A curiously sweet-tempered novel that finds the upside of global catastrophe.

THE BLUE BOOK OF NEBO

A mother and son journal their way through the end of the world.

Veteran writer Ros structures this novel as diary entries written by Dylan and his mother, Rowenna, in the tiny Welsh town of Nebo, which has been emptied following a nuclear apocalypse they call The End. (A nuclear war has devastated America at the very least, and a nuclear power plant meltdown occurs closer to home.) The two have been breaking into abandoned houses for supplies (including notebooks like the “blue book” of the title) to sustain themselves and Rowenna’s young daughter, Mona. It’s clear early on in this trim novel that the usual sense of post-apocalyptic dread doesn’t apply here: The power’s out, but there are no marauding thugs, military incursions, or other imminent threats. And though there’s evidence that the world’s gone off-kilter (like a mutated two-headed hare and masses of slugs escaping the poisoned soil), the prevailing theme is renewal. Dylan’s entries are thick with observations of nature and pride in self-subsistence. Rowenna’s entries are at first brooding, both about The End and her own story, particularly the (absent) fathers of her children. But as the years tracked by the novel press on, she shifts toward more upbeat observations as well. Rowenna reaccesses her grasp of Welsh-language reading and writing, symbolizing the idea that progress distanced us from our roots and that perhaps a reboot isn’t such a bad thing. (Ros translated the book herself from the original Welsh.) The who-needs-civilization-anyhow perspective can get cloying. (“Cooking is a lovely thing. You make something, and then you get to eat it.”) But Rowenna’s flintiness and Dylan’s maturity keep this brief novel from becoming overly simplistic. And a closing twist is both ambiguous and further challenges typical ideas about the genre.

A curiously sweet-tempered novel that finds the upside of global catastrophe.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64605-100-7

Page Count: 156

Publisher: Deep Vellum

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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A novel of capacious intelligence and plenty of page-turning emotional drama.

BEAUTIFUL WORLD, WHERE ARE YOU

Two erudite Irishwomen struggle with romance against the backdrop of the Trump/Brexit years.

Eileen and Alice have been friends since their university days. Now in their late 20s, Eileen works as an editorial assistant at a literary magazine in Dublin. Alice is a famous novelist recovering from a psychiatric hospitalization and staying in a large empty rectory on the west coast of Ireland. Since Alice’s breakdown, the two have kept in touch primarily through lengthy emails that alternate between recounting their romantic lives and working through their angst about the current social and political climate. (In one of these letters, Eileen laments that the introduction of plastic has ruined humanity’s aesthetic calibration and in the next paragraph, she’s eager to know if Alice is sleeping with the new man she’s met.) Eileen has spent many years entangled in an occasionally intimate friendship with her teenage crush, a slightly older man named Simon who is a devout Catholic and who works in the Irish Parliament as an assistant. As Eileen and Simon’s relationship becomes more complicated, Alice meets Felix, a warehouse worker who is unsure what to make of her fame and aloofness. In many ways, this book, a work of both philosophy and romantic tragicomedy about the ways people love and hurt one another, is exactly the type of book one would expect Rooney to write out of the political environment of the past few years. But just because the novel is so characteristic of Rooney doesn’t take anything away from its considerable power. As Alice herself puts it, “Humanity on the cusp of extinction [and] here I am writing another email about sex and friendship. What else is there to live for?”

A novel of capacious intelligence and plenty of page-turning emotional drama.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-60260-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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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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