An emotionally resonant tale of familial connections.

THE LAST ORPHAN

In Lowder’s debut historical novel, two communities struggle to find healing after a massacre in the Utah Territory in the 19th century.

In 1857, a wagon train from Arkansas heading west meets a violent end when 120 of its men, women, and children are killed. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in nearby Parowan take in the surviving 17 children, saying that Paiute Native Americans carried out the attack, but in the rest of the country, popular opinion judges LDS members to be “bigamous heathens,” and assumes that they were behind the bloodshed themselves. The eponymous “last orphan” is Tommy Dunning, née Levi Cantrell, who’s only 3 when his parents are killed; he’s immediately adopted by LDS members Bennet and Eva Dunning in Parowan. Two years later, Tommy’s memories of his birth parents are little more than nightmares, but U.S. Army soldiers come to make good on LDS leader Brigham Young’s promise to return the orphans to their extended families. It turns out that Tommy’s biological grandmother, Ruby Seddon, knew that her grandson was alive by divine vision—“My grandson Levi surely lives, as God in Heaven revealed it.” Notorious detective Allan Pinkerton takes on the task of finding answers for Ruby. Lowder effectively ramps up the tension between two women who love Tommy dearly—the only mother he knows, and the grandparent he doesn’t remember—as each woman fights for the boy and his future. Over the course of the novel, the author keeps up a quick pace, even as he juggles many different characters in locales across the country. Some of the characters’ interactions seem a bit contrived at times. However, the book has a compelling premise at its center, and the story is alive with emotional truth, as when Eva struggles to keep her family intact by keeping her son’s identity a secret, and resists her husband’s desire to take a second wife.

An emotionally resonant tale of familial connections.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-73407-991-3

Page Count: 328

Publisher: Rockhampton Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 2, 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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