A well-told story of one woman’s life, with appealing supernatural undercurrents.

From Dust to Dust and a Lifetime in Between

Lee, in her debut novel, fictionalizes the story of her English grandmother’s life.

In the early 20th century in Church Stretton, Shropshire, England, Mary Eileen, nicknamed Mollie, lives with her brothers, Les and Fred, and their loving parents. Although generally content, she wishes her legs weren’t quite so short; as she and her peers mature, her girlfriends find boyfriends, but Mollie remains unattached. During World War II, she takes on the local milk route, earning the nickname of “Mollie the Milk” and enduring good-natured teasing about finding her “cream.” She spies young soldier Jack Meredith home on leave, and, one day, he invites her for a drink. They soon marry, but after Jack leaves, he does not return from the battlefield. She meets another suitor, mechanic Bill Cooke, and is initially hesitant, but she heeds the advice from her mum, who asks her, “[H]ow many nice, down-to-earth and unmarried Shropshire lads do you expect to meet?” After marrying again, Mollie begins to raise a family, encountering joy and heartbreak. As her life goes on, she finds simple pleasures in her collectibles, her grandchildren, and her seemingly supernatural connection to nature and spirits—including communion with fairies. This first-person tale is a loving and heartfelt tribute to Lee’s grandmother, drawing upon Mollie’s history and bringing her thoughts to life in an upbeat, chatty manner. Despite occasional unclear phrasing, the story flows well. Mollie is a spunky character, given to flights of fancy, while those in her orbit seem more like framed photos on a mantelpiece. The book’s final third, however, focuses primarily on Mollie’s physical and mental decline; the theme of cancer figures predominantly in this section, and it’s given voice in an inspiring manner.

A well-told story of one woman’s life, with appealing supernatural undercurrents.

Pub Date: Aug. 24, 2013

ISBN: 978-3952420508

Page Count: 292

Publisher: Katherine Anne Lee

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2013

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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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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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