An entertaining, inventive and occasionally over-the-top fantasy novel.

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WRITTEN IN HELL

Helford (From a Killer’s Mind, 2013) offers a satirical tale of hell and damnation.

Nathaniel “Ate” Blovey is a failed writer of lurid Wild West stories. After his first and only book is a total failure and his girlfriend leaves him, things get even worse: His crude, low-quality writing is a big hit in Hell, so the Devil has him killed to write more hackwork for the damned. The outraged Ate refuses to fulfill the Devil’s wishes and goes on the run, making his way across a Hell that the world of the living never warned him about. Instead of confronting fire, brimstone and medieval imps, he struggles across a perdition that resembles America—specifically, the Old West. The Devil opted to give human souls free rein to build a civilization in Hell’s harsh, alien frontier, and things haven’t gone well. While Ate desperately tries to dodge Hell’s pitfalls, he deals with a cavalcade of absurd, damned souls who all have their own agendas—and some of them are his fans. He moves from misery to fear to fury and back again, facing calamity after calamity on the road to his own eternal destiny. The entire narrative is irreverent fun, with mild overtones of Kurt Vonnegut and Tom Robbins. The pacing is fast and breezy, and the author does an admirable job of designing and describing his version of Hell and the fantastic rules that shape it. His clever, funny tale slyly points fingers at American outlooks and attitudes, although readers who are sensitive to profanity may not find this book to their liking. The characterization and dialogue are outlandishly over-the-top, in an amusing way; no human being has ever had a speech pattern quite like this book’s pompous protagonist (“Little did I know, it was much better received down here, and is surprisingly quite popular amongst the august personages of Hell”). Other supporting characters have equally theatrical personalities, and although most readers will hardly demand a purely naturalistic style in a satire, they may find it a little distracting at times.

An entertaining, inventive and occasionally over-the-top fantasy novel.

Pub Date: Jan. 2, 2014

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Amazon Digital Services

Review Posted Online: March 7, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2014

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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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