Depressing at times but an emotionally charged story that animates its characters.

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Fraternity of Fractures

In Pannebecker’s (Godsfood, 2015) urban drama, the latest score for a trio of burglars is substantial, but a dangerous man who wants his money back may put them all in jeopardy.

Justin Sunder, a thief by trade, prides himself on being able to bypass any alarm system. He shares a St. Louis apartment with fellow cat burglar Phoenix. Justin loves Phoenix, but she doesn’t reciprocate, a fact made all the more glaring once love interest Dylan Panicosky enters the picture. The three pull B&Es together, yet jealousy ultimately threatens their union: Justin knows Dylan and Phoenix are having sex, while Dylan thinks there’s something more to the relationship between the other two. When they target coke dealer David’s place, they walk away with a cool $40,000. But David’s relentless search for the thieves who stole from him could lead the notoriously unhinged dealer right to any one of them. Pannebecker’s novel focuses more on the criminals than the crimes, providing readers with affable lawbreakers. The narrative distinguishes the thieves with individual motives for stealing: Justin, with his “twisted Robin Hood logic,” believes the rich are immoral; Phoenix finds the crimes sexually stimulating; and Dylan just seems to be following Phoenix. Their back stories are engrossing, too, especially Phoenix’s mom trying to push her into prostitution at 14 and Justin’s conspicuous burn scar, which the narrative doesn’t elucidate until near the end. The inevitable envy between the two men adds melodrama to the pages, though it also leads to significant turning points, including Justin’s resolve to quit stealing and leave St. Louis and a serious, albeit somewhat predictable, decision that Dylan makes late in the novel. David is an unmistakable menace for the protagonists; details of a horrendous act involving his mother are particularly unsettling. Pannebecker’s story, which takes place in the 1980s, also addresses social issues of the time. Justin’s friend Bernard, for example, is homosexual and subjected to intolerance and homophobic slurs. It’s hard to miss a sense of gloom throughout, but Pannebecker doesn’t let it saturate the novel. The protagonists always cling to hope, earning readers’ sympathy along the way.

Depressing at times but an emotionally charged story that animates its characters.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: Nov. 8, 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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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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