An ambitious and mostly successful sci-fi tale with a bit of social critique.

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SOPHISTICATION

A thriller tells the story of an America rattled by a mysterious, technologically advanced group threatening to take over the country.

In the not-so-distant future—the Donald Trump administration is over and the video game “Half-Life 4” is about to be released—a cloaked figure appears on the floor of the Senate to offer a cryptic warning: “In one month, your ineffective order ends. In one month, we take over.…Everything.” He then disappears in a ball of blue light, causing a media frenzy of speculation the likes of which has never been seen. As the lone member of the government’s Unexplained Occurrences Division—whose duties until now have mostly entailed cataloging internet rumors and watching pornography—widower and drug addict Carl Brannigan is placed on the task force assembled to find out just what that cloaked man was talking about. Meanwhile, an enigmatic figure enters the hospital room of a quadriplegic boy named Kevin Splinter and, with a mere touch, cures him of his condition. In San Francisco, 23-year-old freelance video game journalist Miyuki Mitsuraga spends most of her time fielding misogynistic hate mail from male gamers, but she’s just gotten a message from “the ones in the news” asking her for a meeting. After the arrival of cloaked figures at a stadium in San Francisco, where they reveal damaging tapes of the city’s mayor, the strange organization offers Miyuki an interview because her “heart is pure.” The Cloaks, as she names them, claim to be a good government group out to expose corruption and injustice. But it turns out to be a little more complicated than that. With alternate realities, alien civilizations, and city-destroying technology in the mix, this disparate band of outsiders—and a few powerful insiders—must race to figure out what’s coming before it gets here. Casamassina’s (Dead Weight, 2016) prose is voice-driven and inflected with numerous details of his cyberpunk-meets–Comic-Con vision of the future. His attempts at snark often come across more misanthropic than perhaps he means them to—a viral video is described as spreading across the internet “like runaway Gonorrhea at a cheap motel”—but he occasionally reaches moments of lyricism. At one point, Miyuki’s entrance into a club is depicted thusly: “She’s in harmony with these people, all of them dressed like the mutant teenage grandchildren of the industrial and anime gods. Here, she can disappear. The black lights cast them all in periwinkle, their teeth luminescent, their skin paints and contact lenses aglow, until they look alien.” The plot is well-paced and quite riveting, and once the storylines of the various characters begin to intersect and the scope of the conflict reveals itself, readers should become thoroughly invested. The author manages to capture the worldviews, interests, and personalities of gamers in ways both good and bad, but the story has enough broad sci-fi appeal to hook readers who aren’t concerned with that subculture. While the narrative is bloody, profane, jocular, and angst-ridden, an unexpected warmth pervades the work that will likely keep readers with it until the end.

An ambitious and mostly successful sci-fi tale with a bit of social critique.

Pub Date: Dec. 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-79187-080-5

Page Count: 520

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: Jan. 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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