Speculative fiction at its most transfixing.

ANNIHILATION

From the Southern Reach Trilogy series , Vol. 1

After their high-risk expedition disintegrates, it’s every scientist for herself in this wonderfully creepy blend of horror and science fiction. This is the first volume of the Southern Reach trilogy from VanderMeer (Finch, 2009, etc.); subsequent volumes are scheduled for publication in June and September 2014.

The Southern Reach is the secret government agency that dispatches expeditions across the border to monitor Area X, an ominous coastal no man’s land since an unspecified event 30 years before. This latest expedition, the 12th, is all-female, consisting of a psychologist, an anthropologist, a surveyor and a biologist (the narrator). Names are taboo. Their leader, the psychologist, has hypnotic powers. They have no communication devices, but they do have firearms, which they will use; some earlier expeditions also ended bloodily. Close to base camp is "the tower," a mostly underground structure that acts as tunnel, which they descend. On its walls are grim biblical admonitions, raised letters made of fungi. The biologist incautiously inhales tiny spores which, she will discover later, fill her with brightness, a form of ESP. Tension between the women increases when the anthropologist goes missing; they will discover her dead in the tower, discharging green ash. Next, the psychologist disappears. Leaving the hostile, ex-military surveyor behind, the biologist makes her way to the other interesting structure, the lighthouse, which she climbs in dread. VanderMeer is an expert fearmonger, but his strongest suit, what makes his novel a standout, is his depiction of the biologist. Like any scientist, she has an overriding need to classify, to know. This has been her lifelong passion. Her solitary explorations created problems in her marriage; her husband, a medic, returned from the previous expedition a zombie. What killed the anthropologist? The biologist’s samples reveal human brain tissue. Some organism is trying to colonize and absorb the humans with whom it comes in contact. Experiencing “the severe temptation of the unknown,” she must re-enter the tower to confront the Crawler, her name for the graffiti writer.

Speculative fiction at its most transfixing.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-374-10409-2

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2013

The author’s CIA background and the smart dialogue make this an entertaining tale for spy-novel enthusiasts.

RED SPARROW

From the Red Sparrow series , Vol. 1

Matthews’ first novel, a globe-trotting spy thriller, features enough action to satisfy even the most demanding of adrenaline junkies.

CIA field operative Nate Nash acts as the control officer for an invaluable Russian asset placed high up in Putin’s administration. Nate chose to become a career spy despite pressure from his well-connected attorney father and two brothers to knuckle down and join the family business. Now, instead of filing briefs and golfing on weekends, he’s playing tag with top-notch Russian intelligence teams out to expose Nate’s source, known by the code name MARBLE. Meanwhile, another Russian, a beautiful ballerina named Dominika, raised by parents disenchanted with Russian politics but smart enough to realize that such an attitude could prove deadly to their only child, has been forced out of ballet school following an incident of sabotage. While contemplating her grim future, Dominika is approached by her loathsome uncle and top Soviet intelligence official, Vanya Egorov, to seduce an oligarch bothersome to the current administration. When a soulless killer becomes involved in the assignment, Dominika realizes she must quickly adhere to the party line in order to survive and asks her uncle to help her join the intelligence service, which he does. Soon, Dominika and Nate are set on a collision course, and the stage is set for a cat-and-mouse game that bounces from Moscow to Helsinki to Rome to Athens, a deadly assassin at their heels. The inclusion of a recipe at each chapter’s end (for foods including chicken Kiev and kebabs), along with the not-so-subtle mentions of food wedged into the storyline, is unnecessary. This book is good and doesn’t need the gimmicks.

The author’s CIA background and the smart dialogue make this an entertaining tale for spy-novel enthusiasts.

