A twisty thriller that proves to be a wily, if textually dense, adventure.

The Book of Wisdom

From the The Harmony of the Spheres series , Vol. 1

From debut author Falcon comes a novel about an ancient musical manuscript and those who seek to decipher it.

When readers first meet Douglass Crenshaw, the middle-aged academic is down on his luck. Informed that he will shortly be terminated from his teaching position in the music history department at Northwestern University, he finds himself admitting, “At fifty-three my career is crawling to a pathetic end and no one cares.” All is not lost, though, as an old colleague, Fatima al-Salam of Trinity College, informs him of an intriguing manuscript that’s surfaced in Ireland. The Ballad of Light, as it’s known in its English translation, is a mixture of Spanish and Arabic text thought to be from 15th-century Islamic Spain. After word leaks of its existence, Fatima feels that she’s being watched closely; later, someone trashes her office, but why and who? Back in the year 66, the Judean Jacob ben Honi has deserted his high position with a Roman legion. Highly educated and agile in combat, he ventures to Jerusalem, where trouble is afoot. The destruction of that city is only a handful of years away, and the feared Sicarii, a new faction, causes a fair share of distress and bloodshed. How and when, engaged readers will wonder, will these two narratives collide, and what does it mean to the world at large? Mixing historical fiction with modern-day sleuthing, the book offers a great deal of information via its many characters. The supporting players are many and varied, including Crenshaw’s “confident but not arrogant” graduate assistant Lucy and the desert-hating Roman Marcus Trajan. Although the author’s overarching quest is very Indiana Jones–esque, the cantankerous, cellphone-disavowing professor is the anti–Harrison Ford. Dotted with scenes of library investigations (“Once in the Archives reading room, Lucy explains her needs to a skeptical librarian who reluctantly decides that she is not there to pillage the place”), the book seems intended for readers who can relate to a deep-seated excitement over archived materials.

A twisty thriller that proves to be a wily, if textually dense, adventure.

Pub Date: June 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9962263-0-1

Page Count: 594

Publisher: Contemporary Music Project

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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The years pass by at a fast and steamy clip in Blume’s latest adult novel (Wifey, not reviewed; Smart Women, 1984) as two friends find loyalties and affections tested as they grow into young women. In sixth grade, when Victoria Weaver is asked by new girl Caitlin Somers to spend the summer with her on Martha’s Vineyard, her life changes forever. Victoria, or more commonly Vix, lives in a small house; her brother has muscular dystrophy; her mother is unhappy, and money is scarce. Caitlin, on the other hand, lives part of the year with her wealthy mother Phoebe, who’s just moved to Albuquerque, and summers with her father Lamb, equally affluent, on the Vineyard. The story of how this casual invitation turns the two girls into what they call "Summer sisters" is prefaced with a prologue in which Vix is asked by Caitlin to be her matron of honor. The years in between are related in brief segments by numerous characters, but mostly by Vix. Caitlin, determined never to be ordinary, is always testing the limits, and in adolescence falls hard for Von, an older construction worker, while Vix falls for his friend Bru. Blume knows the way kids and teens speak, but her two female leads are less credible as they reach adulthood. After high school, Caitlin travels the world and can’t understand why Vix, by now at Harvard on a scholarship and determined to have a better life than her mother has had, won’t drop out and join her. Though the wedding briefly revives Vix’s old feelings for Bru, whom Caitlin is marrying, Vix is soon in love with Gus, another old summer friend, and a more compatible match. But Caitlin, whose own demons have been hinted at, will not be so lucky. The dark and light sides of friendship breathlessly explored in a novel best saved for summer beachside reading.

Pub Date: May 8, 1998

ISBN: 0-385-32405-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1998

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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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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