A promising premise sadly underdeveloped.

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PLAY FOR ME

Empty nester has whirlwind affair with indie rock guitarist, with predictable results, in Keating’s second novel (Layla, 2013).

Lily, a slightly zaftig 49-year-old woman with a successful career in industrial videography, a loving if preoccupied city planner husband, Stephen, and a comfortable Manhattan lifestyle, confronts a crossroads when she drops her son, Colby, off at college. How will she define herself now? The answer comes quickly when Colby takes her to a campus performance by “up-and-coming folk rocker” Blaise Raleigh and her lead guitarist, JJ, with his “long ponytail and a worn, raw face that looked dug out of the mountains of Appalachia.” But it isn’t until JJ rips out a riff that Lily is struck by the thunderbolt, or, in her preferred metaphor—if its overuse is any indication—shot through the heart. Approaching JJ after the concert, Lily boldly propositions him to give up smoking, which he does, and then starts following him and Blaise all over upstate New York. (Ostensibly, she’s there to videotape the band.) Stephen is oblivious to his wife’s obsession with a rock star, or more accurately, a talented 43-year-old guitarist who failed to launch a big career. Keating, who writes for Acoustic Guitar magazine, is at her surest when discussing musical issues, whether questions of guitar technique or the challenges of the music business for nonmainstream artists. When, roughly two-thirds of the way through the novel, Lily and JJ finally consummate their flirtation, the situation doesn't seem that fraught. JJ is a genuinely nice person, the age difference is not all that shocking, and Stephen barely notices she’s out of town. None of the potential conflicts are milked for the depth they could afford this novel. When Lily returns to face another sort of music, readers may feel that her come-to-realize moments have been rendered as sketchily as her emotions.

A promising premise sadly underdeveloped.

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-63152-972-6

Page Count: 220

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: March 12, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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