King Daniel

GASPARILLA KING OF THE PIRATES

The disappearance of a Tampa Bay blue blood rattles the skeletons in his family’s closet.

In Johnson’s first novel, it’s the summer of 1972, and Daniel Westcott, 68, has been named king of the pirates, to be crowned at the annual Gasparilla Queen’s Party. But Westcott, who has never missed a Queen’s Party, fails to attend his own coronation, and his enigmatic absence prompts an uneasy homecoming of his grandchildren, Becca, 21, an aspiring Broadway musical actress, and her estranged brother, Kurt. Their addled mother, Julia, lives on the family estate and is considered by most to be “more than a little ‘touched’ in the head.” The early ’70s setting, with references to the Vietnam War protests and the Kent State shootings, reflects the inner turmoil of the Westcott family. As the search for the patriarch unfolds, the mystery deepens. Can it be related to an old financial scandal? Were he and his boat seized by smugglers? Was it a hallucination, or did Julia see her mother, Natalie, shoot her father? “Trust me: he’s alive,” a friend consoles Becca. “But what he’s up to now has the whole town guessing.” And the reader, too. But, as Becca predicts at one point: “The truth will be known.” Johnson writes with a vivid sense of place (“The breeze off the bay was sweet, heavy with the scent of confederate jasmine”) and offers a Wolfe-ian (as in Tom, but without the stylistic brio) portraiture of ’70s-era Tampa Bay high society. “Much of the town’s old wealth was dwindling,” she writes of the Westcotts’ once-grand estate. “Those in that circumstance took pride in the quiet beauty of a home’s chipped and weathered features. They went so far as to scoff at the nouveau riche with their freshly painted soffits and shutters.” The family dysfunction compellingly plays like something out of a Douglas Sirk melodrama, like Written on the Wind, complete with hidden agendas, ghosts, revelatory family diaries, and deepest, darkest secrets. The author populates this forlorn family’s saga with a breadth of memorable characters who occupy disparate rungs on Tampa Bay society’s ladder, including Eula and Niobe, the family’s longtime caretaker and her daughter, and Police Chief Feo Salazar, who knows a thing or two about Westcott’s more unsavory predilections. A gripping tale of a missing patriarch in 1970s Florida; an auspicious debut.

Pub Date: July 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5043-5986-3

Page Count: 344

Publisher: BalboaPress

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 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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