This is a funny, inventive exploration of the dangers inherent in our overmedicated culture. Readers who enjoy a dash of...

LESS THAN HERO

Browne’s (Big Egos, 2013, etc.) latest novel is a social-satire–meets–amateur-superhero saga that deftly skewers the money-grubbing slickness of the pharmaceutical industry—as well as American culture’s propensity to pop a pill for absolutely anything that ails us, regardless of how outrageously unpredictable the side effects may be.

Our narrator is Lloyd Prescott, an aimless, slacker-ish 30-year-old on New York City’s Lower East Side who abandoned his stalled marketing career five years ago after realizing there was money to be made in volunteering as a guinea pig for experimental phase 1 clinical drug trials. Having endured more than 150 drug trials in that time, Lloyd has amassed a misfit crew of five fellow professional–guinea-pig buddies who meet up monthly to compare notes on the various meds' side effects. Lloyd has picked up on something bizarre during his current cycle: whenever he yawns, people around him fall asleep, as if the side effects he’s enduring are being passed on to regular folks around him. His friends are noticing similar issues—for instance, when one of them, Vic, feels nauseous, a woman near him suddenly vomits, and another, Randy, appears to be making people mysteriously break out in rashes. Perplexed, they set out to determine what, exactly, is behind this madness. The fun supernatural-lite themes kick into gear as the gang learns that the problem may be bigger and stranger than they’d imagined; enter a gaggle of evil foes with “powers” similar to those of Lloyd and company. Browne’s voice is smart, engaging, and approachable, and Lloyd is a guy we’ve all met in real life: you know, that one in a five-year domestic partnership who remains terrified of settling down; the dude who’d rather panhandle on the street than sell his soul by working for The Man.

This is a funny, inventive exploration of the dangers inherent in our overmedicated culture. Readers who enjoy a dash of sharp wit with their comic-book shenanigans should enjoy tagging along on Lloyd’s everyday-superhero exploits.

Pub Date: March 17, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4767-1174-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2015

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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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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A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

A BLIGHT OF BLACKWINGS

Book 2 of Hearne's latest fantasy trilogy, The Seven Kennings (A Plague of Giants, 2017), set in a multiracial world thrust into turmoil by an invasion of peculiar giants.

In this world, most races have their own particular magical endowment, or “kenning,” though there are downsides to trying to gain the magic (an excellent chance of being killed instead) and using it (rapid aging and death). Most recently discovered is the sixth kenning, whose beneficiaries can talk to and command animals. The story canters along, although with multiple first-person narrators, it's confusing at times. Some characters are familiar, others are new, most of them with their own problems to solve, all somehow caught up in the grand design. To escape her overbearing father and the unreasoning violence his kind represents, fire-giant Olet Kanek leads her followers into the far north, hoping to found a new city where the races and kennings can peacefully coexist. Joining Olet are young Abhinava Khose, discoverer of the sixth kenning, and, later, Koesha Gansu (kenning: air), captain of an all-female crew shipwrecked by deep-sea monsters. Elsewhere, Hanima, who commands hive insects, struggles to free her city from the iron grip of wealthy, callous merchant monarchists. Other threads focus on the Bone Giants, relentless invaders seeking the still-unknown seventh kenning, whose confidence that this can defeat the other six is deeply disturbing. Under Hearne's light touch, these elements mesh perfectly, presenting an inventive, eye-filling panorama; satisfying (and, where appropriate, well-resolved) plotlines; and tensions between the races and their kennings to supply much of the drama.

A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-345-54857-3

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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