A sophisticated tale that should whet audiences’ appetites for further historical and religious reading.

The Raven Watched

This fantasy novel from Weiss (The Goddess Wheel, 2003, etc.) follows a trio of young sisters as they’re initiated into the world of Italian witchcraft.

In the spring of 1970, Sophia, the Priestess of the Rimini witch clan, dies without any daughters to carry on the family’s Stregheria tradition. She bequeaths her villa in the Tuscan mountains to her nieces, Gina and Barbara, the latter of whom is visiting Italy from New York. Barbara brings three daughters—Mimi, 9, Kara, 14, and Joanne, 17—and her husband, John, a strident Catholic, with her. While the girls explore the villa and countryside, John casts a disapproving eye upon all things pagan, including the idea that his impressionable daughters might enjoy witchcraft. Gina and others in the Rimini clan warn Barbara that “a strong anti-pagan faction has been building propaganda against us for several years now.” The girls, however, each have magical adventures that prove the beauty of Stregheria; all the while, a raven keeps close watch, particularly on Kara. As Beltane (May 1) approaches, the sisters realize that their family could tear apart if a battle occurs between the healing magic of the Benandanti clan and the black magic of the Malandanti. Weiss’ debut novel may star three youngsters, but its larger themes of dogmatic Catholicism and its maternal predecessor, paganism, may be better appreciated by older teens and adults. Nevertheless, playful characters abound, include a fairy named Tinkle and Sophia’s familiar, a cat named Toby. Frequently, the author’s depictions of nature are gorgeous, as when “Mimi sat down on a fallen log, inhaling the salty breeze and listening to the sounds of a timeless world.” These moments are in tune with the history lessons that are revealed to the girls, most of which bolster the idea that “the rules and trappings of formalized religions were only added on as men tried to take control of Nature.” An action-packed finale stirs in wizardry and gunplay to chilling effect, and the choosing of the new Priestess is a joy to behold.

A sophisticated tale that should whet audiences’ appetites for further historical and religious reading.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4699-2507-3

Page Count: 428

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 11, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

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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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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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