Quick Review: MARY JANE by Jessica Anya Blau (Custom House)

BlauJA-MaryJaneUSA young woman finds herself during a momentous summer

In 1970s Baltimore, fourteen-year-old Mary Jane loves cooking with her mother, singing in her church choir, and enjoying her family’s subscription to the Broadway Showtunes of the Month record club. Shy, quiet, and bookish, she’s glad when she lands a summer job as a nanny for the daughter of a local doctor. A respectable job, Mary Jane’s mother says. In a respectable house.

The house may look respectable on the outside, but inside it’s a literal and figurative mess: clutter on every surface, Impeachment: Now More Than Ever bumper stickers on the doors, cereal and takeout for dinner. And even more troublesome (were Mary Jane’s mother to know, which she does not): the doctor is a psychiatrist who has cleared his summer for one important job — helping a famous rock star dry out. A week after Mary Jane starts, the rock star and his movie star wife move in.

Over the course of the summer, Mary Jane introduces her new household to crisply ironed clothes and a family dinner schedule, and has a front-row seat to a liberal world of sex, drugs, and rock and roll (not to mention group therapy). Caught between the lifestyle she’s always known and the future she’s only just realized is possible, Mary Jane will arrive at September with a new idea about what she wants out of life, and what kind of person she’s going to be.

This novel is pitched as “Almost Famous meets Daisy Jones and the Six” — one of my favourite movies, and one of my favourite recent novels. So, of course, my interest was piqued. After finishing it, I think it’s a pretty apt comparison, but this novel stands very much on its own, too. Mary Jane is a warm-hearted, well-written story of Mary Jane’s coming-of-age in 1970s Baltimore, during a momentous summer. I really enjoyed it. Continue reading

Upcoming: CAN’T KNOCK THE HUSTLE by Matt Sullivan (Dey Street Books)

SullivanM-CantKnockTheHustleUSEver since Kevin Durant said he was going to leave the Warriors and go to the Nets, the Brooklyn team has been creating a bigger stir than normal. Fellow superstar Kyrie Irving also joined the team in 2019. Steve Nash was named their new coach. Then, following a rather strange series of events last month, the Nets added another superstar in James Harden. The Nets are currently #2 in the East, and with the three powerhouse players, it’s almost inevitable that they’ll get deep into the playoffs, if not make the finals. It’s safe to say that interest in the team is high. This summer, some of that interest will be served by Matt Sullivan‘s new book, Can’t Knock the Hustle. Pitched as “David Halberstam’s classic The Breaks of the Game meets Michael Lewis’s Moneyball for the modern age”, it covers “the Season of Protest, Pandemic, and Progress with the Brooklyn Nets’ Superstars of Tomorrow”. Here’s the full synopsis:

An award-winning journalist’s behind-the-scenes account from the epicenter of sports, social justice and coronavirus — a lasting chronicle of the historic 2019-2020 NBA season, by way of the notorious Brooklyn Nets and basketball’s renaissance as a cultural force beyond the game.

The Brooklyn Nets were already the most intriguing startup in sports: a team full of influencers, entrepreneurs and activists at the heart of American culture, starring the controversial Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. But this dynasty-in-the-making got disrupted by the unforeseen. One tweet launched an international scandal pitting Brooklyn’s Chinese owner and the NBA’s commissioner against its players and LeBron James. Then came the death of Kobe Bryant, a tragic shock in an already turbulent season, as the league re-launched into a world of uncertainty with the entertainment business following its lead: Covid-19 and a new civil-rights movement put basketball’s role in society to the ultimate test — and no team intersected with the extremes of 2020 quite like the Brooklyn Nets.

Can’t Knock the Hustle crosses from on the court, where underdogs confront A-listers like Jay-Z and James Harden, to off the court, as players march through the streets of Brooklyn, provoke Donald Trump at the White House and fight for social justice from the NBA’s bubble experiment in Disney World. 

Hundreds of interviews — with Hall-of-Famers, All-Stars, executives, coaches and power-brokers from across the globe — provide a backdrop of the NBA’s impact on social media, race, politics, health, fashion, fame and fandom, for a portrait of a time when sports brought us back together again, like never before.

Matt Sullivan’s Can’t Knock the Hustle is due to be published by Dey Street Books in North America and in the UK, on June 22nd, 2021.

