A lush, atmospheric novel that combines literary detective work, romance and international flair.



In this debut novel, a forensic librarian uncovers letters that lead to an explanation for her father’s absence.

Vela Ostofvold is in Rome at a symposium about her work as a forensic librarian, “profiling how ephemera, inscriptions, and notations create distinct book personalities.” A rather sad, mysterious man named William Dean approaches her. He tells her that he went to school with her mother, Olivia, with whom he’s lost contact, in the Canadian town where Vela was also raised while Olivia pursued her career as an opera singer. Vela, still in Rome, then goes to the antiquarian bookstore discovered during her vacations spent with her mother. She chats with friend Amelia, who now runs the shop, and wonders if Dean could be the father she has never known. Later, Vela and Amelia are packing up Olivia’s Rome flat, since the building is being sold. In a letter of instructions, the ever traveling Olivia mentions that she plans to go to Oxford, England, to visit Penelope Arthur, her childhood teacher. Vela then finds letters from Penelope, which reveal the teacher had offered to raise Vela but went to India instead. Vela travels to Oxford, where she has a consulting project, and visits Penelope, whose memory is failing. Thanks to material provided by Penelope, however, and after another conversation with Dean, Vela finally discovers a past tragedy and her father’s identity. The novel concludes with Vela’s return to Rome and a new opportunity to reignite her romance with Franco, Amelia’s cousin. First-time novelist Sikstrom brings ambitious scope to this narrative, which encompasses a compelling family mystery, a heroine whose career could be the subject of its own series, several exotic locales, and a fairy tale–like love story. While Sikstrom is mostly successful in handling all these elements, the narrative is occasionally unbalanced. For example, Vela’s current age and home base are left a bit hazy, and there’s digressive detail about Penelope’s sojourn in India. Overall, however, this is a rich and entertaining debut.

A lush, atmospheric novel that combines literary detective work, romance and international flair.

Pub Date: May 30, 2014

ISBN: 978-1497398740

Page Count: 234

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 11, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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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.


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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