A fascinating account of one woman’s fight to defiantly stray from her predetermined path.

The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte

Chatlien’s debut historical fiction celebrates the drive and desires of the real-life Betsy Patterson, a Baltimore merchant’s daughter who married a Bonaparte.

As a child and young woman, Betsy Patterson was precocious, lovely, dismissive of America and not terribly eager to sit around and do what she was told. Of her American suitors, she laments, “Marriage to any one of them would sentence me to a life...bearing child after child until my mind is rusted from disuse.” When a European lieutenant comes to Baltimore, Betsy finds love and opportunity—the lieutenant is, after all, Jerome Bonaparte, Napoleon’s youngest brother. The two wed, but when Napoleon refuses to acknowledge the marriage, which may hinder the potential for political alliances, the newly minted Madame Bonaparte discovers that a court life is not so easily attainable for an American girl. Her ambition doesn’t subside, however. Instead, it underlies her new mission to receive recognition of her union, which means pitting herself against the most powerful man in the world. “Napoleon dismissed me as expendable because I am American and a woman,” she says. “Someday I will make him see that he was wrong on both counts.” Betsy is a captivating heroine whose independence and intelligence are given their proper due in Chatlien’s novel. Against the backdrop of world events, such as the battle at Waterloo and the War of 1812, Betsy fights her own, smaller battles, ignoring censure from her stern father and other compatriots who criticize her tenacity and her scandalous French fashions. Her story has suspense, a rapidly moving plot and rich details of 19th-century life, from quotidian tasks to grand parties with Dolley and James Madison at the Presidential Mansion. The novel is so vivid, in fact, that its fictional nature can seem dubious at times. Still, it undoubtedly offers compelling insights into the minds of real, deeply engrossing individuals.

A fascinating account of one woman’s fight to defiantly stray from her predetermined path.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-937484-16-3

Page Count: 484

Publisher: Amika Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 14, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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