Over-the-top melodrama, but not without its own preposterous charm.


Living large . . . but living a lie.

Francesca Valentine, world-renowned violinist, sees a tabloid article that reveals her former name and a photo of her formerly very fat self, and wants to die of shame. Her two perfect children, Jessica and Jon, never knew that she was just “a fat black girl from Marietta, Georgia,” born Claudia Jenkins, twin sister of the eternally hungry and flatulent Bone. Her fondness for her mother Willamina’s cornbread, fried chicken, and other soul food gave her a butt big enough to make a piano stool disappear, according to her foul-mouthed daddy, known as the Deacon. He was always trying to distract the miserable but musically gifted young girl when she practiced anyhow. Well, Hattie Mae, a mysterious relative, took matters into her own capable hands and gave Claudia something she doesn’t have to sit on: a violin. Soon, her incredible talent got her accepted into the Atlanta Youth Symphony Orchestra. Again, Hattie Mae stepped in and swept Claudia away to Europe, where she was tutored by an Italian genius (with a rare talent for oral sex). Many arpeggios and orgasms later, she had a new name—Francesca Valentine—and a new life. Now, she has graced the covers of magazines and dined with princes and diplomats, even performed for a US president and one monarch (neither named) for good measure. But something’s missing . . . . Then not Claudia’s but Hattie Mae’s story unfolds in flashback: serving time for murder, she was pardoned by the lecherous governor and released, only to become his personal in-house sex slave. Even though he seems to prefer an inventive and rather repellent form of squirming to actual intercourse, she becomes pregnant. Hoping to give her illegitimate child every advantage in life becomes her obsession—and she finds a young pregnant girl to stand in for her as Claudia’s mother (this would be Willamina, mother of Bone).

Over-the-top melodrama, but not without its own preposterous charm.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2002

ISBN: 0-375-76103-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2002

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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Thoroughbreds and Virginia blue-bloods cavort, commit murder, and fall in love in Roberts's (Hidden Riches, 1994, etc.) latest romantic thriller — this one set in the world of championship horse racing. Rich, sheltered Kelsey Byden is recovering from a recent divorce when she receives a letter from her mother, Naomi, a woman she has believed dead for over 20 years. When Kelsey confronts her genteel English professor father, though, he sheepishly confesses that, no, her mother isn't dead; throughout Kelsey's childhood, she was doing time for the murder of her lover. Kelsey meets with Naomi and not only finds her quite charming, but the owner of Three Willows, one of the most splendid horse farms in Virginia. Kelsey is further intrigued when she meets Gabe Slater, a blue-eyed gambling man who owns a neighboring horse farm; when one of Gabe's horses is mated with Naomi's, nostrils flare, flanks quiver, and the romance is on. Since both Naomi and Gabe have horses entered in the Kentucky Derby, Kelsey is soon swept into the whirlwind of the Triple Crown, in spite of her family's objections to her reconciliation with the notorious Naomi. The rivalry between the two horse farms remains friendly, but other competitors — one of them is Gabe's father, a vicious alcoholic who resents his son's success — prove less scrupulous. Bodies, horse and human, start piling up, just as Kelsey decides to investigate the murky details of her mother's crime. Is it possible she was framed? The ground is thick with no-goods, including haughty patricians, disgruntled grooms, and jockeys with tragic pasts, but despite all the distractions, the identity of the true culprit behind the mayhem — past and present — remains fairly obvious. The plot lopes rather than races to the finish. Gambling metaphors abound, and sexual doings have a distinctly equine tone. But Roberts's style has a fresh, contemporary snap that gets the story past its own worst excesses.

Pub Date: June 13, 1995

ISBN: 0-399-14059-X

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1995

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