Pub Date: May 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0612-2

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

MY COUSIN RACHEL

This comes closer to Rebecca than anything Miss du Maurier has done and is, I think, one of her best novels, ingeniously contrived as to plot, successfully realized as to characters. The ending has "the lady or the tiger" flavor, and the reader turns again to the introductory chapter, seeking an answer which again evades one. Where Rebecca depends almost unbearably on creation of mood and atmosphere, this hinges on character, a character as contradictory, as baffling as any in fiction. The story is unfolded by young Philip, cousin and sole heir of his cousin Ambrose Ashley, well-to-do county squire, bachelor and sportsman, in somewhat precarious health. Wintering in Florence, Ambrose falls under the spell of a widowed and distant cousin, Rachel, and marries her. Philip, shocked at the news, finds himself left in sole charge in Cornwall, and out of touch with Ambrose until he gets a frantic scrap of a message which sends him postehaste (in those days a matter of weeks) to Italy, only to arrive too late, his cousin mysteriously dead, and Cousin Rachel gone... And then she turns up in England, and Philip, too, finds her insidiously charming, baffling, disarming. His jealously, his suspicion lulled, he plans for her welfare, and — when he comes of age-makes over the estate to her, only to find himself shut out, spurned, her goal once achieved. How he meets this new challenge — how he brings the whole unhappy experience to an end provides a puzzle which each reader will have to solve for himself. I found the experience an absorbing one. A gifted craftsman and spinner of yarns, Daphne du Maurier excells herself.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 1951

ISBN: 1402217099

Page Count: 402

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: March 28, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1951

IT

King's newest is a gargantuan summer sausage, at 1144 pages his largest yet, and is made of the same spiceless grindings as ever: banal characters spewing sawdust dialogue as they blunder about his dark butcher shop. The horror this time out is from beyond the universe, a kind of impossible-to-define malevolence that has holed up in the sewers under the New England town of Derry. The It sustains itself by feeding on fear-charged human meat—mainly children. To achieve the maximum saturation of adrenalin in its victims, It presents itself sometimes as an adorable, balloon-bearing clown which then turns into the most horrible personal vision that the victims can fear. The novel's most lovingly drawn settings are the endless, lightless, muck-filled sewage tunnels into which it draws its victims. Can an entire city—like Derry—be haunted? King asks. Say, by some supergigantic, extragalactic, pregnant spider that now lives in the sewers under the waterworks and sends its evil mind up through the bathtub drain, or any drain, for its victims? In 1741, everyone in Derry township just disappeared—no bones, no bodies—and every 27 years since then something catastrophic has happened in Derry. In 1930, 170 children disappeared. The Horror behind the horrors, though, was first discovered some 27 years ago (in 1958, when Derry was in the grip of a murder spree) by a band of seven fear-ridden children known as the Losers, who entered the drains in search of It. And It they found, behind a tiny door like the one into Alice's garden. But what they found was so horrible that they soon began forgetting it. Now, in 1985, these children are a horror novelist, an accountant, a disc jockey, an architect, a dress designer, the owner of a Manhattan limousine service, and the unofficial Derry town historian. During their reunion, the Losers again face the cyclical rebirth of the town's haunting, which again launches them into the drains. This time they meet It's many projections (as an enormous, tentacled, throbbing eyeball, as a kind of pterodactyl, etc.) before going through the small door one last time to meet. . .Mama Spider! The King of the Pulps smiles and shuffles as he punches out his vulgarian allegory, but he too often sounds bored, as if whipping himself on with his favorite Kirin beer for zip.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1986

ISBN: 0451169514

Page Count: 1110

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1986

THE GUNSLINGER (THE DARK TOWER, BOOK 1)

Begun by King while at college in 1970; serialized episodically in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, 1978-1981; printed in limited-editon hardcover, 1982: this King novelty at last achieves mass publication. King fans will find little to celebrate, however, in the derivative portentousness of this first volume in a threatened 3000-page epic western set in a blighted future world. Warmed-over sauce from Sergio Leone's classic spaghetti-western films is splashed all over this doughy tale. There's the gunslinger of the title, tall, strong and silent, and his evil nemesis, "the man in black"; there's the gunslinger's quest to track down and slay that villain; and there are the dust-swept towns he rides through, the lost boy he adopts as a sidekick, and the saloon-keeping wench he beds. The spice in this tired sauce, however, is pure King—fantastic and grandiose. For, as King reveals bit by bit, often in flashbacks, the man in black is a sorceror, able even to raise the dead, and the gunslinger the last of an aristocratic caste, keepers of "the High Speech" and of the few guns left in this nearly machineless, presumably post-nuclear-holocaust world. Moreover, bizarre turns sprout here like weeds—spellbound by the man in black, an entire town turns on the gunslinger, believing him the Antichrist and forcing him to massacre all souls; farther down the road, a band of "Slow Mutants" (irradiated humans?) attacks—and, as is King's wont, the central character is so obsessed as to brook no opposition, eventually sacrificing the little's boy's life to stay on the heels of his quarry. What's all this futuristic neo-Wagnerian posturing about? Something to do with a debt of honor, of course, vengeance for the death of the gunslinger's father and the dishonoring of his mother; and something to do with Tarot-wrapped pseudo-mystical prattle wherein beyond the gunslinger's yearning for the man in black lies his lust for "the Dark Tower"—where, as King concludes, the gunslinger "would some day come at dusk and approach, winding his horn, to do some unimaginable final battle." Heavy, real heavy—as sales undoubtedly will be too.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 1988

ISBN: 0452284694

Page Count: 290

Publisher: New American Library

Review Posted Online: Sept. 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1988

A feel-good volume lacking the wonder of Wonder.

