The writing is fluid, the details brisk and vivid as newcomer Jaime-Becerra reveals his characters without judging them...

EVERY NIGHT IS LADIES’ NIGHT

STORIES

Ten connecting stories, set mostly in 1980s California, deftly pursue a loosely connected family of Mexican-Americans with little money or education.

Jaime-Becerra’s protagonists are ice cream vendors, tattoo artists, and teenagers navigating American values in El Monte, California, while their old-world parents glower uncomprehendingly at the new ways. In “The Corrido of Hector Cruz,” a young father-to-be is sent out for food to satisfy the cravings of his pregnant wife, whom he adores. The two are barely scraping by on low-wage jobs when they learn that Hector’s nephew—his dead brother’s young son, Lencho, fresh from reform school—must come live with them. Yet what might have been disastrous turns out—as happens often here—a kind of salvation for both the couple and for Lencho, who has no real skills but a lot of heart. Subsequently, in “Riding with Lencho,” we learn that he becomes an auto mechanic, then gets by on disability when his ex-girlfriend scalds him with boiling coffee after growing enraged at his going to night school. In another familial tangent, the young narrator of the fine first story, “Practice Tattoos,” watches in sad resignation as the fights between his mother and sister, Gina, over her boyfriends eventually propel her out the door forever. Later, Gina and her tattoo artist steady, Max, resurface in another eponymous story, trying to stay in love despite the louche types who supply Max’s trade. The characters here want more than anything to do the right thing—fall in love and steer a better course, for example, though in a couple of stories, like “Media Vuelta,” we’re given a glimpse of the earlier generation back in Mexico: mariachi guitarist Jose Luis’s courtship, for instance, and loss of his sweetheart.

The writing is fluid, the details brisk and vivid as newcomer Jaime-Becerra reveals his characters without judging them harshly. Learn Spanish in richly affecting narratives from a strong new talent.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2004

ISBN: 0-06-055962-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Rayo/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2003

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A mixed bag of stories: some tired but several capable of poetically piercing the heart.

THE HIDDEN GIRL AND OTHER STORIES

Science fiction author (The Wall of Storms, 2016) and translator (The Redemption of Time, Baoshu, 2019) Liu’s short stories explore the nature of identity, consciousness, and autonomy in hostile and chaotic worlds.

Liu deftly and compassionately draws connections between a genetically altered girl struggling to reconcile her human and alien sides and 20th-century Chinese young men who admire aspects of Western culture even as they confront its xenophobia (“Ghost Days”). A poor salvager on a distant planet learns to channel a revolutionary spirit through her alter ego of a rabbit (“Grey Rabbit, Crimson Mare, Coal Leopard”). In “Byzantine Empathy,” a passionate hacktivist attempts to upend charitable giving through blockchain and VR technology even as her college roommate, an executive at a major nonprofit, fights to co-opt the process, a struggle which asks the question of whether pure empathy is possible—or even desired—in our complex geopolitical structure. Much of the collection is taken up by a series of overlapping and somewhat repetitive stories about the singularity, in which human minds are scanned and uploaded to servers, establishing an immortal existence in virtuality, a concept which many previous SF authors have already explored exhaustively. (Liu also never explains how an Earth that is rapidly becoming depleted of vital resources somehow manages to indefinitely power servers capable of supporting 300 billion digital lives.) However, one of those stories exhibits undoubted poignance in its depiction of a father who stubbornly clings to a flesh-and-blood existence for himself and his loved ones in the rotting remains of human society years after most people have uploaded themselves (“Staying Behind”). There is also some charm in the title tale, a fantasy stand-alone concerning a young woman snatched from her home and trained as a supernaturally powered assassin who retains a stubborn desire to seek her own path in life.

A mixed bag of stories: some tired but several capable of poetically piercing the heart.

Pub Date: Feb. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982134-03-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Saga/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Screenplay prose.

THE LIONS OF LUCERNE

Debut thriller from the host of PBS’s Traveling Lite proves its own title. The sole survivor of a ski-slope nabbing of the US president, Secret Service Agent Scot Harvath is America’s latest cookie-cutter superspy to be vaulted into international intrigue by terrorism. All evidence points to the Mideast’s largest terrorist organization, but Harvath’s not fooled—he knows that Middle East groups “are not tacticians. . . . Essentially, they’re cowards. They don’t do in-your-face operations.” “Call it an ingrained bigotry,” but Harvath just knows that a Mideast terrorist group could not pull off a scam of this magnitude. Turns out he’s right—it was the Swiss. Aided by a pair of conniving senators and a squirrelly vice president, a crack Swiss commando unit has snatched President Potus and stuffed him away inside a mountain. When Harvath’s investigation starts to get warm, he’s framed—and won’t be able to clear his name unless he can free the president. Oh, yes, there’s also a Swiss agent named Claudia who’s hot and knows how to handle a 9mm SIG-Sauer 229 semiautomatic. Thor’s tangled writing often interferes with the plot-drenching: “The uncomfortable hog tie position in which he was restrained threatened to drive him insane”; “He lay in a trance like state in the warm void half-way between sleeping and waking until his mind began to assemble different explanations for what he was hearing and he felt himself being forcibly dragged upward toward the surface world of the wakeful.”

Screenplay prose.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7434-3673-3

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2001

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