An engaging, authentic depiction of life in Gold Rush–era California.

THE WHIP

In this debut historical novel, a woman disguises herself as a male stagecoach driver in order to track down the man responsible for the murder of her family.

Inspired by a true story, Kondazian conjures up the legend of Charlotte “Charley” Pankhurst, a 19th century woman who spent much of her life pretending to be a male. Charlotte, who was raised in an orphanage in Boston, falls in love with a runaway slave and bears his child. But a terrible act of cruelty leaves her mourning her family and planning vengeance on the man responsible. After Charlotte learns that her target is headed west, she decides to follow him. The old West is no place for a lone woman, however, so she disguises herself as a man and finds employment as a “whip,” or stagecoach driver. She has a series of adventures as she drives her coach up and down the California territory. She meets an actress named Anna, who later becomes her housekeeper; when Anna falls in love with her, however, Charlotte rebuffs her advances. Charlotte dons her female duds again upon arriving in San Francisco, where she falls for an outlaw named Edmund. However, her plan to take revenge for the death of her family is never far from her mind. The author, an actress, has written a novel about the old West that feels authentic in almost every sweaty detail (“The stagecoach was coming. The whole world was dust and pounding, pounding and dust”). Kondazian’s background in the world of make-believe helps her to convincingly render Charlotte’s transformation. The novel even offers a pansexual take on romance as both Charlotte and her lover seem to derive extra pleasure from the fact that she can be both a woman and a man.

An engaging, authentic depiction of life in Gold Rush–era California.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1601823076

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Hansen Publishing Group, LLC

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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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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