A well-written, endearing book that surprises—even if its happy ending is a little too perfect.

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WARMING UP

A story about discovering the artist within and being happy—talent or no talent.

Reed’s (Courting Kathleen Hannigan, 2007, etc.) charming new novel stars a neurotic singer with mother issues who has been avoiding auditions and attending frustrating therapy sessions instead. When Cecilia meets a homeless boy on the streets, however, her life takes a risky new direction. By involving herself in his problems, she learns to cope with her own, and she finds fulfillment in helping two troubled teens who must care for a baby while living hand to mouth. The author employs a generic plot that feels very “rags to riches” and makes it her own, using everyday issues—problems with low self-esteem, money, kids—to connect each character to the others. Reed turns ordinary metaphors into apt reflections of the characters’ inner states. Cecilia, for example, who has been stalled in her ambitions, takes up running, which depicts not only how she’s moving toward a better self, but also how she feels about her life despite her progress. To the overly self-critical Cecilia, who’s new to jogging and not especially fast, she’s always being passed, or surpassed, by others. Reed’s portrayal of human psychology is convincing. We can, for example, sense Cecilia’s anger and self-destruction every time she lights a cigarette, particularly since smoking damages her gifted singing voice. Reed sometimes resorts to telling instead of showing (“What she had yet to realize was how much she needed him”), but overall, she gives Cecilia nuanced, flawed dimension. Early on, Cecilia is often judgmental and impersonal, fearing that the boy she’s helping is immoral and even diseased. What Reed does best, though, is bring out similar aspects in all the characters. The therapist, also an aspiring sculptor, finds that like Cecilia, he’s afraid to act and move forward with his life. The homeless boy puts his talents to good use, and each character achieves new meaning in his life—through romance, new responsibilities and opportunities. Those shared traits create sympathetic, memorable characters.

A well-written, endearing book that surprises—even if its happy ending is a little too perfect.

Pub Date: April 15, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-938314-0-6

Page Count: 287

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2014

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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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When a book has such great comic timing, it's easy to finish the story in one sitting.

THE HONEY-DON'T LIST

A toxic workplace nurtures an intoxicating romance in Lauren’s (The Unhoneymooners, 2019, etc.) latest.

Rusty and Melissa Tripp are the married co-hosts of a successful home-makeover show and have even published a book on marriage. After catching Rusty cheating on Melissa, their assistants, James McCann and Carey Duncan, are forced to give up long-scheduled vacations to go along on their employers' book tour to make sure their marriage doesn’t implode. And the awkwardness is just getting started. Stuck in close quarters with no one to complain to but each other, James and Carey find that the life they dreamed of having might be found at work after all. James learns that Carey has worked for the Tripps since they owned a humble home décor shop in Jackson, Wyoming. Now that the couple is successful, Carey has no time for herself, and she doesn’t get nearly enough credit for her creative contribution to their media empire. Carey also has regular doctor’s appointments for dystonia, a movement disorder, which motivates her to keep her job but doesn’t stop her from doing it well. James was hired to work on engineering and design for the show, but Rusty treats him like his personal assistant. He’d quit, too, but it’s the only job he can get since his former employer was shut down in a scandal. Using a framing device similar to that of Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, the story flashes forward to interview transcripts with the police that hint at a dramatic ending to come, and the chapters often end with gossip in the form of online comments, adding intrigue. Bonding over bad bosses allows James and Carey to stick up for each other while supplying readers with all the drama and wit of the enemies-to-lovers trope.

When a book has such great comic timing, it's easy to finish the story in one sitting.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3864-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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