An edgy mix of escapism and tortured longing with strong characters.

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NEITHER LIGHT NOR DARK

A YA novel sees a teenage girl find love and conflict in a fantasy realm.

In 1936, 13-year-old Lily Channon spends the summer at her grandparents’ stately home. Lily delights in her fun-loving grandfather and his fantastic stories of dragons and adventure. The only constraint is that she’s not allowed to leave the estate grounds; in particular, she must not go into the woods beyond the gate. But the woods call to her. She sneaks out and finds a boy there; he knows about her hidden birthmark and calls her “the one.” Four years pass after that joyous summer. Lily’s grandfather is dead, and she and her mother move onto the estate along with the new manager and his son, Henry. Henry is 10 years older than Lily but very attractive. The two fall in love and are to be married. But Lily goes to the woods once more and is drawn into Arcadia, a magical world once ruled by her grandfather. Arcadia is in thrall to the tyrant Reficul, and although it has been prophesied that Lily—now that she has turned 18—will save the land, there are dangers and betrayals to overcome. She finds her heart split between Henry and Calev, the boy she met four years earlier. Whom will she choose? How much will she sacrifice to uphold her grandfather’s legacy? McCain (Smoke Signal, 2019, etc.) combines a modern YA quest fantasy with the more chaste romantic yearnings of yesteryear, the setting and contemporaneous time period evoking parts of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. At 18, Lily is older than the children who first enter Narnia; consequently, Arcadia feels less wondrous a place and the quest a little less epic. But the characters are memorable—tiny Shim, for example, and smoldering Levona, who live in Arcadia—and while the action is at times helter-skelter, this mirrors quite cleverly Lily’s breathless disorientation. Instead of lining up with narrative expectations, the story’s dramatic moments gain prominence (or fade perfunctorily) to match the mercurial imbalances of Lily’s ever shifting love triangle. The author’s prose, plot, and dialogue carry the familiar stylization of epic fantasy, yet it is romantics who will most approve.

An edgy mix of escapism and tortured longing with strong characters.

Pub Date: June 23, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5470-6011-5

Page Count: 233

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 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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If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be...

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Some very nice, very smart African-Americans are plunged into netherworlds of malevolent sorcery in the waning days of Jim Crow—as if Jim Crow alone wasn’t enough of a curse to begin with.

In the northern U.S. of the mid-1950s, as depicted in this merrily macabre pastiche by Ruff (The Mirage, 2012, etc.), Driving While Black is an even more perilous proposition than it is now. Ask Atticus Turner, an African-American Korean War veteran and science-fiction buff, who is compelled to face an all-too-customary gauntlet of racist highway patrolmen and hostile white roadside hamlets en route from his South Side Chicago home to a remote Massachusetts village in search of his curmudgeonly father, Montrose, who was lured away by a young white “sharp dresser” driving a silver Cadillac with tinted windows. At least Atticus isn’t alone; his uncle George, who puts out annual editions of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is splitting driving duties in his Packard station wagon “with inlaid birch trim and side paneling.” Also along for the ride is Atticus’ childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, another sci-fi fan, whose family lived in the same neighborhood as the Turners. It turns out this road trip is merely the beginning of a series of bizarre chimerical adventures ensnaring both the Turner and Dandridge clans in ancient rituals, arcane magical texts, alternate universes, and transmogrifying potions, all of which bears some resemblance to the supernatural visions of H.P. Lovecraft and other gothic dream makers of the past. Ruff’s ripping yarns often pile on contrivances and overextend the narratives in the grand manner of pulp storytelling, but the reinvented mythos here seems to have aroused in him a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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