A mystery novel with a sympathetic protagonist whose apparent descent into madness makes her no less riveting.

The Untold Story of Edwina

A poet writing a posthumous biography of a horror-novelist colleague gets caught up in an investigation of bones found buried on the author’s property in Handy’s (Spy Car and Other Poems, 2016, etc.) thriller.

Maria Pell seems a good choice to write the biography of the recently deceased Edwina Frost, the “Queen of Horror Fiction.” She and Edwina both taught at the same university, and Edwina’s nephew, U.S. Senate hopeful Hugh Bentley, feels that Maria will be more sympathetic than others who might be looking for dirt. Around the same time, authorities find skeletal remains of a 1-year-old boy on Edwina’s land. The boy’s body had been in the ground for half a century, and his head trauma suggests murder. Maria, who’s communed with dead poets before, believes that Edwina’s spirit may be aggressively trying to reach her. Maria reads Edwina’s unfinished manuscript, but it doesn’t get her mind off the dead boy, especially when she considers the possibility that Edwina or her despised sister, Louise, had a secret child. There are plenty of other things to make Maria anxious, as well, such as an anonymous caller warning her not to delve into the writer’s life, and her feeling that someone (or something) is with her in Edwina’s house. But one threat lies closer to home: Maria is certain her lover, Mathieu, is having an affair with coquettish neighbor Sybi. Overall, Handy’s novella is more mystery than horror. The author smartly keeps the existence of Edwina’s spirit predominantly ambiguous; as a result, readers will think that there’s a good chance she’s only in Maria’s head. Edwina, in fact, seems more like a manifestation of negative feelings, from her own animosity toward her sister to Maria’s envy of the younger Sybi. Mystery abounds regarding the boy’s identity and that of his killer, which Maria ultimately unravels. The status of Mathieu’s fidelity, too, is unknown until the end, and Maria’s perspective on it will earn readers’ sympathy, even when she eavesdrops on him. She becomes more unhinged as the story continues; Handy doesn’t make it easy for readers, who will wonder whether Maria is possessed by the need to find Edwina’s truth, by a vengeful spirit, or perhaps by both.

A mystery novel with a sympathetic protagonist whose apparent descent into madness makes her no less riveting.

Pub Date: April 20, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-692-68684-3

Page Count: 150

Publisher: Push On Press

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2016

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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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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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