Well-wrought, unusual, and memorable fiction beautifully illustrated—a keepsake.

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ZIZZLE LITERARY

ISSUE 3

Third in a series, this illustrated collection of flash fiction, edited by Dahl (Zizzle Literary: Issue 2, 2019, etc.), for middle schoolers and up focuses on fantasy and magic.

Zizzle Literary publishes concise, imaginative pieces that both parents and kids can enjoy and discuss. Each of the 10 stories is tagged with its reading level, from “Easy” to “Not Easy.” Magic is the theme of this third issue, whether “outright fantasy” or a more subtle variety, according to the Foreword. The opener, “A Reluctant Fairy Tale,” by Karen Heuler, riffs on elements from childhood classics like “Little Red Riding Hood.” Instead of being helpful and complaisant, the heroine refuses to help an old lady—with at first “delicious” and then more disturbing consequences. In other stories, magic can be delicate and poignant, as in “The Shelter of Abandoned Dreams” by Kimberly Huebner. An old woman works at a shelter that reunites people with their lost dreams. By the story’s end, she’s able to nurture her own adrift dream. Other stories tap into the anarchic energy of childhood, such as “Dead Mudge” by Melissa Ostrom; a teacher’s death in the classroom liberates the children’s vitality and creativity. Magic can shade into the sinister, as in “Uncle Frank” by Wendy Nikel. The title character insinuates himself into a family, but the child narrator knows she’s never had an Uncle Frank. In “Serbian Dracula Mysteries” by Kate Felix, magic takes a turn for the funny and sweet. The story’s puckish narrator, Arsen, is sent to school counseling for his pranks. Amateur detection is meant to be a good outlet for him, but investigating the daytime doings of his attic-dwelling uncle reveals nothing ominous. Instead, his uncle smiles at him “with more admiration than I have ever enjoyed from anyone else in my growly, vampiric family.” The book also includes photos, usually of the authors when they were children, and in a final section, contributors talk about their favorite books from childhood. The stories—strong and graceful—raise issues that children and parents could profitably discuss together. “A Reluctant Fairy Tale,” for example, might prompt questions about why it feels good to be bad, what the consequences are of defying such cultural norms as helping old ladies, or why the narrative seems to both admire Eugenia’s defiance and punish her for it. Genre expectations could be another topic. “Serbian Dracula Mysteries,” for example, takes its horror influences in an unexpected direction, with Arsen reinvigorated, not drained, by his encounter with the unknown. Depending on reader taste, some stories could also invite more critical analysis. For example, is Eugenia perhaps too obviously a stand-in for an adult sensibility with dialogue like, “your false tests, your arbitrary trials”? Adding to the issue’s charm are debut illustrator Moriyama’s lovely, otherworldly rabbit-themed paintings resembling Japanese woodblock prints.

Well-wrought, unusual, and memorable fiction beautifully illustrated—a keepsake.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 126

Publisher: Promiseshore

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2019

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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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