A witty and engaging whodunit, with a “cowgirl philosopher” who’s part V.I. Warshawski and part John Wayne.

Wolf

From the Jessica James Mystery series , Vol. 1

A murder mystery features an unconventional college student and her friends.

This fiction debut stars Jessica James, a Montana cowgirl-turned-student at Chicago’s Northwestern University, where she endures the contemptuous, offhand sexism of her adviser, professor Baldrick Wolfgang Schmutzig. Jessica is a Ph.D. candidate in the professor’s philosophy program, and one night she and her “stoner buddy” Jack and his girlfriend-of-the-month, Amber, make a shocking discovery on campus: they find Schmutzig’s body in the bathtub of one of his rooms. Jessica also finds a typewritten, postdated note from the professor, in which he dumps her as a student and strongly advises her to quit her degree. The friends are alarmed that the police will connect them somehow to the murder. But Jessica, who’s “constitutionally incapable of being careful,” stumbles into investigating the crime herself, particularly when a note slipped under the professor’s door on the night of the killing warns her “you are not safe here.” The note was written by Dmitry Durchenko, a personable young janitor who was an art student in his native Russia and who’s revealed as being intimately connected not only with the professor’s life and death, but also with the dealings of local restaurateur and crime boss Vladimir “the Pope” Popov. Popov’s interested in some potentially priceless paintings Dmitry may or may not have smuggled into the United States. Oliver (Hunting Girls: Sexual Violence from the Hunger Games to Campus Rape, 2016, etc.) tells her bouncy story in chapters alternating between Dmitry and Jessica, and she deftly keeps the two narrative sides both independently intriguing and carefully intertwined. Dmitry is a likably drawn character, as are Jessica’s various college friends (and the winningly realized police detective Harvey Cormier). But it’s Jessica herself who’s the standout creation here, a refreshing blend of grad school smarts and dude ranch grit. The author portrays Jessica’s fish-out-of-water position in grad school with infectious humor, and although a campus sexism subplot doesn’t quite hit its marks, the fast-paced story on balance remains excellent.

A witty and engaging whodunit, with a “cowgirl philosopher” who’s part V.I. Warshawski and part John Wayne.

Pub Date: June 21, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-692-68535-8

Page Count: -

Publisher: Kaos Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 24, 2016

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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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