This PG-rated comedic soap opera is innocuously pleasant but neither complex nor challenging.

A Room Full of Naked Men

A small town is scandalized by the possibility of a racy entry in a local art show in Whitson’s debut novel.

Thirty-year-old Sarah Louise Upshaw’s life is a tableau of quiet mediocrity. She’s an art teacher in Sulphur Springs, Tennessee, lives at home with her parents, and is perennially single. Every year, she enters one of her paintings in the town art show, and every year, she wins third place at best and never manages to sell a single piece. The chairman of the show, town busybody Lucinda Hardin-Powell, tries to call Sarah Louise at home to see whether she plans on entering the contest again this year, but her mother, who’s inexplicably overwhelmed by anxiety, answers instead; she spontaneously announces the title of Sarah Louise’s offering as “A Room Full of Naked Men.” Sarah Louise is aesthetically committed to an uncompromising realism—she only paints what she can see—and so she’s compelled to recruit, with the help of her mother, five men to pose naked for her. (It’s never clear why she feels beholden to keep that title, however.) Some in the town, like Lucinda, are piqued by the ribald subject matter, but others, like the show’s curator, Huey Eugene Pugh, see the controversy as an opportunity to revive the event’s waning popularity. Meanwhile, Sarah Louise finally gets yanked out of her comfort zone. Readers in search of something lighthearted will find this to be a painlessly funny and sweet tale. Whitson has a keen eye for wholesome high jinks, and her family-friendly comedy achieves a sense of the ridiculous without a hint of darkness. The protagonist seems specifically designed to be blandly attractive—she only paints cats and flowers, and is incapable of producing an “emotionally draining painting.” Her companionably benign comportment, though, makes the novel’s premise hard to pull off, as there’s really no good reason to believe that her painting will be truly risqué. Also, the characters are generally formulaic; the depiction of Pugh, a flamboyant, campy gay man, seems especially shopworn.

This PG-rated comedic soap opera is innocuously pleasant but neither complex nor challenging.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-68207-074-1

Page Count: 434

Publisher: Tate Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2016

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A steamy, glitzy, and tender tale of college intrigue.

THE CHASE

From the Briar U series

In this opener to Kennedy’s (Hot & Bothered, 2017, etc.) Briar U romance series, two likable students keep getting their signals crossed.

Twenty-one-year-old Summer Heyward-Di Laurentis is expelled from Brown University in the middle of her junior year because she was responsible for a fire at the Kappa Beta Nu sorority house. Fortunately, her father has connections, so she’s now enrolled in Briar University, a prestigious institution about an hour outside Boston. But as she’s about to move into Briar’s Kappa Beta Nu house, she’s asked to leave by the sisters, who don’t want her besmirching their reputation. Her older brother Dean, who’s a former Briar hockey star, comes to her rescue; his buddies, who are still on the hockey team, need a fourth roommate for their townhouse. Three good-looking hockey jocks and a very rich, gorgeous fashion major under the same roof—what could go wrong? Summer becomes quickly infatuated with one of her housemates: Dean’s best friend Colin “Fitzy” Fitzgerald. There’s a definite spark between them, and they exchange smoldering looks, but the tattooed Fitzy, who’s also a video game reviewer and designer, is an introvert who prefers no “drama” in his life. Summer, however, is a charming extrovert, although she has an inferiority complex about her flagging scholastic acumen. As the story goes on, the pair seem to misinterpret each other’s every move. Meanwhile, another roommate and potential suitor, Hunter Davenport, is waiting in the wings. Kennedy’s novel is full of sex, alcohol, and college-level profanity, but it never becomes formulaic. The author adroitly employs snappy dialogue, steady pacing, and humor, as in a scene at a runway fashion show featuring Briar jocks parading in Summer-designed swimwear. The book also manages to touch on some serious subjects, including learning disabilities and abusive behavior by faculty members. Summer and Fitzy’s repeated stumbles propel the plot through engaging twists and turns; the characters trade off narrating the story, which gives each of them a chance to reveal some substance.

A steamy, glitzy, and tender tale of college intrigue.    

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-72482-199-7

Page Count: 372

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 28, 2019

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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