To describe this novel, as someone inevitably will, as Song of Solomon reimagined as a Marvel Comics franchise is to...

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THE TALENTED RIBKINS

Hubbard shrewdly molds the pop-culture mythology of the comic-book superhero team into a magical-realist metaphor for African-American struggles since the real-life heroic battle against segregation in the middle of the 20th century.

You’ve heard of the Justice League? Meet the Justice Committee, an extended family of black crusaders who became legendary for using their extraordinary powers to protect leaders, activists, and their brothers and sisters during the 1960s civil rights movement. When this crafty and wistful debut novel opens in present-day Florida, the committee’s surviving members are scattered about, and one in particular, 72-year-old Johnny Ribkins, seems lost and at loose ends. Which is ironic since Johnny’s special gift is being able to draw precise maps of places he’s never been. (It came in handy when black drivers tried to make their ways safely through the racially segregated South.) But after the committee members drifted apart, Johnny and his brother, Franklin, whose natural wall-climbing skills rivaled those of Spider-Man, merged their talents for high-scale larceny. After Franklin’s untimely death, Johnny jump-starts his cartography gifts to track down buried loot from all their varied heists so he can pay off his debt to a shady real estate mogul. Accompanying Johnny in an antique Thunderbird she characterizes as “junky” is his moody teenage niece, Eloise, who’s been showing off some of her own inherited uncanniness by being able to catch any object thrown at her. With a pair of thugs shadowing them, Johnny and Eloise stop at various points in the Sunshine State, where they meet, among other relatives, Cousin Bertrand, nicknamed “Captain Dynamite” because he could “spit firecrackers”; another speedy, magnetic cousin known (of course) as “Flash”; and yet another nicknamed “The Hammer” because while her left hand looks normal, her right hand…you can probably guess the rest. With each rueful confrontation with people and places of his past, Johnny comes to grips with lost resolutions, squandered opportunities, and the complex history of a family that began with a patriarch whose superb sense of smell made him “The Rib King.” Hubbard weaves this narrative with prodigious skill and compelling warmth. You anticipate a movie while wondering if any movie could do this fascinating family...well, justice.

To describe this novel, as someone inevitably will, as Song of Solomon reimagined as a Marvel Comics franchise is to shortchange its cleverness and audacity.

Pub Date: Aug. 8, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61219-636-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Melville House

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 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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Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.

THE TESTAMENTS

Atwood goes back to Gilead.

The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), consistently regarded as a masterpiece of 20th-century literature, has gained new attention in recent years with the success of the Hulu series as well as fresh appreciation from readers who feel like this story has new relevance in America’s current political climate. Atwood herself has spoken about how news headlines have made her dystopian fiction seem eerily plausible, and it’s not difficult to imagine her wanting to revisit Gilead as the TV show has sped past where her narrative ended. Like the novel that preceded it, this sequel is presented as found documents—first-person accounts of life inside a misogynistic theocracy from three informants. There is Agnes Jemima, a girl who rejects the marriage her family arranges for her but still has faith in God and Gilead. There’s Daisy, who learns on her 16th birthday that her whole life has been a lie. And there's Aunt Lydia, the woman responsible for turning women into Handmaids. This approach gives readers insight into different aspects of life inside and outside Gilead, but it also leads to a book that sometimes feels overstuffed. The Handmaid’s Tale combined exquisite lyricism with a powerful sense of urgency, as if a thoughtful, perceptive woman was racing against time to give witness to her experience. That narrator hinted at more than she said; Atwood seemed to trust readers to fill in the gaps. This dynamic created an atmosphere of intimacy. However curious we might be about Gilead and the resistance operating outside that country, what we learn here is that what Atwood left unsaid in the first novel generated more horror and outrage than explicit detail can. And the more we get to know Agnes, Daisy, and Aunt Lydia, the less convincing they become. It’s hard, of course, to compete with a beloved classic, so maybe the best way to read this new book is to forget about The Handmaid’s Tale and enjoy it as an artful feminist thriller.

Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54378-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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