Wit, a bit of romance, and a satisfying conclusion make for an often enjoyable read.

Design My Life

Drozdov offers a takedown of reality television in this debut novel about an assistant on a popular home-makeover program.

Jane Forte, a not-quite-middle-aged, divorced mother of a preteen daughter, has won first place on Decorating Challenge, a reality show airing on a major cable network that caters to the do-it-yourself lifestyle. Network superstar Sandy Lewis was one of the judges of the competition, and in a moment of exuberance, she promises to hire Jane as her design assistant on Design My Life, Sandy’s long-running decorating series. Jane, a little overweight and seriously insecure, timidly positions herself in the background, behind the cameras, as Sandy, the host, pretends to execute a variety of DIY projects that are actually put together by professional (albeit unpaid) construction crews. On-camera talent is chosen for looks, not creativity: “You have probably heard about television being only for Q-Tips—that is sticks with big heads,” Jane says. “It is true.” Ultimately, Jane, who handles everything from selecting homeowners to rounding up live turkeys to run through the set for a Thanksgiving shoot, will come out on top, although, naturally, it doesn’t turn out quite as she imagined. Drozdov has worked in the production of such lifestyle-television shows as the Canadian home-improvement series Holmes on Homes, so she’s well-versed in the mechanics and lingo of the industry. Her story offers an insider’s behind-the-scenes reveal of the nonstop chaos, acrimony, and chicanery that occurs during the production of a season’s worth of reality show episodes. “Spontaneous” conversations with homeowners are shown to be scripted, episode finales are filled with borrowed furniture, construction mistakes are covered over, and everything gets fixed in the editing room. The sharp, sometimes-scathing narrative flows energetically. Sometimes, though, the switches between multiple venues will blur readers’ sense of time. The text would also have benefited from a stronger copy edit to remove simple errors (“We need you do shoot a quick stand up”) and the occasionally inconsistent use of past or present tenses.

Wit, a bit of romance, and a satisfying conclusion make for an often enjoyable read.

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9952905-0-1

Page Count: 414

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 2, 2016

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A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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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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