An impressively creative blend of political intrigue and sci-fi drama partially undermined by unconvincing premises.

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PAX AMERICANA

A political thriller portrays a future world on the brink of war as a result of a religious conflict. 

Dr. Diana Scorsi is a deeply philosophical technological genius who develops a program, Symmetra, which appears to synthesize all the world’s religious knowledge into a single, higher-order spirituality. She plans to give it away to everyone on the planet for free, as she’s motivated less by profit than philanthropic commitment. Then she’s kidnapped by Ravelton Parlay, an enigmatic trillionaire who’s motivated by Christian extremism and capitalistic opportunism, combined as “Christian Consumerism.” Tuck Squires is assigned to track her down, as he works for Internal Defense, a future version of the CIA. He’s a dyed-in-the-wool “Traditionalist,” a Christian believer who’s devoted to the ideal of American exceptionalism as a tonic to world chaos. The geopolitical scene that debut author Baumeister describes is cleaved by unfamiliar alliances following changes ushered in by a war with Iran and the end of more than 30 years of Republican dominance over American politics. The world’s theocracies all want to possess Symmetra—apparently, it can be used as an instrument of either spiritual enlightenment or mass propaganda—and they threaten to start a world war if the United States doesn’t share it. Baumeister’s fertile imagination conjures a whole new world, riven by real, contemporary global fissures, occupying a kind of parallel political history that branches off from the George W. Bush administration. He’s particularly deft at plumbing the virtues and vices of an explicitly Christian nation. Tuck is a personification of the tension involved, as he’s torn between his patriotic ardor and religious devotion. However, the story hinges on the plausibility of Symmetra—an innovation that never fully makes sense on either technological or theological levels. Baumeister also has a flair for comic dialogue, but sometimes the action flirts with cartoonish melodrama; for example, Ravelton’s enigmatic nom de guerre is “The Presence.” 

An impressively creative blend of political intrigue and sci-fi drama partially undermined by unconvincing premises. 

Pub Date: March 15, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9984339-4-3

Page Count: -

Publisher: Stalking Horse Press

Review Posted Online: April 16, 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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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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