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Upcoming: MARY JANE by Jessica Anya Blau (Custom House)

BlauJA-MaryJaneUSThere have been quite a few novels released in the past couple of years (and upcoming) with music at the heart of them. Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Daisy Jones & the Six and David Mitchell’s Utopia Avenue are notable stand-outs and successes. In 2021, we can add Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau to this genre, and also to my growing list of most-anticipated novels of the year. Pitched as “Almost Famous meets Daisy Jones and the Six“, here’s the synopsis:

In 1970s Baltimore, fourteen-year-old Mary Jane loves cooking with her mother, singing in her church choir, and enjoying her family’s subscription to the Broadway Showtunes of the Month record club. Shy, quiet, and bookish, she’s glad when she lands a summer job as a nanny for the daughter of a local doctor. A respectable job, Mary Jane’s mother says. In a respectable house.

The house may look respectable on the outside, but inside it’s a literal and figurative mess: clutter on every surface, Impeachment: Now More Than Ever bumper stickers on the doors, cereal and takeout for dinner. And even more troublesome (were Mary Jane’s mother to know, which she does not): the doctor is a psychiatrist who has cleared his summer for one important job — helping a famous rock star dry out. A week after Mary Jane starts, the rock star and his movie star wife move in.

Over the course of the summer, Mary Jane introduces her new household to crisply ironed clothes and a family dinner schedule, and has a front-row seat to a liberal world of sex, drugs, and rock and roll (not to mention group therapy). Caught between the lifestyle she’s always known and the future she’s only just realized is possible, Mary Jane will arrive at September with a new idea about what she wants out of life, and what kind of person she’s going to be.

Jessica Anya Blau’s Mary Jane is due to be published by Custom House in North America (May 11th) and in the UK (May 27th).

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Quick Review: BOX 88 by Charles Cumming (Harper)

196232-1_BOX 88_HB_REV_ii.inddAn excellent espionage thriller

An organisation that doesn’t exist.

A spy that can’t be caught.

Years ago, a spy was born…

1989: The Cold War will soon be over, but for BOX 88, a top secret spying agency, the espionage game is heating up. Lachlan Kite, recruited from an elite boarding school, is sent to France, tasked with gathering intelligence on an enigmatic Iranian businessman implicated in the Lockerbie bombing. But what Kite uncovers is more terrifying than anyone expected…

Now he faces the deadliest decision of his life…

2020: MI5 hear rumours of BOX 88’s existence and go after Kite – but Iranian intelligence have got to him first. Taken captive and brutally tortured, Kite has a choice: reveal the truth about what happened in France thirty years earlier – or watch his family die.

In a battle unlike anything he has faced before, Kite must use all his skills to stay alive.

Long time readers of CR will know that I am a big fan of Charles Cumming’s spy thrillers. Ever since Typhoon, I’ve eagerly anticipated each new novel from the author. Box 88 was no different, and I’m very happy to report that it lived up to my high expectations. Really enjoyed this. Continue reading

Upcoming: BOX 88 by Charles Cumming (Harper Collins)

CummingC-BoxUKUKI started reading Charles Cumming‘s novels back in 2009, when Typhoon was released. Since then, each new novel of his has been a must-read of the given year — and I have thus-far never been disappointed. This October, he has a new novel out — Box 88 — with a new protagonist and an intriguing premise:

An organisation that doesn’t exist.

A spy that can’t be caught.

1989: The fall of the Berlin Wall is imminent and the Cold War will soon be over. But for BOX 88, a top secret spying agency known only to an inner circle of MI6 and CIA operatives, the espionage game is heating up.

Lachlan Kite, recruited straight from an elite boarding school, is sent to France – the frontline of a new secret war. Kite is tasked with gathering intelligence on a mysterious Iranian businessman implicated in the tragic Lockerbie bombing. But what he uncovers is even more deadly…

2020: MI5 hear rumours of BOX 88’s existence and go after Kite – only for Iranian intelligence to get to him first.  Taken captive and subjected to torture, Kite is presented with a simple choice: reveal the truth about what happened in France thirty years earlier – or watch his family die.

Past and present merge, as MI5 and BOX 88 are caught up in a race against time to save Kite.

