An exciting, elegant novel that uses painful realities to create a powerful tale about the nature of relationships.

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Beneath the Greater Sky

In Voelker’s debut novel, a man goes on a mission to Wyoming while grieving his stillborn daughter.

Ryan Quinn lives in a suburb of Chicago with his expectant wife, Kathy. They reside in horse-farm country, with marshes and geese scattered around an ideal landscape that lends itself more to mist than strip malls. Their domestic tranquility is shattered, however, when Kathy senses a problem with her pregnancy, and she soon loses the baby. Devastated by the loss, the two decide to separate, and Ryan moves to downtown Chicago. When he hears that his grandfather Henry in Wyoming is in the hospital, he heads west, bringing along a quilt originally intended for his daughter, which he plans to bury in the mountains. When he gets to Jackson Hole, he finds it abuzz with news of a missing girl. As local tensions rise, he encounters hostility and suspicion, complicating his already difficult trip. Ryan’s grandfather, who lives near Jackson Hole, is a salt-of-the-earth World War II vet whose vivacious demeanor and soulful advice help to make this story more contemplative than melancholy; he offers both insight and comic relief. Ryan is a surprisingly capable character, seemingly handy with everything, yet as he heads up into the Tetons, he encounters forces he may not be able to control. The April landscape, “where rags of snow lay in the shadows,” simultaneously offers ample placidity and plenty of danger. Voelker’s writing is concise and full of dead-on descriptions and well-timed details of scrappy fights, small-town innuendo, and the grotesque. Ryan moves easily between wildly disparate environments, and the author’s use of short, italicized flashbacks will keep readers interested about the past, even as tension in the present day ramps up. This novel is exciting enough to please those looking for a simple adventure, but the quality of the carefully crafted, often gorgeous prose makes it a far more important story, and Voelker is talented enough to keep readers wanting more. Overall, it’s an impressive debut, with a conclusion that’s as reflective as it is cathartic.

An exciting, elegant novel that uses painful realities to create a powerful tale about the nature of relationships.

Pub Date: Dec. 27, 2014

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 158

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 10, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2015

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

DEVOLUTION

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. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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