A jazzy glimpse into history that will pluck at the heartstrings of musicians but may leave other readers feeling a bit blue.

Sliding Delta

A young man runs away to the South to learn the blues in this novel by Baldwin (The Fourth Domain, 2015, etc.).

Douglas Spencer III, a college student from a wealthy Chicago family in the 1950s, is failing in his medical studies and in his love life, so he decides to leave everything behind and pursue his true passion: blues guitar. In order to really understand “Delta blues,” he heads south to find the famous guitarist Mississippi John Hurt, but soon finds himself in over his head. It turns out that it isn’t easy for a young, naive white man to navigate the heavily segregated world of the Delta and its blues culture, and Hurt isn’t the easiest man to get close to. But to Doug, awkward relationships, fights, and prison time are a small price to pay to learn what makes his beloved blues tick. With the help of a disabled soprano singer and several badly behaved fellow musicians, he gradually finds his voice and a home of his own in the South—and even his love life improves along the way. The author’s own love for one of the most quintessentially American musical styles bleeds through nearly every line of this novel, starting with the introduction: “The Delta blues taste like sweat and cheap whiskey; smell like jail; sound best in a concrete block club with no windows, set back along the river where there’s no law after dark.” The narrative vividly illustrates every setting implied by that sentence. But against such a rich backdrop, the characters often seem flat. Doug’s characterization, for example, never really moves beyond that of a shallow, inexperienced college kid, even as the blues supposedly deepens his understanding of life. His tough, resilient love interest, Addie, breathes some life into the story, but she isn’t given enough to do. The overall lack of compelling characters may be intentional, though—after all, the real hero of this story is the Delta blues itself.

A jazzy glimpse into history that will pluck at the heartstrings of musicians but may leave other readers feeling a bit blue.

Pub Date: June 1, 2016

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 252

Publisher: Brasfield Books

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2016

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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