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THE GIRL IN THE ROAD

This is engrossing and enjoyable despite its minor flaws. Strong, appealing protagonists and an unusual plot make Byrne’s...

Byrne’s debut novel may be the most inventive tale to come along in years.

Decades in the future, two young women begin their separate journeys in parallel storylines: Mariama travels east across the Sahara, while Meena walks west from India to Djibouti on a trail that crosses the Arabian Sea. That high-tech construction is designed to harness the sea’s energy and is technically off-limits to the public, but a few people travel on it and never return. Have they all perished? Meena will take the risk, since she feels compelled to find the place where her parents were murdered, perhaps to confront their murderer; Mariama’s goal is less clear. That the two women will eventually meet is obvious, but the outcome and its significance are not. Meena is running away from people whose identities are as unclear as the reason for the five snakebites on her chest or the kreen that lives inside her—perhaps a snake, perhaps a demon. The story gets confusing as reality alternates with vivid hallucinations, but it’s easy to shrug off the confusion and enjoy the wild ride. Byrne’s wonderful imagination makes the trek across the open sea appear almost plausible, as Meena carries such items as desalinators, a protective pod and diapers cleaned by the sun. In vivid scenes, both women become intensely aware of their sexuality, an important aspect of their stories. The writing is often brilliant, as Byrne paints wholly believable pictures of worlds and cultures most Westerners will never know. Slightly less believable is the dramatic conclusion, even though Byrne does not stint on imagination.

This is engrossing and enjoyable despite its minor flaws. Strong, appealing protagonists and an unusual plot make Byrne’s literary invention well worth the reader’s while.

Pub Date: May 20, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8041-3884-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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DEVOLUTION

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

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. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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DARK MATTER

Suspenseful, frightening, and sometimes poignant—provided the reader has a generously willing suspension of disbelief.

A man walks out of a bar and his life becomes a kaleidoscope of altered states in this science-fiction thriller.

Crouch opens on a family in a warm, resonant domestic moment with three well-developed characters. At home in Chicago’s Logan Square, Jason Dessen dices an onion while his wife, Daniela, sips wine and chats on the phone. Their son, Charlie, an appealing 15-year-old, sketches on a pad. Still, an undertone of regret hovers over the couple, a preoccupation with roads not taken, a theme the book will literally explore, in multifarious ways. To start, both Jason and Daniela abandoned careers that might have soared, Jason as a physicist, Daniela as an artist. When Charlie was born, he suffered a major illness. Jason was forced to abandon promising research to teach undergraduates at a small college. Daniela turned from having gallery shows to teaching private art lessons to middle school students. On this bracing October evening, Jason visits a local bar to pay homage to Ryan Holder, a former college roommate who just received a major award for his work in neuroscience, an honor that rankles Jason, who, Ryan says, gave up on his career. Smarting from the comment, Jason suffers “a sucker punch” as he heads home that leaves him “standing on the precipice.” From behind Jason, a man with a “ghost white” face, “red, pursed lips," and "horrifying eyes” points a gun at Jason and forces him to drive an SUV, following preset navigational directions. At their destination, the abductor forces Jason to strip naked, beats him, then leads him into a vast, abandoned power plant. Here, Jason meets men and women who insist they want to help him. Attempting to escape, Jason opens a door that leads him into a series of dark, strange, yet eerily familiar encounters that sometimes strain credibility, especially in the tale's final moments.

Suspenseful, frightening, and sometimes poignant—provided the reader has a generously willing suspension of disbelief.

Pub Date: July 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-90422-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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