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

North Beach

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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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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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

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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