Equal parts delightful and discomfiting, a distinctive approach to the science-fiction gothic.

THE STRANGERS

After mysterious lights soar over their village, a Spanish couple receives two strange visitors.

Jon and Katharina drudge through remote freelance gigs at Jon’s childhood home, a large house on the Cantabrian coast that they're housesitting for the winter. The two work on separate floors and grow distant as they settle into their separate routines, tension and boredom filling the gap between them. One rainy night, they observe an unsettling light display outside their window: There's a red triangle, a green circle, and a blue oval soaring and seemingly dancing in the sky. By the next morning, the village is flooded with ufologists, who make camp on the coast and heckle the locals for their accounts of the previous night’s events. As if this wasn't enough to shake Jon and Katharina out of their stagnancy, they are then approached by other visitors: Jon’s distant cousin Markel and Virginia, his withdrawn, enigmatic assistant, who seek a brief respite from their world travels. Jon has no memory of having met Markel—who claims to have been raised by his grandfather in Chile—and is hesitant to invite the intruders to stay. At his parents’ (and, surprisingly, Katharina’s) insistence, Jon relents, and Markel and Virginia make themselves comfortable. Perhaps too comfortable. The story's pace accelerates as the visitors transgress their hosts' boundaries, Virginia becoming increasingly unpredictable and Markel stoking Jon’s suspicions that they're not really related. Twists abound as the couple investigates the truth behind their guests’ motives, leading to a thrilling ending. With wry humor and tension that builds and discomfits, Spanish author Bilbao expertly explores our anxieties of otherness and the unknown.

Equal parts delightful and discomfiting, a distinctive approach to the science-fiction gothic.

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2023

ISBN: 9781628974553

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Dalkey Archive

Review Posted Online: Dec. 14, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2023

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A more adorable plea for rationalism and gender equality would be hard to find.

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LESSONS IN CHEMISTRY

Two chemists with major chemistry, a dog with a big vocabulary, and a popular cooking show are among the elements of this unusual compound.

At the dawn of the 1960s, Elizabeth Zott finds herself in an unexpected position. She's the star of a television program called Supper at Six that has taken American housewives by storm, but it's certainly not what the crass station head envisions: “ 'Meaningful?' Phil snapped. 'What are you? Amish? As for nutritious: no. You’re killing the show before it even gets started. Look, Walter, it’s easy. Tight dresses, suggestive movements...then there’s the cocktail she mixes at the end of every show.' ” Elizabeth is a chemist, recently forced to leave the lab where she was doing important research due to an out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Now she's reduced to explaining things like when to put the steak in the pan. "Be sure and wait until the butter foams. Foam indicates that the butter’s water content has boiled away. This is critical. Because now the steak can cook in lipids rather than absorb H2O.” If ever a woman was capable of running her own life, it's Elizabeth. But because it's the 1950s, then the '60s, men have their sweaty paws all over both her successes and failures. On the plus side, there's Calvin Evans, world-famous chemist, love of her life, and father of her child; also Walter Pine, her friend who works in television; and a journalist who at least tries to do the right thing. At the other pole is a writhing pile of sexists, liars, rapists, dopes, and arrogant assholes. This is the kind of book that has a long-buried secret at a corrupt orphanage with a mysterious benefactor as well as an extremely intelligent dog named Six-Thirty, recently retired from the military. ("Not only could he never seem to sniff out the bomb in time, but he also had to endure the praise heaped upon the smug German shepherds who always did.") Garmus' energetic debut also features an invigorating subplot about rowing.

A more adorable plea for rationalism and gender equality would be hard to find.

Pub Date: April 5, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-385-54734-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2022

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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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