Almond’s first novel is ambitious and empathic but sometimes unwieldy.

ALL THE SECRETS OF THE WORLD

A disappearance brings together a host of disparate lives in early-1980s California.

This novel, Almond’s first, follows a number of acclaimed story collections and works of nonfiction. He’s opted to use the biggest possible canvas, incorporating a diverse cast of characters and a host of weighty themes. The resulting novel is incredibly ambitious while also featuring some unexpected touches—scorpion biology and Nancy Reagan both play significant roles. The bulk of the novel is set in California in 1981. Lorena Saenz, age 13, is partnered with classmate Jenny Stallworth for a science fair project. Lorena is the daughter of an undocumented mother and comes from a working-class background; Jenny’s family, by contrast, is wealthy. More ominously, Jenny’s father, Marcus—a scientist and academic with an interest in scorpions—develops an attraction to Lorena. Almond summons plenty of tension from the question of whether or not Marcus will do something awful—right up until the point when he vanishes under mysterious circumstances and Lorena’s older brother, Tony,  becomes a suspect in his disappearance. It’s at this point that Pedro Guerrero, one of the police officers investigating the case, enters the narrative, expanding its scope beyond the two families of the early chapters. Almond is grappling with a lot of weighty themes: Class disparities, sexual abuse, corrupt policing, immigration, and the modern Republican Party (including a couple of references to the Romney family) all play significant parts here. But while the large-scale tragedy that plays out is thought-provoking, the novel’s stranger digressions—like glowing scorpions—are what endure.

Almond’s first novel is ambitious and empathic but sometimes unwieldy.

Pub Date: April 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-63893-002-0

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Zando

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2022

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Sure to enchant even those who have never played a video game in their lives, with instant cult status for those who have.

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TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW

The adventures of a trio of genius kids united by their love of gaming and each other.

When Sam Masur recognizes Sadie Green in a crowded Boston subway station, midway through their college careers at Harvard and MIT, he shouts, “SADIE MIRANDA GREEN. YOU HAVE DIED OF DYSENTERY!” This is a reference to the hundreds of hours—609 to be exact—the two spent playing “Oregon Trail” and other games when they met in the children’s ward of a hospital where Sam was slowly and incompletely recovering from a traumatic injury and where Sadie was secretly racking up community service hours by spending time with him, a fact which caused the rift that has separated them until now. They determine that they both still game, and before long they’re spending the summer writing a soon-to-be-famous game together in the apartment that belongs to Sam's roommate, the gorgeous, wealthy acting student Marx Watanabe. Marx becomes the third corner of their triangle, and decades of action ensue, much of it set in Los Angeles, some in the virtual realm, all of it riveting. A lifelong gamer herself, Zevin has written the book she was born to write, a love letter to every aspect of gaming. For example, here’s the passage introducing the professor Sadie is sleeping with and his graphic engine, both of which play a continuing role in the story: “The seminar was led by twenty-eight-year-old Dov Mizrah....It was said of Dov that he was like the two Johns (Carmack, Romero), the American boy geniuses who'd programmed and designed Commander Keen and Doom, rolled into one. Dov was famous for his mane of dark, curly hair, wearing tight leather pants to gaming conventions, and yes, a game called Dead Sea, an underwater zombie adventure, originally for PC, for which he had invented a groundbreaking graphics engine, Ulysses, to render photorealistic light and shadow in water.” Readers who recognize the references will enjoy them, and those who don't can look them up and/or simply absorb them. Zevin’s delight in her characters, their qualities, and their projects sprinkles a layer of fairy dust over the whole enterprise.

Sure to enchant even those who have never played a video game in their lives, with instant cult status for those who have.

Pub Date: July 5, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-32120-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2022

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Well-drawn characters introduce the criminal underworld to the occult kind in a breathless and compelling plot.

HELL BENT

From the Alex Stern series , Vol. 2

A Yale sophomore fights for her life as she balances academics with supernatural extracurriculars in this smart fantasy thriller, the second in a series.

Galaxy “Alex” Stern is a member of Lethe House, the ninth of Yale’s secret societies. And not just any member—she’s Virgil, the officer who conducts the society's rituals. In the world of Bardugo’s Alex Stern series, Yale’s secret societies command not just powerful social networks, but actual magic; it’s Lethe’s job to keep that magic in control. Alex is new to the role. She had to take over in a hurry after the previous Virgil, Darlington, her mentor and love interest, disappeared in a cliffhanger at the end of the first book. He appears to be in hell, but is he stuck there for good? Alex and Pamela Dawes—Lethe’s Oculus, or archivist/administrator—have found a reference to a pathway called a Gauntlet that can open a portal to hell, but can they find the Gauntlet itself? And what about the four murderers the Gauntlet ritual requires? Meanwhile, Alex’s past as a small-time drug dealer is catching up with her, adding gritty street crime to the demonic white-collar evil the Yale crowd tends to prefer. The plot is relentless and clever, and the writing is vivid, intelligent, and funny at just the right moments, but best of all are the complex characters, such as the four murderers, each with a backstory that makes it possible for the reader to trust them to enter hell and have the strength to leave again. Like the first book, this one ends with a cliffhanger.

Well-drawn characters introduce the criminal underworld to the occult kind in a breathless and compelling plot.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2023

ISBN: 978-1-250-31310-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2022

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