Plenty to groove on, despite some dull stretches.

READ REVIEW

1969

A BRIEF AND BEAUTIFUL TRIP BACK

Debut author Gudinski presents a story of music and time travel.

Rhiannon Karlson is an 18-year-old in Fresno, California, in the year 2000. She loves playing the drums, and her classic rock cover band is pretty good. They’re so good, in fact, that a record label wants to sign them to a lucrative contract. Rhiannon’s mom, however, hates rock music, and the regular shouting matches between mother and daughter are heated. Everything changes when Rhiannon smokes a powerful hallucinogenic crystal that transports her to 1969 San Francisco. As luck would have it, she happens upon a rock band called the Day Trippers who need a drummer. So begins her journey that involves hippies, drugs, and lots and lots of music. She meets singer-songwriter Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane, drops acid in Golden Gate Park, and as a high-water mark, takes a trip across the country with the Day Trippers to Woodstock. But as the band reaches a modicum of success, trouble lurks just around the corner. There’s also the larger question of whether Rhiannon will ever return to her own time. Some readers may take exception to the fact that the protagonist doesn’t seem to care that her actions in the past could have consequences on the future. Nevertheless, Gudinski doesn’t dwell on such details, instead putting the focus on Rhiannon’s long, strange trip through the titular year. The book deftly describes the excitement around Woodstock and the many voices in its crowd, as when one concertgoer exclaims, “I am He and He is me, we are three—Exist!” The problem is that Rhiannon doesn’t really deal with very much of significance over the course of the tale, and a jolly old drifter and an agitated hitchhiker that she meets along the way seem like little more than stereotypes. It’s only post-Woodstock that the groovy days begin to waver. The real question that will keep readers’ attention is what Rhiannon will do with these experiences. Will it all be forgotten in modern times?

Plenty to groove on, despite some dull stretches. 

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-578-48779-3

Page Count: 569

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2019

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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be...

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Some very nice, very smart African-Americans are plunged into netherworlds of malevolent sorcery in the waning days of Jim Crow—as if Jim Crow alone wasn’t enough of a curse to begin with.

In the northern U.S. of the mid-1950s, as depicted in this merrily macabre pastiche by Ruff (The Mirage, 2012, etc.), Driving While Black is an even more perilous proposition than it is now. Ask Atticus Turner, an African-American Korean War veteran and science-fiction buff, who is compelled to face an all-too-customary gauntlet of racist highway patrolmen and hostile white roadside hamlets en route from his South Side Chicago home to a remote Massachusetts village in search of his curmudgeonly father, Montrose, who was lured away by a young white “sharp dresser” driving a silver Cadillac with tinted windows. At least Atticus isn’t alone; his uncle George, who puts out annual editions of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is splitting driving duties in his Packard station wagon “with inlaid birch trim and side paneling.” Also along for the ride is Atticus’ childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, another sci-fi fan, whose family lived in the same neighborhood as the Turners. It turns out this road trip is merely the beginning of a series of bizarre chimerical adventures ensnaring both the Turner and Dandridge clans in ancient rituals, arcane magical texts, alternate universes, and transmogrifying potions, all of which bears some resemblance to the supernatural visions of H.P. Lovecraft and other gothic dream makers of the past. Ruff’s ripping yarns often pile on contrivances and overextend the narratives in the grand manner of pulp storytelling, but the reinvented mythos here seems to have aroused in him a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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