A quirky, satisfying mystery that will leave readers eagerly awaiting the next installment.

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THE CUSP OF ARIES

BOOK 1 OF THE ZODIAC MYSTERIES

While searching for stolen artwork, an investigator uncovers a possible murder and political conspiracy in Freemartin’s enjoyable sci-fi mystery debut.

On an Earth-like planet called Astrogea, people are tattooed at birth with their zodiac signs, which dictate how they look, where they live and with whom they associate. This categorization has resulted in some hostilities between people of different signs or groups of signs, but no one is more disdained than the Cuspians—those born between signs who don’t strongly identify with either. Astrogean private investigator Margo Ramm is summoned by Dermot Justice, a wealthy, ailing politician, to find some priceless pieces of art that have gone missing from his home. Margo arrives to find his vast villa full of potential suspects: Justice’s ill-tempered second wife; his stern personal physician; his self-important business partner and the partner’s supermodel daughter; a niece and nephew with checkered pasts; and the musician husband of Justice’s deceased daughter. As Margo investigates, she begins to doubt the houseguests’ supposed concern for Justice’s health. She also finds that there may have been greater crimes committed than art theft—perhaps even a murder. Imperfect and likable, Margo was abandoned at birth and raised in an orphanage, as many Cuspians are in this world. She suffers from bouts of self-doubt but proves to be strong, intelligent and capable. The odd cast of suspects adds to the tension as their shifting loyalties make it difficult to point out the guilty party. Plot twists and unanswered questions abound while the story builds to an action-packed climax in which all the characters are brought together at once. At the end of this volume, the first in a planned series, the author strikes just the right balance, with the threads of the primary mysteries sewn up but one unsolved mystery lingering amid hints of growing political and social unrest in Astrogea. Undoubtedly, there’s room to explore some intriguing stories in future volumes.

A quirky, satisfying mystery that will leave readers eagerly awaiting the next installment.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 231

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: Aug. 24, 2013

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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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