A crunchy, entertaining, occasionally preachy political thriller.

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SYMPHONY FOR THE DEVIL

From the Travus T. Saga series

A debut satirical novel tells the story of a reporter investigating a deadly, mind-altering form of music.

Journalist Travus Dean—sporting a “ponytail, jeans, and Grateful Dead” lightning-bolt-through-the-skull T-shirt—returns from a year in Bali to learn that much has changed in his native San Francisco. The lefty magazine he writes for—the one he accidentally bankrupted via a libel suit brought on by one of his articles—is now owned by the right-wing Thorn Media. What’s more, ragers—fans of a new rock genre called Rage—are harassing people in the streets, starting fights with strangers, and vandalizing property: “The music produced a heightened state of violence, loss of societal control, and an imperviousness to pain. The ideal soldier.” The magazine wants Travus to cover the 2016 election, but the seasoned reporter sees something larger in the music: all of America’s multifaceted culture of rage concentrated and embodied in one explosive subculture. The story becomes personal when his high school protégé, Stephen Bishop, ends up beating a kid to death at a Rage concert, forcing Travus to really discover what’s behind this music. Is it a conspiracy? The government? Terrorism? And will Deadhead Travus be immune to the music’s power? Flounder writes in a direct, descriptive prose, wryly noting the signifying features of every setting and character. The book is simultaneously noirish and satirical, taking potshots at culture and politics while pursuing a genuine mystery concerning Rage’s source. Some readers may be initially turned off by Travus’ pat hippie self-righteousness (particularly since he’s a Gen-Xer): “As if we didn’t have enough rage spewing out of the United States of Anger, we need a music to create more?” While the references to Nineteen Eighty-Four and the George W. Bush administration feel dated in the current climate (Donald Trump rates only one mention), the plot itself is actually quite compelling once the reader bypasses the didactic snark. Flounder has created a distinctive world slightly more heightened and colorful than readers’ own, and the cliffhanger ending promises that further adventures with Travus are surely in the works.

A crunchy, entertaining, occasionally preachy political thriller.

Pub Date: June 19, 2017

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 501

Publisher: Pronoun

Review Posted Online: Nov. 15, 2017

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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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