A fictional tale for metal heads that offers all the simple pleasures of a real-life rock-and-roll memoir.




Vollack (The Red Staircase, 2017) offers a novel of youth, ambition, and the heavy-metal music scene of the 1980s.

“We were headbangers, and heavy metal was our theme music,” the author writes in the prologue to his raucous novel about what he calls the “soundtrack of the suburbs.” Junior high schooler Mark Magruder is an aspiring drummer in a Denver suburb who listens to the music of such acts as Judas Priest, Van Halen, and Ozzy Osbourne. Due to a misunderstanding, he and his classmate James Graves almost get into a fistfight over a girl; eventually, though, they find common ground, which leads them to form a heavy-metal band. Initially, Mark plays drums, but he’s later promoted to lead singer when another drummer and a bassist join the group; however, he notes that he “would probably have played friggin’ tambourine if it meant staying in the band.” Over the course of several years, Mark learns some important lessons about performing (“my first lesson of rock singing: Presence is everything”). Overall, this coming-of-age tale features a fair amount of drinking, band drama, and set-list discussion as well as relationship issues when Mark starts seeing a girl named Sara. Along the way, Vollack manages to successfully capture the aura of 1980s suburbia in general and its heavy-metal culture in particular as his characters go to see the band Iron Maiden in concert and have beer-keg parties; as he notes, “Headbangers need only the glorious grind of a power cord [sic] and the meaty thump of the kick-drum shaking their bones.” At times, the tone of Vollack’s prose verges on over-the-top machismo (“Singing for chicks. Hell yeah”), but this doesn’t stop it from taking readers on a nostalgia-filled trip into a bygone era, soundtrack in tow.

A fictional tale for metal heads that offers all the simple pleasures of a real-life rock-and-roll memoir.

Pub Date: March 29, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9994232-2-6

Page Count: 426

Publisher: Anthony Shelton Publications

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2018

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.


High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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