A brisk, entertaining but messy fantasy.

NARMIN

A young boy determined to save his sister succumbs to a malevolent woman’s deceit in this novella. 

When Anna Emmet Wise of Elmer’s village inexplicably disappears, her parents don’t initially tell her 9-year-old brother, Derek Clark. But Derek soon learns what’s happened and vows to find his sister. Since he’s a mere Amcler (beginning dragon slayer) and can only now use magic legally, he borrows a “spell-binding” book belonging to a friend’s dad. Surprisingly, he easily dispatches the first dragon he encounters. Derek later gets unfortunate news: Someone, or something, actually murdered Anna. But revenge against her killer is possible, according to a strange woman, who readers eventually discover is “the evil witch.” She tells Derek he’s more formidable than he believes, even more than his father, Sorcerer Blans, who’s at the highest level of power as a Narmin. Evidently, Derek is capable of dark magic and therefore can save Anna. This requires much power, which the wicked witch says he can attain by killing others. Her plan is diabolical but not without purpose, and soon the people in Elmer’s village will have to identify a villain to eradicate if they hope to vanquish evil. Lesser’s (If I Could Fly, 2012, etc.) straightforward writing style minimizes details, like physical descriptions and the environment. But this results in a speedy tempo for the fantasy, which introduces a handful of characters and effortlessly manages an 11-year time jump. Despite the novella’s brevity, the sinister witch’s scheme is astoundingly intricate, though coherent, while the author provides the character with an absorbing backstory and adds more than one effective twist near the end. Alas, a strong editor would have greatly benefited this tale, which features persistent errors (“evil wish” instead of witch; “lightening” instead of lightning; “I would of face death”; “Blans began to past”). These sometimes necessitate rereading sentences or whole passages (“The last thing I remember is that” Derek “wanted to found Anna”) or prove outright confusing (The first name of one of Derek’s friends alternates between Nickerson and Nicholson).

A brisk, entertaining but messy fantasy.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-359-12169-4

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Lulu

Review Posted Online: Dec. 3, 2019

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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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