An overly rich treacle tart, sweet and flavorful but hard to get through.

THE BOOK OF MAGIC

In the conclusion to Hoffman’s Practical Magic series, a present-day family of witches and healers wages a final battle against the curse that has plagued them since 1680.

Thanks to an ancestor’s bitter curse, anyone who's been in love with and/or been loved by an Owens family member for the last 300 years has met death and tragedy (with rare exceptions involving risks and personal sacrifice). Hoffman’s prequel, Magic Lessons (2020), detailed the origin of the curse. In this series finale, Hoffman brings the three most recent generations together: sisters Sally and Gillian, whose youthful adventures introduced the series in Practical Magic (1995); their beloved elderly aunts, Jet and Franny, and long-lost uncle Vincent, children themselves in 1960s Manhattan in Rules of Magic (2017); and Sally’s daughters, Kylie and Antonia, whom she’s shielded from knowledge of their unusual heritage and its curse. The novel opens with Jet about to die, aware she has no time to use the knowledge she’s recently gained to end the curse herself. Instead, she leaves clues that send her survivors on a circuitous path involving a mysterious book filled with magic that could be dangerous in the wrong hands. Then an accident makes the need to break the curse acute. What follows is a novel overripe with plot twists, lofty romances, and some ugly violence along with detailed magic recipes, enjoyably sly literary references, and somewhat repetitive memories of key moments from the previous volumes. While centered in the Massachusetts town where the Owens family moved in the 17th century, the novel travels to current-day England (briefly detouring to France) and becomes a battle of good versus evil. The Owens women’s greatest challenge is knowing whom to trust—or love. Hoffman strongly hints that the danger arising when someone chooses incorrectly is less a matter of magic than psychology and morality. Ultimately, for better or worse, each Owens woman must face her fear of love. For all the talk of magic, the message here is that personal courage and the capacity to love are the deepest sources of an individual’s power.

An overly rich treacle tart, sweet and flavorful but hard to get through.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982151-48-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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Murder most foul and mayhem most entertaining. Another worthy page-turner from a protean master.

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BILLY SUMMERS

The ever prolific King moves from his trademark horror into the realm of the hard-boiled noir thriller.

“He’s not a normal person. He’s a hired assassin, and if he doesn’t think like who and what he is, he’ll never get clear.” So writes King of his title character, whom the Las Vegas mob has brought in to rub out another hired gun who’s been caught and is likely to talk. Billy, who goes by several names, is a complex man, a Marine veteran of the Iraq War who’s seen friends blown to pieces; he’s perhaps numbed by PTSD, but he’s goal-oriented. He’s also a reader—Zola’s novel Thérèse Raquin figures as a MacGuffin—which sets his employer’s wheels spinning: If a reader, then why not have him pretend he’s a writer while he’s waiting for the perfect moment to make his hit? It wouldn’t be the first writer, real or imagined, King has pressed into service, and if Billy is no Jack Torrance, there’s a lovely, subtle hint of the Overlook Hotel and its spectral occupants at the end of the yarn. It’s no spoiler to say that whereas Billy carries out the hit with grim precision, things go squirrelly, complicated by his rescue of a young woman—Alice—after she’s been roofied and raped. Billy’s revenge on her behalf is less than sweet. As a memoir grows in his laptop, Billy becomes more confident as a writer: “He doesn’t know what anyone else might think, but Billy thinks it’s good,” King writes of one day’s output. “And good that it’s awful, because awful is sometimes the truth. He guesses he really is a writer now, because that’s a writer’s thought.” Billy’s art becomes life as Alice begins to take an increasingly important part in it, crisscrossing the country with him to carry out a final hit on an errant bad guy: “He flopped back on the sofa, kicked once, and fell on the floor. His days of raping children and murdering sons and God knew what else were over.” That story within a story has a nice twist, and Billy’s battered copy of Zola’s book plays a part, too.

Murder most foul and mayhem most entertaining. Another worthy page-turner from a protean master.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982173-61-6

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

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CLOUD CUCKOO LAND

An ancient Greek manuscript connects humanity's past, present, and future.

Stranger, whoever you are, open this to learn what will amaze you” wrote Antonius Diogenes at the end of the first century C.E.—and millennia later, Pulitzer Prize winner Doerr is his fitting heir. Around Diogenes' manuscript, "Cloud Cuckoo Land"—the author did exist, but the text is invented—Doerr builds a community of readers and nature lovers that transcends the boundaries of time and space. The protagonist of the original story is Aethon, a shepherd whose dream of escaping to a paradise in the sky leads to a wild series of adventures in the bodies of beast, fish, and fowl. Aethon's story is first found by Anna in 15th-century Constantinople; though a failure as an apprentice seamstress, she's learned ancient Greek from an elderly scholar. Omeir, a country boy of the same period, is rejected by the world for his cleft lip—but forms the deepest of connections with his beautiful oxen, Moonlight and Tree. In the 1950s, Zeno Ninis, a troubled ex–GI in Lakeport, Idaho, finds peace in working on a translation of Diogenes' recently recovered manuscript. In 2020, 86-year-old Zeno helps a group of youngsters put the story on as a play at the Lakeport Public Library—unaware that an eco-terrorist is planting a bomb in the building during dress rehearsal. (This happens in the first pages of the book and continues ticking away throughout.) On a spaceship called the Argos bound for Beta Oph2 in Mission Year 65, a teenage girl named Konstance is sequestered in a sealed room with a computer named Sybil. How could she possibly encounter Zeno's translation? This is just one of the many narrative miracles worked by the author as he brings a first-century story to its conclusion in 2146.

As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982168-43-8

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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