Pulsing with violence, this mob tale provides plenty of excitement, despite its literary flaws.


Cage Life

From the Cage Life Series series , Vol. 1

In this debut novel, a professional fighter tries to escape his inauspicious origins, but keeps getting yanked back in.

Mickey Watts grew up in a tough section of Brooklyn, and leaned on his cousin, Clean, when his mother suffered through a long battle with breast cancer, and his father spent all his time dealing with a deluge of medical bills. Mickey follows in his ancestors’ footsteps—he hails from a proud lineage of prizefighters—and becomes a mixed martial arts fighter. He’s hoping the next  bout brings him a big contract—he’s been all but promised one if he wins by promoter Mikhailis Morganstern—and a new life with his girlfriend, Anne. But Mickey intervenes when two thugs are poised to rough up Clean, and ends up seriously hurting Tony, the son of mob boss Bruno Battaglia. To pay off the debt he owes for the protection extended him by Gino Stillitano, another mobster, Mickey works as a bouncer at the Grind Joint in Queens, an underground gambling parlor. He makes a powerful enemy of Dago Red—another gangster, who sends him to the hospital with nearly fatal injuries. Mickey kills Red one evening in a fit of rage, and is persuaded afterward by Clean to buy into the Grind Joint, cementing his role in the underworld he so desperately wants to escape. Frustrated with Mickey’s setbacks, Anne leaves him; unable to focus on his next fight, he tanks. He experiences a change of heart, and decides to leave Stillitano’s crew, but will only be permitted to walk away if he can raise more than $200,000. The catch is that the price of his exit from the criminal world requires that—at least temporarily—he enter it more deeply than before. Watson’s book is built around the personal tug of war between one’s origins and aspirations—Mickey needs to deny a part of himself on the path to self-improvement. The fight scenes—in and out of the professional cage—are stirringly described, cataclysms of feral but controlled aggression. But the dialogue reads like an imitation of old pulp fiction noir, the snappy repartee of hard-boiled crime writing of yesteryear. Furthermore, it’s difficult to feel deep sympathy for Mickey, whose judgment is almost comically self-destructive. The reader in search of a Mafia thriller, though, will still find lots of action, vividly rendered.

Pulsing with violence, this mob tale provides plenty of excitement, despite its literary flaws. 

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5228-5858-4

Page Count: 292

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2016

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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Shalvis’ latest retains her spark and sizzle.


Piper Manning is determined to sell her family’s property so she can leave her hometown behind, but when her siblings come back with life-changing secrets and her sexy neighbor begins to feel like “The One,” she might have to redo her to-do list.

As children, Piper and her younger siblings, Gavin and Winnie, were sent to live with their grandparents in Wildstone, California, from the Congo after one of Gavin’s friends was killed. Their parents were supposed to meet them later but never made it. Piper wound up being more of a parent than her grandparents, though: “In the end, Piper had done all the raising. It’d taken forever, but now, finally, her brother and sister were off living their own lives.” Piper, the queen of the bullet journal, plans to fix up the family’s lakeside property her grandparents left the three siblings when they died. Selling it will enable her to study to be a physician’s assistant as she’s always wanted. However, just as the goal seems in sight, Gavin and Winnie come home, ostensibly for Piper’s 30th birthday, and then never leave. Turns out, Piper’s brother and sister have recently managed to get into a couple buckets of trouble, and they need some time to reevaluate their options. They aren’t willing to share their problems with Piper, though they’ve been completely open with each other. And Winnie, who’s pregnant, has been very open with Piper’s neighbor Emmitt Reid and his visiting son, Camden, since the baby’s father is Cam’s younger brother, Rowan, who died a few months earlier in a car accident. Everyone has issues to navigate, made more complicated by Gavin and Winnie’s swearing Cam to secrecy just as he and Piper try—and fail—to ignore their attraction to each other. Shalvis keeps the physical and emotional tension high, though the siblings’ refusal to share with Piper becomes tedious and starts to feel childish.

Shalvis’ latest retains her spark and sizzle.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296139-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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