An entertaining, unique spin on the popular holiday that caters to readers of all ages.

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NORTH POINT

Adolescent siblings may be in a position to stop a ruthless mogul from taking Christmas away from Santa Claus in Spremo and Vlcek’s debut adventure tale.

Jenny and little brother Tommy lost their parents at a very young age. Specifics on what happened to Mom and Dad are vague, and the kids spend years bouncing from one guardian to the next. When they believe their latest move will separate them, Jenny and Tommy head north—way north—to see the grandfather they’ve never met in the Arctic. In the same region is Santa, who’s understandably worried. The icy foundation of the North Pole is melting faster than anticipated thanks to the world’s recent climate change. To relocate and protect all the elves, Santa will have to make a deal with Kritch, whose trillion-dollar Kritch Industries produces the bulk of the world’s toys. Kritch only wants Santa’s name, face, and likeness for advertising Kritch Toys. But the businessman owes his overwhelming success and wealth to a powerful crystal orb that he retrieved years ago from a South Pole cave. He may have his contract virtually locked in with Santa, but that doesn’t ease his tension when he learns that someone has swiped the orb. Said artifact somehow winds up in Grandpa’s hands, forcing the elderly man to go on the run with Jenny and Tommy when Kritch sends his minions after them. The sibs, who eventually get an inside look at the heavily fortified Kritch Toy Works facility, do whatever they can to keep the orb from the shady businessman. Much of the charm here lies in portraying the magic of Christmas as something ordinary and routine, best exemplified by the character of Artie, a typical working elf. His biggest dilemma is personal. After overhearing a private meeting on the potential relocation, he inadvertently incites a panic when he tells everyone about it. In the same vein, details on the orb are scarce, and characters scramble to procure it rather than consider its supernatural capability. There is, in contrast, a wonderment with nature. Jenny and Tommy stand astonished by the multitude of stars in the Arctic and the desolation of its landscape: “All that remained was the sound of wind-blown snow. The snow glowed under the light of a single platform light.” Still, the authors inject a healthy dose of ironic humor. Countless parents and children, for example, line up to be the next Spokeskid, the new face of Kritch advertisements. But the role of Spokeskid may be more akin to captivity. Irony likewise surrounds holiday- or winter-related items: a sled is more practical than fun; candy canes entice kids into creepy Kritchland, which maps DNA, fingerprints, etc.; and self-dubbed Hot Chocolate Guy is Kritch’s go-to henchman. The story accommodates mystery (a shadowy figure suddenly appears to help someone) as well as action, including a high-speed snowmobile pursuit. Unanswered questions could indicate a forthcoming sequel, especially regarding the siblings’ parents.

An entertaining, unique spin on the popular holiday that caters to readers of all ages.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 317

Publisher: Manuscript

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 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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