Spellbinding and untraditional, this fantasy with a brave royal could teach Disney a few things about princess adventures.

A Clearing in the Forest

From the Journeys from Ayrden series , Vol. 1

A debut YA fantasy stars a princess who must venture forth into the world before she’s allowed to rule.

Princess Adriana of Ayrden has just turned 16. Traditionally, royals of the kingdom leave on a Journey during their 16th year, and if they return, they may someday rule. Adriana’s Teachers—in skills like fencing and archery—say that she’s ready to leave, but she may take only a minimum of food and no weapons. The royal Gifters, however, bestow upon her the traits of courage, fidelity, and kindness. With these qualities, along with her father’s advice that “when you are worried you will not make your best decisions,” she departs Ayrden on a horse named Sultan. She rides until reaching a clearing in the nearby forest. Strangely, no animals, including birds, enliven the scene. After a nap, she wakes to the sound of woodland calamity, as trees uproot and shift, eventually presenting her with three paths to choose from: one lined with gemstones, one limned in golden light, and another marked by simple grass. For the sake of Sultan, Adriana takes the prosaic grassy trail and finds herself in the land of Chehalem, where odd new friends and foes await. In her novel, Stump crafts a voluptuous, nuanced fantasy that fans of classics like Peter Beagle’s The Last Unicorn should enjoy. As Adriana explores each of the three routes, readers are treated to gorgeous sights and inventive sounds, like one scene in which “The walls of the ravine were green stone, and bright violet and amethyst flowers spilled down the steep embankments until they touched the water.” The prose nearly lulls a reader into believing Adriana’s Journey is all whimsy and self-discovery, yet dangers crop up (including lost uncles, slave traders, and dragons) that add grim shading to this multifaceted narrative. Certain magical elements, like how the forest changes shape, remain mysterious throughout, which allows Stump’s capable heroine and her accomplishments to carry more narrative weight.

Spellbinding and untraditional, this fantasy with a brave royal could teach Disney a few things about princess adventures.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9975914-0-8

Page Count: 330

Publisher: Foxcroft Publishing

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

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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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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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