Though its monsters are a bit too hazy, this tale deftly merges trepidation with exhilaration.

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HUNTER PEAK

A Baltimore teenager may be the only one who can stop a dark, mysterious entity from taking over the world in this supernatural thriller debut.

Hunter Peak is looking forward to his upcoming 18th birthday so he can be on his own and escape the crushing weight of his dominating mother. He should have enough money to move out of his home, as he has been receiving steady pay from a college professor for historical-data research. But lately, Hunter has been sensing something, a darkness that he sometimes feels is watching or following him. He chalks it up to paranoia, but there may be more to it. A distraught professor Jameson tells Hunter that there has been a breakthrough with the academic’s experiments, with ties to the research the teen has been doing. Jameson takes responsibility for what the media have dubbed “the occurrences,” a string of inexplicable disappearances around the world. He further cryptically states that, because of Hunter’s research, an unspecified “they” have targeted the teen. It’s clear later that someone wants Jameson’s files on Hunter, a series of thumb drives. As the occurrences continue, the darkness becomes somewhat discernible shadow creatures that attack seemingly random people. Largely concealed and unknown villains may be after Hunter because they believe he’ll unravel their ultimate goal. But uncovering answers won’t be simple, especially since the media are certain they have identified the culprit behind the shadow attacks: presumed terrorist Hunter, allegedly using nerve gas to cause hallucinations and mass hysteria. Grant’s novel seamlessly shifts between action scenes and horror. Hunter, for example, is initially the hunted, dodging things that he often can’t see and on the run as a branded terrorist. The story covers a wide range of characters, most of whom have a connection to Hunter, like reporter Charity Chandlis, who’s tracking the recent events. These also include Hunter’s allies: his childhood pal Jessica Mason; schoolmate Shadon; and Mark, a friend to the professor. A nicely understated love triangle even adds another dynamic to the protagonist, as Shadon and Jessica may have a mutual fondness for Hunter. Meanwhile, the author keeps the baddies (including “they”) generally obscure, both in details and origin. This works to great effect with the shadow monsters: Speculation that they are demons enhances the idea of Hunter’s questioning God’s existence, in contrast to his churchgoing mother. But descriptions of the evil creatures are primarily vague. Indeed, the monsters’ shapes vary, but traits are disappointingly scarce for most appearances (at one point, they’re called “mini black blobs”). Not surprisingly, creatures with more particulars prove indelible: “Using its writhing appendages as leverage to manipulate its mass, grabbing onto rails, posts and beams to push and pull itself while cruelly tripping and toying with its prey.” Regardless, the beasts are unquestionably menacing, and while the final act clarifies most of what was happening (for example, the occurrences), questions remain and the creatures are no less horrific.

Though its monsters are a bit too hazy, this tale deftly merges trepidation with exhilaration.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 510

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2018

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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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