Book Review: COLD STORAGE, only a retired FBI agent and two night security guards can stop a ruthless contagion

Cold Storage
David Koepp

1987. Counter-bioterrorism operatives Roberto Diaz and Trini Romano were rushed to the remote Australian bush where there’d been reports of strange behavior. When they arrived with infectious disease specialist Dr. Hero Martins, all of the residents of the small settlement were dead. They realized the agent was a highly adaptive fungus with one imperative: reproduce. And that meant killing all humans and animals alike. Roberto and Trini successfully destroyed the fungus, but they brought home a sample thought to be safe in deep sub-basement of a military facility.

2019. Roberto and Trini have both retired, and leadership at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency has long since forgotten about the destructive fungus, so much so that the facility that housed it was sold to a storage company catering to middle class consumers. When the deadly contagion finally escapes, only Diaz knows how to stop it—and his only allies are two twenty-something night security guards.

Cold Storage is the debut novel by David Koepp, successful screenwriter of Jurassic Park, Spider-Man, War of the Worlds, and Mission: Impossible, among others. His expertise is clear in the quick pacing and snappy dialogue of this pandemic horror. Personally, I love this genre, and Cold Storage elevates the basic formula with its interesting, narrow field of characters and its skillful plot execution. Like other books in the category, it has high stakes, conspiracies and secrets, and lots of gore.

For fans of this genre, it’s a fun, fast-paced ride. I’d also recommend it to people who may want to explore this category—it’s a great introduction.

Happy Publication Day to HOW WE FIGHT FOR OUR LIVES

How We Fight for Our Lives
Saeed Jones

In lyrical language, Saeed Jones chronicles his coming-of-age as a black, gay youth in Texas in the 1990s. The only child of a single mother, he knew that, despite his mother’s fierce love for him, his sexuality was a topic they couldn’t discuss. That might have been preferable to his grandmother’s approach. When he visited her in Memphis, she complained he was too worldly and forced him to the front of her church so the preacher could pray over him. That left the library, where the books about gay men always ended in AIDS. He already knew the dangers of being black; now he knew the consequences of being gay as well. Still, he was determined to live his truth, even if that meant distancing himself from those closest to him.

What that truth was, though, often remained unclear as Jones felt cultural, peer, and familial pressures to adopt other identities. As he progressed through school, then college, he switched between selves, at times putting himself at psychic risk and at times at physical risk. Yet, there is a sense that he required these experiences, a type of trial and error of behavior, to arrive at a place of peace.

Jones writes of these experiences with rawness and vulnerability, and at times I was incensed on his behalf, worried and angry that he put himself at such risk, saddened by his grief, and delighted by his good fortune. These reactions testify to his ability to convey his very self in his narrative, an act that takes not only skill but bravery. On one level, How We Fight for Our Lives is worth reading because of Jones’s story and how beautifully he conveys it. Yet, his memoir goes beyond his own experiences, echoing with themes of race and sexuality, questioning the strictures placed on those who don’t fit into the dominant paradigm and showing how damaging that can be.

A must-read for anyone interested in LGBT books or who enjoys reading spectacularly crafted memoirs and non-fiction.

Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: TANGERINE, two friends reunite in Tangier

Christine Mangan

1956, Tangier, Morocco. Alice Shipley, fragile and nearly housebound, is the opposite of her husband, John, who thrives in the spotlight but who is comfortable living off of Alice’s sizable trust fund. Lucy Mason, her college roommate, whom she hasn’t spoken with in a year is the last person she expects to see at her apartment door.

Alice and Lucy had been estranged since a tragic accident their last year of college, but Lucy wanted to put the past behind them and regain the intimacy they once shared. Although Alice is unsure of their relationship, she is so unhappy she tolerates Lucy’s insinuation into her life with John. But then, John mysteriously disappears; Alice is unsure if it is related to his secretive government job, Lucy, or something Alice herself did.

Tangerine poses questions of identity, trust, and betrayal, and while interesting, I thought the Moroccan setting was the most compelling aspect of the novel. As for the plot itself, it reminded of The Talented Mr. Ripley, and in interviews I did see the author was influenced by Patricia Highsmith, as well as other books and movies I’ve seen. It had interesting elements but was more derivative than I expected.

