A plainspoken, apocalyptic techno-shocker adventure, told in a sometimes disconcertingly casual voice.

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EVOLVED

After humanity suffers a massive strike by flying drones and other exotic weaponry, a West Coast resident—seeking his missing wife—gets help from fellow survivors.

In his debut novel, Woods (Birthright, 2018, etc.) dispenses with character backstories (even last names, for the most part) and gets right down to apocalypse business. One morning, in a vaguely Oregonian setting, first-person narrator Steve—a handy guy who is ultimately revealed as a motor sports enthusiast—is a shocked witness as gas stations shut down, pleading a lack of fuel deliveries; media go offline; and, without warning, thousands of military-grade flying drones cut down every person in sight (mysteriously sparing animals). The drones use either insidious needlelike projectiles or their own razor-sharp blades. Other corpses, mostly inside buildings, display no signs of violence whatsoever. Only hours before, Steve had parted with his beloved wife, Michelle. Now he searches for her in the eerie, silent landscape, soon gathering a stunned handful of survivors around him. Steve also, providentially, happens to live with Michelle in a 1950s home outfitted for atomic-war survival, so he has a ready-made bunker, video surveillance, and provisions for a possible siege. Meanwhile, the survivors discover methods of shielding themselves from the drones’ probing sensors. Via hacking into cellphones and rigging old electronics components into mini-EMP bombs, Steve and his resourceful band even manage to disable and destroy drones en masse. When Hayley, a medical technologist who is one of Steve’s seemingly random freedom fighters, reveals she is intimately familiar with the nanotechnology behind the massacre, even the hero (not to mention readers) has to wonder how all these problem-solving elements fall into place so neatly. He ponders whether there’s a conspiracy at work, a helpful God, or “just a bunch of dumbass luck, and I should probably quit looking a gift horse in the mouth.” Even so, deep into this series opener, there are still numerous enigmas, as formerly domesticated dogs turn on humans and the once-ubiquitous corpses start to disappear, apparently hauled away by enslaved but living people. Minus pat answers, an aura of mystery and shock-awe wonder sustains the material—not unlike those M. Night Shyamalan cinematic thrillers before the scripts drop their thuddingly lame, third-act explanations. Woods, meanwhile, deftly keeps readers guessing almost up to the to-be-continued ending. He writes of the heartless, War of the Worlds–style murder of billions with a disarmingly steady, even aw-shucks manner, though his protagonist explains pragmatic survivor psychology: “It wasn’t that we had totally lost empathy for the dead; we just didn’t look at a body the same anymore. It was merely a piece of flesh, not unlike a dead animal in the road....We just didn’t associate the dead bodies with the people that used to occupy them anymore. We couldn’t. We saw too many of them, and it would drive us all insane.” In a homey touch, the author has grafted character traits of himself (and his wife) onto the idealized key players.    

A plainspoken, apocalyptic techno-shocker adventure, told in a sometimes disconcertingly casual voice.

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9966883-2-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Freeze Time Media

Review Posted Online: Jan. 24, 2019

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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