A promising tale with quirky characters and fresh insights, marred by a predictable deus ex machina.

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Cancer Faith & Butterflies

HOW DO YOU BELIEVE WHEN YOUR WORLD FALLS APART?

A young father faces Joblike trials in this debut Christian novel.

Joey lost both parents in a tragic accident. Now he faces losing the love of his life, Brooke, to breast cancer. Shuffling between the hospital, his home, and work, he reminisces about happier times and wonders how Brooke can maintain her faith in God. His doubt is echoed by Jim Anderson, whose preteen son Jimmy fights cancer in the hospital room next door. Jimmy and Brooke die on the same day, and Joey is left to raise his 8-month-old daughter, Sara, with the help of his sister, Carroll. Like Brooke, Carroll is a Christian. Before Brooke’s funeral, Joey yells at God and accidentally rousts a homeless man, Billy Jones, squatting on the church steps. Billy reveals that Brooke had been kind to him, giving him food and attending services with him over the objections of congregants. Billy also exhorts Joey to find strength in his faith, but the protagonist feels that everywhere he turns he encounters Christians but never God or any real answers. When a lump is discovered below his daughter’s left shoulder, Joey becomes frightened: Brooke had been diagnosed with cancer while pregnant with Sara. A biopsy reveals a malignant tumor, and Joey lashes out at those he loves and recklessly confronts an enemy. Sanchez develops his characters through humorous, astute dialogue and situations, and his writing shines when describing Joey’s and Brooke’s first meeting and Joey’s mentor-friendship with Jimmy. At one point, Joey takes the boy for a ride in his red Chevy (“He looked free as a bird just sitting there with his eyes closed and a smile on his face. It was like all the months in the hospital, the chemo, the pain, had all just melted away…No words were spoken, just the wind in our hair and the hum of the engine”). Joey’s agony over Brooke’s death and his questions about God in the face of it are handled deftly and delicately, but later, the novel spirals into melodrama and propaganda. A convenient set of “coincidences” finally convinces Joey of God’s existence, but his earlier questions remain unanswered. Furthermore, a key scene, in which the police release Joey after only a brief interrogation when he assaults a man, and a natural event that “scientists can’t explain” lack credibility.

A promising tale with quirky characters and fresh insights, marred by a predictable deus ex machina.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 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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