D&P. The more startling news for Emma is that the Avias president is Richard Stolar. She quickly confirms he’s the man who beat and raped her at her college, Westview, more than two decades earlier. People at Westview, including the dean, dismissed Emma’s assault claims back then, and she’s never told Aidan about what happened to her. With revenge in mind, Emma ultimately concentrates on Parozex, an antipsychotic drug Richard wants fast-tracked to FDA approval despite potentially fatal side effects. Emma looks for dirt on the new boss and uncovers a surprising link to her former college roomie, Shannon, and Emma’s boyfriend at Westview, Jeff. Richard’s scheme to get Parozex onto the market is unquestionably unethical, but with employees scared of losing jobs and Aidan getting chummy with Richard, convincing others won’t be easy for Emma. Though Mikalsen’s tale has the hallmarks of a thriller, it’s most riveting as a drama. Emma’s story is at times heartbreaking; she often blames herself for Richard’s vicious assault and is psychologically incapable of using stairs, as the attack took place in a stairwell. But it’s gratifying to watch her persevere even as she stumbles, as when she enlists her teen daughter, Sophie, for her hacking skills to dredge up info on Richard. There’s suspense, particularly near the end, and a few memorable plot turns, while the author’s taut prose dramatizes the protagonist’s inner conflict. Her building anger, for example, results in fists so tightly clenched her fingers ache. Still, the book shines brightest with Emma’s triumphs, such as the support she receives from and provides for another rape survivor.

A novel at its most engaging when it shows the protagonist’s struggle to recover from trauma. 

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5092-2889-8

Page Count: 334

Publisher: Wild Rose Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 24, 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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Less bleak than the subject matter might warrant—Hannah’s default outlook is sunny—but still, a wrenching depiction of war’s...


 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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