A historically astute but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to braid too many stories into a unified whole.

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BETWEEN THESE WALLS

In Newman’s (Getting Rich Doing What You Love, 2005) historical novel, an art curator receives a letter from Germany that shines a light on the cloudy circumstances of his birth.

In 1988, Daniel Singer, an expert on European Renaissance art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, receives a mysterious letter from Germany. It looks like official correspondence, although it’s hard to be certain as it’s written in German—a language that Daniel doesn’t speak. He wonders, however, if the letter contains key information about his past; his parents, Samuel and Agatha, told him long ago that he was adopted; his biological father, they said, was an American soldier that died serving in World War II, and his mother died soon after childbirth. However, although Daniel had seen his adoption certificate, he was never able to locate any documents that verified the details of his birth. From this setup, Newman constructs an impressively imaginative but convoluted tale that revolves around the enigmatic character of Daniel’s genesis. It involves a series of historically divergent tales; for example, the book chronicles the life of Jewish lawyer Arnold Weisz, who’s forced out of his profession when the Nazis take power and compelled to hide his family in Berlin. It also tells the tale of Bruno Schmidt, an ambitious German lawyer who rises to a position of great authority in the SS. Adding to an already overly packed plot, Newman details Samuel’s service as a military surgeon in World War II and the Arab-Israeli War in 1948 as well as Daniel's later service with the Mossad. The historical authenticity of the work is admirable; the author’s research is scrupulously rigorous, and much of the book is enjoyably edifying, as it offers a peek into several tumultuous conflicts in the 20th century. But overall, the story feels muddled and finally implausible, and the author’s prose style is rather wooden; for instance, upon receiving the peculiar letter, Daniel wonders to himself: “What could all this be about? I can’t help but think that there might be something important here.”

A historically astute but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to braid too many stories into a unified whole.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-1-5255-4883-3

Page Count: 377

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: Feb. 27, 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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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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