WE'RE ALL WONDERS

Auggie, from the bestselling novel Wonder (2012), returns as a picture-book protagonist.

Though Auggie tries to do the normal things other kids do—ride a bike, eat ice cream, play ball—he doesn’t look like other kids. Though it takes knowledge of previous installments in the Wonder series to understand that Auggie has serious facial deformities and has had many corrective surgeries, it is clear what Auggie endures from other kids: “Sometimes they stare at me. They point or laugh. They even say mean things behind my back. But I can hear them.” His mother tells him he’s a wonder; in fact, “we’re all wonders,” Auggie informs readers. But with no characterization and little in the text beyond inspirational messages, it’s not clear what makes Auggie a wonder; he wants to be taken as he is, but readers—unless they have read the other volumes—never come to know him. Borrowing the now-iconic stylized image of a nearly featureless, one-eyed, white Auggie from the original hardcover edition and employing colorful, digitally rendered art, this edition pulls the heartwarming spirit from Wonder but little of the substance. Auggie’s first-person point of view is too narrow to allow for the range of voices that made the novel so rich. Palacio has perhaps mined the same material once too often.

A feel-good volume lacking the wonder of Wonder. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: March 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6649-8

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

This heartwarming story transcends the ordinary by exploring the hopes, dreams, and inherent risks of love in all of its...

EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING

Suffering from “bubble baby disease,” Madeline has lived for 18 years in a sterile, sealed house with her physician mother.

Madeline is a bright, witty young woman who makes the best of life with a compromised immune system by playing games with her mother, studying with online tutors, and writing brief spoiler book reviews on Tumblr. Her life is turned upside down when a troubled new family moves in next door and she sees Olly for the first time. Olly, a white boy “with a pale honey tan” and parcours moves, wants to meet her, but Madeline’s mother turns him away. With the help of an indestructible Bundt cake, Olly perseveres until he gets her email address. Madeline—half Japanese, half African-American—chronicles her efforts to get to know Olly as she considers risking everything to be with him. She confides to her wise and understanding nurse, Carla, the truth she keeps from her overprotective mother: that it’s painfully hard to be a teenager with a crush, yearning to venture outside and experience the world. Spot art by the author’s husband, occasional lists in Madeline’s handwriting, emails, and instant-messaging transcripts add a lively dimension to Madeline’s quirky character. In her debut, Jamaican-American Yoon gives readers complex characters and rich dialogue that ranges from humorous to philosophical.

This heartwarming story transcends the ordinary by exploring the hopes, dreams, and inherent risks of love in all of its forms. (Fiction. 12-17)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-553-49664-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015

THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS

In the fine old tradition of James Marshall's Cut-Ups, Pilkey (God Bless the Gargoyles, 1996, etc.) introduces George Beard and Harold Hutchins, two usually responsible fourth-graders, as in ``whenever anything bad happened, George and Harold were usually responsible.'' Pranksters of the first order, George and Harold are finally nabbed by Mr. Krupp, the principal, whom they then hypnotize into believing he's Captain Underpants, a superhero of their own creation. Before they can stop him, he's out the window in cape and briefs, off to fight crime with Wedgie Power, taking on bank robbers, robot thieves—`` `You know,' said George, `up until now this story was almost believable!' ''—and ultimately the evil Dr. Diaper. Distracting Dr. Diaper with some ``fake doggy doo- doo,'' the boys save the planet, then hustle Krupp back into his clothes, just in time for—their next adventure, The Attack of the Talking Toilets, coming soon. Pilkey's stubby black-and-white cartoon figures appear on every page but can be animated in one chapter, thanks to ``Flip-O-Rama,'' where readers flip pages back and forth for the ``latest in cheesy animation technology.'' There'll be no silence in the library once readers get hold of this somewhat classier alternative to Barf-o-Rama books and their crude ilk. (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-590-84627-2

Page Count: 121

Publisher: Blue Sky/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1997

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