A quirky, inventive tale from an author who respects her YA readers with intelligent prose.

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Isabella and the Tale of the Unanswered Question

An 11-year-old girl caught in a dreamlike world searches for an enigmatic book to stop a kingdom from collapsing in Whittaker’s debut YA fantasy.

One day, young Isabella meets Nightwalker, a large, talking raven, who’s there to help her “begin [her] journey.” He leads her to a boat that drifts on a river that speaks and which eventually takes Isabella to the kingdom of the Lower World. There, King Stefan explains that the kingdom, a living entity, can communicate via paintings, and it’s telling the king that it’s in serious pain. The king asks Isabella, who’s depicted in one of the pictures, to find an important book; she initially declines but then reluctantly agrees. As the kingdom’s citizens are besieged by mysterious violence, Isabella learns of a dangerous man who’s trying to sell the book—who may also want to harm her. This YA book has an illusory quality from the beginning. There are talking animals, such as birds and fish; Nightwalker dabbles in magic; and everyone in the kingdom seems capable of telepathy. There’s a bit of mystery, too, involving an unnamed, horribly injured woman whom doctors have put into an induced coma. Details about the unknown woman ultimately come to light, including her link to Isabella. She, too, has a murky back story, and she has dreams of herself lying in a coffin. Whittaker’s fantasy world is filled with bizarre but tangible imagery, such as a cave of mirrors that reflect random people and things. Metaphor is in abundance, but Whittaker tackles it playfully; for example, in the town of Kronos, time is a “limited commodity” to the townsfolk, who treat Isabella as if she’s wasting theirs. The stories eventually merge into a resolution that answers all lingering questions—even the titular one. Although readers will likely predict the ending, it’s still undeniably satisfying.

A quirky, inventive tale from an author who respects her YA readers with intelligent prose.

Pub Date: Dec. 22, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4948-3306-0

Page Count: 312

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2015

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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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This is a solid, if not especially imaginative or polished, science fiction debut.

AXIOM'S END

Ellis, a Hugo-nominated media critic and YouTube star, finds alien encounters in our not-too-distant past.

It’s 2007, but not the 2007 you remember. In this timeline, a meteor has struck Los Angeles—at least that’s what the government wants people to believe. Rogue conspiracy theorist Nils Ortega has convinced his followers that the so-called “Ampersand Event” was actually the arrival of an alien spacecraft. College dropout Cora Sabino isn’t convinced. She learned long ago not to trust anything her estranged father has to say. But then her mother and siblings disappear the same night she’s attacked by something that clearly isn’t human….“First contact” stories are almost as old as science fiction. These narratives are varied in their details—both H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds and the 1970s sitcom Mork & Mindy qualify—but they all revolve around the initial encounter between humans and an alien intelligence. At its best, science fiction isn’t really about extraterrestrials and advanced technology, though; instead, it deploys these devices to talk about us in the here and now. Like countless authors before her, Ellis uses first contact to interrogate our tendencies toward xenophobia and prejudice and challenge our conceptions of what humanity means. She also explores trauma and its aftereffects. Nils’ crusade for government transparency and questions about privacy feel contemporary without adding much depth. The same goes for references to financial crisis. The heart of the novel is the relationship between Cora and the part-biological, part-synthetic entity she calls Ampersand. What begins with a physical attack and an abduction turns into a partnership and, ultimately, a deep friendship. As Cora helps Ampersand navigate life on Earth, she learns more about his world and his past. Ellis doesn’t break new ground here, and her prose is uneven. The injections of quirky humor feel particularly strained. But this hits all the necessary notes for a first contact narrative, and this trope might be fresh for at least a portion of Ellis’ fan base.

This is a solid, if not especially imaginative or polished, science fiction debut.

Pub Date: July 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-25673-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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