Leisurely paced but warmhearted tale of a widower and his feline inspiration.

CILLA

In Toldy’s debut novel, a California retiree’s life changes after he reluctantly takes in a stray cat.

Andrew Daniel “Andy” Flowers has been living alone in a one-bedroom apartment since his wife, Dorothy, died. When a neighbor tells the widower there’s a kitten at his door, he makes it clear that he’s not remotely interested. But when a storm blows in, he lets it in for the night. Andy wants to find someone else to take the cat; meanwhile, he buys it food, kitty litter, and a carrying case while repeatedly insisting it’s not his cat. He later blames the feline for his string of bad luck, including a minor multicar accident. Of course he grows fond of the female cat, naming her Cilla. Now feeling less alone, he may be ready for romance with Domino, a woman he’s recently met, without believing that he’s somehow betraying Dorothy. Toldy’s novel maintains a momentum befitting its protagonist—a retiree who’s rarely in a hurry. Readers will likely sympathize with Andy, who often reminisces about Dorothy and seemingly has only one true friend in Sam Dart, his former neighbor. The no-frills prose outlines sometimes-routine events, like trips to the pet store or vet. But endearing scenes of Andy grudgingly warming up to “the damned cat” provide feel-good entertainment. Andy’s interactions with humans, meanwhile, showcase his diminishing aloofness but typically prompt frequent discussions on everything from religion to political ideology. In the book’s penultimate chapter, the spotlight shifts to Jazz, a parking lot guard who, as a black woman, has endured discrimination. Although the story periodically shows Andy through others’ points of view, this prolonged focus on another character, even with a minor tie to the protagonist, is jarring. Nevertheless, all is tied up neatly at the end.

Leisurely paced but warmhearted tale of a widower and his feline inspiration.

Pub Date: June 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-73308-200-6

Page Count: 262

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Nov. 22, 2019

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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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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

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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