Sometimes profound and artful, this tale of spiritual redemption delivers too many narrative detours.

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A GOOD BOY

From the The Dying Church Series series , Vol. 1

A minister tries to heal a spiritually depleted church and himself in this debut novel.

After his wife dies, Wesley Aames sheds his blue-chip job working for an engineering company and goes back to school to study theology. Three years later, he becomes the new minister of the New Covenant Church in Asheville, North Carolina. The church is bedeviled by financial problems, out of touch with modern technology, and vexed by a lack of purpose and confidence. In addition, the congregation remains divided over Aames’ selection as the new pastor, because many are concerned his lack of experience will hinder his leadership. Soon after Aames assumes his new role, Jamie Lee McFarland, a 15-year-old high school freshman and member of the church, tragically ends her own life. Her mother, Rosa Lee, seems chillingly indifferent to her death, and may even be partially responsible for it. The congregation demands her expulsion from the church, expressing this position even more vociferously after Rosa Lee signs a contract with a reality TV show that plans to take its cameras within New Covenant to film. Aames attempts to appease his flock while simultaneously wrestling with his own moral reservations about Rosa Lee’s behavior: “What bothers me the most is that I cannot find it in my heart to forgive Rosa Lee. Not her actions on the death of her daughter, not her lack of guilt or remorse, not her mercenary actions since her daughter’s death.” Andre deftly paints a portrait of spiritual crisis, and the ways in which moral judgment vitiates the call for merciful forgiveness. At its best, the story is reminiscent of Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead—a philosophically meditative anatomy of the pursuit of holiness amid pain. But Andre includes too many ancillary plots—Aames’ work at a suicide hotline, his conversations with a young basketball protégé, a controversy over a funeral for a gay man—that prove more distracting than narratively amplifying. The central plot remains a powerful one, though weighed down by competing ones—there’s simply too much crammed into these pages.

Sometimes profound and artful, this tale of spiritual redemption delivers too many narrative detours. 

Pub Date: Jan. 2, 2016

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 272

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 20, 2016

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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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