An interplanetary tale with an effectively slow build that leads to a solid climax.

XENOGENEIC

FIRST CONTACT

An expedition to one of Jupiter’s moons leads to contact with an alien species that may be plotting a takeover of Earth in Erlick’s (Regina Shen: Endurance, 2016, etc.) sci-fi novel.

Dr. Elena Sweetwater Pyetrov is excited to continue her father Alexander’s work on Europa, where his ship disappeared nearly two decades earlier. But when her shuttle inexplicably passes by a necessary pit stop on Earth’s moon, her on-again, off-again fiance, Capt. Marc Carlisle, tells her that something’s pulling them toward Jupiter. After they survive a crash landing on what appears to be Europa, Elena encounters an older man: her father, accompanied by his 13-year-old daughter, Thelma. He tells Elena of an alien race, the Knoonk, that provided him with food and a communications link to Earth—but as he talks to her, his finger taps out a secret Morse code message: “e-v-i-l.” Soon Elena and Marc find others from their ship and realize that the Knoonk are pushing humans to mate with the promise of sustenance and shelter. It turns out that there are many other captive earthlings who eventually wage war against one another, while pregnant women and children mysteriously vanish. All the while, the Knoonk are scouring Earth for their Royal Couple, who are hiding there in human form. Erlick quickly drops readers into the story, getting the characters to Jupiter by the second chapter. Much of the rest of the novel adopts a more leisurely pace as it tells a tale of captive humans resisting oppressive aliens. It’s a potent concept, although it’s occasionally undersold: the frightening notion of some humans worshiping the Knoonk, for example, doesn’t quite offset descriptions that comically downplay the aliens, such as, “The Knoonk had destroyed their food to get them to hook up.” The dynamic between the sisters, however, is quite engaging; Elena overcomes Thelma’s indecipherable speech—which consists of seemingly random rhymes—with Morse code, bonding by using their father’s method of communication. There are quite a few twists as well, including revelations of the Knoonk’s origins and some of the things they’ve done to the humans as well as a few intriguing developments back on Earth. Overall, it’s a fine launch for a potential series.

An interplanetary tale with an effectively slow build that leads to a solid climax.

Pub Date: March 8, 2017

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Finlee Augare Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 25, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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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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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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