An original, compelling hybrid of period novel, murder mystery and bildungsroman.

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THE COAL PICKER

Hula’s debut novel portrays the fear, violence and small acts of grace in a small coal-mining town during early union-busting efforts.

In 1931 Moss Creek, a coal-mining town where men as young as 14 are expected to “go under ground or leave,” young Johnny Marko witnesses the torture of a miner by company thugs and fears for his father’s safety. With best friend Andy Strovos—an adventurous Huckleberry Finn to Johnny’s cerebral Tom Sawyer—he observes adults’ behavior, although he’s not yet old enough to understand the brutality and desperation shadowing his idyllic childhood. When Johnny’s father dies in a suspicious mining accident, the boy suspects Ray Kruger, the company’s “bitter” and “shameless” supervisor, to be the man responsible. Given a chance to avenge his father’s death, young Johnny chooses, as his father taught him, to do the right thing and avoid violence. But the memories haunt him, and many years—and a world war—later, Johnny returns to his “older, dirtier and more decayed” hometown, under an assumed name, to finish the “game” Ray began. With the help of Andy and the love of a local girl, Anna Alberston, Johnny soon discovers that the limited time he and his father spent together was more valuable than the lifetimes most fathers and sons get. Hula’s tale is long on misery and short on humor, but it transcends its melancholy through honest observation and rich, evocative details of a bygone era: freshly baked bread, homemade root beer, storage cellars, spittoons. The author handles each scene with a delicate hand, establishing just the right atmosphere with steady brush strokes of detail. Along the way, he introduces a caravan of characters, including Danny, an 8-year-old boy who reminds Johnny of himself as a child, who instinctually makes the best of his decrepit environment. The most memorable character, Maggie—a thoroughly modern cashier at the company store—serves as the “town’s central news agency” and a selfless matchmaker. Because of her kindness, Johnny’s odyssey ends with love, justice and peace.

An original, compelling hybrid of period novel, murder mystery and bildungsroman.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 2013

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 261

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: Feb. 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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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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