An engaging tale about two music lovers trying to set the historical record straight.

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SINS IN BLUE

A precocious Pennsylvania blues fan attempts to resurrect the career of one of his idols in this novel.

Pittsburgh, 1969. Eighteen-year-old Kennedy Barnes loves the blues. The prize item in his record collection is a tape procured from the Library of Congress recorded back in 1934 by an obscure bluesman named Willie Johnson. In fact, Kennedy believes that the song on the tape is proof Willie actually invented rock ’n’ roll: “The guitarist punctured the chug-chug rhythm with bursts of high-speed blues runs, like Clapton on amphetamines. He listened to the two-minute song again and again while the sun played a light requiem on his bedroom wall.” After a fight with his father leaves Kennedy’s record collection shattered, he leaves home with a duffel bag, the Willie tape reel, and $300. His destination is Fort Collins, Colorado, where the elderly Willie now works in a motel laundry. Kennedy tracks him down only to discover that Willie is white—not exactly the image of the bluesman that the teenager had in his head. Bound by the shared love of the blues and a desire to improve their standing, Willie agrees to let Kennedy represent him as his manager. Their plan is to land a record contract at the famous Newport Folk Festival. But does either the teen huckster or the washed-up guitarist have what it takes to make it there? Kaufman’s prose is textured and full of personality: “There were no streetlights, and Kennedy was a little nervous about the traffic. Dark as it was, and fast as cars were going, no one would be able to spot them before knocking them fifty yards into a ditch.” Kennedy and Willie make for an appealing odd couple, with personalities as divergent as their ages. The book displays a deep affection and knowledge of early rock ’n’ roll (though the author’s decision to make the genre’s inventor a white man is a bit strange and perhaps heretical). Music fans will enjoy this short novel despite its revisionism.

An engaging tale about two music lovers trying to set the historical record straight.

Pub Date: May 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-944715-59-5

Page Count: 154

Publisher: Black Rose Writing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 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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