Constant Guests

A novel weaves the tale of a centuries-old mystery and an unsuspecting young woman who may be the key to solving it.

This story centers on a 20-something woman named Isa, who’s living a carefree, partying life in Paris when she’s summoned by her mother, Victoria, who has news too momentous to be shared over the phone. And she isn’t exaggerating: in the novel’s earliest pages, she reveals that she’s not actually Isa’s mother: her sister Mara is—and there’s more. Mara has just recently awoken from the coma she’s been in for two decades but is still very weak, and Victoria thinks mother and daughter should meet before it’s too late. The author adroitly positions these present-day episodes with a series of scenes set in increasingly remote periods of the past. Readers meet a younger version of Mara, working in a lonely museum in Transylvania, plagued by her remembrance of the events surrounding the disappearance of her father, a renowned archaeologist, memories that hint at a stunning secret discovery he’d made. And parallel scenes unfold in 1389 Tuscany and involve a bishop named Giovanni de’ Marignolli, who seems to be two-thirds fraud and one-third amnesiac. The action of the main plot kicks into gear when Isa is attacked by a mysterious assailant in her mother’s hospital. The intervention of an affable stranger named Mark Zweifer saves Isa, and the two proceed to try to solve the puzzle of what secret from Mara’s past would prompt a hired killer to take an interest in anything she might have to say upon awakening from her coma. Mark and Isa’s quest uncovers a vivid, twisting tale of Renaissance treachery, tarot cards, and a potentially explosive historical revelation. Nedelea’s fiction debut approaches this familiar The Da Vinci Code pattern with great scene-setting vigor, a natural-feeling grasp of dramatic pacing, and some fractious chemistry between Isa and Mark that’s no less entertaining for being intensely predictable. At one point, Isa asks him: “Are you really a weirdo, or are you just pretending to be one?” The well-orchestrated climax pulls together all the various plotlines with an enjoyable degree of flair. A complex, engrossing archaeological thriller with a plot stretching over many eras.

Pub Date: May 21, 2016

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 409

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 7, 2016

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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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