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ENFANT TERRIBLE

PART III: SHOWSTOPPER

An engrossing rock novel about a complicated antihero.

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Gebien concludes her trilogy about the journey of a washed-up rock star in this novel.

Damen Warner, the frontman for the band OBNXS, is back in his final story about trying to make it as a rock star. Throughout the novel, numerous obstacles are put in Damen’s way: his grandmother’s will, a custody battle, pit bulls, viral videos, and more. He has fallen into a deep alcoholic depression: Damen “looked like ten pounds of shit in a five-pound bag. Thirty years old. Too tall, too thin, too angry, too mean.” Damen’s relationships with his girlfriend, Melody, and her daughter, Vico, are in trouble: Melody’s ex, the “Baby Daddy,” wants custody of their daughter, and Damen ends up in the middle of the conflict. Additionally, Melody is meeting with her former clients from a strip club for extra money, which makes Damen uncomfortable. Then Damen runs into Evangeline, a girl he met on the road, a social media–savvy evangelical Christian willing to help the band with their image—for a fee. She arranges protests against OBNXS to gin up publicity, generating sufficient interest to allow the band to continue working on their album. Though Damen finds it easy to create the image that the internet demands, he drifts further away from who he is as an artist (“As much as I wanted to believe my career was rallying due to the overwhelming magnetism of my musical genius, the truth was most of my notoriety now came from videos of me doing stupid shit on the internet, including such hit singles as “Arrested Naked” (feat. TSA), “That Guy Who Kicked Over A Piano,” and “Strip Club Riot”).

The author is able to evoke raw emotions with a depth of sincerity (and a bit of embarrassment) through her cast of quirky characters. Damen has moments of tenderness with Vico balanced by his characteristic raw, raunchy humor and distinct voice. The narrative is paced well, moving quickly from one episode to the next. Gebien’s vivid descriptions transport readers into each scene and expose Damen’s naked feelings—as he struggles with the urge to drink one night, he leaves Melody in bed and goes to the kitchen, where he sees that “the abandoned chilis still lay on the cutting board like small, shriveled, scorched hearts. [He] knew how they felt.” These moments of revelation help make Damen an empathetic character. The sequences in which the band collaborates and riffs are strengths of the novel, allowing the reader to see more of Damen’s artistic process. Describing the album the band is working to complete, Damen notes that the “range of new sounds we planned to include was a lot wider than any of our previous work, slaloming wildly from hard rock and metal to dark country to absurd pop to achingly earnest to melodic impressionism.” Or, as Mungo Gordon, the band’s producer, sums it up, “chaotic,” a word that could also describe the feel of the novel—though it’s chaotic in a purposeful way, like OBNXS’ music.

An engrossing rock novel about a complicated antihero.

Pub Date: April 25, 2023

ISBN: 9798988160502

Page Count: 436

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2023

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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HAPPY PLACE

A wistfully nostalgic look at endings, beginnings, and loving the people who will always have your back.

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Exes pretend they’re still together for the sake of their friends on their annual summer vacation.

Wyn Connor and Harriet Kilpatrick were the perfect couple—until Wyn dumped Harriet for reasons she still doesn’t fully understand. They’ve been part of the same boisterous friend group since college, and they know that their breakup will devastate the others and make things more than a little awkward. So they keep it a secret from their friends and families—in fact, Harriet barely even admits it to herself, focusing instead on her grueling hours as a surgical resident. She’s ready for a vacation at her happy place—the Maine cottage she and her friends visit every summer. But (surprise!) Wyn is there too, and he and Harriet have to share a (very romantic) room and a bed. Telling the truth about their breakup is out of the question, because the cottage is up for sale, and this is the group’s last hurrah. Determined to make sure everyone has the perfect last trip, Harriet and Wyn resolve to fake their relationship for the week. The problem with this plan, of course, is that Harriet still has major feelings for Wyn—feelings that only get stronger as they pretend to be blissfully in love. As always, Henry’s dialogue is sparkling and the banter between characters is snappy and hilarious. Wyn and Harriet’s relationship, shown both in the past and the present, feels achingly real. Their breakup, as well as their complicated relationships with their own families, adds a twinge of melancholy, as do the relatable growing pains of a group of friends whose lives are taking them in different directions.

A wistfully nostalgic look at endings, beginnings, and loving the people who will always have your back.

Pub Date: April 25, 2023

ISBN: 9780593441275

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: Feb. 23, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2023

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