An entertaining, unusual mix of the caper novel with dashes of comedy, romance, and spirituality.

STEALING SHIVA

In this comic novel, a young con woman plans to steal from a spiritual community but instead finds herself wanting to join their search for truth.

Having run out of money three years ago, Jessabelle Knox wants to return to art school to finish her degree in special makeup effects. Her parents are out of the picture; she now runs confidence games with her uncle Trix, using carefully crafted disguises to better scam the greedy. Though the money’s good, it all seems to get eaten up in expenses, so art school is looking further away than ever. Then they stumble upon a big score: a spiritual community that’s home to a $3 million gold statue. Trix proposes that she join up in disguise so they can steal the Shiva statue. But stealing from a guru? “It sounds so grubby,” Jessabelle says. Despite Trix’s reassurances—“Everybody knows gurus are the biggest con artists around,” he says—Jessabelle’s love of illusion, and an overwhelming desire for art school, Jessabelle soon questions her mission. She likes the residents of Lalliville, is deeply impressed by the guru Lalli, and, through meditation, discovers within herself a longing for truth: “She wanted the luxury of being the same person with everyone.” As Jessabelle develops deeper links with the community, she’ll have to decide where her truest loyalty lies. In her debut novel, Ortner nicely balances comedy with romance—Jessabelle falls for a Lalliville member—and serious spiritual practice. Jessabelle’s awakening may not resonate with skeptical readers, but Ortner describes it vividly; for example: “She felt this intensified love for the trees, the grass, the sky, the clouds, and every other thing she saw, including the Dumpster behind the dining hall.” Convincing details of Jessabelle’s artistry with makeup effects help establish her character, and Ortner interestingly complicates this issue when the wise Lalli questions a simple truth-vs.-illusion formula: “…being a liar and a fraud is one of your best qualities,” she tells Jessabelle. The ending wraps things up a bit too neatly, but it’s still a satisfying read.

An entertaining, unusual mix of the caper novel with dashes of comedy, romance, and spirituality.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-0-986-35261-4

Page Count: -

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 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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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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