A conceptually intriguing portrait of the man Elvis might have been if he weren’t all shook up.

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ALMOST GRACELAND

Elvis forms a wary friendship with the pauper, who may just be his long-lost brother.

Long-time character actor Carlson captures a different brand of drama in a debut novel that imagines the alternate history of the King’s twin. Redneck laborer Ray Johnston has a good heart, but the man can’t catch a break to save his life. At the age of 42, his only treasures are a broken-down pickup truck, a trailer in need of a paint job and one and a half hard-earned acres of dirt. He collects his thoughts by pounding an old guitar and singing the blues, a coincidence that adds to his uncanny resemblance to another Memphis icon having his own troubles in 1977. A rediscovered diary leads Ray to the somewhat terrifying idea that he may be Elvis’s big brother Jesse Garon, mistakenly reported stillborn. The author’s convincing rendering of the working man is touching, illustrating Ray’s humiliating experiences as he struggles to keep jobs, maintain his relationship with a local barmaid and pay the nursing home in which his ailing father lives. In fact, contrasting Ray with his paranoid, drug-addled sibling could have been a garish exercise. Thankfully, when “E” finally appears, Carlson presents him gracefully as a man much like his brother, one whose life has gotten completely out of hand in different ways. The two brothers form a tenuous bond, though their reunion is plagued by troubles ranging from tabloid temptations and Vernon Presley’s misgivings to a botched kidnapping that leaves Ray in worse straits. “What great twins they were; one became the most famous person in the world and the other got his friends ripped off for every penny they had and couldn’t quite keep up his house trailer payments,” Ray muses. Things end badly, as they did for Elvis, but the King’s parting gift to Ray will bring a smile even to the most tangential Elvis fans.

A conceptually intriguing portrait of the man Elvis might have been if he weren’t all shook up.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-312-37398-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2007

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A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

A WEEK AT THE SHORE

A middle-aged woman returns to her childhood home to care for her ailing father, confronting many painful secrets from her past.

When Mallory Aldiss gets a call from a long-ago boyfriend telling her that her elderly father has been gallivanting around town with a gun in his hand, Mallory decides it’s time to return to the small Rhode Island town that she’s been avoiding for more than a decade. Mallory’s precocious 13-year-old daughter, Joy, is thrilled that she'll get to meet her grandfather at long last, and an aunt, too, and she'll finally see the place where her mother grew up. When they arrive in Bay Bluff, it’s barely a few hours before Mallory bumps into her old flame, Jack, the only man she’s ever really loved. Gone is the rebellious young person she remembers, and in his place stands a compassionate, accomplished adult. As they try to reconnect, Mallory realizes that the same obstacle that pushed them apart decades earlier is still standing in their way: Jack blames Mallory’s father for his mother’s death. No one knows exactly how Jack’s mother died, but Jack thinks a love affair between her and Mallory’s father had something to do with it. As Jack and Mallory chase down answers, Mallory also tries to repair her rocky relationships with her two sisters and determine why her father has always been so hard on her. Told entirely from Mallory’s perspective, the novel has a haunting, nostalgic quality. Despite the complex and overlapping layers to the history of Bay Bluff and its inhabitants, the book at times trudges too slowly through Mallory’s meanderings down Memory Lane. Even so, Delinsky sometimes manages to pick up the pace, and in those moments the beauty and nuance of this complicated family tale shine through. Readers who don’t mind skimming past details that do little to advance the plot may find that the juicier nuggets and realistically rendered human connections are worth the effort.

A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11951-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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