Primarily a setup for subsequent novels, but the boy-dragon duo makes this an admirable tale all its own.

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Squawk

BEGINNINGS

From the Squawk series , Vol. 1

In this opening of Halloran’s (Trial of the Dragon, 2016, etc.) latest YA fantasy series, a teen in a post-apocalyptic world endures totalitarian rulers and bonds with a dragon like no other.

After a nuclear war killed billions, a group called the Dominion took control. Thirteen-year-old Gabe lives in a city called Newton, which is actually a former hospital complex. This keeps civilians safe from wild dragons outside the walls. Children, in fact, are restricted from ever leaving Newton, but this doesn’t stop Gabe from trailing his father Saul’s dragon-hunting party. Though the men manage to slay a dragon and Gabe even helps, some declare the teen’s surprise presence a curse that caused the death of a few hunters. Saul salvages the dragon’s eggs, and Gabe later spots a leftover one that differs from the rest in color and size. The dragon that ultimately hatches is likewise unique, a runt Gabe names Squawk and who, because the boy is the first to touch the egg, bonds with him. Unfortunately, dragons in the compound are meant to bond with Dominion members, not lowly citizens. Now Gabe’s under the watchful eye of the Count, the Dominion’s chief enforcer, a woman who mercilessly wields Newton’s sole gun. He has good reason to fear for his well-being, and likely Squawk’s as well. Halloran’s story is a worthy start to his series, introducing curious elements such as the devastating war and someone inciting the Dominion by incessantly painting “NA” on Newton’s walls. Details come much later, but only enough to tease future books. Though the narrative’s simple, characters’ relationships are gleefully complex. The Count, for example, goes from viciously meting out punishment to behaving almost maternally toward Gabe. Mandy, too, the Dominion member who adopts Squawk (naming him Toby), seems romantically interested in Gabe, while he tries convincing her that the dragon responds to her commands. The boy’s link to his dragon is endearing, much more than an owner-pet connection, as Gabe essentially communicates with Squawk telepathically. The teen, meanwhile, suffers a good deal of maltreatment, but his steady resolve steers the story clear of inordinate bleakness.

Primarily a setup for subsequent novels, but the boy-dragon duo makes this an admirable tale all its own.

Pub Date: Feb. 10, 2017

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 297

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 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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