Superb characters and alluring prose make for a truly exceptional read.


In Hugg’s (Song of the Tree Hollow, 2018) novel, a Polish-born Parisian in financial distress sells an unusual plant’s blooms to very dangerous people.

The death of Alain Tolbert, a possible suicide, greatly saddens his neighbor Renia Baranczka, as he’d been her only friend in Paris. He was also the best customer at Le Sanctuaire, the flower shop that Renia manages. Its owner, Valentina Palomer, regularly dips into the shop’s emergency funds, and the business is perpetually in debt. To solve her problems, Renia turns to an enigmatic plant that her twin sister, Estera, calls “Violet Smoke.” Inhaling the fragrance from its flowers can make a person forget certain events; Estera calls it a “memory trim.” Indeed, the Violet Smoke may be the reason for the siblings’ current estrangement. The plant can be addictive, and Renia fears that it may somehow have led to Alain’s death. But Estera’s unsavory ex-boyfriend, Zbigniew “Zbiggy” Wójcik, is willing to pay handsomely for the flowers. This affords Renia some much-needed funds, but it becomes clear that Zbiggy wants the entire plant for himself. Hugg’s absorbing tale features understated traits from multiple genres. A mystery, for example, plays in the background as periodic flashbacks involving Renia and Estera, who’s not in Paris, gradually explain the twins’ falling-out. In similar fashion, Renia’s increasing involvement with Zbiggy’s unnerving comrades slowly escalates the suspense. The characters are as bold as the flowers adorning Le Sanctuaire; police officer Kateb is oddly elusive on specifics regarding Alain’s death while Valentina’s impudence is almost comical. The author’s sublime descriptions further enrich the story: Despite the supernatural Violet Smoke’s apparent unattractiveness, Hugg endearingly notes its “velvety petals” and how its leaves make the mature plant “seem newly born”; at another point, she equates its twisty branches with “a lanky teenager dancing, bending its arms this way and that.”

Superb characters and alluring prose make for a truly exceptional read.

Pub Date: June 18, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-578-48407-5

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Magnolia Press

Review Posted Online: July 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 15

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize

  • National Book Award Finalist


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

Did you like this book?


A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

Did you like this book?