An affecting romance told with intelligence and nuance.

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NORSE HEARTS

In this historical novel, set in the eighth century, a Viking mercenary kidnaps a wealthy woman for profit before they unexpectedly develop romantic feelings for each other.

Lord Cecil Allard hires Norseman Einar Herjolfsson to charge into his upcoming wedding ceremony and kill his fiancee. He pays the Viking half of his fee in advance and says that he can get the rest by stealing silver and gold from the cathedral. But when Einar and his men arrive at the ceremony, there are no riches to be found, so the Viking decides to take the bride, Seraphina, and two of her friends, Iohannes and Hadley, as captives for ransom or later sale. Seraphina turns out to be the daughter of a wealthy landowner with powerful political connections, which presents even greater opportunities for her captors. As a result, Einar must protect her from his cohorts, including his rapacious stepbrother, Gunnar, who bitterly feels that Einar’s introduction into the family by marriage has unjustly deprived him of his own “firstborn-son status.” To complicate matters further, Einar finds himself “intrigued” by Seraphina’s combination of beauty and courage from the first moment that he sees her, and his feelings only deepen over time. Eventually, Seraphina begins to return Einar’s affections, and she turns against her fiance completely when she learns of his treacherous plan. Gabel (Making Friends, 2016, etc.) stirringly depicts the fragility of moral principles during a time of violent lawlessness. The attraction between Einar and Seraphina is jarringly implausible on its face, but this only makes it more impressive when the author makes it not only seem credible, but also touching. Also, she powerfully contrasts Einar’s rough-hewn honor and Cecil’s “well-groomed sophistication,” as when the former remarks to Seraphina, “Has he proven himself in battle? Does he treat others fairly? Does he honor his word? I think not.” Overall, Gabel has constructed a work of historical fiction that’s both faithful to the period and dramatically captivating.

An affecting romance told with intelligence and nuance.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 274

Publisher: Tri Swan Publishing, LLC

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 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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