Pretty prose, but the true magic lies in the narrative’s ability to make scheming alchemists, steamy hermaphrodite sex and...



The concluding volume of the Herculine trilogy (The Book of Spirits, 2005, etc.), in which a hermaphroditic witch explores her powers and seeks her place in the world.

Reese’s mid-19th-century tale of love and witchcraft is somewhat of a linguistic conundrum. On one hand, his lush, elegant prose saunters across the page, inviting readers to linger over every word. On the other, that same languorous pacing makes the few events that occur far more exciting in summary than in actual practice. The story begins with Herculine’s journey to meet Queverdo Brú, a mysterious monk she’s been instructed to find by her fellow witch Sebastiana. Traveling as a man to avoid trouble, Herculine falls in love with young Calixto and uses her arcane powers to save him from a painful violation at the hands of a nefarious seaman. Upon arriving in Havana, Herculine promises to explain herself to Calixto, but she botches the attempt and he sails away. She then focuses on finding Brú, who turns out to be a malevolent alchemist intent on using Herculine’s hermaphroditic qualities to create a Philosopher’s Stone. His scheme leaves her near death, but Calixto conveniently returns just in time to save her. The couple flees Havana and reunites with Sebastiana, who is traveling with two children who resemble Herculine—products of a night of passion she shared with a woman ten years before (though her female parts are infertile, her male apparatus is, apparently, quite potent). A drawn-out dénouement follows, during which Herculine and company set up shop as ship salvagers, using their powers in a decidedly lackluster way to make their fortune and channel money into combating slavery. Their use of magic in such a mundane manner is a microcosm of the narrative itself: filled with potential, but limited by a lack of imagination.

Pretty prose, but the true magic lies in the narrative’s ability to make scheming alchemists, steamy hermaphrodite sex and witchcraft much less exciting than they sound.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-056108-4

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2006

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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