A shaggy, satirical sendup in the finest American tradition.

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UP A TREE

A middle-grade novel concocts a modern tall tale starring a precocious, continent-trotting 12-year-old boy.

Young Ruby Finn Heckler of Hackers Loon, New York, is being interviewed by the FBI. “I don’t know why they gave it to me, just to answer your question right off,” he says, in regard to his odd name. “I never knew my mom and dad—they’re dead—so I couldn’t get the story straight from them.” The trouble started when Ruby’s best friend, Quinn Hennessey, showed him the 22-caliber rifle he had stolen from Old Man Chilson’s shed. When they accidentally shot a deer, they left the corpse at the local Gennelich-owned lumber mill in the hopes that one of the men would take it home. Instead, the scion of the powerful Gennelich family claimed the dead deer was a warning from the Mexican cartels and began to secretly stage other “attacks” to terrify the locals into voting for his preferred candidate. When the man burned down the church and tried to blame it on Muslim terrorists, Ruby—who was in the church moments before—feared he would be held responsible instead. He tried to hide on a bus, fell asleep, and ended up in Albany, and then—well, long story short, the cowboy-loving Ruby and Quinn ended up encountering a man named Douglas “Lodgepole” Pine and his Helical Unfolded militia in the real-life, modern American West. That’s when the real craziness began. Brock’s (Cross Dog Blues, 2015) prose is a perfect blend of Mark Twain-style color undercut by modern humor. When Ruby and Quinn fear they’ve been cursed, they try to buy a potion from the forest-dwelling Widow Jones, who responds to their query with “I’ve told you boys a million times! Do not call me Widow Jones.” But the true brilliance of the author’s pastiche adventure is convincing readers that present-day America—with its extremists, crooks, demagogues, and guns—is just as madcap as the 1870s version. Ruby and Quinn are a Tom and Huck for the 21st century, and through their naive eyes, readers see how absurd the nation has always been.

A shaggy, satirical sendup in the finest American tradition.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-9911320-6-5

Page Count: -

Publisher: Bogie Road Publishing, Ltd.

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2019

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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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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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