"Existence is not a thing with which to muck around," and yet that’s exactly what fantastic storytelling attempts, warping...

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ALL OUR WRONG TODAYS

Screenwriter Mastai's debut novel is the story of the world's first and, unfortunately for us all, most unqualified time traveler.

July 11, 1965, is the day the world changed. It’s the day that physicist Lionel Goettreider turns on his new creation, the Goettreider Engine, which works better than he or his 16 witnesses ever imagined: the machine generates an unlimited source of clean energy. How does it work? “It has something to do with magnetism and gravity and...honestly, I don't know...it just works. Or it did. Before, you know, me.” This me is Tom Barren, who comes from “the world we were supposed to have.” Tom is not from the future but rather a wildly different and more advanced 2016. His reality is a place marked by the “absence of material want,” and yet Tom isn’t happy. His career and love life are going nowhere, and, considering he is the son of the foremost scientist in the field of time travel, he is pretty much a failure. But then his father intervenes and hires him to become the understudy of Penelope Weschler, the insanely driven woman preparing to become one of the world’s first “chrononauts,” the fancy term for time traveler. Tom is there in case Penelope royally messes up, which would never happen. But then Tom falls in love with Penelope and Penelope notices, and everything unravels—so much so that Tom finds himself emotionally broken and activating the time machine without permission to go back to July 11, 1965, the moment his world began. And since Tom is not Penelope, things go horribly wrong. Mastai’s novel is both charming and wondrously plotted—Tom’s self-deprecation in the beginning seems to limit his potential as a character and yet, in the end, he’s an impressive feat of memory and consciousness. Mastai considers not only the workings, but the consequences (and there are many) of time travel, packing so much into the last 100 pages it feels as if there’s literal weight pressing on your mind.

"Existence is not a thing with which to muck around," and yet that’s exactly what fantastic storytelling attempts, warping reality, perception, and truth—and hopefully entertaining us as well as this novel does.

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-101-98513-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 23, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 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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