Kwajalein Stories

An action-filled espionage novel set in the crucial years between World War II and the Korean War.
The hero here is a Polish-American combat veteran who fought with distinction in the U.S. Army during the second world war and continues his service in the postwar years as an intelligence operative. The operative—who uses the name Tony Williams along with other aliases—goes undercover in military facilities across the world to tangle with both Soviet spies and rogue Americans who abuse their power. Leptuch (James Hedges. Discreet Inquiries. Private Investigations., 2014, etc.) bookends his novel with Williams’ missions to the Kwajalein Atoll during the American testing of nuclear bombs in the area, but Williams also finds time for other adventures: skirmishing with FBI agents involved in the Roswell coverup, chasing spies at the Presidio in Monterey, flying stealth missions over the Soviet Union, and in the book’s most riveting section, Williams’ getting shot down near the Aral Sea. Leptuch demonstrates impressive knowledge of each location and historical situation. The skipping from mission to mission can feel episodic at times, but Williams’ tough, knowledgeable and clever first-person narration holds the novel together. As engaging as Williams’ voice is, though, secondary characters can feel a bit one-dimensional. Many seem to function as nothing more than straight men for William’s admittedly enjoyable banter, and the occasional third-person reporting of other characters’ perspectives is disorienting. Some readers may also be frustrated with the frequent, lengthy passages of exposition regarding historical, military or technical subjects, which can detract from the action’s pace; however, readers with interest in these subjects will appreciate the levels of research and detail. Leptuch’s attention to historical context enhances the story’s complexity, going beyond the significant pleasures of action and adventure. As readers follow Williams’ story, they’ll also be treated to a sophisticated understanding of the Cold War’s early escalation.

A well-researched adventure novel about an overlooked period in U.S. military history.

Pub Date: Feb. 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-0578071817

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Capotuttidecapo Publishing Company

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

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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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More about grief and tragedy than romance.


Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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