A likable if far-fetched jaunt; O’Brian lacks the mastery of his material which he will show in the Aubrey/Maturin series.


This adventure story, set in the Far East, was originally published in 1954; it predates the naval warfare novels that made O’Brian (1914–2000) famous.

Derrick, an American teenager in China between the World Wars, recently lost both his missionary parents, but don’t feel badly for him; he’s a spirited lad, enjoying his apprenticeship on a schooner in the South China Sea. He’s there because its skipper Sullivan, a resourceful man of action, is his uncle. They’re on their way to meet Professor Ayrton, an elderly English archaeologist and Derrick’s cousin; Ayrton wants the boy to attend school, the one thing Derrick dreads. As a palliative, the kindly prof suggests postponing school until they’ve made an overland journey to Samarcand, the legendary Central Asian city; there will be archaeological digs en route. The schooner is dry-docked, and the group sets off from Peking, joined by two sailors, a Scot and a Swede, the ship’s cook Li Han and three Mongols with their pack animals. They will travel the Old Silk Road on horseback, crossing the Gobi desert and Mongolia; the principal danger will be rival warlords. Sure enough, Sullivan and Ross, the Scotsman, are soon taken prisoner by the villainous Shun Chi, who’s in league with the Russians. The frail professor, discovering in himself a “transient thirst for blood,” leaps into action. By impersonating a Russian he frees the two men, and threatens a warlord with his own revolver. This is dramatic, but only up to a point, for we know the good guys will emerge unscathed. Only much later, when the group is forced to enter a valley in Tibet haunted by the Abominable Snowman and three of the group are left for dead, does the action have real bite. A miraculous escape in a Russian helicopter from some hostile monks completes the story.

A likable if far-fetched jaunt; O’Brian lacks the mastery of his material which he will show in the Aubrey/Maturin series.

Pub Date: July 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-393-06473-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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The years pass by at a fast and steamy clip in Blume’s latest adult novel (Wifey, not reviewed; Smart Women, 1984) as two friends find loyalties and affections tested as they grow into young women. In sixth grade, when Victoria Weaver is asked by new girl Caitlin Somers to spend the summer with her on Martha’s Vineyard, her life changes forever. Victoria, or more commonly Vix, lives in a small house; her brother has muscular dystrophy; her mother is unhappy, and money is scarce. Caitlin, on the other hand, lives part of the year with her wealthy mother Phoebe, who’s just moved to Albuquerque, and summers with her father Lamb, equally affluent, on the Vineyard. The story of how this casual invitation turns the two girls into what they call "Summer sisters" is prefaced with a prologue in which Vix is asked by Caitlin to be her matron of honor. The years in between are related in brief segments by numerous characters, but mostly by Vix. Caitlin, determined never to be ordinary, is always testing the limits, and in adolescence falls hard for Von, an older construction worker, while Vix falls for his friend Bru. Blume knows the way kids and teens speak, but her two female leads are less credible as they reach adulthood. After high school, Caitlin travels the world and can’t understand why Vix, by now at Harvard on a scholarship and determined to have a better life than her mother has had, won’t drop out and join her. Though the wedding briefly revives Vix’s old feelings for Bru, whom Caitlin is marrying, Vix is soon in love with Gus, another old summer friend, and a more compatible match. But Caitlin, whose own demons have been hinted at, will not be so lucky. The dark and light sides of friendship breathlessly explored in a novel best saved for summer beachside reading.

Pub Date: May 8, 1998

ISBN: 0-385-32405-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1998

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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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