Skilled fiction of vibrant immediacy and majestic scope.

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PASSING UNDER HEAVEN

Another beautifully rendered Chinese tale by Hill (The Drink and Dream Teahouse, 2001), this time centered on the fate of a concubine who gains fame as a poet during the Tang Dynasty.

Five-year-old Little Hope is orphaned in a.d. 850 when her mother, the concubine of an imperial marshal who never returns to the fort where they live in Changan province, kills herself in despair. Concubines are little more than slaves, the daughter learns. Despite the hopes of her scholarly foster parents, who teach her to read and write, Lily, as she is renamed, is sold at age 15 to the rich (and married) Minister Li. Lily and Li fall in love, and for a short while, she is deliriously happy at their Peach Blossom Palace. Then his wife, son and new concubine come to stay. Instead of resigning herself to her fate, Lily rebels. First she seeks asylum in a monastery, where she learns a great deal from Abbot Zhao and from a visiting poet, Wen Tingyun. Eventually, she sets off to make her living as a poet in the capital city of Changan, fashioning verses for parties and festivals. She’s still in love with Minister Li, but the two can’t effect a reconciliation, although her passion drives her poetry. His jealous wife has Lily arrested and tried, but Li arranges her release. Lily has a child by another lover, and desperation at being separated from her son drives her to a fit of angry insanity, sealing a doom that even Minister Li can’t alter. Interspersed with Lily’s coming-of-age narrative are future glimpses of the elderly Li: sad, lonely and ineffectual. Based on the real life of legendary poet Yu Xuanji, set against a backdrop of a grand, beleaguered dynasty struggling to defend itself against “barbaric invaders,” the novel is notable for Hill’s masterly craftsmanship and remarkably sympathetic sense of character.

Skilled fiction of vibrant immediacy and majestic scope.

Pub Date: April 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-349-11740-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Abacus/Trafalgar

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2006

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Another success for the publishing phenom.

UNDER CURRENTS

An abused boy fights back, escapes, then returns as an attorney to his beloved hometown, but just as he’s falling in love with a transplanted landscaper, a series of attacks from shadowy enemies jeopardizes their happiness.

“From the outside, the house in Lakeview Terrace looked perfect.” Which of course means that it wasn't. We're introduced to the horrifying Dr. Graham Bigelow, who beats his wife and, increasingly as the boy gets older, his son, Zane. On the night of Zane’s prom, a particularly savage attack puts him and his sister in the hospital, and his father blames Zane, landing him in jail. Then his sister stands up for him, enlisting the aid of their aunt, and everything changes, mainly due to Zane’s secret diaries. Nearly 20 years later, Zane leaves a successful career as a lawyer to return to Lakeview, where his aunt and sister live with their families, deciding to hang a shingle as a small-town lawyer. Then he meets Darby McCray, the landscaper who’s recently relocated and taken the town by storm, starting with the transformation of his family’s rental bungalows. The two are instantly intrigued by each other, but they move slowly into a relationship neither is looking for. Darby has a violent past of her own, so she is more than willing to take on the risk of antagonizing a boorish local family when she and Zane help an abused wife. Suddenly Zane and Darby face one attack after another, and even as they grow ever closer under the pressure, the dangers become more insidious. Roberts’ latest title feels a little long and the story is slightly cumbersome, but her greatest strength is in making the reader feel connected to her characters, so “unnecessary details” can also charm and engage.

Another success for the publishing phenom.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-20709-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2019

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This thriller about the pursuit of a serial killer suffers from an unpleasant hero and a glacial pace.

OUTFOX

An FBI agent is determined to catch a man who bilks and murders wealthy women, but the chase goes slowly.

Brown (Tailspin, 2018, etc.) has published 70 bestsellers, and this one employs her usual template of thriller spiked with romance. Its main character, Drex Easton, is an FBI agent in pursuit of a serial killer, but for him it’s personal. When he was a boy, his mother left him and his father for another man, Weston Graham. Drex believes Graham murdered her and that he has killed at least seven more women after emptying their bank accounts. Now he thinks he has the clever Graham—current alias Jasper Ford—in his sights, and he’s willing to put his career at risk to catch him. The women Ford targets are wealthy, and his new prey is no exception—except that, uncharacteristically, he has married her. Talia Ford proves to be a complication for Drex, who instantly falls in lust with her even though he’s not at all sure she isn’t her husband's accomplice. Posing as a would-be novelist, Drex moves into an apartment next door to the Fords’ posh home and tries to ingratiate himself, but tensions rise immediately—Jasper is suspicious, and Talia has mixed feelings about Drex's flirtatious behavior. When Talia’s fun-loving friend Elaine Conner turns up dead after a cruise on her yacht and Jasper disappears, Drex and Talia become allies. There are a few action sequences and fewer sex scenes, but the novel’s pace bogs down repeatedly in long, mundane conversations. Drex's two FBI agent sidekicks are more interesting characters than he is; Drex himself is such a caricature of a macho man, so heedless of ethics, and so aggressive toward women that it’s tough to see him as a good guy. Brown adds a couple of implausible twists at the very end that make him seem almost as untrustworthy as Graham.

This thriller about the pursuit of a serial killer suffers from an unpleasant hero and a glacial pace.

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4555-7219-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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