This book offers up a worthy mystery just short of gripping, along with an insider’s tour of the dark underground of the...

VAPORIZED

A mystery involving a real-life rocker, a perfume that will knock you out and a cast of characters ranging from drug-crazed Italians and mist-making Persians to wannabe musicians and star-struck Jersey girls.

Levine’s first novel, billed as book one in the Spec Time Trilogy, takes the reader through four fictionalized days in the life of rocker Jon Cells. But the rock’n’roll mystery really involves a U.S. Customs/FBI/NYPD investigation, a botched raid of a Persian perfume family and the Italian brothers who stole some of their intoxicating Princess Mist formula. The mystery carries through right to the last chapter, failing to keep the reader on the edge of his seat only because of side stories involving a dozen other characters, descriptions (sometimes repeated) that slow the story and digressions that provide interesting details but don’t necessarily lead anywhere. Levine puts forth Cells as the book’s hero, but where does he fit into the action? Cells works for Laden Imports (the Persian perfume factory) at a job (required by his probation—another story) he barely tolerates. His real interests are sex, drugs and rock and roll—and violence (he has a nasty temper). The real Jon Cells (born John Edward Neulinger, aka Jon Neulin or Slide) had a brief underground career in Denver, New York and Los Angeles. Lyrics from several tracks of his Cracked House album creep (or stomp) into Levine’s narrative, and Levine’s obvious appreciation of Cells generates some tantalizing sentences: “Jon’s long, raspy, blood-curdling screech capped the insanity-tinged climax of ‘Mental Disorder’ with a mesmerizing urgency that unraveled in a frenzy of strangled lead notes, blistering bass runs, and piercing cymbal crashes, eventually ending in abrupt sonic seizure.” Still, Cells plays only a marginal role in the story, perhaps a reflection of his marginalized relationship with society. With any luck, we’ll be able to follow him through the rest of his short life (he died in 1994 at the age of 44) in the next installments of Levine’s trilogy. For now, this book, especially chapter 67, would be best enjoyed with Cracked House cranked up in the background.

This book offers up a worthy mystery just short of gripping, along with an insider’s tour of the dark underground of the early 1980s New York City music scene.

Pub Date: May 26, 2011

ISBN: 978-0983360803

Page Count: 508

Publisher: Forcefield Studios

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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