An intriguing novel with a tenacious protagonist, despite a few narrative stumbles.

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THE ALIEN STRANGER

When an apparent space alien rescues a woman from an assault, federal agents and terrorists take notice in Ticer’s (Explaining Gravity and Hubble Cosmology, 2018, etc.) sci-fi tale.

Kayla Chalet is taking classes at the University of Oregon. She and her mom, Darcy, are struggling with debt from medical expenses due to the latter’s cancer. One day, while Darcy’s walking home from class, a man attacks and tries to rape her. Thankfully, a stranger intercedes—knocking the attacker out with a “barrel like device”—but he tells Kayla that he wants to avoid the police, as he’s neither a citizen nor carrying proper identification. She suggests that he’s an alien, and he confirms this by saying “I am an alien stranger.” They part ways, but she soon confides in her mother, who tells the police about the rape attempt. A detective believes that her savior may be “a spy with advanced technology.” Soon, the FBI is looking into the incident as well. Then the stranger communicates with Kayla telepathically. After she rescues him from a potential drowning, he rewards her with millions of dollars, which gradually appear in her bank account. Kayla and her classmates want to use the funds to combat climate change, but it’s later revealed that the money once belonged to drug-dealing terrorists, who want it back. Kayla’s relatable struggle for control of her life drives much of the story; the stranger tries to control her with money, and the authorities attempt to do so with threats of prison time. Ticer wisely keeps the stranger ambiguous, keeping readers constantly unsure about his trustworthiness. However, several prolonged scenes, including a discussion of the Big Bang and a sequence in which Kayla’s classmate John von Lay teaches her the game of billiards, have no bearing on the plot. Other parts are simply confusing; for example, at one point, the stranger asks Kayla to sell an extravagant necklace because he’s “in need of money,” although he later manages to transfer a fortune to Kayla’s account. Nevertheless, the ending retains some engaging ambiguity while still offering resolution.

An intriguing novel with a tenacious protagonist, despite a few narrative stumbles.

Pub Date: May 16, 2018

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 126

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: Jan. 11, 2019

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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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