A historically astute but dramatically overwrought period piece.

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AN INCIDENT IN AFRICA

A DESPERATE DECEPTION

Two German friends who fought together in World War I return to countries dramatically transformed in this novel. 

Markus Mathais and Solomon Levi served together for years in German East Africa during   World War I. But in 1919, both can finally return home, Levi to his family estate outside of Munich, and Markus to his father-in-law’s ranch in South West Africa, now under British rule largely inhospitable to Germans. In advance of Markus’ reunion with his family, a South African officer, Capt. Llewellyn, billeted in Markus’ home for years in his absence, brutally rapes his wife, Helena, and in the process is killed by the stable boy Sambolo. Helena’s family, the Conrads, decides to bury the body in the desert and keep the incident a secret, even from Markus. But the authorities suspect the Conrads of foul play and launch an investigation into the matter, a scrutiny that only intensifies after Markus is blamed for an explosion at work and is considered a suspect in another blast that kills a military officer responsible for the death of Helena’s brother, Norbert. The drama’s complications continue to pile up: Markus leaves town to escape what seems like a politically motivated witch hunt while the Conrads fend off aggressive attempts to confiscate their land. Meanwhile, Levi finds his native Germany pinched by economic straits and roiled by internal political disputes that pave the way for Hitler’s rise to power. This is the third installment of a series by Soellner (The Storm That Shook the World, 2016, etc.). While it’s certainly helpful to read the novel’s predecessors, it’s not necessary. The author’s knowledge of the historical era is impressive, and the plot races at a frenetic pace. But the story is melodramatically extravagant to an almost comical degree, and the author often stops to list the calamities that have befallen Markus’ family to ensure readers remain aware of their enormity. (At one point, Helena’s father muses: “I lost Arnold to the war, I lost Norbert to that murderer Perkins, Humboldt to that terrible disease, and my poor Helena was attacked by Llewellyn…Markus came back scarred by war, accused of terrible crimes, and now he and Helena flee to another country.”) In addition, the breathlessly hyperbolic dialogue seems lifted from a television soap opera. 

A historically astute but dramatically overwrought period piece. 

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2018

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 290

Publisher: Gossip Park Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 20, 2018

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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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