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JESUS'S BROTHER JAMES

A fast-paced, funny romp with easy laughs, surprisingly complex characters, and plenty of quirky twists.

In this black comedy, fate throws together a suicidal man, a workaholic, a snob, and a tempted priest.

Mike was the type of guy who, as a young man, won “Best Hair”; had girls chasing after him; and easily became “regional manager” at his company. But now, he’s round, balding, soon to be twice-divorced, and has plateaued professionally. Fearful that his wife is cheating on him, Mike has decided to end it all because “life is too hard.” Meanwhile, a man named Paul represents everything that Mike is not: successful, adventurous, saying yes to any opportunity. He has Amber, the perfect girlfriend in that she is “beautiful, smart, and, best of all, she had trouble leaving the office in the evening.” But lately Amber has wanted more from Paul and more from her life than work. Confused and drunk on the night of her birthday, Amber winds up hitting on a muscular, tattooed, whiskey-drinking, cigarette-smoking priest. That priest, Father Coady, swallows his lust and tries to get away from temptation when he finds Mike waving a gun around his minivan. Mike wakes up the next morning in the hospital with a gunshot wound and a mysterious, perhaps even miraculous, figure at his side. Supernatural forces, startling coincidences, and even eBay purchases continue to bring these four people together in Reinhardt’s (Afaq, 2014) offbeat novel. His characters expertly walk a thin line between outlandish caricatures and relatable people dealing with the stress of modern life. Amber in particular easily wins both sympathy and laughs as she careens from her outrageous ambition to sympathetic jealousy within just a few paragraphs while Father Coady’s military backstory gives intriguing levels to his outlook on the others. The author’s rapid dialogue creates some genuinely amusing and unexpected exchanges—including a memorable slapstick fight scene involving Mike—but they won’t be for all tastes. Reinhardt’s jokes are often crude, and the book’s mysterious title character requires quite the leap of faith. Still, an exciting and off-kilter adventure awaits those readers willing to take it.

A fast-paced, funny romp with easy laughs, surprisingly complex characters, and plenty of quirky twists.

Pub Date: March 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-68401-966-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Mascot Books

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2019

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THE MOST FUN WE EVER HAD

Characters flip between bottomless self-regard and pitiless self-loathing while, as late as the second-to-last chapter, yet...

Four Chicago sisters anchor a sharp, sly family story of feminine guile and guilt.

Newcomer Lombardo brews all seven deadly sins into a fun and brimming tale of an unapologetically bougie couple and their unruly daughters. In the opening scene, Liza Sorenson, daughter No. 3, flirts with a groomsman at her sister’s wedding. “There’s four of you?” he asked. “What’s that like?” Her retort: “It’s a vast hormonal hellscape. A marathon of instability and hair products.” Thus begins a story bristling with a particular kind of female intel. When Wendy, the oldest, sets her sights on a mate, she “made sure she left her mark throughout his house—soy milk in the fridge, box of tampons under the sink, surreptitious spritzes of her Bulgari musk on the sheets.” Turbulent Wendy is the novel’s best character, exuding a delectable bratty-ness. The parents—Marilyn, all pluck and busy optimism, and David, a genial family doctor—strike their offspring as impossibly happy. Lombardo levels this vision by interspersing chapters of the Sorenson parents’ early lean times with chapters about their daughters’ wobbly forays into adulthood. The central story unfurls over a single event-choked year, begun by Wendy, who unlatches a closed adoption and springs on her family the boy her stuffy married sister, Violet, gave away 15 years earlier. (The sisters improbably kept David and Marilyn clueless with a phony study-abroad scheme.) Into this churn, Lombardo adds cancer, infidelity, a heart attack, another unplanned pregnancy, a stillbirth, and an office crush for David. Meanwhile, youngest daughter Grace perpetrates a whopper, and “every day the lie was growing like mold, furring her judgment.” The writing here is silky, if occasionally overwrought. Still, the deft touches—a neighborhood fundraiser for a Little Free Library, a Twilight character as erotic touchstone—delight. The class calibrations are divine even as the utter apolitical whiteness of the Sorenson world becomes hard to fathom.

Characters flip between bottomless self-regard and pitiless self-loathing while, as late as the second-to-last chapter, yet another pleasurable tendril of sisterly malice uncurls.

Pub Date: June 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54425-2

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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THEN SHE WAS GONE

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

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. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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