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GIRL BEFORE A MIRROR

Palmer’s fine wit is certainly on display, but all the straight talk about female empowerment and self-analysis feels...

A Washington, D.C., ad executive tackles what appears to be the 21st-century woman’s greatest challenge: learning to be happy with herself.

Anna Wyatt just turned 40 and has a plan for her professional future—pitch an ad for Lumineux shower gel and hopefully the whole parent company, Quincy Pharmaceuticals, will come her way. This would get Anna out of Holloway/Greene’s pink ghetto of lady products to play with the big boys. She’s assigned illustrator Sasha Merchant—so stunning she’s confused for a model—and the two become fast friends. Sasha is obsessed with Be the Heroine, Find Your Hero, a self-help guide for women based on the plots of romance novels. They use the book as inspiration for their campaign, win over the Lumineux team and soon find themselves in Phoenix at RomanceCon, a romance-novel convention, where they will find the face of Lumineux from the male cover models in the annual pageant. There is much bicep ogling. Meanwhile, at the Phoenix Biltmore, Anna meets Lincoln Mallory: British, witty and finely attired. After a steamy elevator ride, the two begin a lusty affair touched with sadness; they keep telling each other they're too emotionally damaged to have a real relationship. Anna felt unloved by her parents, and Lincoln feels guilty over his Iraq experience. None of this is very convincing, and too often the novel reads like a self-help book itself, lacking the kind of subtlety needed for complex characterizations. When Anna and Lincoln leave Phoenix to go back to their real lives, Anna asks him to meet her in a year. Will they wait for each other? Will Anna break the glass ceiling? Palmer offers a bumpy ride to a satisfying end.

Palmer’s fine wit is certainly on display, but all the straight talk about female empowerment and self-analysis feels heavy-handed and clichéd.

Pub Date: Jan. 27, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-229724-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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A LITTLE LIFE

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. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

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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