Moderately entertaining at best.

SALVAGED

Put Charlie Huston’s The Mystic Art of Erasing All Kinds of Death, Robert Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters, and the original Alien movie in a blender, water the mix down, and you’ll have this sci-fi thriller.

After her personal and professional lives melt down, talented biochemist Rosalyn Devar leaves Earth for a less-than-glamorous career as a salvager; essentially a janitor cleaning up bodies after traumatic incidents. Her drinking and erratic behavior almost get her fired, but she manages to wangle one last assignment: cleaning up the research ship Brigantine, the latest vessel to mysteriously experience the deaths of all its crew. Or so she thinks until she gets there and discovers that most of the crew is alive but infected by Foxfire, a sentient and weirdly maternal blue fungus that wants Rosalyn to join its hive mind and help “her” take over the rest of humanity. Rosalyn must fight off the ship’s brutal and crazed security detail, Piero, and biochemist, Rayan, both of whom have succumbed to Foxfire, while wondering if she can trust the engineer, Misato, and the charming captain, Edison, who are desperately attempting to resist Foxfire’s influence. Can Rosalyn avoid becoming invaded, get help without endangering anyone else, and find the link between Foxfire and a potential multicorporation conspiracy that might include her own family’s company? The answers aren’t much in doubt, and the conspiracy proves to be not too terribly complicated; either the author (Tomb of Ancients, 2019) trusts readers to fill in the details or just couldn’t be bothered to take on the job herself. And it’s odd that Rosalyn, a former biochemist with a specialty in xenobiology, offers no real scientific speculations about Foxfire, leaving that to other characters; she does eventually come up with a way of combating the thing, but there’s no explanation of how she developed it, suggesting that the author didn't do much mushroom research of her own, either. Rosalyn is much more interesting as a troubled janitor than she is as a thriller heroine, and the tenuous attraction between her and Edison seems contrived. A story about her cleanup work could’ve been interesting, but the book heads toward the formulaic territory of alien threats and corrupt corporate shenanigans far too quickly.

Moderately entertaining at best.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-451-49183-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Ace/Berkley

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 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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A breezy and fun contemporary fantasy.

THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA

A tightly wound caseworker is pushed out of his comfort zone when he’s sent to observe a remote orphanage for magical children.

Linus Baker loves rules, which makes him perfectly suited for his job as a midlevel bureaucrat working for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, where he investigates orphanages for children who can do things like make objects float, who have tails or feathers, and even those who are young witches. Linus clings to the notion that his job is about saving children from cruel or dangerous homes, but really he’s a cog in a government machine that treats magical children as second-class citizens. When Extremely Upper Management sends for Linus, he learns that his next assignment is a mission to an island orphanage for especially dangerous kids. He is to stay on the island for a month and write reports for Extremely Upper Management, which warns him to be especially meticulous in his observations. When he reaches the island, he meets extraordinary kids like Talia the gnome, Theodore the wyvern, and Chauncey, an amorphous blob whose parentage is unknown. The proprietor of the orphanage is a strange but charming man named Arthur, who makes it clear to Linus that he will do anything in his power to give his charges a loving home on the island. As Linus spends more time with Arthur and the kids, he starts to question a world that would shun them for being different, and he even develops romantic feelings for Arthur. Lambda Literary Award–winning author Klune (The Art of Breathing, 2019, etc.) has a knack for creating endearing characters, and readers will grow to love Arthur and the orphans alongside Linus. Linus himself is a lovable protagonist despite his prickliness, and Klune aptly handles his evolving feelings and morals. The prose is a touch wooden in places, but fans of quirky fantasy will eat it up.

A breezy and fun contemporary fantasy.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21728-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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