A wildly creative thriller that attempts to cram too many threads into an already packed and harrowing storyline.

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CURSE OF THE WANDERING JEW

A time-traveling novel centers on turmoil in the near future.

It is the year 2025, and exactly 140 meteoroids are headed toward Earth. Life, as humans know it, may very well cease to exist by the winter solstice. Added to the trouble is the fact that the solstice will involve a celestial alignment “considered to presage an apocalyptic event.” Pope John Paul III, a frail though amiable pontiff, encourages the world to pray, though it seems that more drastic action may be necessary. Meanwhile, a strange blackthorn tree has sprouted from the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. It is a sight that mystifies people and enrages a blood-drinking cardinal who, along with his equally sinister dwarf sidekick, Brother Alaimo, teams up with a mysterious woman named Lebhudha (aka “the Dragon Queen”) to engage in money laundering and prevent a resurgence of the Roman Catholic Church in China. The only hope seems to come from a grumpy German archbishop named Regenmacher and his Irish assistant as they seek to find lost religious artifacts that just might save the world. Events in 2025 are, however, merely the tip of the iceberg in this raucous adventure that spans time periods, encompassing the days of Eden, Gilgamesh, and Noah. Readers who at the outset think a quick resolution may be around the corner concerning those 140 meteoroids will instead find themselves redirected through detours that include a curse of Cain, questionable ethics among Vatican relations with mobsters, and a brief suggestion that Pope John Paul I was murdered. Burch’s (Romancing Boudica, 2014, etc.) ambitious tale is a starkly imaginative mix with a colorful, wide-ranging cast. But it is easy to get lost in the fray. With so many locations, topics, and conflicts, narrowing it all down to a single, discernible narrative is not a simple task. Dialogue is often obvious, as when a female pope asserts: “I’ll do my best to create an education system so women can participate in our religious community.” This type of statement gives some inventive portions a blunt quality that will likely fail to dazzle the audience.

A wildly creative thriller that attempts to cram too many threads into an already packed and harrowing storyline.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 686

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2017

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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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