A flavorful Lost Generation–era confection with a promising protagonist.

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A MYSTERY IN PARIS

From the The Daniel Levin Mysteries series , Vol. 1

A haunted American World War I veteran stumbles into a murder mystery among the 1920s Paris literary set in this first installment of a planned series.

Upon entering the City of Light’s Shakespeare and Company bookstore, Daniel Levin is initially dismissed by a clerk for being too broke to buy books. Luckily, the Jewish-American ex-soldier then meets owner Sylvia Beach, who gives him cash and a place to stay, which is typical of her legendary encouragement of aspiring authors. Daniel struggles to write, however, as he’s haunted by his mother’s suicide and the horrors of war. Sylvia soon introduces him to other writers as well as to Miriam Rosmarin, a beautiful, dark-haired American psychologist. He resists Miriam’s probing questions and tries to ignore other people’s opinions that his true talents may not lie in writing but in detective work. This latter insight is due in part to the fact that Daniel is pulled into a crime scene early in the novel, when a gorgeous blonde woman, Sylvette Arnaud, runs into Shakespeare and Company to announce a murder in the bookstore across the street. The victim is a literary magazine editor, and Sylvette reveals that he’d previously rejected her work when she refused his advances. She then makes moves on Daniel, who enjoys having sex and touring the city with her. Local police inspector Martel hints to Daniel, however, that the shady Sylvette, who has many other lovers, is likely guilty of the crime. Later, as Sylvette endures prison, Daniel uncovers the true killer—and other misdeeds—in a denouement that culminates in a scene of him dangling dangerously off the Eiffel Tower. Epstein (Bloodlines, 2016, etc.), a former English professor and the author of many nonfiction books on popular culture and Jewish life, calls to mind Woody Allen’s 2011 film Midnight in Paris in this enjoyable whodunit. Like that film, it features many amusing historical walk-ons, including such figures as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and, in particular, a pompous (and possibly criminal) Gertrude Stein. The author also crafts Daniel into an intriguing series lead who has many demons and desires. That said, Epstein rather overstuffs the ending with an explanation of con artistry that’s somewhat dizzying. Overall, however, his novel is an atmospheric and charming work.

A flavorful Lost Generation–era confection with a promising protagonist.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2016

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 227

Publisher: Fig Hollow Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 28, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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.

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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