An engaging narrative voice and thoughtful back story add depth to a fairly standard portal-adventure plot.

Accidental Arrival

From the The Water Stone Triology series , Vol. 1

In this YA fantasy novel, a teenage girl unexpectedly travels to another planet, where she learns that Earth may soon join an intergalactic coalition.

When Emily Harrison was just a few years old, Earth discovered the secret of “water travel”: an instantaneous journey via molecule rearrangement to anywhere that has flowing water. Now, 17-year-old Emily, in turmoil over her parents’ divorce and just wanting to get away, takes a lake dip that somehow lands her on another planet called Arden. The friendly inhabitants’ mission is to help planets like Earth “technologically and artistically prepare for mergence with The Accordance,” the intergalactic governing body. There’s much that intrigues Emily about Arden, which has highly developed technology but a quaint appearance: “sunlit lanes nestled between the cottage-style shops draped in lush foliage from the surrounding trees.” Especially intriguing is Lachlan Belean Elgin, the brother of Emily’s new friend, DeRenne. He’s a handsome, emotionally guarded young man with heavy responsibilities. Emily feels self-conscious and wrong-footed around Lachlan, even when he becomes romantic. As a result, Emily again acts impulsively around a body of water after some emotional turmoil, which gets her in more trouble—but it could also, with the help of her friends, aid The Accordance and thwart a traitor. In her debut novel, Barnett employs many tropes that are standard to YA fantasy: a portal to another world; an insecure heroine with a special role to play who can’t imagine why the uncommunicative hero would be interested in her; and wish-fulfillment details, such as fancy clothes. Still, Barnett marshals some imaginative back story regarding history and politics, describes nifty alien inventions (including wallpaper woven with light-emitting “nanoprisms”), and gives sufficiently scientific-ish explanations for miracles such as water travel, which help bolster the book. The plot moves along well, giving Emily a chance to grow as a character, and her voice is lively and amusing. The romance, though, doesn’t offer much beyond dramatic high school emotions: “How did it get to this level so quickly?” Emily asks herself—a good question that the book doesn’t really answer.

An engaging narrative voice and thoughtful back story add depth to a fairly standard portal-adventure plot.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62747-186-2

Page Count: 328

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 29, 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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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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