An engaging twist on a classic opera, lush with drama and romance in a contemporary setting.

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THE OTHER LA BOHÈME

Four friends withstand the personal and financial trials of the New York opera scene while performing in La Bohème to break into a first-tier company.

In this novel, Henry Anderson, Stephanie Frank, Jennifer Schneider, and John Bertucci are known by the professional designation Dolci Quattro, or “The Sweet Four.” Bound by their long-standing friendship and devotion to opera since they met at the Manhattan School of Music, they are playing the principal roles in Leoncavallo’s La Bohème, jokingly called “the other La Bohème” because it is infrequently performed compared to the Puccini version. They are passionately committed to opera despite the New York monetary challenges, the cost of private lessons, and the stresses the ascetic lifestyle puts on relationships. Nevertheless, they all struggle. At one point, Henry muses: “I wish I could forget about opera. Then all of my suffering would be over.” Yet they find immense joy in the art form. For Jennifer, “her gift was her life.” If well-attended and praised by critics, this production could be the quartet’s big break. But performing such a controversial version of a beloved piece could mean disaster if not spectacular in vocal quality and execution. The Dolci Quattro members vow to support one another through the emotional turmoil leading up to the opening and the most pivotal moment of their careers. Keith (Remembrance of Blue Roses, 2016) expertly captures the emotional drama and physical exertion of the opera world while employing an intriguing convention: paying homage to La Bohème by mirroring its plot in a modern setting through the Dolci Quattro. The four friends portray the opera principals while simultaneously living like the characters they play, similar to the musical Kiss Me Kate. This lucid tribute extends to cleverly structuring the novel in four acts, broken into scenes rather than chapters. The only misstep: the plot of La Bohème and the story behind its composition aren’t explained until a third of the way through the tale. Despite this flaw, fans of opera and New York fiction should enjoy this appealing homage to the urban bohemian lifestyle.

An engaging twist on a classic opera, lush with drama and romance in a contemporary setting. 

Pub Date: March 23, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4835-9198-8

Page Count: 364

Publisher: BookBaby

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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