Book Review: INTO CAPTIVITY THEY WILL GO, a rural boy grows up believing he is the second coming of Jesus

Into Captivity They Will Go
Noah Milligan

Initially, I was interested in Into Captivity They Will Go by Noah Milligan because it’s set in Oklahoma, my home state. The book centers on Caleb Gunter, a preteen who is told by his mother Evelyn that the world is ending, and he is the second coming of Jesus. Even in the buckle of the bible belt, such a pronouncement doesn’t sit well, and the First Baptist Church in Bartlesville excommunicates the Gunter family. Leaving her husband Earl and older son Jonah behind, Evelyn takes Caleb to a rural religious community run by her stepfather’s friend, Sam Jenkins. The people there are more accepting of Evelyn’s message, and Caleb, speaking in tongues, lost in the spirit, and lifted up by the other congregants, finally feels at home.

Evelyn’s homilies, however, grow more extreme, and as her prophecies darken, she views the outside community with more and more suspicion. Meanwhile, Caleb struggles to accept what it means to be the savior who will lead the chosen people after the end of the world. After a series of cataclysmic events, Caleb loses everything familiar, including the foundation of his faith.

While the first two thirds of the book recount Caleb’s childhood and are told in third person, the final section gives Caleb a first-person voice and more insight into his reactions to the events surrounding him. I couldn’t help but think how damaged Caleb must be and how tempting it was to fall into old patterns of behavior, substituting one false god for another. He’s calm and accepting of his past, which is hard to understand, but Atchley, a character he later becomes close to, may provide the reader’s perspective wondering how he isn’t angry and resentful.

Throughout the book, I wondered why Evelyn had taken this religious path, but then I also asked myself if it mattered. Whatever the cause, Caleb was left to cope with the impact of her beliefs and actions and how they affected him; they also rippled into the family, changing the lives of Earl and Jonah, and beyond, so that others in the community were never the same.

One of the triumphs of the book is that Milligan writes with such compassion and empathy that is impossible to write any characters off as one-dimensional, fringe, or unbelievable. I thought that I would immediately feel anger and contempt for Evelyn. Instead, while I did feel some of that on behalf of Caleb, even more, I considered her with empathy and curiosity. Caleb’s general placidity evokes an air of forgiveness and acceptance, and despite the travails of his childhood, it seems that attitude serves him well. Furthermore, I loved the subtle Oklahoman references Into Captivity They Will Go such as the primacy of Dr. Pepper, the references to concerts at the Blue Door, the constant calibration of weather, and the love of Sonic and Braum’s.

Even though I did grow up in Oklahoma, I went to a relatively liberal church (for that state anyway), and I wasn’t familiar with the biblical passages from Revelations. I had to look up the seven seals to fully understand Evelyn’s references. I also wish that some of the characters, like Earl, had been more developed. The shift from third person to first person was a little jarring and unexpected, and Caleb seemed like such a different person, also with time passing and experience gained, the change did made sense once I reflected on it. Finally, some details concerning spatial and time relationships were confusing, but that may be a function of the advance copy I read and will be corrected in the printed version.

Readers who enjoy literary fiction, coming of age stories, narratives about extreme religion, and of course, books set in Oklahoma should read Into Captivity They Will Go.

Thank you to NetGalley and Central Avenue Publishing for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Right After the Weather, in a moment, everything can change

Right After the Weather
Carol Anshaw

Happy Publication Day!

A set designer with a master’s degree, but an unsteady income, Cate, at forty-two, gets by—barely—only because her ex-husband bought her a condo and her parents still give her money. Still, she is working on Plan C which involves a new relationship with Maureen and the possibility of working with a renowned playwright and director Off-Broadway even as her old relationships simmer on the surface. Her ex-husband, Graham, separated from his third wife, has taken residence in her guest room and spends his days online discussing conspiracy theories, while she can’t shed feelings for Dana who is firmly committed to her girlfriend despite their passionate affair.

Cate’s singular constant is Neale, her best friend since childhood. When Cate arrives at Neale’s house to pick her up for a yoga class and sees her being brutally attacked, Cate responds with equal savagery. That moment of violence ripples through all Cate’s relationships, challenging her very assumptions about herself and her closest confidants.

Right after the Weather is highly character driven and low on plot, but the writing is spectacular, and the themes are thought-provoking. Set in the fall of 2016 and spring of 2017, the characters grapple with Trump’s victory and the associated issues it raised.

That Cate is in theater as a set designer shows an interesting profession but more than that, the act of designing a set can be seen to parallel that of presenting a particularly curated face, one that Cate has to defend when her story becomes public. Faced with such a clear delineation between before and after, Cate, Neale, and the other characters in their orbit must renegotiate not only what they mean to each other, but their very identities.

For fans of Ottessa Moshfegh, Binnie Kirshenbaum, and Jen Beagin.

Thanks to NetGalley and Atria Books for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.