An eerie homage to the dystopian genre.

AS BAD AS IT LOOKS

Paganacci (Everything Is Always Perfect, 2018) offers a collection of apocalyptic fiction and poetry.

The author fixates on all things dark, disturbing, and morbid in this series of short stories, interspersed with brief, free-verse poems. He begins with “California,” in which a caretaker for an elderly ex-Navy man and a former showgirl must figure out why they’ve seemingly fled their home. A boy and his Jack Russell terrier inadvertently discover an extraterrestrial portal in “Hole in the World” and a retiree hurts his ankle on a hike and resorts to drastic measures to get out of the desert alive in “Water.” Paganacci sprinkles sci-fi concepts throughout these tales, including inventions, such as an implant that can be used to kill oneself in an emergency, and deadly creatures, including an 8-foot, tentacled terror that cocoons its victims. The author also plays with magic, time travel, and the idea of duplicates. Not everything in the future is necessarily bad, however; one society, for instance, has legalized marijuana, banned prescription drugs, eliminated guns, and eradicated war. The character descriptions throughout this collection are sharp; take Donny, a young man who laments that “I’m good at remembering details but I can’t follow instructions, which makes no sense to me.” The narrator of “Hot Shower” struggles with “depersonalization syndrome,” an inability to recognize himself as human. Instead of an arm and a hand, for instance, he describes “an outgrowth with a hinged flap at the end”; instead of eyes, he has “glassy organs that function as visual sensors.” Paganacci’s poems don’t quite jibe with the short stories’ themes, however, and they add little to the book as a whole. Some lines even seem nonsensical: “An apple being murdered by a bullet / Caught red-handed at the speed of surprised light.” Still, the stories are sufficient reason to read this book.

An eerie homage to the dystopian genre.

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2016

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 85

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2018

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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