A delightfully irreverent opera tale that should especially appeal to Mozart fans.



Murder and mayhem threaten to derail the premiere of The Marriage of Figaro in this mystery.

It is April 21, 1786, and the first stage rehearsal of Mozart’s Figaro is about to begin in Vienna’s Court Theater. The opera is based on Beaumarchais’ anti-royalist play written in 1778 and banned but widely read in Vienna. The room vibrates with excitement and more than a little salacious gossip. The melodramatic cast chatters away while assorted Viennese court luminaries indulge in contemptuous snickering. The composer, nervous but resplendently attired and meticulously coiffed, gives the signal to raise the curtain. A piercing scream rings out as a dangling body descends, entwined in the rigging. Herr von Haegelin, “the Imperial theatrical censor,” has evidently committed suicide—or was he murdered? So begins Larson’s (Sam, 2012) ribald, clever romp, a narrative brimming with lust, rivalry, deception, scandalous liaisons, and palace intrigue. The novel is written in the form of an opera, divided into Overtures, Acts, Scenes, and a concluding Stretto rather than chapters. Mozart’s friend and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte, “Court Poet to the Italian theater,” is arrested on trumped-up charges and eventually accused of killing von Haegelin. Mozart is distraught, obsessively concerned with the premiere of his opera on the Viennese stage. He passionately bemoans his fate to his wife, Constanze, saying of Da Ponte: “I need him desperately to do the mise-en-scène and general diva pacification and crowd control! Some devilish plot is being worked to spoil my play!” Together, they strive to uncover the truth behind von Haegelin’s death. It is not necessary to be well versed in opera to enjoy Larson’s scathing portrait of demanding divas, pompous tenors, and an emotionally overwrought, albeit genius, composer. But some familiarity helps. The frequent use of genre-specific terminology and untranslated pieces of dialogue in Italian and French are likely to frustrate many readers. Nonetheless, there is plenty to like in this rollicking, madcap story: historical details about the rebellious political forces sweeping the continent, vivid depictions of 18th-century styles and prejudices, and a naughty sense of humor.

A delightfully irreverent opera tale that should especially appeal to Mozart fans.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-939113-33-7

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Savvy Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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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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