A somewhat entertaining, somewhat feckless, and definitely lubricious picaresque.

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Green Eyes

AN EROTIC NOVEL (SORT-OF)

Tangled affairs and a murder plot hit a gay beachfront community in this rollicking, lightweight tale.

John Lee is a morose 29-year-old professor of French living in Georgia Beach, Georgia, an upscale town with a hidden seedy side. One day at the beach, he falls into a three-way with two random strangers—the mysterious, titular green-eyed hunk and an Englishman named Maurice—who then disappear. They turn up again at an orgy later that night. Maurice confides to John that he was brutally raped by a cop that day (who also raped his ex-wife) and collapses with internal injuries; the responding paramedic, Alex, is none other than the green-eyed man himself. Languishing in intensive care, Maurice is attacked by the same rapist cop, who wants to eliminate witnesses, and is barely rescued by John’s hapless intervention. The novel arranges itself around a contrived thriller plot: the police villain stalks his prey as Maurice’s friends—including John, Alex, and the bossy emergency room chief, “Dr. Dyke”—try to goad the indifferent district attorney’s office into action. Finally, they take matters into their own hands. Although the crimes motivating the story are quite brutal, the novel jarringly uses them for laughs, light intrigue, and pretexts for John to wander from one pornographic sexual encounter to another—with Alex; a young hitchhiker; and local BDSM enthusiasts (including, for a change of pace, two very aggressive women). None of these trysts leave a mark, including John’s allegedly serious romance with Alex, who’s supposed to be soulfully depressed but comes off as annoyingly pedantic (“Foreplay is a set of emotionally and physically intimate acts between two or more people meant to create desire for sexual activity,” he intones—as foreplay). Ampersant is a talented writer with a droll wit (“There never has been any suicide in my family, perhaps that’s why it is so dysfunctional”) and a knack for colorful supporting characters; a Wagnerian local burgher with a dildo fetish, for example, is a hoot, and John’s sad-sack tea-party dad stirs real pathos. Unfortunately, he doesn’t often know what to do with his other characters other than have them spout flirty banter amid unfunny trauma. The result feels less erotic than it does narcissistic and hollow.

A somewhat entertaining, somewhat feckless, and definitely lubricious picaresque.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2015

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 337

Publisher: Lust Spiel Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 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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