A slow-paced but incredibly imaginative sci-fi achievement.

PETROLEUM STAR

A debut sci-fi novel about life on an industrial planet.

Straw presents the bizarre tale of Horton Sphere, who was once a young man on Earth with a penchant for science fiction, an odd habit of composing haikus, and a job at a fast food restaurant. One day, however, he’s shocked to find himself in a very different place entirely. He suddenly materializes on a planet called “SUPEROIL” (an acronym for “Strategic Ultra Planetary Energy Reserves and Outlying Industrial Lithosphere”) where his human body has been replaced by frozen crude oil, his speech is now transmitted via radio frequencies, and the landscape around him is barren. It’s soon revealed that SUPEROIL is a planet made completely of petroleum. It lacks metals, oxygen, and culture of any kind, and other residents, like Horton, need not sleep, eat, or procreate. He’s shown around this dismal place by a girl named Gasoline Allie, who manages to get him a job on an oil rig. Horton doesn’t seem cut out for this work, but he makes the best of things while trying to puzzle out how he got to SUPEROIL in the first place, and if he’ll ever be able to go back home. Straw has clearly put of lot of thought into his worldbuilding, and he takes no shortcuts in explaining it all to readers. He details everything from the intricacies of Horton’s physical movements to the process of drilling for oil, both on Earth and on SUPEROIL. Such explanations consume pages and pages of text—and include a great deal of information about science and the history of Earth’s oil industry—but the payoff is an exceptionally unusual alien world. Even Horton, an avid reader of science fiction from “Asimov to Zelazny,” has never read about anything quite like this, and real-life readers are unlikely to forget it. That said, the abundant exposition slows the storyline to a crawl. It’s only in the final 100 pages of this roughly 600-page work that events finally pick up and a real sense of suspense takes hold. Nevertheless, even in the latter chapters, there remains much for readers to discover.  

A slow-paced but incredibly imaginative sci-fi achievement.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-71813-511-6

Page Count: 618

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 3, 2019

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A steamy, glitzy, and tender tale of college intrigue.

THE CHASE

From the Briar U series

In this opener to Kennedy’s (Hot & Bothered, 2017, etc.) Briar U romance series, two likable students keep getting their signals crossed.

Twenty-one-year-old Summer Heyward-Di Laurentis is expelled from Brown University in the middle of her junior year because she was responsible for a fire at the Kappa Beta Nu sorority house. Fortunately, her father has connections, so she’s now enrolled in Briar University, a prestigious institution about an hour outside Boston. But as she’s about to move into Briar’s Kappa Beta Nu house, she’s asked to leave by the sisters, who don’t want her besmirching their reputation. Her older brother Dean, who’s a former Briar hockey star, comes to her rescue; his buddies, who are still on the hockey team, need a fourth roommate for their townhouse. Three good-looking hockey jocks and a very rich, gorgeous fashion major under the same roof—what could go wrong? Summer becomes quickly infatuated with one of her housemates: Dean’s best friend Colin “Fitzy” Fitzgerald. There’s a definite spark between them, and they exchange smoldering looks, but the tattooed Fitzy, who’s also a video game reviewer and designer, is an introvert who prefers no “drama” in his life. Summer, however, is a charming extrovert, although she has an inferiority complex about her flagging scholastic acumen. As the story goes on, the pair seem to misinterpret each other’s every move. Meanwhile, another roommate and potential suitor, Hunter Davenport, is waiting in the wings. Kennedy’s novel is full of sex, alcohol, and college-level profanity, but it never becomes formulaic. The author adroitly employs snappy dialogue, steady pacing, and humor, as in a scene at a runway fashion show featuring Briar jocks parading in Summer-designed swimwear. The book also manages to touch on some serious subjects, including learning disabilities and abusive behavior by faculty members. Summer and Fitzy’s repeated stumbles propel the plot through engaging twists and turns; the characters trade off narrating the story, which gives each of them a chance to reveal some substance.

A steamy, glitzy, and tender tale of college intrigue.    

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-72482-199-7

Page Count: 372

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 28, 2019

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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