An intricate paranormal story that draws in readers with grounded characters.

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THE TOTEM

A man in present-day Wisconsin has an apparent link to a mid-19th-century man who sought revenge against his mother’s killers in Zarem’s (Entangled, 2007, etc.) psychological tale.

After Stephan Shores falls and knocks himself out, he has two vivid memories—his beloved golden retriever, Daisy, is dead, and his friend Samantha “Sam” Torrance has Hodgkin’s disease. Post-injury, he sees that Daisy is alive and Sam is cancer-free. Later, however, he awakens from a coma. It seems he was actually in a car accident, and the life he knew returns (Sam with Hodgkin’s and Daisy gone). One cryptic directive remains in his mind: contact Dr. Gaius Bjornson and find the angel bone pendant. With Sam’s help, Stephan tracks down Gaius, a psychiatrist who specializes in regression therapy. Gaius talks about an LSD trip he had that included an angel-shaped pendant made of bone, which Gaius believes has spiritual significance. He also believes that Stephan somehow learned about the pendant’s location while in his coma. Sure enough, Stephan dreams of Isabelle Abano, a woman in 1855 who evidently gave the pendant to her 10-year-old son, Ulysses. Stephan soon seems to be living Ulysses’ past life, when the then-grown Ulysses wanted to avenge Isabelle’s murder. Perhaps, in the present day, Stephan will discover where the pendant is buried. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Zarem’s novel can be dizzying. While the shifts between 2017 and 1855 (or 1866) are precise and easy to follow, certain events in Stephan’s life are less consistent. For example, throughout the book, the protagonist is intermittently disoriented either from an intense dream or, it would seem, lingering effects of his head injury. This will surely lead readers to question what, if anything, is truly taking place. The author, however, skillfully manages the complex plotlines by, for one, firmly establishing characters and settings. This alleviates jarring narrative turns, like when the story suddenly shifts from Stephan’s first-person narration in the present day to Ulysses’ in the 19th century. It’s an extended sequence that establishes a new perspective and setting before another narrative shift occurs. This further allows for prolonged, rewarding scenes between characters. A highlight is the strengthening bond between Stephan and the doctor’s son, who has a cognitive impairment but somehow connects with Stephan through a psychic ability (e.g., drawing pictures of future events). There’s also a sublimely understated romance between Stephan and Sam; although his love for her is unrequited, their shared moments are often tender. “I roll my head down onto her shoulder,” he muses. “The nape of her neck smells wonderful, like fresh rain and gingerbread soap. I want to hide away in this little nook.” The book’s historical backdrop is remarkable, with notable references to post–Civil War life in 1866 and, in a later twist, the surprise appearance of a historical figure. Though the novel concludes with a good deal of resolution, it leaves a few open-ended elements.

An intricate paranormal story that draws in readers with grounded characters.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2019

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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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