A light, fun, and atavistic Western novel.

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Calamity Jane

HOW THE WEST BEGAN

Ney’s debut historical novel depicts the adventures of a teenage Calamity Jane.

The famous, titular scout, born Martha Jane Canary, was an iconic figure of the Wild West who spent much of her adult life adventuring across the frontier, dressed in men’s clothing, alongside acquaintances such as “Wild Bill” Hickok. Later, she published a self-aggrandizing memoir and appeared in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, thus cementing her reputation for the ages. Jane is often portrayed in film and literature in her later, weathered years, but Ney has chosen to focus instead on Jane’s adolescence. After migrating west from Missouri to the Montana Territory during the Civil War, the Canary family has fallen on hard times; Jane’s father has become an alcoholic gambler, and her mother has turned to prostitution to help support the family. Jane—at 15, the family’s eldest child—is determined to do what she can to help her family and new community. Although she’s a crack shot, hunting rabbits isn’t enough to feed the family, so she dips her toes in endeavors as diverse as faro dealing and nursing. This coming-of-age tale wouldn’t be enough to support an entire novel, so Ney also introduces a crime plot inspired by the real-life case of Henry Plummer, who was said to have led of a gang of outlaws. Historical purists may be put off by Ney’s choice to centrally insert Jane into a situation in which she didn’t actually participate. However, fans of Western novels will enjoy the resultant narrative of road agents and justice. Ney’s frontier can occasionally feel a bit sanitized, and many secondary characters’ experiences—such as those of Lo, a Chinese merchant—would benefit from more nuanced depiction. Generally, though, Ney does a fine job of bringing the time and place alive. The details of life in the 1860s Montana mining town are rich, and the quick-moving tale is well-situated in the tradition of 20th-century frontier town novels, such as Jack Schaefer’s Shane. In one clever scene, Jane responds to her mother’s discussion of early 19th-century living with sarcasm, saying, “Musta been something, livin’ back then.” The irony, of course, is that Ney clearly believes it must have indeed been something living in Jane’s time; his enthusiasm for the old West and its literature comes through on every page.

A light, fun, and atavistic Western novel.

Pub Date: Aug. 8, 2016

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 164

Publisher: Dragon Tree Books

Review Posted Online: June 24, 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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