A lengthy but focused tale with characters that readers will root for.

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THE EXTERMINATION GAME

A cultlike group secretly implements a diabolical plan in the United States to rectify overpopulation in Gaskill’s (Gabriel’s Stand, 2014) thriller.

The movement in America to ratify the Earth Restoration Treaty seems like a noble cause. But the man covertly spearheading it is the Baron, an enigmatic German official. His true interest is the ratified treaty’s outcome, which will somehow allow his group to bypass “conflicting provisions” of the Constitution and take power. The Baron sends his mentee, Louise Berker, to the United States to push his agenda. Their group, the Gaia Antibodies Network, has its share of sympathetic senators and, to ensure treaty ratification, plans to assassinate senators who don’t support the movement. This includes Sen. Gabriel Sitting Bear Lindstrom; though he’s an environmentalist, the Baron feels his integrity and popularity could prove a detriment for the G-A-N. Berker sets about recruiting Gabriel’s daughter, Helen Snowfeather, who at first respects the G-A-N’s environmental message. That is, until she realizes the group is a cult that worships Earth goddess, Gaia, and believes humans are the planet’s greatest threat and should be treated as such. On achieving power in America, the G-A-N will be able to neutralize said threat by fostering a pandemic to wipe out humanity to near extinction. But at the heart of the nefarious plot is the Gaia Operations Directorate, which ultimately gains the power to outlaw both high-tech medicine and antibiotics. The G-O-D also has incentive to target people who defy the organization, putting Gabriel, Snowfeather, and others in danger of imprisonment or assassination. Despite the Baron initiating his scheme in the United States, it’s clear that the entire world is in peril. Nevertheless, Gaskill wisely centers the story on only a few characters. This allows for more character development for individuals like Dr. John Owen, a pharmaceutical maker, and Fred Loud Owl, a Navajo spirit guide. As such, the occasional death—or mysterious disappearance—has greater dramatic impact. The first third of the novel is the most enthralling, primarily concentrating on the G-A-N’s attempts to garner supporters. It’s believable that the environmental movement would attract people and equally frightening that it so easily transitions to fanaticism. Similarly, the gradual reveal of the cult is unsettling, particularly Snowfeather overhearing voices chanting to Gaia. The book’s latter part is slower, as many of those in defiance of G-O-D have either become fugitives or gone into hiding. But Gaskill’s prose throughout is concise, producing sharp images: “A handful of the deciduous trees on 11campus had begun to show color, stray red leaves among the oaks, and a few glittering gold spots among the birches, but the grass was lush and the sun warm.” And notwithstanding murders or severed body parts, the author keeps the obscenities and violence to a minimum. As the novel eventually becomes a simple matter of the good guys rallying fellow Americans against villainous groups, Gaskill paves the way for a thorough resolution. Still, there’s a small opening for a sequel.

A lengthy but focused tale with characters that readers will root for.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 495

Publisher: Station Square Media

Review Posted Online: July 10, 2019

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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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