An over-the-top, often witty escape into fantasy that manages to convey some realistic poignancy on the road to a satisfying...

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DANCE LIKE YOU MEAN IT

An emergency room nursing supervisor writes a romance novel, even as her own life spins out of control.

Skartsiaris’ (Surviving Life, 2016, etc.) third book offers a bit of a change-up on the standard romance genre, weaving together two stories that intersect in the chaotic world of the protagonist, Cassie Calabria. Cassie is approaching middle age, with her marriage stagnating. Her older daughter, Ashley, is 15 and an expert in distancing herself from her mother with silence and/or the perfected eye roll. Cassie has always wanted to be an author, and she decides that a romance novel is just the thing. In between managing life-and-death emergencies in the ER and running her household, she begins writing Wild Rose, under the pseudonym Cardia Loving, and she sets it in the 1970s (“when promiscuity was a badge of honor”). Rosemary “Rose” Christi is Cassie’s younger, more beautiful, sexier alter ego. Chapters of Cassie’s first-person narrative alternate with chapters of Wild Rose. While Rose gallivants around as a photojournalist, Cassie deals with a husband who wants a separation. The author artfully employs the use of humorous juxtaposition: Cassie trying to keep her daughter from experimenting with sex while simultaneously writing all manner of steamy adventures for Rose; Rose meeting a handsome film star at the beach and immediately engaging in hours of torrid sex, while Cassie frantically mops urine off the ER floor when she meets her real-life movie idol. When Wild Rose surprisingly becomes a best-seller, Cassie’s real and imaginary lives begin to collide, as she struggles to keep her pseudonymous identity a secret from family, co-workers, and adoring fans. In this amusing tale, both Cassie and Rose are strong female characters. Despite melodrama in the life of the former and the wildly exaggerated exploits of the latter, they come across as likable and self-sufficient (At one point, Cassie muses: “I chose nursing to help people, to be an angel of mercy, and the math was easier than medical school”). But the male characters are rather two-dimensional, serving more as foils or window dressing. Although the narrative contains plenty of graphic sex, it is generally mild for the genre. Still, the novel ultimately delivers a rewarding ending. 

An over-the-top, often witty escape into fantasy that manages to convey some realistic poignancy on the road to a satisfying conclusion.   

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Black Opal

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 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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