A unique and informative, if not compelling, story hampered by too many nonessential details.


In Raffer’s debut novel, a man undergoes treatment for a life-threatening cancer and searches for his birth family.

It’s 1946 in New York City, and a young woman beset by tragedy makes the difficult decision to give up her son for adoption. The child, named Ken by his adoptive parents, grows up to become a well-respected doctor with a successful California private practice, a lovely wife and several children. As he ages, he longs to contact his birth parents, but his adoption records are sealed. When a strange rash appears on his skin later in life, he initially dismisses it; when he finally seeks medical treatment, it’s diagnosed as a rare form of cancer. Back in New York, Ken’s birth mother has built a life of her own, but she’s often troubled by thoughts of the child she gave up. Unbeknownst to her and her grown daughter, Sharon, Ken is in dire need of a stem cell transplant. Will the two families find each other in time to save Ken’s life? The author, a neurologist, draws on his own medical experience to scrupulously explain each aspect of Ken’s treatment, and readers with some understanding of science will likely enjoy this painstaking approach. Others, however, may find the technical discussions abstruse and yearn for a less clinical, more emotional treatment of the protagonist’s predicament. Raffer’s approach extends to his character’s lives as well, but often, the amount of detail becomes excessive and interferes with the plot. The novel jumps back and forth in time repeatedly to tell the full story of Ken and his biological family, with the majority of the novel devoted to Ken’s predicament. The members of Ken’s birth family, though richly described, often feel more like plot devices than fully formed supporting characters. In general, the heavy focus on his cancer treatment means that he, too, reads less like a complete human being than as a device for explicating a rare medical condition.

A unique and informative, if not compelling, story hampered by too many nonessential details.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-1499053388

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2014

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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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