An uneven legal thriller with an appealing protagonist.

Secrets, Lies & Chemical Compounds - "The Pawn"

THE PAWN

In this debut thriller, a former chemical-company employee is rehired to review a plant’s documents as they face impending lawsuits.

Bernie DeVittoria, four years after leaving her job at Renard Chemicals, leaves her Delaware home to examine files at the company’s Georgia plant. Her purpose there is hush-hush, but that doesn’t stop Renard’s employees from giving her the cold shoulder—or trying to spy on her. Soon, Bernie and her team of assistants face threats, and it becomes clear that some people at the plant are hiding something; at the same time, Bernie worries about her estranged, alcoholic husband, Carl. DeNapoli’s novel has three distinct acts: Bernie’s rehiring and her history with Carl; her time at the plant itself; and her visits with plaintiffs in a lawsuit to discuss possible settlements. The second act is the best and, fortunately, the longest; Bernie deals with an obnoxiously loud and abrasive company lawyer named Jo, recording devices at her office and hotel room and, later, increasingly aggressive managers, culminating in a physical assault. Bernie is a devout Christian who recites biblical passages and inspirational messages, often to herself; curiously, however, she doesn’t come across as overly moralistic, but the narrative itself sometimes does. At one point, for example, an orgy is described by one Renard employee as “the work of Satan.” The novel occasionally fluctuates between past and present tenses, and Bernie’s third-person perspective frequently shifts to first person and back again. Some well-drawn characters stand out, however, including security man Warren, as well as the Renard brothers, who seem to genuinely care about their company’s plant-growth products. Bernie, though, is the true highlight here—a kind, compassionate woman who’s in top form when she’s authoritative, as her young assistants quickly learn.

An uneven legal thriller with an appealing protagonist.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2012

ISBN: 978-0615709284

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Sophia DeNapoli

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2013

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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 steamy, glitzy, and tender tale of college intrigue.

THE CHASE

From the Briar U series

In this opener to Kennedy’s (Hot & Bothered, 2017, etc.) Briar U romance series, two likable students keep getting their signals crossed.

Twenty-one-year-old Summer Heyward-Di Laurentis is expelled from Brown University in the middle of her junior year because she was responsible for a fire at the Kappa Beta Nu sorority house. Fortunately, her father has connections, so she’s now enrolled in Briar University, a prestigious institution about an hour outside Boston. But as she’s about to move into Briar’s Kappa Beta Nu house, she’s asked to leave by the sisters, who don’t want her besmirching their reputation. Her older brother Dean, who’s a former Briar hockey star, comes to her rescue; his buddies, who are still on the hockey team, need a fourth roommate for their townhouse. Three good-looking hockey jocks and a very rich, gorgeous fashion major under the same roof—what could go wrong? Summer becomes quickly infatuated with one of her housemates: Dean’s best friend Colin “Fitzy” Fitzgerald. There’s a definite spark between them, and they exchange smoldering looks, but the tattooed Fitzy, who’s also a video game reviewer and designer, is an introvert who prefers no “drama” in his life. Summer, however, is a charming extrovert, although she has an inferiority complex about her flagging scholastic acumen. As the story goes on, the pair seem to misinterpret each other’s every move. Meanwhile, another roommate and potential suitor, Hunter Davenport, is waiting in the wings. Kennedy’s novel is full of sex, alcohol, and college-level profanity, but it never becomes formulaic. The author adroitly employs snappy dialogue, steady pacing, and humor, as in a scene at a runway fashion show featuring Briar jocks parading in Summer-designed swimwear. The book also manages to touch on some serious subjects, including learning disabilities and abusive behavior by faculty members. Summer and Fitzy’s repeated stumbles propel the plot through engaging twists and turns; the characters trade off narrating the story, which gives each of them a chance to reveal some substance.

A steamy, glitzy, and tender tale of college intrigue.    

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-72482-199-7

Page Count: 372

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 28, 2019

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