Primarily an introduction to the protagonist and his fortress, but its solid writing promises a worthy series.

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THE KOREAN GAMBIT

WE'RE ALREADY IN A CYBER WAR WE JUST DON'T KNOW IT

An Arizona town’s emergency services director preps for a cyberstrike, while his daughter faces a menace of an entirely different kind in McDonald’s debut thriller series-starter.

The North Korean government unsuccessfully fires missiles at the west coast of the United States. It soon appears that the action was merely a precursor to a cyberattack, as various grids start shutting down. The story then jumps back two months to the grand opening of an Arizona police substation, complete with its own independent microgrid for handling disasters. It’s the project of Selwyn “Murf” Murphy, a former Special Forces soldier who’s now the program director of emergency services in the town of Tortolita. For years, Murf has anticipated a North Korean cyberattack, so he continues to develop his substation (colloquially known as “Fort Apache”), debating such additions as a stand-alone emergency room. Meanwhile, his estranged 14-year-old daughter, Dani, is living with her alcoholic mother, Murf’s ex-wife Louise. Louise’s sleazy boyfriend, Vince, who’s in debt to a drug dealer, persuades Dani to dance at the appropriately named Two-Bit Bar. When Murf gets wind of Dani’s situation, saving his daughter takes precedence over all else. Despite the title, there’s very little cyberwar in this thriller; much of the narrative instead focuses on the lead-up to the attack. News reports of various transgressions of the North Korean government create a feeling of imminent danger, however, and Dani’s seemingly unrelated plotline is consistently intense. Her story, in fact, features a character that’s even more indelible than Murf: Doc, a biker-club physician and former battlefield medic who befriends Dani and tends to her when she’s injured. McDonald maintains the momentum throughout by employing alternating perspectives of various characters and very short chapters and scenes. Although Murf gets few opportunities to validate Fort Apache, he does prove himself a hero in the action-packed final act.

Primarily an introduction to the protagonist and his fortress, but its solid writing promises a worthy series.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9993686-2-6

Page Count: 522

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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