A sprawling fable that illuminates Bosnian culture and history through unique, multidimensional characters.



This magical realist debut novel explores a family’s connection to the mountains of post–World War II Bosnia.

Mijo Pavlović’s young son, Mirko, says that a bee “bit” him during a winter night, but despite the narrator’s insistence, Mijo doesn’t believe it’s one of the fairylike “Wisps” that nip children and give them “dreams that stir the soul.” Zurak’s first-person omniscient narrator initially and charmingly evokes an old-fashioned storyteller—“But alas, we who they visit cannot hear them”—but this technique is later dropped. Years later, when Mirko is drafted into Communist Yugoslavia’s navy, he doesn’t understand “why [his family members] would want to stop him” from sailing the world, so he leaves home angrily. His 13-year-old brother, Mato, must now support the family, and he runs 20 miles to and from the steel mill each day. One night, “demons of the forest” attack him, and he climbs a magical tree that becomes a lifelong sanctuary. When Mato is 16, the pretty, talented Verka brightens his outlook, and the troubled Mirko, newly returned from service, attempts to gain her affections. Only when Mato faces impending military service does Mirko confess his own horrific war experiences. Mato listens, and during his military years he writes home: “There’s a beautiful price in doing [Yugoslav dictator Josip Broz] Tito’s most beautiful work.” When Mato finally returns to his family (including his daughter, the titular but oddly unimportant Kata), Mijo offers his son “a gift,” in a speech that borders on preachy. Soon, Mato decides to battle his demons literally, in ways that don’t quite fit with the novel’s fabulist tone. That said, Zurak’s prose sparkles with memorable characters and images, as well as some graceful lines, such as “Nations remember peace like your stomach remembers being full.” Further editorial polishing to eliminate repetition, clunky dialogue (“Oh, you got me. Wow!”), and syntactical and punctuation errors would have increased this ambitious novel’s impact.

A sprawling fable that illuminates Bosnian culture and history through unique, multidimensional characters.

Pub Date: July 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9971748-0-9

Page Count: 332

Publisher: Hullabaloo Bookery

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2016

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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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A steamy, glitzy, and tender tale of college intrigue.


From the Briar U series

In this opener to Kennedy’s (Hot & Bothered, 2017, etc.) Briar U romance series, two likable students keep getting their signals crossed.

Twenty-one-year-old Summer Heyward-Di Laurentis is expelled from Brown University in the middle of her junior year because she was responsible for a fire at the Kappa Beta Nu sorority house. Fortunately, her father has connections, so she’s now enrolled in Briar University, a prestigious institution about an hour outside Boston. But as she’s about to move into Briar’s Kappa Beta Nu house, she’s asked to leave by the sisters, who don’t want her besmirching their reputation. Her older brother Dean, who’s a former Briar hockey star, comes to her rescue; his buddies, who are still on the hockey team, need a fourth roommate for their townhouse. Three good-looking hockey jocks and a very rich, gorgeous fashion major under the same roof—what could go wrong? Summer becomes quickly infatuated with one of her housemates: Dean’s best friend Colin “Fitzy” Fitzgerald. There’s a definite spark between them, and they exchange smoldering looks, but the tattooed Fitzy, who’s also a video game reviewer and designer, is an introvert who prefers no “drama” in his life. Summer, however, is a charming extrovert, although she has an inferiority complex about her flagging scholastic acumen. As the story goes on, the pair seem to misinterpret each other’s every move. Meanwhile, another roommate and potential suitor, Hunter Davenport, is waiting in the wings. Kennedy’s novel is full of sex, alcohol, and college-level profanity, but it never becomes formulaic. The author adroitly employs snappy dialogue, steady pacing, and humor, as in a scene at a runway fashion show featuring Briar jocks parading in Summer-designed swimwear. The book also manages to touch on some serious subjects, including learning disabilities and abusive behavior by faculty members. Summer and Fitzy’s repeated stumbles propel the plot through engaging twists and turns; the characters trade off narrating the story, which gives each of them a chance to reveal some substance.

A steamy, glitzy, and tender tale of college intrigue.    

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-72482-199-7

Page Count: 372

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 28, 2019

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