I learned about this novel when Damian Lewis (Billions, Band of Brothers, and many more) Tweeted about the cover reveal earlier today. Can’t wait to read this! Charles Cumming’s Box 88 is due to be published by Harper Collins in the UK, on October 1st, 2020. (Not sure about North American publisher/dates, but some of his recent novels have been published recently by St. Martin’s Press, so… maybe?)

Also on CR: Interview/Guest Post A Colder War Mole Hunt”; Reviews of Typhoon, The Trinity Six, A Foreign Country, A Colder War, and The Man Between

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Quick Review: YOUR HOUSE WILL PAY by Steph Cha (Ecco/Faber)

ChaS-YouHouseWillPayUSTwo families, connected by a decades-old tragedy

A powerful and taut novel about racial tensions in Los Angeles, following two families — one Korean-American, one African-American — grappling with the effects of a decades-old crime

In the wake of the police shooting of a black teenager, Los Angeles is as tense as it’s been since the unrest of the early 1990s. But Grace Park and Shawn Matthews have their own problems. Grace is sheltered and largely oblivious, living in the Valley with her Korean-immigrant parents, working long hours at the family pharmacy. She’s distraught that her sister hasn’t spoken to their mother in two years, for reasons beyond Grace’s understanding. Shawn has already had enough of politics and protest after an act of violence shattered his family years ago. He just wants to be left alone to enjoy his quiet life in Palmdale.

But when another shocking crime hits LA, both the Park and Matthews families are forced to face down their history while navigating the tumult of a city on the brink of more violence.

This is the second of Steph Cha’s novels that I’ve read — the first being the author’s debut, Follow Her Home (which is also rather good). Your House Will Pay takes a look at race relations from the perspective of members from two minorities — Korean- and African-Americans. It’s sharp, often emotionally wrenching and thought-provoking. It’s also difficult to review without spoilers, but I will do my best. In short, though: I really enjoyed this novel. Continue reading

Quick Review: OPPO by Tom Rosenstiel (Ecco)

RosenstielT-3-OppoUSThe third Rena & Brooks Washington, D.C., thriller

The story of a senator who is offered the vice presidential slot by both parties’ presidential nominees and then gets ominous threats

It’s presidential primary season in Washington, DC, and both parties are on edge. At campaign rallies for all the candidates around the country, there are disturbing incidents of violence and protest and shocking acts of civil disobedience. Rena and Brooks are happy to sit it out.

Against this backdrop, Wendy Upton, the highly respected centrist senator, must make a choice: she’s been offered the VP slot by both parties’ leading candidates. When she receives an anonymous, unnerving threat that could destroy her promising career, she hires Peter Rena to investigate her past and figure out which side is threatening her and what they are threatening her with.

As Rena digs through the senator’s seemingly squeaky-clean past, he must walk the tightrope between two parties at war with each other and with themselves, an electorate that is as restive as it has ever been, and a political culture that is as much driven by money as it is by ideology.

In this third outing for Rosenstiel’s political fixers Peter Rena and Brooks, the fixers are hired to investigate a threat made against a centrist Republican senator who has been approached by frontrunners in both parties offering her the VP slot on their respective tickets. An examination of the devolution of American (presidential) politics, and the dark forces that manipulate the electorate and process, I enjoyed this novel. Continue reading

Upcoming: THESE WOMEN by Ivy Pochoda (Ecco)

PochodaI-TheseWomenUSThe next novel by Ivy Pochoda, the author of the acclaimed Wonder Valley (which I still have to read), has been unveiled: These Women, a new crime novel that is described as “a serial killer story like you’ve never seen before — a literary thriller of female empowerment and social change”. Due to be published by Ecco in April 2020, I’m really looking forward to this one. Here’s the synopsis:

In West Adams, a rapidly changing part of South Los Angeles, they’re referred to as “these women.” These women on the corner… These women in the club… These women who won’t stop asking questions… These women who got what they deserved…

In her masterful new novel, Ivy Pochoda creates a kaleidoscope of loss, power, and hope featuring five very different women whose lives are steeped in danger and anguish. They’re connected by one man and his deadly obsession, though not all of them know that yet. There’s Dorian, still adrift after her daughter’s murder remains unsolved; Julianna, a young dancer nicknamed Jujubee, who lives hard and fast, resisting anyone trying to slow her down; Essie, a brilliant vice cop who sees a crime pattern emerging where no one else does; Marella, a daring performance artist whose work has long pushed boundaries but now puts her in peril; and Anneke, a quiet woman who has turned a willfully blind eye to those around her for far too long. The careful existence they have built for themselves starts to crumble when two murders rock their neighborhood.

