An engaging showbiz and courtroom drama, hampered by underdeveloped characters.

Waiting in the Wings

A debut historical novel details the life of an early 1920s vaudeville starlet whose career was tragically cut short.

Rees bases her story on the real-life tale of her great aunt, who was a big name in San Francisco’s vaudeville scene. Ruby Adams has a tough upbringing, living in a shantytown after the earthquake of 1906, but through pure charm and panache is able to build herself up into a local star, loved by San Franciscans as one of their own. At the outset of the novel, she’s in the middle of a successful run at the Strand Theater, set to marry the wealthy John Davis, a popular bootlegger, and about to make her move into the burgeoning film industry. One night, though, tragedy strikes, as a falling sandbag backstage strikes Ruby, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. The rest of the tale follows the aftermath of the accident, as lawyer Charles Brennan constructs a case against the theater and its proprietors in order to recoup the potential income that Adams has lost. Arrayed against Adams and Brennan, though, are some sketchy characters—a few with connections to the city’s Mafia. Morris Markowitz and Moses “Moe” Lesser, the owners of the theater, hire the bombastic Col. Herbert Choynski to head up their defense team. Most of the latter half of the book focuses on Brennan’s and Choynski’s moves and countermoves before the trial. The tale eventually culminates in the dramatic courtroom finale. The work is clearly a labor of love, full of little historical details about the time and place that make it clear Rees has thoroughly researched her family’s story. The characterization and plot are somewhat simplistic, however—the players are either wholly admirable or malevolent, and readers rarely see the better or worse sides of them. This lack of nuance somewhat saps the yarn of suspense, as it seems impossible for Adams to lose a case against such monsters. But to Rees’ credit, the tale sticks to the history and delivers a murky and unexpected ending. Historical buffs and lovers of the stage should find something to like in this account.

An engaging showbiz and courtroom drama, hampered by underdeveloped characters.

Pub Date: July 28, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9976702-1-9

Page Count: -

Publisher: Regina Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2016

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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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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