Despite a bit too much time discussing business details, a wild tale with an intriguing protagonist who just might crack.

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THE PURPLE MANTIS HOTEL

Swanagon’s (The Adventures of Zach Vallor, 2011) novel considers the seedy side of Las Vegas dealmaking.

Danillo Bacci is a CPA and former Marine with a brother in prison, extensive knowledge of firearms, and a tough-as-nails demeanor. Though his brother, Adrian, is serving time for a crime actually committed by Danillo, the bond between them is strong. When Adrian’s safety behind bars is compromised, Danillo has no other choice but to work as the close confidant of businessman Paul Goldstein, CEO of the Purple Mantis Casino and Resort. Goldstein has his eye on creating a new development in Las Vegas: 3,000 rooms, 15 high-end suites, an Asian-themed nightclub, 14 signature restaurants, a speak-easy, two pool decks, 30 meeting rooms, a nudist day club, and an outdoor concert hall. Deep in the casino business—a “full contact sport” lined with political hurdles—Danillo finds himself diving into a sea of moral dilemmas. Will he be able to aid his brother without losing the ethics his only sibling once instilled in him? While the story is certainly full-contact at times, it also devotes pages to business discussions and presentations. One of Danillo’s first tasks is to analyze a budget, which, even when conducted by a man who has killed 15 people in war, proves to be less than enthralling: during his presentation, “he stipulated that the executive team would pursue five narrowly tailored strategies during the next twelve months.” Gaining momentum in later pages, the story involves plenty of snobs, hoodwinkers, loose women, and dangerous men, some who find their souls “too attached to the strip.” Swanagon sees Las Vegas as a dynamic city with more than its share of pitfalls as well as a few jackpots. Some characters are painted with broad strokes, but the bigger picture is an urban jungle likely to hook readers eager to see a man like Danillo navigate it all.

Despite a bit too much time discussing business details, a wild tale with an intriguing protagonist who just might crack.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2015

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 389

Publisher: Amazon Digital Services

Review Posted Online: June 11, 2015

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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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