This twisty thriller sows the seeds of an engrossing dystopian saga.

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THE AFTER WAR

From the After War series , Vol. 1

In a post-apocalyptic world, some stragglers must find out what they are made of in this series opener.

When Brian Rhodes and his cousin Steven Driscoll emerge from their hiding place, it’s been two years since a deadly virus spread across the globe, eradicating most of the inhabitants. Brian and Steven are two of the lucky ones. Their uncle, a high-ranking American government official named Lt. Gen. Albert Driscoll, built them a bunker deep in the South and gave them instructions to reunite with Steven’s sister, Bethany, then journey to an agreed-upon location. In British Columbia, Simon Kalispell is working with a similar plan. The earthy Simon comes from a rich, well-connected family that thought his best bet at survival would be to tough it out in a remote cabin and reunite with the clan later. Each survivor is heading east, where, unbeknown to them, Albert has attempted to create some semblance of a government. But as any good dystopian narrative knows, where there’s weakness, there’s division. While Albert and his men try to restore peace, others believe they require increased militarization to mobilize against the outside world, full of haphazard gangs, cannibals, and sadists struggling to survive. These are the conditions Brian, Steven, and Simon meet as they struggle to make it across country, and their survival depends on making the right choices. Zenner (Whiskey Devils, 2016, etc.) skillfully shows how desperate conditions can force good people to do bad things, and bad people to do even worse deeds. But while Brian, Steven, and Simon are all richly shaded, the secondary characters are not as fully developed. Along the way, Brian collects Bethany and a female friend. The women are vague in characterization (tough and capable in one moment; weepy or shy the next), which leaves their subsequent romantic arcs seeming obligatory and one-dimensional. This kind of indistinct worldbuilding plagues an otherwise promising novel about the limits of humanity in trying times. With more books planned for the series, this may yet be corrected.

This twisty thriller sows the seeds of an engrossing dystopian saga.

Pub Date: June 30, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-692-90762-7

Page Count: 444

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: Dec. 11, 2018

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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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