An ambitious but self-indulgent portrait of a city’s underbelly.

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EMERALD CITY

Gangsters, college kids, sports grifters, and a deaf businessman collide in Birnbaum’s sprawling debut saga of corruption in Seattle.

At Seattle’s fictional Myriadal College, student Benison Behrenreich struggles on the basketball team, which recruited him only because his wealthy father, Marc, bribed the athletic director. Marc, meanwhile, is under investigation for defrauding the government with bogus telephone-translation services for deaf people like himself—a scam masterminded by Mafioso Johnny Raciti. As part of another enterprise, Johnny has his granddaughter Julia recruit Peter Fosch, an off-road motorcycling phenom, to transport a mysterious drug for the mysterious “Mr. K,” a Russian émigré crime lord. Things get further complicated when Julia and Peter fall in love, and the latter gets caught between Johnny’s and Mr. K’s mutual betrayals. Percolating beneath these lurid plot points are emotionally fraught details involving child molestation and family strife. Birnbaum’s meandering yarn unfolds in scenes of woozy drug binges, financial intrigue, tough-guy posturing, grisly killings, and gruesome cleanups; at times, it reads like a mashup of David Foster Wallace and Mickey Spillane, rewritten by James Joyce. Birnbaum is a gifted writer who crafts evocative imagery—“Sunlight bloomed ambient dust like gaseous urine”—and excels at conjuring atmosphere in every context, from retail checkout lines to basketball drills (“God damn it, Jonesy. This time set a screen, don’t just sidle up to Gabe like you wanna tell him about daffodils”). His skills sometimes lack discipline, however, and he has a tendency to wrap empty clichés in dense, cryptic language: “Adolescent angst, far from liminal, was the hazy dawn of his becoming.” He also overwrites banal events, as when Julia washes her face: “A hard scrub using imported soap, a coarse brown lump coagulated by whole grains, whittled the whiteheads gorging on oils in her nasal nooks and crannies.” Four novels’ worth of plot jockey for space in these pages, but they’re elbowed out by superbly observed scenes that nonetheless lack dramatic tension or narrative import. When Birnbaum figures out which of his characters’ actions and emotions are important, he’ll be a writer to reckon with.

An ambitious but self-indulgent portrait of a city’s underbelly.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-950122-00-4

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dead Rabbits LLC

Review Posted Online: Jan. 29, 2020

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A romantic, sad, and ultimately hopeful book that’s perfect for fans of Jojo Moyes.

GHOSTED

In Walsh’s American debut, a woman desperately tries to find out why the man she spent a whirlwind week with never called.

Sarah has just separated from her American husband and is visiting her hometown in England when she meets Eddie. He’s kind and charming, and although they only spend one week together, she falls in love. When he has to leave for a trip, she knows they’ll keep in touch—they’re already making plans for the rest of their lives. But then Eddie never calls, and Sarah’s increasingly frantic efforts to contact him are fruitless. Is he hurt? Is he dead? As her friends tell her, there’s a far greater likelihood that he’s just blowing her off—she’s been ghosted. After trying to track Eddie down at a football game, Sarah starts to become ashamed of herself—after all, she’s almost 40 years old and she’s essentially stalking a man who never called her. But as Sarah slowly learns, she and Eddie didn’t actually meet randomly—they both have a connection to an accident that happened years ago, and it may have something to do with why he disappeared. The tension quickly amps up as the secrets of Eddie’s and Sarah’s pasts are revealed, and the truth behind their connection is genuinely surprising and heartbreaking. The barriers between Sarah and Eddie seem insurmountable at times, and although their issues are resolved in a tidy manner, the emotions behind their actions are always believable. Walsh has created a deeply moving romance with an intriguing mystery and a touching portrait of grief at its heart.

A romantic, sad, and ultimately hopeful book that’s perfect for fans of Jojo Moyes.

Pub Date: July 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-52277-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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An ambitious and bewitching gem of a book with mystery and passion inscribed on every page.

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THE STARLESS SEA

A withdrawn graduate student embarks on an epic quest to restore balance to the world in this long-anticipated follow-up to The Night Circus (2011).

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a typical millennial introvert; he likes video games, escapist reading, and drinking sidecars. But when he recognizes himself in the pages of a mysterious book from the university library, he's unnerved—and determined to uncover the truth. What begins as a journey for answers turns into something much bigger, and Zachary must decide whether to trust the handsome stranger he meets at a highflying literary fundraiser in New York or to retreat back to his thesis and forget the whole affair. In a high-wire feat of metatextual derring-do, Morgenstern weaves Zachary's adventure into a stunning array of linked fables, myths, and origin stories. There are pirates and weary travelers, painters who can see the future, lovers torn asunder, a menacing Owl King, and safe harbors for all the stories of the world, far below the Earth on the golden shores of a Starless Sea. Clocking in at more than 500 pages, the novel requires patience as Morgenstern puts all the pieces in place, but it is exquisitely pleasurable to watch the gears of this epic fantasy turn once they're set in motion. As in The Night Circus, Morgenstern is at her best when she imagines worlds and rooms and parties in vivid detail, right down to the ballroom stairs "festooned with lanterns and garlands of paper dipped in gold" or a cloak carved from ice with "ships and sailors and sea monsters...lost in the drifting snow." This novel is a love letter to readers as much as an invitation: Come and see how much magic is left in the world. Fans of Neil Gaiman and V.E. Schwab, Kelly Link and Susanna Clarke will want to heed the call.

An ambitious and bewitching gem of a book with mystery and passion inscribed on every page.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54121-3

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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