A Gangster's Ghost Story

A mobster confronts a family secret when his father passes away and leaves him in charge.
Nealon’s debut combines the politics and intrigue of a mob story with the ghostly touches of a supernatural horror tale. As heir to the family legacy, Vincenzo Attanasio inherits a unique problem when his father, the don, passes away: managing the three nonhuman entities bound to his family. The spirit Santo Seneschal has been with the family for generations, serving as assistant and confidant. Bereu, as Aspirate, helps out the family in more shadowy ways. Chiara, a creation of Bereu, is an immortal woman capable of taking whatever form is desired by the family member she serves. Though the three have served the Attanasios for generations, they don’t feel the same about their situation. While Santo Seneschal considers the family his duty and seems honored to serve, Chiara simply wants her freedom, and Bereu wants to destroy the family that kept him enslaved for so long. Unfortunately, as the Attanasio bloodline goes on, Bereu’s connection to them grows weaker and weaker until finally, with the don’s death, he is freed from bondage. Vincenzo and his children, now in terrible danger from a source they had always trusted, must learn Bereu’s plan and figure out how to stop him before the bodies start piling up. The premise is interesting, and the take on the typical mob story refreshing. It’s interesting, too, how the mob mentality comes across in the family’s relationships with their supernatural servants: Themes of duty and loyalty, as well as justice, are explored well via the conflict between Santo Seneschal and Bereu. The writing could use some revision, though, as when Chiara is first introduced: “Like Bereu Chiara wasn’t human. She wasn’t an ordinary mortal. She hadn’t been born and blessed with life that way.” At a more reasonable length and with some tightening of these repetitive, overexplanatory passages, the story could be sharper and more incisive. Additionally, Santo Senschal and Bereu need to have their back stories further explored; in this book, the present is everything.
An intriguing take on a ghostly mob story.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 2014

ISBN: 978-1495949777

Page Count: 566

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 24, 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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