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

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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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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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