Pochoda’s Wonder Valley, also published in North America by Ecco, is available in the UK published by The Indigo Press. I couldn’t find anything about a UK release for These Women, at the time of writing.

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Upcoming: THE RUTHLESS by Peter Newman (Voyager)

NewmanP-D2-RuthlessUKFor some reason, I missed this series when the first book was published, but I find myself intrigued. The Ruthless, sequel to Peter Newman‘s The Deathless, is due to be published by Voyager in June 2019. The series has a new cover style, too, which I really like: it’s much more eye-catching than the original cover. Here’s the synopsis for The Ruthless:

Are you ready to return to The Wild?

Return to a world of crystal armour, savage wilderness, and corrupt dynasties.

That’s… not especially illuminating. So, here’s the synopsis for The Deathless, which gives us a bit more about the world/series:

The demons…

In the endless forests of the Wild, humanity scratches a living by the side of the great Godroads, paths of crystal that provide safe passage and hold back the infernal tide. Creatures lurk within the trees, watching, and plucking those who stray too far from safety.

The Deathless…

NewmanP-1-DeathlessUKPBIn crystal castles held aloft on magical currents, seven timeless royal families reign, protecting humanity from the spread of the Wild and its demons. Born and reborn into flawless bodies, the Deathless are as immortal as the precious stones from which they take their names. For generations a fragile balance has held.

And the damned…

House Sapphire, one of the ancient Deathless families, is riven by suspicion and madness. Whole villages are disappearing as the hunting expeditions holding the Wild at bay begin to fail.

Then, when assassins strike, House Sapphire shatters.

Nothing lasts forever.

The paperback edition of The Deathless is due to be published by Voyager on May 2nd.

Also on CR: Interview with Peter Newman (2015)

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Upcoming: THE GRAND DARK by Richard Kadrey (Voyager)

KadreyR-GrandDarkUSWell, that cover is rather fantastic. I’d spotted the synopsis for this novel a short while before the cover was unveiled, and my interest has only grown with that gorgeous cover. I know, “don’t judge a book by its cover” — I’m not, really, as I’m already a big fan of Richard Kadrey‘s novels, and have routinely recommended and cheered each and every new novel he’s written and had published. (Shamefully, that hasn’t stopped me from falling behind…) The Grand Dark is “a lush, dark, stand-alone fantasy… a subversive tale that immerses us in a world where the extremes of bleakness and beauty exist together in dangerous harmony in a city on the edge of civility and chaos.” That sounds pretty intriguing! It has also been described as akin to the work of China Miéville and M. John Harrison. Here’s the full synopsis:

The Great War is over. The city of Lower Proszawa celebrates the peace with a decadence and carefree spirit as intense as the war’s horrifying despair. But this newfound hedonism — drugs and sex and endless parties — distracts from strange realities of everyday life: Intelligent automata taking jobs. Genetically engineered creatures that serve as pets and beasts of war. A theater where gruesome murders happen twice a day. And a new plague that even the ceaseless euphoria can’t mask.

Unlike others who live strictly for fun, Largo is an addict with ambitions. A bike messenger who grew up in the slums, he knows the city’s streets and its secrets intimately. His life seems set. He has a beautiful girlfriend, drugs, a chance at a promotion — and maybe, an opportunity for complete transformation: a contact among the elite who will set him on the course to lift himself up out of the streets.

But dreams can be a dangerous thing in a city whose mood is turning dark and inward. Others have a vision of life very different from Largo’s, and they will use any methods to secure control. And in behind it all, beyond the frivolity and chaos, the threat of new war always looms.

The Grand Dark is due to be published by Voyager in North America and in the UK, on June 11th, 2019. That’s quite a long wait, but it does mean I’ll have time to get caught up on the excellent, highly-recommended Sandman Slim series.

Also on CR: Reviews of Sandman SlimKill the DeadAloha From HellDevil in the Dollhouse, Devil Said Bang and Kill City Blues.

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