A thoughtful, engrossing tale about sowing order in the midst of chaos.

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A BLUE FOREST

A woman takes a job as a housekeeper at a monastery in rural New Zealand only to discover surprising levels of crime and drama in this debut literary novel.

The Hokianga, New Zealand. When a nun comes to offer Jill Strachan work as a housekeeper at the local Anglican monastery, she isn’t sure what to think. Sister Isobel, the founder and head of Saint Clement’s Hermitage—as the former goat farm is known—is an odd woman with bad teeth who insists that religious life is a battlefield. Jill’s husband, Martin, who has been wheelchair-bound since an accident, thinks the job can be a necessary source of income for the family, though Jill knows she will have to bring her “precocious” 4-year-old daughter, Melissa, along. Jill and her family move onto the grounds of Saint Clement’s, where Sisterbel (as Melissa calls her) cheerfully demands they follow her rather strict monastic rules. Jill soon finds herself spending a lot of time with Gary Barter, a former rock star-turned-handyman who has been tasked with reforesting the area with eucalyptus and other trees. Martin continues to spend time with his creepy friend Liam “Spook” O’Donnell, who encourages his darker moods and self-destructive behavior. Before long, Jill and Gary discover that the monastery’s grounds are being used to grow illegal marijuana and criminals are machine-gunning wild goats in the area. It turns out the quiet life at the monastery may be a battlefield after all. Campbell’s prose is measured but vivid, capturing both the idiosyncratic culture and landscape of the setting: “Melissa’s kauri looked quite naked in the grove. Mute and lonely, it stuck up from the patch of trampled clay. It had no more presence than a weed. We are joined again to the earth, Jill thought, which our feet have never ceased to tread.” The novel proceeds at a ruminative pace through each of its 400-plus pages, and there are several spots where readers will be in danger of becoming bored. While it certainly could have been shorter, the book’s meditation on its characters and their struggles—as well as its romantic setting—will mostly manage to please.

A thoughtful, engrossing tale about sowing order in the midst of chaos.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-70693-001-3

Page Count: 424

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: March 10, 2020

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

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THE CITY WE BECAME

This extremely urban fantasy, a love/hate song to and rallying cry for the author’s home of New York, expands her story “The City, Born Great” (from How Long ’Til Black Future Month, 2018).

When a great city reaches the point when it's ready to come to life, it chooses a human avatar, who guides the city through its birthing and contends with an extradimensional Enemy who seeks to strike at this vulnerable moment. Now, it is New York City’s time to be born, but its avatar is too weakened by the battle to complete the process. So each of the individual boroughs instantiates its own avatar to continue the fight. Manhattan is a multiracial grad student new to the city with a secret violent past that he can no longer quite remember; Brooklyn is an African American rap star–turned–lawyer and city councilwoman; Queens is an Indian math whiz here on a visa; the Bronx is a tough Lenape woman who runs a nonprofit art center; and Staten Island is a frightened and insular Irish American woman who wants nothing to do with the other four. Can these boroughs successfully awaken and heal their primary avatar and repel the invading white tentacles of the Enemy? The novel is a bold calling out of the racial tensions dividing not only New York City, but the U.S. as a whole; it underscores that people of color are an integral part of the city’s tapestry even if some white people prefer to treat them as interlopers. It's no accident that the only white avatar is the racist woman representing Staten Island, nor that the Enemy appears as a Woman in White who employs the forces of racism and gentrification in her invasion; her true self is openly inspired by the tropes of the xenophobic author H.P. Lovecraft. Although the story is a fantasy, many aspects of the plot draw on contemporary incidents. In the real world, white people don’t need a nudge from an eldritch abomination to call down a violent police reaction on people of color innocently conducting their daily lives, and just as in the book, third parties are fraudulently transferring property deeds from African American homeowners in Brooklyn, and gentrification forces out the people who made the neighborhood attractive in the first place. In the face of these behaviors, whataboutism, #BothSides, and #NotAllWhitePeople are feeble arguments.

Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-50984-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Orbit

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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