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London Road

LINKED STORIES

Tales with subtle, positive, but never saccharine transformations that feel fully earned.

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In seven short stories, residents of a London boardinghouse reach moments of clarity.

On London Road, lined with scruffy shops, stands No. 17, a detached redbrick Victorian that’s been turned into a boardinghouse. Its residents tend toward hard luck and desperation: Janice is just out of prison; Mandy is on probation; Bitty has a good education but is scarred by her mother’s frequent abandonments; and Isobel is mentally unstable. Nora, the landlady, writes romance novels but has experienced little romance herself, and her daughter, Anna, is disgusted by Isobel’s outbursts. Their interconnected stories take place on a day of unusually hot weather and focus on one resident at a time, with Janice’s story told in two parts. In each, characters have a chance to make a leap of faith in other people or in the future. In “The Walls of Buckingham Palace,” for example, Nora—who adores the queen—reflects on an uneasy encounter with Len, her local pub’s new landlord, who drank too much and frightened her off: “But every night since, her sleep had been disturbed by longings she thought had long since [been] vanquished.” It takes queenlike courage for her to return to the pub, where she finds that Len is apologetic, sincere, and kind. Pointing to a framed photograph of the queen, he remarks, “You remind me of her, you do”; nothing, of course, could better gain her trust and win her over. Though spare and fast-paced, McGovern’s (Cocktails for Book Lovers, 2014, etc.) tales evoke entire biographies. She focuses on illuminative details and subtle, turning-point moments, as when Mandy, a young woman on probation, reacts to her mandatory book group’s reading of Katherine Mansfield’s 1922 short story “The Garden Party.” It stokes her resentment, as she doesn’t even know if people still give garden parties. Mandy makes plans to shoplift again, but something about the book group leader’s hopefulness and the invitation to give her honest opinion sparks her determination to win—maybe a literary argument or maybe more chocolate wafers.

Tales with subtle, positive, but never saccharine transformations that feel fully earned.

Pub Date: March 21, 2011

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 56

Publisher: eChook Digital Publishing, LLC

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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  • New York Times Bestseller

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DEVOLUTION

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z(2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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A LITTLE LIFE

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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