A rollicking, absurdist take on the standard midlife-crisis adventure.

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JOE'S ODYSSEY

A nondescript man’s humdrum life becomes suddenly and unpredictably upended.

This latest novel from LaTorre introduces sad sack Joe Kerson, a disgruntled husband, regretful father of two teenagers, and beaten-down drone employee at the Soren Agency, where he hates his job, co-workers, and bosses. At the story’s outset, one of those bosses tells Joe that he must meet a prospective new client on the man’s yacht. That client, Luciano “Luke” Galdonchino, isn’t strictly on the up and up, but the agency would like to cultivate him, so Joe sets off. Joe’s path will soon intersect with a group called the Schmorde, a goofy gang of overgrown, free-spirited delinquents who live in a run-down house and enjoy various escapades. The Schmorde is led by larger-than-life figures like Ron (the brains of the outfit), the Pirate (who likes to break things), and Brute (a 260-pound enforcer). But before they enter the scene, Joe meets Luke and immediately takes in his lavish lifestyle with signature glum insights (“This Luke guy has it made, and I’m just a bum”). On the spur of the moment, Joe knocks Luke overboard and steals the boat and piles of mobster cash; impulsively recruits the Schmorde as his ramshackle crew; and embarks on a madcap sail around the world. Joe is always just barely ahead of Luke and his colleagues in the League of International Gangsters. The misadventures of Joe and the Schmorde almost immediately run off the rails.

The author piles absurdity on absurdity in the construction of his picaresque novel, and he whittles the narrative to a leanness that keeps the whole thing bubbling along at a page-turning pace. This is a broad, Rabelaisian comedy, and LaTorre has a keen eye for crafting over-the-top caricatures and seemingly mundane dialogue that’s constantly teetering on the brink of ridiculousness. The key to this kind of comedy is that the characters must be one-dimensional but not flat. Joe must be down on his luck but not repulsive; his wife and kids—who crop up to play sizable roles in the plot—must be outraged but not angry; the Schmorde must be roustabout sidekicks but not compellingly individualistic. The author comfortably shifts the tale into the fantastic (the heroes visit Phantasmic Island, presided over by President Richard Nixon and Humpty Dumpty) and then backs out of it. Luke’s increasingly shrill quest for personal revenge will have readers chuckling in the book’s second half. The story’s very gentle levels of violence and crudity never darken the humorous tone of the work. Long before readers reach the conclusion, they’ll be guessing the author has a fairly air-tight and eminently satisfying ending in mind. LaTorre deftly complicates his straightforward tale with amusing side characters like a band of inept Jamaican gangsters, and he has the storytelling skills to avoid narrative dead ends. This is a remarkably streamlined comic expedition.

A rollicking, absurdist take on the standard midlife-crisis adventure.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-578-58312-9

Page Count: 207

Publisher: Nick Daydreams

Review Posted Online: Feb. 14, 2020

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A romantic, sad, and ultimately hopeful book that’s perfect for fans of Jojo Moyes.

GHOSTED

In Walsh’s American debut, a woman desperately tries to find out why the man she spent a whirlwind week with never called.

Sarah has just separated from her American husband and is visiting her hometown in England when she meets Eddie. He’s kind and charming, and although they only spend one week together, she falls in love. When he has to leave for a trip, she knows they’ll keep in touch—they’re already making plans for the rest of their lives. But then Eddie never calls, and Sarah’s increasingly frantic efforts to contact him are fruitless. Is he hurt? Is he dead? As her friends tell her, there’s a far greater likelihood that he’s just blowing her off—she’s been ghosted. After trying to track Eddie down at a football game, Sarah starts to become ashamed of herself—after all, she’s almost 40 years old and she’s essentially stalking a man who never called her. But as Sarah slowly learns, she and Eddie didn’t actually meet randomly—they both have a connection to an accident that happened years ago, and it may have something to do with why he disappeared. The tension quickly amps up as the secrets of Eddie’s and Sarah’s pasts are revealed, and the truth behind their connection is genuinely surprising and heartbreaking. The barriers between Sarah and Eddie seem insurmountable at times, and although their issues are resolved in a tidy manner, the emotions behind their actions are always believable. Walsh has created a deeply moving romance with an intriguing mystery and a touching portrait of grief at its heart.

A romantic, sad, and ultimately hopeful book that’s perfect for fans of Jojo Moyes.

Pub Date: July 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-52277-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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An ambitious and bewitching gem of a book with mystery and passion inscribed on every page.

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THE STARLESS SEA

A withdrawn graduate student embarks on an epic quest to restore balance to the world in this long-anticipated follow-up to The Night Circus (2011).

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a typical millennial introvert; he likes video games, escapist reading, and drinking sidecars. But when he recognizes himself in the pages of a mysterious book from the university library, he's unnerved—and determined to uncover the truth. What begins as a journey for answers turns into something much bigger, and Zachary must decide whether to trust the handsome stranger he meets at a highflying literary fundraiser in New York or to retreat back to his thesis and forget the whole affair. In a high-wire feat of metatextual derring-do, Morgenstern weaves Zachary's adventure into a stunning array of linked fables, myths, and origin stories. There are pirates and weary travelers, painters who can see the future, lovers torn asunder, a menacing Owl King, and safe harbors for all the stories of the world, far below the Earth on the golden shores of a Starless Sea. Clocking in at more than 500 pages, the novel requires patience as Morgenstern puts all the pieces in place, but it is exquisitely pleasurable to watch the gears of this epic fantasy turn once they're set in motion. As in The Night Circus, Morgenstern is at her best when she imagines worlds and rooms and parties in vivid detail, right down to the ballroom stairs "festooned with lanterns and garlands of paper dipped in gold" or a cloak carved from ice with "ships and sailors and sea monsters...lost in the drifting snow." This novel is a love letter to readers as much as an invitation: Come and see how much magic is left in the world. Fans of Neil Gaiman and V.E. Schwab, Kelly Link and Susanna Clarke will want to heed the call.

An ambitious and bewitching gem of a book with mystery and passion inscribed on every page.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54121-3

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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