A breezy, smart apocalyptic tale that makes sequels look tempting.

THE METAL WITHIN

In the opening installment of debut novelist Gizinski’s sci-fi series, survivors in a dystopian world encounter a covert organization that targets threats to citizens.

Jack Mathews lives in what remains of the mid-21st century United States, which has been ravaged by missile strikes, riots, and civil wars. He preaches at his own church, and although gangs are prevalent in the decimated country, Jack is on relatively good terms with members of the Razors. He hopes that they aren’t the ones pushing a dangerous street drug called Diamond. Meanwhile, private eye Melissana Trellan has taken on a new client: Elaine Martinez, wife of Justin Martinez. He’s known as “The Man Who Saved the World from Extinction” because his company developed synthetic foodstuffs to counter mass starvations resulting from the Grain Blight of 2029. Elaine thinks that her husband is cheating on her, but Melissana discovers some other information that may put Justin in peril. In a concurrent storyline, Corey Martin, in his late father’s armed-and-armored Sabretooth, makes his way to the Fortress Town of Hagerstown, Maryland, with a woman named Susan Blakeslee. They’ve been fleeing Iron Mike and his Steel Jackals ever since Corey saved Susan from them; the gang’s determination to ensnare the couple soon incites the townspeople to protect their home. Enter a clandestine agency with the resources to combat such menaces, which aims to recruit skilled people by whatever means necessary. Gizinski ably establishes his characters and the harrowing world in which they live; for example, just because Melissana’s pal Josanne Sinclair has aspirations to be an investigative journalist doesn’t mean that she isn’t also trained in self-defense and firearms. Most of the initial action is reserved for Corey and Susan alone, who find themselves in exhilarating predicaments, such as a high-speed pursuit and the aforementioned Hagerstown standoff. Details about the secret organization come much later, but the author saves some space afterward for characters to train, learn new tech, and even actively go after bad guys. There’s also a few surprises, including revelations of a villain’s identity and of a character’s pre-existing link to the covert group.

A breezy, smart apocalyptic tale that makes sequels look tempting.

Pub Date: Dec. 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4808-3864-2

Page Count: 374

Publisher: Archway Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 31, 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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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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