Ellman’s use of visuals and wordplay, as well as her comic sensibility, is very much a matter of taste, though her tone...

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MIMI

Another self-consciously erudite comedy from Ellmann (Doctors and Nurses, 2006, etc.), this time a romance about a plastic surgeon whose love for a good woman helps him take stock.

On Christmas Eve—the novel is organized by holidays—plastic surgeon Harrison Hanafan slips on the ice in Midtown Manhattan and sprains his ankle. Having recently broken up with his girlfriend, Gertrude, a rich art lover with no redeeming characteristics except her son (born by parthenogenesis), Harrison recuperates at home for weeks with his newly adopted cat, Bubbles, playing music and making lists as is his wont. An invitation that arrives in the mail to give a speech at his old high school causes him to call his sister Bee, who escaped her abusive husband and is now a sculptor in England, and to ruminate about his unhappy childhood. Afraid of speechmaking, he hires a coach who turns out to be the plump, middle-aged mystery woman who saved him on Christmas Eve by putting him in a cab. Love blooms between Harrison and Mimi, full of bons mots and more lists that give the author a chance to share her sociological and cultural insights ad nauseam. The romance does face bumps in the road. Gertrude arrives and tries to seduce Harrison just as Mimi walks in. Then, there is the random murder of Bee, shot by a crazed ex-soldier in a rage against women. And Bubbles is run over but survives. The skimpy plot of Harrison’s emotional and moral growth is encased in thick layers of social commentary, one-liner repartee and those endless lists. The sense of being preached to is strong throughout. And excepting the lyrics to some lovely old songs like “Joe Hill” and “She’ll Be Comin' Round the Mountain,” the appendix with Harrison’s feminist manifesto is mostly annoying.

Ellman’s use of visuals and wordplay, as well as her comic sensibility, is very much a matter of taste, though her tone strongly implies that the readers who don’t get her are merely plebeians anyway.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-62040-020-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Oct. 11, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2012

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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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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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