A coming-of-age memoir that tries too hard to be a serious anti-war tome, though it’s an interesting look at liberalism in...

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Mama, Did They Drop The Bomb?

The author recounts his transformation from boy to man, set against the backdrop of the Iraq War.

Havens’ debut memoir begins a couple of seasons after September 11, 2001, “as spring peeked up from the frozen ground,” but we first meet him on the day his grandmother dies. Feeling changed and vulnerable, he decides to transfer colleges and move in with a new group of friends. He’s your typical college kid—mostly interested in partying with friends—but that changes when America decides to invade Iraq in 2003. Havens feels frustrated with the blind faith his fellow Texans (and many Americans) have in President Bush, and he begins staging protests on his college campus. His extracurricular activity lands him in some trouble—he has several dust-ups with law enforcement, gets jeered by people in town, and a rift forms between him and his mother—but he keeps fighting to stop the war. Havens finds peace from his struggles in unlikely places: “More than anything else, the strip clubs were the one place where the war did not exist, the one place where I did not feel the need to rail against the injustice of everything,” he writes. This pastime, however, may seem to contradict his message of morality and equality. Havens reminds us that while the war may technically be over, its effects remain, as is the case with any military conflict; he cites sobering statistics of soldier suicides (“More U.S. soldiers died by suicide here at home in 2012 than died fighting the war in Afghanistan”) to prove his point. Havens’ mission in writing his story is admirable, but the execution sometimes falls short. While the writing is sincere—“The money, weed, people, and music…All of this only kept alive my desire to see the people of the world stop killing, raping, and hating each other”—it’s often somewhat artless. The prose also has the exceptional earnestness of a college student just discovering his interest in politics and social justice, which may inspire or annoy. Either way, Havens’ commitment to ending the war and his enthusiasm for peace is refreshing and comes across in his work.

A coming-of-age memoir that tries too hard to be a serious anti-war tome, though it’s an interesting look at liberalism in Texas.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2013

ISBN: 978-0988676213

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Redway Media

Review Posted Online: April 29, 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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