A tale of destined love that successfully weds the charms of fantasy worldbuilding and shaggy dog stories.

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Faulty Bones

A couple of love-struck gamblers navigate mobsters and an unstable timeline in Fraser’s surreal debut fantasy romance. 

In the opening chapters of this novel, card players Mike and Amy meet cute at a New Orleans poker table. And then they meet cute for the first time again. The reason: Mike keeps waking up in amnesiac hazes, and each time, he pieces together evidence that his personal chronology has been undone by supernatural forces. He repeatedly hustles to right his timeline, reunite with Amy, and maybe get to the World Series of Poker. Meanwhile, 20-something Amy, a compulsive gambler who “eloped with [her] mom’s chiropractor” at 16 and who’s now 11 months into a streak of bad luck, is embroiled in a scheme to launder counterfeit poker chips for the Russian mob. Mike and Amy’s world of seedy casinos and poker players is rendered with many persuasive details, such as Mike’s knowing assessment of other players, “the type who cut their teeth on the Internet in fast, multi-table action, playing six, ten, twelve tables at a time like chess masters.” As a result, the tension that Fraser builds in the betting scenes will be accessible even to poker neophytes. As Mike and Amy’s parallel plots unfold, they alternate first-person points of view; both are engaging, but there are times when the shared tics of their voices blend together (both use the term “the girlfriend experience,” for example). The author’s droll humor comes through in the lovers’ observations about their bad luck and in the mundane pettiness of the magical beings manipulating them. (One of those beings complains about the matchmaking spirits’ union: “The grievance-filing process takes forever. Even if we win, the inevitable appeal ties us into knots for ages.”) The combination of time travel and the couple’s playful game of changing their names every day somewhat muddles the narrative, and there’s a late-breaking political subplot that becomes extremely unwieldy. However, the affecting depiction of Amy’s struggle to right her life, along with the complex plot, give the novel depth and excitement.

A tale of destined love that successfully weds the charms of fantasy worldbuilding and shaggy dog stories.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 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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