A well-crafted parable about the vulnerability of democracy to demagoguery.

American Dictator

CHANGING OF THE GUARD

From the American Dictator Trilogy series , Vol. 1

In Ainsworth’s debut novel, a wildly popular president quickly consolidates extraordinary power and threatens the fabric of democracy.

When this tale of political intrigue begins, President Hortense Hamilton Preston is a weakened leader with rapidly diminishing approval ratings. She responds tepidly to a terrorist attack on American soil and then gets embroiled in a scandal that implicates her health care panel in comically inappropriate misuse of funds. When four Syrian fighter jets attempt to force down an American plane, she again responds with a measured caution that’s generally perceived as pusillanimous hesitation. Finally, the Mexican Army invades Texas, intent on reclaiming territory that it claims the United States stole. M. Spencer Howell, the well-regarded, charismatic governor of Florida, soon rides this wave of civic disillusionment into the White House and immediately implements a ferociously aggressive, divisive agenda. He promises mercilessly strict immigration reform, involving the deportation of undocumented Mexicans en masse. He intends to drastically cut government spending by excising a host of social welfare programs, and he pledges to rehabilitate what he sees as a decayed military and enact protectionist trade measures that would drastically redraw the nation’s economic alliances. All the while, he resorts to incendiary rhetoric that fans the flames of racial and ethnic discord. Furtively, he also oversees a secret military program called “Ezekiel’s Wheel,” which is developing a chillingly powerful weapon, and quietly constructs his own private militia for domestic use, seemingly without congressional oversight. Ainsworth deftly tracks the arc of Howell’s power as it grows more tyrannical. Even more impressive is the author’s depiction of the profound consequences of widespread disenfranchisement and the blindness of the public when it’s deeply disappointed by its supposed representatives. Sometimes it seems as if the novel is about the corruption of a politician by absolute power, but Howell shows clear signs of being an autocrat long before he becomes president. Also, the strategic scheming of Mexico and Russia is confusing, as it’s hard to imagine why it would serve their individual interests. Overall, though, this is a very timely book, given that we live in an age of national frustration, and it artfully captures the precariousness of even the best democracies.

A well-crafted parable about the vulnerability of democracy to demagoguery.

Pub Date: Dec. 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9770376-2-9

Page Count: 574

Publisher: VRA Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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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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