A punchy, dialogue-driven pirate tale with a dash of romance.

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THE ENGLISH PIRATE

A historical novel offers a swashbuckling adventure set in Jacobean times.

The latest work from Murray (The Roman General, 2015, etc.) takes place at a little-marked turning point in English history. When King James succeeded the aged Queen Elizabeth I to the English throne, he revamped his country’s relations with the kingdom of Spain—including revoking the letters of marque that had allowed the famed Elizabethan “sea dogs” to roam the Spanish shipping lanes committing state-sanctioned piracy at will. The new arrangement cuts these privateers adrift by suddenly making them criminals in the eyes of English law, and nobody is more directly affected than former naval terror James Blackburn (“Blackburn’s maritime skills, sharp instincts, intelligence, expertise and natural leadership ability made him a successful commander and privateer”). He’s now castigated by the same court officials whose pockets he once lined with stolen treasure. One such official, Sir Robert Cecil, scorns such “masterless men, beholden to no one but themselves…hardened, fearless men who lived by instinct, driven onto enemy decks by ambition and the right of pillage.” And the course of the novel bears this out: Blackburn, now a renegade, continues his pirate activities, pursued by both his own countrymen and their erstwhile enemies. Murray laces the narrative—smoothly and expertly paced—with plenty of period research and nautical details of the type that will make fans of Patrick O’Brian and C.S. Forester feel at home, and her scene-setting is lean but effective throughout. All of the cerebral book’s secondary characters are fleshed out with as much texture as Blackburn himself, particularly the scene-stealing Melisande, the strong-willed daughter of a French sea captain. The high-tempered dialogue between Melisande and Blackburn in the wake of the pirate’s capture of her father’s ship at sea is the highlight of the book, providing Murray with an excellent natural device for digging deeper into the buccaneer’s motives and his battered nobility. The rousing novel doesn’t shy away from violence as Blackburn and his men slowly build a pirate fleet out of seized vessels. Although some of these sea action scenes can feel a bit rote, the enthusiasm of the storytelling throughout remains infectious.

A punchy, dialogue-driven pirate tale with a dash of romance.

Pub Date: April 1, 2016

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 326

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 31, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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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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