A novel with a strong female lead and plenty to satisfy history buffs.

WIDOW CREEK

Pearce (The Promise of Fate, 2015) offers an offbeat, romantic Western adventure that starts in 1849.

Mariah Hardwick was raised in St. Joseph, Missouri, where her father owns a dry goods store. Con man Earl Penngrove comes to town, sets his sights on Mariah, and courts her, promising her a life of excitement exploring the territory past the Great Plains to what Mariah and her mom call “The Beyond.” The mother and daughter share a passion for the journals of explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, which they read aloud to each other during quiet evenings. It breeds a restlessness in Mariah, which leads her to marry Earl. Together, they join a wagon train heading west. But then Earl runs off and is killed on the journey, and Mariah, unwilling to turn back, pools her resources with Hetty Samuels, a recent widow who’s also determined to reach the West Coast. They head to Remington River in Northern California, where Mariah meets an elderly, Chinese shopkeeper, Zhao (aka the “Old Mandarin”), who, in turn, introduces her to a mysterious Mexican man named Pajaro Mendonca, who has a reputation as an outlaw. Her involvement with the two men will put her in grave danger—and provide her with the thrill of her life. The bulk of the novel consists of Mariah’s travel journal, and she also drops in sometimes-quirky passages from Lewis and Clark’s real-life journal. Readers may find themselves skimming these latter excerpts, however, in order to get back to the dramatic action. Pearce’s descriptions of the political machinations surrounding white American land grabs from the “Californios”—people of Mexican heritage who were born in California before it became part of the United States—have a poignant currency. The author’s carefully honed prose captures the cadence and atmosphere of the period, while also offering two well-drawn characters in Mariah and Pajaro. The concluding third of the narrative, set in 2015 and involving modern characters looking into Mariah and Pajaro’s past, is engaging but will leave readers with lingering questions.

A novel with a strong female lead and plenty to satisfy history buffs.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-943588-77-0

Page Count: 330

Publisher: Lucky Bat Books

Review Posted Online: May 13, 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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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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