Cynicism and adult words stave off sappiness but don’t remotely dampen the magical story’s genuine charm.

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The Fairytale Chicago of Francesca Finnegan

In this fantasy debut, a wealthy but discontented businessman remembers his childhood journey through Chicago’s hidden, enchanted side with creatures and anthropomorphic animals.

Richard K. Lyons has become quite a success in the white-collar world as the “vice president of something.” But he’s far from happy, a philandering family man who dabbles too often in cocaine and alcohol and remains numbed by the stagnant workday routine. One Friday, Richard comes across a strangely familiar homeless girl, who plays him a song on the flute that apparently stirs up long-forgotten memories. As a boy, when he went by Rich, he encountered Francesca Finnegan, a girl who seemed to appear out of thin air. Francesca takes Rich on an otherworldly trek, starting with the Chicago “L” Lavender Line, a rapid-transit line Rich hasn’t heard of. The two head to the city’s largely unknown East Side, the only side not represented on Chicago’s flag. Rich’s surprised not only by the cat-headed conductor, but also the mythical beings aboard the train, from a giant Minotaur to a Cyclops. On their way to a ball at Aragon Castle, Rich and Francesca hear tales of the city’s “true history,” including slight variations on the Battle of Fort Dearborn and the Great Chicago Fire. Further adventures await, but will Richard’s recollections help him rediscover the boy he once was? Wiley renders his cheeky novel in the style of a children’s book, which he coats in satirical humor. Templeton Goodfellow, for example, is an elf decidedly uglier than elves as they’re often portrayed, with ratty hair and skin that looks its age of 10,000 years. Cihon’s illustrations follow suit: cartoonish Mr. Fox is endearing in his formal attire but clearly miserable standing in a snowstorm. Wiley, however, fills the pages with ethereal descriptions, such as alluding to Francesca’s curious “kaleidoscopic” hair and eyes, changing colors when she moves. There are just enough obscenities uttered to ensure this book is never shelved in the children’s or even YA section. The story, though, is anything but vulgar, a sweet and uplifting tale as heartwarming as the ones it’s poking fun at.

Cynicism and adult words stave off sappiness but don’t remotely dampen the magical story’s genuine charm.

Pub Date: March 1, 2017

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 177

Publisher: Lavender Line Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 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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