A familiar plot takes a winding, ultimately rewarding path.

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EMPEROR HON

DAWN OF THE AWAKENING BOOK 2

Springer (Zachary, 2017, etc.) presents book two in his sci-fi series about genetically enhanced teenagers.

Zachary sleeps little, ages quickly, and uses a wheelchair while living in a facility that trains children to be soldiers. Although Zachary would love to play baseball like a nondisabled kid, his fate is intertwined with those of the others in the facility he calls home, which doesn’t include any time on the field. The children may get treated to occasional movie night screenings of Avatar or Caddyshack, but their focus is on military tactics and the development of supernatural powers. The children learn from adults called Ascendants who help them develop gifts that range from telepathy to the ability to change the molecular structure of an object. This training culminates in a contest that pits two teams of children against each other. It will require quick thinking as well as the use of the powers the children have been working so hard to harness. One team is led by Zachary, who by that point no longer uses his wheelchair, while the other is led by his rival, a sinister youngster named Victor. Will Zachary and his team learn to harness their burgeoning abilities and work together? The idea of gifted youngsters joining forces may be a well-trod path, but the novel incorporates many nuanced issues (sometimes ham-handedly: Zachary uses a wheelchair, but he only realizes his goals upon leaving it). The Ascendants have their own special powers, but they are far from content with their situation. While the dialogue isn’t always inspired (“Teamwork will be the key to winning”), a substantive plot keeps the pages turning. Whether or not Zachary and his team win the competition (and whether or not teamwork is the key to that victory) takes a back seat to the uncanny, imaginative details of the world in which such a competition exists. Who exactly is this emperor everyone is serving and what are his plans? Such questions keep the story thrumming until the very end.

A familiar plot takes a winding, ultimately rewarding path.

Pub Date: Feb. 22, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-68433-017-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Black Rose Writing

Review Posted Online: May 25, 2018

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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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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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