Pulpy in places but sweet and sassy enough (à la Gilmore Girls) to attract magic-light teen or women’s fiction fans.

THE CATALAIN BOOK OF SECRETS

Turning to YA/adult fantasy, prolific mystery writer Lourey (January Thaw, 2014, etc.) tells of a matriarchal clan of witches joining forces against age-old evil.

Faith Falls, Minnesota, is your average small town apart from one sinister surprise: Every 25 years, the Native American burial ground hosts a plague of snakes. In the prologue, set in 1965, Ursula Catalain’s mother, Velda, asks her to craft a deadly poison. Little does 12-year-old Ursula know that her sixth sense for magic botanicals will end with her father, Henry, becoming a merciless ghost. About half a century later, Ursula’s daughter Katrine returns from London, leaving behind a job with Vogue and a failed marriage. Back in Minnesota, she starts work as a local reporter and sets about cheering her depressed sister, Jasmine. The seven female witches of the Catalain coven (including Ursula’s twin sisters, Helena and Xenia) each have different gifts: Katrine helps people become their better selves, Jasmine cooks comfort food that masks traumatic memories, and her teenage daughter Tara can see people’s emotional wounds. When the snake outbreak and a visit from Henry’s avenging spirit coincide, the Catalains hunker in their haunted Queen Anne mansion, preparing every spell in the titular handbook to defeat malevolent powers. The novel is tightly plotted, and Lourey shines when depicting relationships—romantic ones as well as tangled links between Catalains. Inspired by Bryan Sykes’s The Seven Daughters of Eve (2002), about common human ancestry through mitochondrial DNA, Lourey emphasizes the ties that bind in spite of secrets and resentment. Her metaphorical language is often inventive: “cushiony claws of sleep,” “hair curling like tender artichoke leaves,” and the sun “a whiskey-liquid ball of fiery hope.” Excerpts from the spell book are an added highlight. The villain—a “demon in [a] cowboy hat,” cursing, “Damn straight you witches are a lot of work….But I’ll just come back”—isn’t the most intriguing of the bunch, but characterizations elsewhere make up for it. Ursula and Katrine are especially distinctive.

Pulpy in places but sweet and sassy enough (à la Gilmore Girls) to attract magic-light teen or women’s fiction fans.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-9908342-1-2

Page Count: 364

Publisher: Toadhouse Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2014

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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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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