Should be fun for fans of Ed Wood’s schlocky but endearingly sincere film opuses like Plan 9 From Outer Space.

PROJECT XS

A mission to sabotage China’s growing nuclear capabilities horribly misfires in this debut machine-goes-rogue adventure.

An elite “best of the best” squad is formed to carry out a top-secret mission dubbed Project XS. Apparently, the members didn’t get the top-secret part in the memo, as they all greet one another with variations on “Hey, Project XS!” The team includes Matt Baker and his close New York SWAT team partner, Kayla Jenkins; siblings Alejandro and Antonio Javier, both Navy SEALs; “handsome douchebag” Jack Kelly “from Boston SWAT”; and loner Sean Price. Sgt. Bakerman is their leader. “There are two phases,” he barks. “First phase, I hate you; second phase, I get rid of the things I hate.” The objective of this “advanced” mission is “to prevent the development of new nuclear bombs in Far Eastern countries.” Project XS “is the government’s most secret weapon and is, of course, very expensive.” It is technology that is “unique and possibly game-changing for our army.” Not really; the exoskeletons that are powered by humans wearing them as militarized suits will be familiar to fans of the films Aliens, Avatar, and Pacific Rim. But here the story takes a Westworld (the 1973 movie, not the HBO series) twist: One of the exoskeletons becomes sentient and escapes. The squad’s new assignment is to bring it back intact as per the orders of a delusional general who wants to “make all the machines…into an army.” This ambitious, earnest book by Latvian-born author Calans offers some thrills, with Bakerman turning out to be the tale’s best—and certainly its loudest—character. But the novel reads as if it was fed into an English translator, resulting in stilted sentences (“This mission we’ve both been assigned to, could lead to great danger. Neither of us knows what’s going to unfold when we get to that island”) and off-kilter phrases such as “taxi car” and “having a dish,” in regard to eating dinner. Fatal to these types of stories is the author’s lack of credible tech-speak and gadget-savvy (the exoskeletons have “factory settings”).

Should be fun for fans of Ed Wood’s schlocky but endearingly sincere film opuses like Plan 9 From Outer Space.

Pub Date: Dec. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5462-9750-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: AuthorHouseUK

Review Posted Online: April 26, 2019

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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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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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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