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North Beach

Charlie eventually gets his shot in the ring, but the selfless, obstinate protagonist is already a champ.

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In the fourth of Arceneaux’s (Ransom Island, 2014, etc.) Gulf Coast thriller series, a 15-year-old athlete hopes to clear his professional boxing pal of a murder charge.

1962 is a year of change for both Charlie Sweetwater and his home country of America. While the Cuban missile crisis has citizens fearing nuclear war, he revels in young love, courtesy of Carmen Delfín. But Charlie confronts his share of challenges, too. Stubby Hunsacker, owner of the Texas boxing gym where Charlie and older brother Johnny regularly train, turns up dead, apparently murdered. Cops arrest Cuban boxer Jesse Martel, Carmen’s uncle. For some people, the case is cut and dried—it’s seemingly evident that a person of color has killed a white man. At the same time, agents from an (initially) unnamed organization question Jesse’s loyalty to the U.S. But Charlie and Johnny believe in Jesse’s innocence. There’s no shortage of others who may have killed Stubby, including thuggish Miami promoters wanting to sponsor Jesse, as well as Jesse’s shady friend, Ramón Cruz, who the brothers suspect is a spy for Cuba. And to make certain Jesse steers clear of death row, Charlie and Johnny may have to find the murderer themselves. Arceneaux’s story is a smashing blend of a coming-of-age tale and a suspenseful thriller. Charlie may say goodbye to his virginity, and the high school sophomore makes the varsity football team. Ominous events, however, occur simultaneously: before the murder even happens, the gym gets hit with a break-in, an office is trashed, and there’s an explosion. The author can take readers from Charlie’s teenage perspective to a state of panic with ease: the brothers’ worry that they’re late to an early-morning workout is quickly offset when they spot Mafioso types roughing up Stubby. Sure, Charlie earns reader sympathy right away when he suffers the brunt of Karl McDevitt’s bullying at the gym. But it’s his actions that make him laudable and not just his tireless support of Jesse. When he stands up to Carmen’s mom, who clearly disapproves of her daughter’s palurdo (hick) boyfriend, it’s something to be admired.

Charlie eventually gets his shot in the ring, but the selfless, obstinate protagonist is already a champ.

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9968797-1-2

Page Count: 270

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2016

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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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THE RUMOR

Once again, Hilderbrand displays her gift for making us care most about her least likable characters.

Hilderbrand’s latest cautionary tale exposes the toxic—and hilarious—impact of gossip on even the most sophisticated of islands.

Eddie and Grace Pancik are known for their beautiful Nantucket home and grounds, financed with the profits from Eddie’s thriving real estate company (thriving before the crash of 2008, that is). Grace raises pedigreed hens and, with the help of hunky landscape architect Benton Coe, has achieved a lush paradise of fowl-friendly foliage. The Panciks’ teenage girls, Allegra and Hope, suffer invidious comparisons of their looks and sex appeal, although they're identical twins. The Panciks’ friends the Llewellyns (Madeline, a blocked novelist, and her airline-pilot husband, Trevor) invested $50,000, the lion’s share of Madeline’s last advance, in Eddie’s latest development. But Madeline, hard-pressed to come up with catalog copy, much less a new novel, is living in increasingly straightened circumstances, at least by Nantucket standards: she can only afford $2,000 per month on the apartment she rents in desperate hope that “a room of her own” will prime the creative pump. Construction on Eddie’s spec houses has stalled, thanks to the aforementioned crash. Grace, who has been nursing a crush on Benton for some time, gives in and a torrid affair ensues, which she ill-advisedly confides to Madeline after too many glasses of Screaming Eagle. With her agent and publisher dropping dire hints about clawing back her advance and Eddie “temporarily” unable to return the 50K, what’s a writer to do but to appropriate Grace’s adultery as fictional fodder? When Eddie is seen entering her apartment (to ask why she rented from a rival realtor), rumors spread about him and Madeline, and after the rival realtor sneaks a look at Madeline’s rough draft (which New York is hotly anticipating as “the Playboy Channel meets HGTV”), the island threatens to implode with prurient snark. No one is spared, not even Hilderbrand herself, “that other Nantucket novelist,” nor this magazine, “the notoriously cranky Kirkus.”

Once again, Hilderbrand displays her gift for making us care most about her least likable characters.

Pub Date: June 16, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-33452-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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