A complex, absorbing, and dramatic start to a planned series.


From the The Orphans of Tolosa series , Vol. 1

In this historical novel, set in the Languedoc area of France, two young orphans try to forge their own destinies amid many dangers.

In tumultuous 13th-century France, political ambitions and crusades against heretics—presumably Cathars, although the term is never used—have brought much warfare and upheaval. When the orphaned Azalaïs, a girl, and Azemar, a boy, flee charges of witchcraft, they hastily agree to split up and meet in Bésiers. A kindly forest anchorite helps Azalaïs disguise herself as a boy, and over several years the recluse teaches her herbal medicine, reading, writing, and Latin. But Azalaïs must go on the run again when she makes an unexpected enemy, and she finds shelter with Domna Jordane de la Moux d’Aniort, who takes Azalaïs into her household. Jordane’s wealthy father is planning his daughter’s marriage to a French-allied noble, but she’s in love with a rebellious knight named Raimon de Berenger. After finding out about Azalaïs’ true sex, Jordane insists that the young woman disguise herself and take her own place as the noble’s bride while Jordane pursues Raimon. The disguised Azalaïs must prove herself in a perilous situation that she doesn’t fully understand. Meanwhile, Azemar finds a patron and receives training in commerce and war. It’s nine years before the two orphans briefly find each other again. In this well-researched novel, Dunlap (The Academie, 2012, etc.) breathes life into the distant 13th-century setting by providing many everyday, textural details, such as the uncomfortable realities of wearing jousting armor. Poetry and music are as essential to the plot as warfare, with engaging glimpses of trobairitz (female troubadours). Necessary exposition is well integrated into the story, although the closing author’s note would likely have worked better as a preface, and a glossary would have been useful. The characters are generally believable, although Jordane is implausibly headstrong for a young woman of her era, and Raimon doesn’t seem to be worth so much plotting and difficulty.

A complex, absorbing, and dramatic start to a planned series.

Pub Date: April 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-942209-58-4

Page Count: 388

Publisher: Bellastoria Press

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 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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