A slyly subversive and nimble exploration of identity and love.


A young woman embarks on an odyssey of self-discovery when she takes a job at a library that offers a unique service.

Alexis Tove, a quiet, reserved woman in Monroe, North Dakota, lives with her parents and works at the local library. Although her family hopes that she will marry and start a family, she longs to escape the confines of her small town, and one evening, she decides to pack up, get behind the wheel of her car, and leave for good. After she arrives in the town of Lake Wiishkoban, Minnesota, she notices a sign offering an apartment for rent. On impulse, she rents it and settles into a new life on her own. After losing a series of dead-end jobs, including a position as a vacuum-cleaner salesperson, she becomes desperate for work. Then she notices a help-wanted ad for a librarian position. With her past library experience, the job sounds ideal—until she learns the Lake Wiishkoban library is also a brothel and that the librarians there double as sex workers. However, despite her initial hesitation, she decides to accept the position, and she soon discovers a world that she never knew existed. As Alexis gains confidence working with her clients, she begins exploring her own sexuality and her new friendship with co-worker Vanessa, which soon turns romantic. Alexis comes to believe that she may have finally found love and acceptance, until a crisis threatens to expose the library’s secret. Shannon’s (50 Critical Thinking Exercises for Humanities Classes 2, 2018, etc.) fiction debut is an entertaining, provocative bildungsroman that successfully turns an unconventional premise into a thoughtful exploration of freedom and identity. Alexis is a dynamic protagonist whose quest to find herself drives the narrative. When she’s introduced, she’s a shy and introspective bookworm who has a propensity for going along with things because she doesn’t want to disappoint anybody. For example, she was initially only planning to look at the apartment in Lake Wiishkoban, but she ends up renting it because the landlady was helpful to her; Alexis feels like she would “have that on my conscience” if she didn’t rent the place. Once she begins sex work, however, she’s forced to question her passivity. The author establishes this transition in a particularly powerful scene in which Alexis practices bondage techniques with Vanessa: “why bother fighting it?” Alexis’ discovery that she’s a lesbian unfolds at a thoughtful, methodical pace as her feelings for Vanessa go beyond mere friendship. Shannon’s supporting characters are also well-drawn—especially Vanessa, a librarian and aspiring fashion designer who feels conflicted about sex work, and Chet, who believes that he’s a bunny trapped in the body of a man. The sex scenes, while explicit, never seem gratuitous and are often about self-discovery. That said, there are some elements of the story that are slightly underdeveloped; for example, a woman named Greta Best first organizes the brothel, but her motivations remain somewhat mysterious.

A slyly subversive and nimble exploration of identity and love.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5202-5802-7

Page Count: 340

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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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. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...


Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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