A teenage girl is the strong center of a fever-dream story of hidden pasts.

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SHINER

In an Appalachian hamlet, a girl’s world is shattered by the secrets of the adults around her.

Burns’ first book, Cinderland (2014), was a memoir about her childhood in western Pennsylvania. She sets this assured debut novel nearby, in the remote hollers outside the ominously named Trap. It’s a minuscule, poverty-ridden West Virginia town where the dying coal industry still poisons the environment and the moonshiners of the title still make illegal liquor for tradition’s sake. At age 15, Wren Bird, who narrates much of the book, has never been more than a few miles from her family’s cabin. Her father, Briar, is a snake handler, a preacher whose services, held in an abandoned gas station for a shrinking congregation, revolve around him grasping his venomous rattlers and copperheads and raising them skyward while speaking in tongues. Wren tells the reader, “My father obeyed the rituals of snake-handling law, which meant he pretended we still lived in the 1940s instead of the age of the internet.” Called to God when a lightning strike blinded him in one eye as a teen, Briar fell in love with Wren’s mother, Ruby, not long afterward. He’s ruthlessly protective of his wife and daughter, forbidding most outside contact and only grudgingly letting Ruby home-school Wren. Ruby’s closest relationship is not with Briar but with her longtime friend Ivy, who lives down the mountain with her four kids and opioid-addicted husband. As girls, Ruby and Ivy dreamed of escape, but Ruby—also a snake handler’s daughter—married at her father’s command, and restless Ivy married so she wouldn’t have to leave Ruby. As the novel opens, Ivy falls into an open fire, but it seems Briar has worked a miracle when she suffers no grievous injury. That fall, though, sets off a cascade of revelations and rebellions. And Briar’s lethal snakes are this book’s version of Chekhov’s gun—you know they’re going to bite someone. Wren’s engaging, convincing voice leads the reader through her strange world.

A teenage girl is the strong center of a fever-dream story of hidden pasts.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53364-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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When a book has such great comic timing, it's easy to finish the story in one sitting.

THE HONEY-DON'T LIST

A toxic workplace nurtures an intoxicating romance in Lauren’s (The Unhoneymooners, 2019, etc.) latest.

Rusty and Melissa Tripp are the married co-hosts of a successful home-makeover show and have even published a book on marriage. After catching Rusty cheating on Melissa, their assistants, James McCann and Carey Duncan, are forced to give up long-scheduled vacations to go along on their employers' book tour to make sure their marriage doesn’t implode. And the awkwardness is just getting started. Stuck in close quarters with no one to complain to but each other, James and Carey find that the life they dreamed of having might be found at work after all. James learns that Carey has worked for the Tripps since they owned a humble home décor shop in Jackson, Wyoming. Now that the couple is successful, Carey has no time for herself, and she doesn’t get nearly enough credit for her creative contribution to their media empire. Carey also has regular doctor’s appointments for dystonia, a movement disorder, which motivates her to keep her job but doesn’t stop her from doing it well. James was hired to work on engineering and design for the show, but Rusty treats him like his personal assistant. He’d quit, too, but it’s the only job he can get since his former employer was shut down in a scandal. Using a framing device similar to that of Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, the story flashes forward to interview transcripts with the police that hint at a dramatic ending to come, and the chapters often end with gossip in the form of online comments, adding intrigue. Bonding over bad bosses allows James and Carey to stick up for each other while supplying readers with all the drama and wit of the enemies-to-lovers trope.

When a book has such great comic timing, it's easy to finish the story in one sitting.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3864-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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