An often entertaining espionage thriller set against the racial dynamics of 1940s America.

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THE MAN FROM BANNER LAKE

Black (Daydreams & Diaries, 2014, etc.) tells the tale of an unlikely government agent attempting to foil a German plot during World War II.

Thomas Burk is not your average chauffeur from Banner Lake—the poor, African-American community that produces domestic servants for the rich white citizens of Florida’s Jupiter Island. He’s a self-educated man and a veteran of the first world war, where he was awarded the Croix de Guerre and Legion of Merit for his valor in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Back home, however, in 1942 Jupiter, Burk keeps his education to himself: “in Florida, a smart colored man was a dangerous colored man.” Yet he might be just the man to serve his country again—this time in a covert role. President Franklin D. Roosevelt is afraid that there may be a German spy ring active in Hobe Sound, Florida, and he asks Thomas—via Thomas’ brother, Walter, a White House steward—to be his eyes and ears in the area. Thomas soon uncovers a plot, helmed by a dangerous nephew of Nazi Rudolf Hess, to assassinate Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr., but simply revealing the conspiracy turns out not to be enough. Roosevelt wants Thomas to foil the plan, a dangerous mission that will never be publicized, in a country where member of the African-American community are treated as second-class citizens. The novel contains the classic elements of historical fiction, including celebrity cameos (Burk initially works for famed playwright Philip Barry) and significant historical events playing out in the background. There are a few issues that may keep the book from being taken very seriously, however: the premise is a bit unbelievable, the machinations are a little convenient, and Black’s attempts to ground the story in the context of the civil rights movement (including a coda involving Harry Tyson Moore and the Groveland Boys rape trial) are a little unwieldy. Yet it still successfully communicates the racial hypocrisy of America in the 1940s, reminding readers that Germany wasn’t the only country with an abysmal human rights record. Politics aside, Black delivers a fast-paced spy novel featuring an unusual protagonist with complex motivations.

An often entertaining espionage thriller set against the racial dynamics of 1940s America.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2014

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 315

Publisher: Amazon Digital Services

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2015

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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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