A well-crafted, engaging novel about an ex-con trying to break free.

READ REVIEW

Skin of Tattoos

Hoag tells the story of a gang member’s attempts to flee his life of crime in this debut novel.

After 26 months in prison, 20-year-old Magdaleno “Mags” Argueta knows he can’t go back to his previous life as a member of the Cyco Lokos, one of Los Angeles’ most notorious Salvadoran street gangs. He’s hoping his time served will earn him veteran status, allowing him to walk away without repercussions. Unfortunately, his crew is now under the command of his chief rival, Rico, who’s less than sympathetic to his aspirations to go straight. What’s more, the only jobs available to a tatted-up ex-con like Mags are demeaning, such as passing out fliers on the sidewalk while dressed as a clown. At home, his family relationships remain strained: his mother sees him as a disappointment, his father as a source of shame, and his fireman brother makes him look irresponsible by comparison. His sister, Lissy, still treats him with affection, but he’s heard rumors that she’s hooked up with a member of a rival gang. Despite his pledges to stay out of trouble, Mags finds that no one believes he’s up to the task. His parole officer tells him, “The life’s not going to let you go so easy.” As hard as that is to hear, Mags knows that it might be the truth. Hoag is a talented writer, summoning Mags’ world on the page with remarkable empathy and detail: “The sidewalks were crammed like a giant flea market—people selling jeans, pots and pans, plastic bags of mango slices….Everything looked familiar and strange at the same time, old and new, I belonged and I didn’t.” Despite a story that feels a bit well-trod, none of the characters seem hastily constructed or come off as clichés. Their pressures and motivations are clearly stated and genuinely felt, and readers will quickly become invested in Mags and his confrontation with an uncertain future. A sense of melodrama flares toward the end as events start to feel less realistic and a little more heightened and Hollywood-ish. But the overall experience is surprisingly nuanced and wholly enjoyable.

A well-crafted, engaging novel about an ex-con trying to break free.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2016

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 279

Publisher: Martin Brown Publishers

Review Posted Online: Aug. 5, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

more