This dramatic tale of life in and outside the music industry hits all the right notes.

A DIFFERENT SLANT OF LIGHT

A California high school teacher reflects on his rock-star days and broods about reuniting his band.

In Levin’s follow-up to his novel Incomplete (2020), Brian Smith lives what some would consider an ordinary life. When he’s not teaching Advanced Placement English, he spends time with his wife and their Star Wars–loving 8-year-old daughter. But when his star pupil Veronica Jones interviews him, she dredges up memories of a past Brian abandoned two decades ago. He was once a member of the punk-rock group Call Field, a one-hit wonder from the early aughts. Back then, he and his band mates ecstatically signed a major-label deal. But it was Brian, bassist and chief songwriter, who practically lived at the studio to complete Call Field’s debut album. As with most fledgling music groups, both the label and fans tended to focus their attention on the frontman. In Call Field’s case, that was Steve Öken, a self-absorbed lead vocalist who tried exerting his dominance whenever he could, such as monopolizing the album cover. Not surprisingly, he butted heads with Brian—dissension that threatened the band even before its debut release. After Call Field’s ugly, animosity-laden split, Brian suffered physically and mentally. Yet when he dusts off his guitar 20 years later for his school’s talent show, he misses that exhilaration of playing music onstage. He has the chance to perform again for a benefit concert that Veronica is organizing. But she wants all five members of Call Field there. Brian and his band mates, who haven’t spoken in decades, will have to quell some bad feelings if they want to recapture that punk-rock magic they once had.

While Levin’s sequel centers on Call Field’s short-lived fame, the book is a starkly illuminating peek at the music industry. Brian, for example, toils for months on the album and plays multiple instruments on the tracks. But the record company, despite signing a punk-rock band, mixes the songs for a softer, more commercial sound, highlighting Steve’s vocals. It seems both the label and the lead singer are intent on seizing control of the tunes that Brian rightly considers his. Still, the story is not all scathing. Brian indisputably treasures music, as does the author, who drops in references to countless rock groups along with cameos by such six-stringed beauties as a Gibson SG and a Fender Stratocaster. In the tale’s family-oriented, present-day setting, Levin develops winsome, convincing relationships. Brian’s loving home life with his wife, Mel, and their daughter, Sam, has its ups and downs while good-naturedly brazen Veronica is his biggest fan and “something of a surrogate daughter.” The author, on occasion, shines too bright a spotlight on his metaphors. For example, Mel and a classroom of students separately analyze the oft-quoted lyrics to Call Field’s solitary hit, “Incomplete,” which unquestionably represents Brian’s past. But Levin more often hits the mark, as when Brian calms himself with a treadmill-inspired mantra that becomes the tale’s refrain: “Right foot. Left foot. Repeat.” Numerous uncredited artworks and photographs further elevate this enthralling story, with the standouts including Call Field’s startling album cover and flyers for the group’s appearances.

This dramatic tale of life in and outside the music industry hits all the right notes.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-73775-690-3

Page Count: 410

Publisher: Not-So-Silent Librarian Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 1, 2021

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With captivating dialogue, angst-y characters, and a couple of steamy sex scenes, Hoover has done it again.

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REMINDERS OF HIM

After being released from prison, a young woman tries to reconnect with her 5-year-old daughter despite having killed the girl’s father.

Kenna didn’t even know she was pregnant until after she was sent to prison for murdering her boyfriend, Scotty. When her baby girl, Diem, was born, she was forced to give custody to Scotty’s parents. Now that she’s been released, Kenna is intent on getting to know her daughter, but Scotty’s parents won’t give her a chance to tell them what really happened the night their son died. Instead, they file a restraining order preventing Kenna from so much as introducing herself to Diem. Handsome, self-assured Ledger, who was Scotty’s best friend, is another key adult in Diem’s life. He’s helping her grandparents raise her, and he too blames Kenna for Scotty’s death. Even so, there’s something about her that haunts him. Kenna feels the pull, too, and seems to be seeking Ledger out despite his judgmental behavior. As Ledger gets to know Kenna and acknowledges his attraction to her, he begins to wonder if maybe he and Scotty’s parents have judged her unfairly. Even so, Ledger is afraid that if he surrenders to his feelings, Scotty’s parents will kick him out of Diem’s life. As Kenna and Ledger continue to mourn for Scotty, they also grieve the future they cannot have with each other. Told alternatively from Kenna’s and Ledger’s perspectives, the story explores the myriad ways in which snap judgments based on partial information can derail people’s lives. Built on a foundation of death and grief, this story has an undercurrent of sadness. As usual, however, the author has created compelling characters who are magnetic and sympathetic enough to pull readers in. In addition to grief, the novel also deftly explores complex issues such as guilt, self-doubt, redemption, and forgiveness.

With captivating dialogue, angst-y characters, and a couple of steamy sex scenes, Hoover has done it again.

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5420-2560-7

Page Count: 335

Publisher: Montlake Romance

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

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A warm and winning "When Harry Met Sally…" update that hits all the perfect notes.

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PEOPLE WE MEET ON VACATION

A travel writer has one last shot at reconnecting with the best friend she just might be in love with.

Poppy and Alex couldn't be more different. She loves wearing bright colors while he prefers khakis and a T-shirt. She likes just about everything while he’s a bit more discerning. And yet, their opposites-attract friendship works because they love each other…in a totally platonic way. Probably. Even though they have their own separate lives (Poppy lives in New York City and is a travel writer with a popular Instagram account; Alex is a high school teacher in their tiny Ohio hometown), they still manage to get together each summer for one fabulous vacation. They grow closer every year, but Poppy doesn’t let herself linger on her feelings for Alex—she doesn’t want to ruin their friendship or the way she can be fully herself with him. They continue to date other people, even bringing their serious partners on their summer vacations…but then, after a falling-out, they stop speaking. When Poppy finds herself facing a serious bout of ennui, unhappy with her glamorous job and the life she’s been dreaming of forever, she thinks back to the last time she was truly happy: her last vacation with Alex. And so, though they haven’t spoken in two years, she asks him to take another vacation with her. She’s determined to bridge the gap that’s formed between them and become best friends again, but to do that, she’ll have to be honest with Alex—and herself—about her true feelings. In chapters that jump around in time, Henry shows readers the progression (and dissolution) of Poppy and Alex’s friendship. Their slow-burn love story hits on beloved romance tropes (such as there unexpectedly being only one bed on the reconciliation trip Poppy plans) while still feeling entirely fresh. Henry’s biggest strength is in the sparkling, often laugh-out-loud-funny dialogue, particularly the banter-filled conversations between Poppy and Alex. But there’s depth to the story, too—Poppy’s feeling of dissatisfaction with a life that should be making her happy as well as her unresolved feelings toward the difficult parts of her childhood make her a sympathetic and relatable character. The end result is a story that pays homage to classic romantic comedies while having a point of view all its own.

A warm and winning "When Harry Met Sally…" update that hits all the perfect notes.

Pub Date: May 11, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0675-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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