A sexy, energetic page-turner just one heavy edit away from mass-market appeal.

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BROKEN DIGNITY

In Lando’s debut novel, a former porn star tries to escape her sordid past, but she can’t seem to shake the violence and political intrigue that follow in her wake.

The trauma of an abortion drives a jilted teenager toward the porn industry in Los Angeles, where she falls under the purview of a powerful, violent operator who dabbles in human trafficking. Meanwhile, a charismatic congressman is on his way to becoming the nation’s second black, first independent-party president, with the help of his beautiful, cutthroat advisor. Eventually, the storylines intersect. Throughout the novel, parallels are made between the porn industry and politics: both are industries in which things are accomplished through manipulation. There’s plenty of action, with satisfying amounts of sex, violence and suspense. Most of the characters are colorful and well developed, even the minor ones like a Mexican gangster or a righteous, busybody next-door neighbor in a small Midwestern town. The craving for love or acceptance that underpins all the characters’ actions makes them engaging and sympathetic. However, the book is prevented from truly taking off by its fatal tendency to indulge in excessive exposition. In church, main character Cristal Caprice (trying to live a new life as Bianca Nubreze), thinks to herself: “Do I have on too much makeup? Is my dress too revealing?” Then, the narration sticks in a clunky passage of telling, not showing: “It was a huge step for Bianca to show up in church, so everything, including how she dressed, turned into an internal struggle.” Later, an angry, lovelorn secondary character named Solae attacks and holds Cristal at gunpoint. Exasperatingly, the narration feels compelled to slow down what would be a high-drama scene by unnecessarily summarizing everything that just happened: “It was the hardest thing Solae had ever done—to attack Cristal and hold her at gunpoint.” If the author were to trim away the redundant, overly long explanations that bloat many paragraphs, then this tight, fast-paced thriller could hold its own against anything sold in mainstream bookstores.

A sexy, energetic page-turner just one heavy edit away from mass-market appeal.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2011

ISBN: 978-1462024872

Page Count: 400

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2012

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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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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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