A bumpy collection of booze- and pill-soaked tales of desperation.

JUNK CITY

A volume of poetry and prose documents the dark lives of San Francisco’s drunks and strippers.

Life in San Francisco is a seemingly unending series of unpleasant incidents and disappointing outcomes. In one story, a bouncer must cope with the suicide of his father and his on-again, off-again relationship with a woman plagued by mental illness. In another, a man watches some amateur basketball at Kezar Stadium before barhopping and, later, drinking beer with his adult paperboy, a former basketball player. A drug dealer tries to win his wife back after his stash is discovered in her house, resulting in her losing her job and spending six days in jail. A man who has lost his job and his driver’s license rides a bicycle to get drunk at a bar, but once there, he’s forced to deal with the probing questions of an older man. The tales, often no more than a few pages, are filled with neighborhood characters and local geographies, sliding up and down Taraval Street or haunting the environs of Columbus and Green. Four of the stories follow the romantic adventures of the stripper and poet Eskimo and her locally famous brawler boyfriend, Joxer. They participate in billiard competitions, attempt to drop off poems at City Lights Bookstore, witness shootings in the local watering holes, and get arrested for crashing cars while drunk. Interspersed are poems supposedly written by Eskimo on similarly dark and mundane topics: pop songs, stains, tea, physical abuse. A sense of fatalism inhabits each piece, whether it ends in tragedy or merely the suggestion of tragedy. These are characters who will never escape their plights. In fact, many of them seem not even to want to.

Boilard’s prose deftly evokes the gritty minimalism of Thom Jones, Denis Johnson, and other bards of self-destruction and substance abuse: “The deejay introduces her as Eh, Eh, Eskimo. Joxer sits in the front row. She dances slow and sexy and sad to Johnny Cash doing his remake of Hurt by Nine Inch Nails and Joxer can’t believe it. He loves that version. It must be some kind of fate. When she finishes her routine, she sits on his lap and rubs cocaine into his upper gums with her index finger.” The poems are sparse and Beats-inspired. “Blackout” reads: “I was drunk / & / forgetting things / & falling / down & / we both / hated me / then.” They seem to exist mostly to supplement (and break up) the stories. While the tales are the main course, they feel no less derivative or overreaching. The men are mostly violent nihilists, the women mostly sexual ones. The San Francisco in which the stories are set—the eponymous “Junk City,” as one character calls it—seems to be simultaneously that of the 1950s, ’80s, and the 2010s: one in which bohemians still pay for rent bartending and dream of making enough money to “get out of this place.” While there are occasional moments of epiphany or stark imagery, such a book feels a bit outdated in 2020.

A bumpy collection of booze- and pill-soaked tales of desperation.

Pub Date: Nov. 20, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 225

Publisher: Livingston Press

Review Posted Online: July 10, 2020

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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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