Fortified by vibrant characters and a tenacious plot; it packs a mean punch when readers least expect it.

MISSING IN MACHU PICCHU

A hike on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu leads a group of Ivy League women into the crux of deceit and debauchery in Velástegui’s novel.

Taki and Koyam, street vendors in the Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru, overhear several ladies talking about a tour group. The two elderly locals are worried when they mention their prospective guide, Rodrigo, who’s notorious for his reputed involvement in child trafficking and hasn’t shown his face in Cusco in two years. Taki, who has psychiclike visions, and Koyam trail the group as the women trek to meet up with Rodrigo, while revenge-seeking Violette, who once accused the corrupt man of sacrificing her baby, also shadows the hikers. The novel (Traces of Bliss, 2012, etc.) brims with historical facts, including recurrent allusions to Hiram Bingham, the explorer who claimed to have discovered Machu Picchu in 1911. Some of these passages, like specifics on mallquis (mummified remains used in worship), slow the novel’s tempo a bit. Still, they serve a narrative purpose and occur less frequently in the more intense second half, when Rodrigo’s plan comes to light. The five women of the group, all with hopes of overcoming the perils of online dating, are each given memorable personalities, including the dense but resilient Tiffany, who drives home points with “duh-uh.” The evolutions of the individual women provide some of the book’s pluses—their mutual dislike of one another is indisputable, but they gradually come to friendly terms during their ordeal. Rodrigo is an intimidating bad guy, complete with minions who do his bidding and a god complex; he quite literally believes he’s Illapa, the god of thunder. The novel does have comic relief, mostly in the form of Sandra, whose accented English is phonetically rendered. She insists that others pronounce her name “Zahndrah,” and she spends much of her time not spending money and even demanding a refund when she hasn’t paid anything at all. There’s also a considerable narrative bite—some characters end up battered and bloody, and others may not make it out alive.

Fortified by vibrant characters and a tenacious plot; it packs a mean punch when readers least expect it.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-9851769-4-5

Page Count: 344

Publisher: Libros

Review Posted Online: Dec. 10, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2013

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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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Well-drawn characters introduce the criminal underworld to the occult kind in a breathless and compelling plot.

HELL BENT

From the Alex Stern series , Vol. 2

A Yale sophomore fights for her life as she balances academics with supernatural extracurriculars in this smart fantasy thriller, the second in a series.

Galaxy “Alex” Stern is a member of Lethe House, the ninth of Yale’s secret societies. And not just any member—she’s Virgil, the officer who conducts the society's rituals. In the world of Bardugo’s Alex Stern series, Yale’s secret societies command not just powerful social networks, but actual magic; it’s Lethe’s job to keep that magic in control. Alex is new to the role. She had to take over in a hurry after the previous Virgil, Darlington, her mentor and love interest, disappeared in a cliffhanger at the end of the first book. He appears to be in hell, but is he stuck there for good? Alex and Pamela Dawes—Lethe’s Oculus, or archivist/administrator—have found a reference to a pathway called a Gauntlet that can open a portal to hell, but can they find the Gauntlet itself? And what about the four murderers the Gauntlet ritual requires? Meanwhile, Alex’s past as a small-time drug dealer is catching up with her, adding gritty street crime to the demonic white-collar evil the Yale crowd tends to prefer. The plot is relentless and clever, and the writing is vivid, intelligent, and funny at just the right moments, but best of all are the complex characters, such as the four murderers, each with a backstory that makes it possible for the reader to trust them to enter hell and have the strength to leave again. Like the first book, this one ends with a cliffhanger.

Well-drawn characters introduce the criminal underworld to the occult kind in a breathless and compelling plot.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2023

ISBN: 978-1-250-31310-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2022

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