CITY LIGHTS FROM THE UPSIDE DOWN

STORIES

A dazzling collection of satisfying tales consistent in theme, dexterity, and impressive execution.

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A volume offers sweet and savory short stories grounded by the human condition.

San Antonio poet and author Salinas bases his 40-tale collection primarily on his South Texas homeland, where characters deal with love, young adult angst and insecurity, death, and the bonds of family. The homespun opening story, “Places,” is a first-person–narrated winner about a divorced son mourning his mother’s death. In a family hobbled by the father’s sudden abandonment, the only saving grace appears when the protagonist’s estranged bachelor brother returns home. The interactions between fatherless brothers also populate other tales, like “Even-Steven,” in which two siblings discuss the life-changing “accident” that scarred them both. Simmering with anger and guilt, the brothers attempt a resolution while perched on the edge of a cliff. Straightforward and bare-knuckle, the author’s characters have no hidden agendas. Men consider women who have blond hair but brown eyes instead of blue to be “prisoners of predetermination”; White folks in South Texas comically dub themselves “white Mexican’t.” For the most part, these are stories about people for whom the struggle is very real. They may be short on cash, luck, and education, but they are rich in their experiences with life’s simple pleasures and the satisfactions of a good day’s work. Some tales veer off into their own worlds, as when a young man questions the identity of a trainee at a starship academy. The rest are indelibly human, best represented in the endearingly bittersweet first date at an IHOP between a nerd who does impressions and a community college “trailer-park girl.” Collectively, these stories represent life’s imperfections, and Salinas is skilled in mapping out the bones of his tales in an economy of pages. He is adept at cleverly outlining characters and their concerns while creating a variety of situations that will engulf readers. The drawback to this writerly flair is that readers will often find themselves at the finales wanting more, as in “Coke Machine,” the tale of a mall janitor assisting a shopper obsessed with a wall that she believes conceals a vault. The same can be said of the title story, involving a young, restless, likable insurance worker whose magical thinking seems to be the only thing giving him hope for the future.

A dazzling collection of satisfying tales consistent in theme, dexterity, and impressive execution.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-73617-796-9

Page Count: 278

Publisher: San Antonio Review

Review Posted Online: Nov. 8, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2021

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  • New York Times Bestseller

DEVOLUTION

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

DARK MATTER

Suspenseful, frightening, and sometimes poignant—provided the reader has a generously willing suspension of disbelief.

A man walks out of a bar and his life becomes a kaleidoscope of altered states in this science-fiction thriller.

Crouch opens on a family in a warm, resonant domestic moment with three well-developed characters. At home in Chicago’s Logan Square, Jason Dessen dices an onion while his wife, Daniela, sips wine and chats on the phone. Their son, Charlie, an appealing 15-year-old, sketches on a pad. Still, an undertone of regret hovers over the couple, a preoccupation with roads not taken, a theme the book will literally explore, in multifarious ways. To start, both Jason and Daniela abandoned careers that might have soared, Jason as a physicist, Daniela as an artist. When Charlie was born, he suffered a major illness. Jason was forced to abandon promising research to teach undergraduates at a small college. Daniela turned from having gallery shows to teaching private art lessons to middle school students. On this bracing October evening, Jason visits a local bar to pay homage to Ryan Holder, a former college roommate who just received a major award for his work in neuroscience, an honor that rankles Jason, who, Ryan says, gave up on his career. Smarting from the comment, Jason suffers “a sucker punch” as he heads home that leaves him “standing on the precipice.” From behind Jason, a man with a “ghost white” face, “red, pursed lips," and "horrifying eyes” points a gun at Jason and forces him to drive an SUV, following preset navigational directions. At their destination, the abductor forces Jason to strip naked, beats him, then leads him into a vast, abandoned power plant. Here, Jason meets men and women who insist they want to help him. Attempting to escape, Jason opens a door that leads him into a series of dark, strange, yet eerily familiar encounters that sometimes strain credibility, especially in the tale's final moments.

Suspenseful, frightening, and sometimes poignant—provided the reader has a generously willing suspension of disbelief.

Pub Date: July 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-90422-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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