A familiar plot fortified by delightful characters in a glacial setting.

Somethin' for Nothin'

Recovering a decades-old crashed plane promises a fortune for a small group in Alaska, provided everyone can avoid double-crosses and murderous drug dealers, in Bass’ (In the Black, 2015, etc.) thriller.

Sure that they’ll flunk out of Ohio State University, pals Albert Stiles and Wesley “Waxy” Biederby leave school and head west. Or northwest, with Albert believing the two can amass wealth working on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Unfortunately, those jobs require a one-year state residency, and opportunity slips further away once Albert’s dad cuts off his credit card. The friends wind up with dishwashing and bartending gigs at the bar Beantown Bob’s Fenway Park West. Albert, still aiming for a pipeline job (and testing his luck by initiating a sexual relationship with Beantown Bob’s girlfriend, CiCi), hopes to acquire a union card for sale. Waxy, meanwhile, may have another way of striking it rich. According to co-worker Moe the Eskimo, a cargo plane transporting government payroll (presumably millions) crashed 30-odd years ago near his village. Jimmi the Pilot proves essential in searching the mountain, but when his latest drug deal with Mexican smugglers goes bad, he wants to find the loot as quickly as possible. Digging through a glacier is dangerous enough, but as others, including Albert, join the hunt, some may readily deceive to ensure the split goes fewer ways. Readers should recognize the story of a ragtag crew scouring for cash or gold, so betrayals are almost inevitable. Bass’ tale, however, exudes freshness, courtesy of a memorable snowy backdrop and indelible characters. The plane’s potential location, for one, makes a search unmistakably arduous, and there’s inherent risk for Waxy using a chainsaw in an ice tunnel. The narrative, too, offers no definite good or bad guys. Jimmi is part of a shady smuggling operation but also clearly fond of Waxy, while Albert does something that would make the average villain cringe. The only notable female players, CiCi and waitress Emma, don’t do much beyond forming romantic pairings with Albert and Waxy. But thankfully, neither woman takes guff from anyone—in her first scene, Emma’s thoroughly unimpressed by Albert and Waxy’s joke-laden dinner order.

A familiar plot fortified by delightful characters in a glacial setting.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9833807-6-4

Page Count: 350

Publisher: Electron Alley Publishing

Review Posted Online: July 25, 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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Less bleak than the subject matter might warrant—Hannah’s default outlook is sunny—but still, a wrenching depiction of war’s...

HOME FRONT

 The traumatic homecoming of a wounded warrior.

The daughter of alcoholics who left her orphaned at 17, Jolene “Jo” Zarkades found her first stable family in the military: She’s served over two decades, first in the army, later with the National Guard. A helicopter pilot stationed near Seattle, Jo copes as competently at home, raising two daughters, Betsy and Lulu, while trying to dismiss her husband Michael’s increasing emotional distance. Jo’s mettle is sorely tested when Michael informs her flatly that he no longer loves her. Four-year-old Lulu clamors for attention while preteen Betsy, mean-girl-in-training, dismisses as dweeby her former best friend, Seth, son of Jo’s confidante and fellow pilot, Tami. Amid these challenges comes the ultimate one: Jo and Tami are deployed to Iraq. Michael, with the help of his mother, has to take over the household duties, and he rapidly learns that parenting is much harder than his wife made it look. As Michael prepares to defend a PTSD-afflicted veteran charged with Murder I for killing his wife during a dissociative blackout, he begins to understand what Jolene is facing and to revisit his true feelings for her. When her helicopter is shot down under insurgent fire, Jo rescues Tami from the wreck, but a young crewman is killed. Tami remains in a coma and Jo, whose leg has been amputated, returns home to a difficult rehabilitation on several fronts. Her nightmares in which she relives the crash and other horrors she witnessed, and her pain, have turned Jo into a person her daughters now fear (which in the case of bratty Betsy may not be such a bad thing). Jo can't forgive Michael for his rash words. Worse, she is beginning to remind Michael more and more of his homicide client. Characterization can be cursory: Michael’s earlier callousness, left largely unexplained, undercuts the pathos of his later change of heart. 

Less bleak than the subject matter might warrant—Hannah’s default outlook is sunny—but still, a wrenching depiction of war’s aftermath.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-312-57720-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2012

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