A colorful, exuberant romp with an appealing fortune-hunting duo.

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Skunks Dance

Two California teenagers search for an ancestor’s treasure in this comic novel that crosscuts between contemporary and Gold Rush eras.

Spivey Spillane, age 20, arrives in the California Gold Rush town of Skunks Dance on the trail of Alabama Sam. Spillane first met this elusive trickster when he showed up to swipe the Bible with a treasure map that was found on a Spaniard who had arrived, then died, at the Spillane family farm in Tennessee. The story then shifts to modern-day Skunks Dance, introducing teen protagonists Jettison “Jet” Allan-Ashwood, son of circus acrobats, and Amanda Spillane, part of the still-fortune-seeking Spillane tribe. These high schoolers initially seem to dislike each other, with Amanda sending a rock through Jet’s house and Jet managing to blow up her car. Yet the teens soon join forces to follow new leads regarding the long-sought-after Spillane gold, including examining the insides of the never-completed model for a statue of the headless Spillane (as he was found long ago) now erected in the town plaza, and climbing up Skunks Dance’s nearby Spanish fortification ruins. More details on both quests then unspool in alternating chapters, with Spillane led through teasing traps by Alabama Sam (including, at one point, being forced to wear a tutu) and the teens, with Jet’s wisecracking younger sister Gina sometimes in tow, coming to suspect town elders of serious, indeed murderous, wrongdoing. By the story’s end, unexpected fates and directions for Spillanes both past and present are revealed. Karp (Radium Baby, 2013) imaginatively combines absurdism and adventure with snarky teenage sleuthing and a sense of the macabre in this ambitious sophomore effort. The Gold Rush parts of the narrative are particularly surreal and striking, with the to-the-death dynamic between Sam and Spillane taking on a doppelgänger dimension. The romances are also entertainingly offbeat, with Spillane acquiring a feisty, gunslinging female cohort, and Amanda becoming attracted to Jet’s clinging ex-girlfriend Nina. While generally amusing, this tale’s comic details are occasionally overplayed, such as the time spent on a subplot about Jet’s father being charged with “sexual assault with a candy Wolverine.”

A colorful, exuberant romp with an appealing fortune-hunting duo.

Pub Date: Jan. 24, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9892630-6-1

Page Count: -

Publisher: Remora House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2016

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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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