A briskly paced thriller that deftly imagines a nightmare scenario.

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The Gambit

A debut political thriller that pits Israeli and U.S. military forces against an Iranian government on the verge of obtaining a nuclear weapon.

As the United States attempts to neutralize Iran’s march toward nuclear capability with economic sanctions and diplomacy, a battle-hardened Israeli government takes a more aggressive tactical approach. It deploys a devastating computer virus, assassinates key Iranian nuclear scientists, and prepares to relocate its top source of insider intelligence, Dr. Ali Bagheri Kani, the deputy secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, to Israel by staging a fake assassination. The operation is conducted by an elite Israeli unit, the Sayeret Matkal, which answers to Gen. Tamir Pardo, the head of the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad. American Col. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson is recruited to join the team; he’s a decorated Special Forces soldier attached to the CIA who has a doctorate in Persian studies. After Bagheri is successfully extricated from Iran, he confirms the Israelis’ worst fears: Iran is considerably closer to a nuclear weapon than they thought. Israeli authorities decide to stage a daring attack on several Iranian nuclear facilities, and alert the United States so that its Navy can prepare for battle in the Strait of Hormuz. Meanwhile, the Iranians, who’ve prepared for years for such an eventuality, initiate a bold response, designed to exploit America’s domestic vulnerabilities. Author Carlson’s plotline is as chilling as it is gripping; his brand of cynical realism has a level of plausibility that’s both impressive and disturbing. There’s no shortage of skillfully rendered military action, and Carlson’s meticulous research into the military and political aspects of his subject matter is extraordinary. Jackson, as a character, sometimes seems overly picturesque: he’s handsome, athletically fit, endlessly brave, charming, hyper-educated—and still impossibly modest, despite it all. One of the highlights of the novel, though, is its depiction of the Iranian side, as it ably articulates their zealotry without robbing them of humanity. For example, Carlson pithily captures the moral psychology of an Iranian colonel: “He was not a killer, as such, and did not enjoy killing merely for the sake of killing. No, Rafsanjani wanted to punish America as a whole.” This is an exciting debut effort that’s certain to interest readers with a taste for contemporary political intrigue.

A briskly paced thriller that deftly imagines a nightmare scenario.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-0-9982594-9-9

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: Sept. 23, 2016

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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