A gripping sci-fi Western that ends too soon.

THE SOULS OF THE LASH

Otherworldly creatures terrorize the Wild West in this genre-bending adventure.

The sharpshooting Etta Davis is a magnetic protagonist in Reinfried’s (Grim Vengeance, 2017, etc.) latest novel. When readers meet her, she’s a miserable, hard-drinking woman who’s suspicious of everyone, but readers get to watch her transform into a magnanimous hero with bravado to match. When she hears that mysterious, feral creatures are destroying towns—and that her former paramour, Ira, is leading the charge against them—she can’t help but join the fray. Despite the fact that she’s invaluable in combat, the men that Etta aligns herself with don’t trust her merely because she’s a woman. Etta and Ira promise to leave their romantic relationship in the past, but things get complicated when a new love interest for Etta joins the fight. Meanwhile, the group’s otherworldly foes seem to grow more wily and vicious. These creatures—who remain unnamed at the end of the book—are among the most engaging elements of the novel: “They’re pretending to die, then coming back to attack,” one fighter notes at the beginning, foreshadowing the increasing threats that the gang will face. The heroes ride through town after town and help local residents defeat the otherworldly beasts, but they receive little help from others along the way. Overall, Reinfried delivers a fresh take on frontier stories with intriguing sci-fi elements. The first third of the novel, though, is consumed by a subplot about Etta escorting a father and daughter to safety. The abrupt shift in focus to Ira’s cause makes it seem like the story is missing a third act, and Etta’s complicated backstory could have used slightly more clarity. As she’s not one for talking, her trauma is mostly reported through cinematic flashbacks and conflicted inner monologues; her mantra—“Attachment means pain. Pain means distraction. Distraction means death”—is a neat, if overused, summation of her life thus far.

A gripping sci-fi Western that ends too soon.

Pub Date: March 27, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-986901-81-9

Page Count: 264

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 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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