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ENFANT TERRIBLE

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A gritty music story/romance with an endearing narrator.

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A novel focuses on the journey of a washed-up rock star who becomes an unlikely father figure.

Damen Warner is the frontman for the band OBNXS, which has just been dumped by its label. Damen lives with a motley crew of roommates and a rooster in Chicago who are on a downward spiral: “It hadn’t taken long for” the band’s “bad habits to settle into a routine…boozing and jamming,” messing around with “dancers and drugs…until the sun came up and the whole cycle started over again.” But there is hope for the group when an investor agrees to help fund its next project. Though Damen’s career has taken a positive turn, his personal life is in upheaval. He has fraught dealings with his family; he is struggling to get inspiration for his latest album; and he is unclear about the terms of his relationship with Melody, a stripper at a club he frequents. When he is called in to babysit Melody’s daughter, Victoria, at the last minute, he begins to form a bond with the girl, instructing her to stand up to school bullies and even taking her trick-or-treating. As he and the band try to record a new album, they join forces with a millennial blogger who helps OBNXS go viral, capitalizing on Damen’s public escapades. But Damen and Melody’s relationship is tested as he struggles to cope with her clients and Victoria’s father, a rich guy who hates the musician and wants to take the child from her mother. In this engaging, well-crafted sequel, Damen’s narrative voice is distinct, raw, and cynical, just right for a 30-year-old rock star trying to get back on top. Gebien establishes Damen’s voice from the very first page. The protagonist warns readers: “Well, congratulations. It’s all downhill from here. You don’t have to turn back—it’s a free country. You can do what you want. Go ahead and stare at the sun while you’re at it: it will probably cause less damage to your retinas than the escalating indecency ahead. Still here? God help you.” But for all the discussion of Damen’s rock dreams, he doesn’t make much music throughout the course of the book. This is one rich area that could have been further explored.

A gritty music story/romance with an endearing narrator.

Pub Date: July 28, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-578-38589-1

Page Count: 342

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2022

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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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JAMES

One of the noblest characters in American literature gets a novel worthy of him.

Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as told from the perspective of a more resourceful and contemplative Jim than the one you remember.

This isn’t the first novel to reimagine Twain’s 1885 masterpiece, but the audacious and prolific Everett dives into the very heart of Twain’s epochal odyssey, shifting the central viewpoint from that of the unschooled, often credulous, but basically good-hearted Huck to the more enigmatic and heroic Jim, the Black slave with whom the boy escapes via raft on the Mississippi River. As in the original, the threat of Jim’s being sold “down the river” and separated from his wife and daughter compels him to run away while figuring out what to do next. He's soon joined by Huck, who has faked his own death to get away from an abusive father, ramping up Jim’s panic. “Huck was supposedly murdered and I’d just run away,” Jim thinks. “Who did I think they would suspect of the heinous crime?” That Jim can, as he puts it, “[do] the math” on his predicament suggests how different Everett’s version is from Twain’s. First and foremost, there's the matter of the Black dialect Twain used to depict the speech of Jim and other Black characters—which, for many contemporary readers, hinders their enjoyment of his novel. In Everett’s telling, the dialect is a put-on, a manner of concealment, and a tactic for survival. “White folks expect us to sound a certain way and it can only help if we don’t disappoint them,” Jim explains. He also discloses that, in violation of custom and law, he learned to read the books in Judge Thatcher’s library, including Voltaire and John Locke, both of whom, in dreams and delirium, Jim finds himself debating about human rights and his own humanity. With and without Huck, Jim undergoes dangerous tribulations and hairbreadth escapes in an antebellum wilderness that’s much grimmer and bloodier than Twain’s. There’s also a revelation toward the end that, however stunning to devoted readers of the original, makes perfect sense.

One of the noblest characters in American literature gets a novel worthy of him.

Pub Date: March 19, 2024

ISBN: 9780385550369

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2024

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