The author continues his successful run of historical fiction with this thought-provoking crime tale.

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ELLA MAUD

A NOVEL

In this novel set in the early 1900s, one act tragically ruins the lives of two families.

Based on a true story, this work of speculative fiction explores the murder of Ella Maud “Nell” Cropsey, the attractive, 19-year-old standout of a large family of transplanted Northerners in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. After a breakup with Jim Wilcox, her longtime beau, Nell disappears. Some speculate that she ran off to seek her fortune in a large metropolis while others fear that she harmed herself. But after her body pops up in a local river weeks later, suspicion falls on rough-edged Jim. He mistakenly believes his innocence will protect him, oblivious to the lynch-mob mentality festering in his hometown. Jim gets convicted of second-degree murder because of the flaws in the prosecution’s case and is sent to prison for 30 years. But, throughout this process, the victim’s older sister, Olive, nicknamed Ollie, and her stern father, William, share a secret about Nell’s death, which they refuse to divulge even under oath. As a result, Jim is incarcerated for a crime that he never committed, eventually getting a pardon decades into his sentence. His health in decline, Jim stubbornly returns to “Betsy City” to start over. But there is no second act for Jim. Despite people trying to help him, he slips into alcoholism. Just before his death, Ollie tells him the truth, but there is little he can gain from it, save peace of mind. Nicastro’s (The Isle of Stone, 2016, etc.) clever drama centers on three people: spinster Ollie, taciturn patriarch William, and Jim, the man caught in their conspiracy. But another spectral presence throughout is Nell, whose joie de vivre almost succeeds in inspiring the inhibited people around her. There’s a palpable sense of opportunities lost because of her death at such a young age. In this well-researched book, Nicastro cannily reveals just enough about Nell’s death to make readers uneasy until just before the wistful conclusion. Nell is gone, but her death also effectively ends the lives of Jim, Ollie, William, and Mary, the sisters’ long-suffering mother. The author skillfully makes his point that one misdeed produces many victims.

The author continues his successful run of historical fiction with this thought-provoking crime tale.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 318

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: Oct. 4, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2018

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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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