THE CURIOUS CONSPIRACY ON GAMMA CETI

Engrossing, imperfect characters in a riveting intergalactic tale.

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In this sci-fi debut, two teenagers suspect something diabolical lies behind the mysteriously locked supply closet in their school’s subbasement.

Dex Carpenter knows he has a low social standing at Saint McIntyre’s Academy on the colonized planet Gamma Ceti. This is primarily due to Travis Bannon, the much-respected star athlete who’s bullied him for years. So Dex doesn’t have the confidence to strike up a conversation with beguiling Tabitha Tempest, who transferred from an Earth school not long ago. His first one-on-one encounter with Tabitha is happenstance: Dex gets sick and is late to Morning Mass, which he then decides to skip altogether. It turns out Tabitha has been missing Mass every day, and she convinces Dex to make it a daily routine as well. The two bond and soon develop romantic feelings. But Tabitha believes the academy has secrets, starting with the principal having off-world tech, which the colony’s Pleiades Catholic society expressly forbids. She further claims that students return from Mass in some kind of trance lasting a couple of hours. Dex notices this, too, and Tabitha suggests Saint McIntyre’s is up to something sinister, like brainwashing. Assuming that the Masses have compromised students for years (and that adult colonists are brainwashed former pupils), Tabitha and Dex need hard evidence to take to Federal agents at the colonial outpost. They set their sights on the academy’s subbasement supply closet, which has a crypto-circuit lock that the principal’s special key likely opens. What the two find inside that room is much worse—and more dangerous—than they anticipated. West’s multigenre novel successfully blends sci-fi, mystery, and teen drama. For example, the tech, though minimal, is apparent. Tabitha’s Earth device, a Digit, “can do pretty much anything,” such as scanning for other tech in the school. The mystery, meanwhile, is sound: Tabitha and Dex’s eventual discovery in the subbasement leads to more questions than answers, which only deepens the conspiracy. But the author’s most laudable achievement is the deconstruction of teen-drama clichés, most notably involving the characters. The socially awkward protagonist, for one, earns sympathy as a bully’s victim. But Tabitha’s lament of drawing unwanted attention based solely on her looks is critical of most boys, including Dex, who initially pines for her for the same reason. And in a short but effective scene, Travis’ father, Nick, physically assaults his son, signaling lifelong abuse that is ostensibly the genesis of the student’s bullying. West’s simplified narrative concentrates on Tabitha and Dex, with much of the story set at Saint McIntyre’s and few appearances from adults. This makes the expedited romance convincing. There’s plenty of shared time for Tabitha to admire Dex’s confidence and later have her doubts when that assurance seemingly dissipates. The prose is often playful, as in this sci-fi-inspired interaction: “Soon a potent charge rose between them, like the rumble of booster engines priming for blast-off.” Unquestionable peril, unveiled villains, and a chase sequence constitute the final act, and though the book has a definite and memorable ending, there’s series potential here.

Engrossing, imperfect characters in a riveting intergalactic tale.

Pub Date: Aug. 20, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9892839-6-0

Page Count: 238

Publisher: Kenneth E. Floro III

Review Posted Online: July 12, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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MAGIC HOUR

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Sisters work together to solve a child-abandonment case.

Ellie and Julia Cates have never been close. Julia is shy and brainy; Ellie gets by on charm and looks. Their differences must be tossed aside when a traumatized young girl wanders in from the forest into their hometown in Washington. The sisters’ professional skills are put to the test. Julia is a world-renowned child psychologist who has lost her edge. She is reeling from a case that went publicly sour. Though she was cleared of all wrongdoing, Julia’s name was tarnished, forcing her to shutter her Beverly Hills practice. Ellie Barton is the local police chief in Rain Valley, who’s never faced a tougher case. This is her chance to prove she is more than just a fading homecoming queen, but a scarcity of clues and a reluctant victim make locating the girl’s parents nearly impossible. Ellie places an SOS call to her sister; she needs an expert to rehabilitate this wild-child who has been living outside of civilization for years. Confronted with her professional demons, Julia once again has the opportunity to display her talents and salvage her reputation. Hannah (The Things We Do for Love, 2004, etc.) is at her best when writing from the girl’s perspective. The feral wolf-child keeps the reader interested long after the other, transparent characters have grown tiresome. Hannah’s torturously over-written romance passages are stale, but there are surprises in store as the sisters set about unearthing Alice’s past and creating a home for her.

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Pub Date: March 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-345-46752-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2005

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