A delicate, atmospheric ghost story with satisfying layers of insight and substance.

THE TELLING

In a decaying English country cottage, the past bleeds hauntingly into the present after a fragile young woman’s arrival activates echoes of grief and loss.

Subtle and suggestive, Baker’s (The Mermaid’s Child, 2014, etc.) version of gothic delivers its ghostliness in the incidental details: ripples in the atmosphere, voices, scents, movements at the corner of an eye. The setting is an underpopulated village where Rachel, a young mother, has gone to clear out her parents’ retirement home, called Reading Room Cottage. Losing her mother to cancer, at the same time she was having her own first child, has left Rachel unstable and her relationship with her partner, Mark, intermittently strained. Now alone for a couple of weeks, having left Mark and the baby behind, she finds herself sucked into an increasingly disturbing vortex of moods linked to the dwelling and its old bookcase. In alternating chapters another voice is heard—that of housemaid Lizzy, who shared the overcrowded cottage with her family and a politically minded lodger, Mr. Moore, in the mid-19th century. Through her interactions with Moore, Lizzy glimpses a different kind of existence—a world of books, intimacy, and possibility—beyond her constricted, work-dominated life. This 2008 novel by Baker, now being published for the first time in the U.S., combines several of her trademark themes: the lives of women, the past, and—particularly reminiscent of her bestselling Longbourn (2013)—the endlessly exhausting labor of the working class. Best of all, it showcases her gift for observation and fresh angle of approach. Though undoubtedly a ghost story, and at times a spooky read, the book offers acceptance and heartfelt compassion in its twin female portraits.

A delicate, atmospheric ghost story with satisfying layers of insight and substance.

Pub Date: July 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8041-7265-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Vintage

Review Posted Online: April 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2015

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Real events like the Vietnam draft and Stonewall uprising enter the characters' family history as well as a stunning plot...

THE RULES OF MAGIC

The Owens sisters are back—not in their previous guise as elderly aunties casting spells in Hoffman’s occult romance Practical Magic (1995), but as fledgling witches in the New York City captured in Patti Smith's memoir Just Kids.

In that magical, mystical milieu, Franny and Bridget are joined by a new character: their foxy younger brother, Vincent, whose “unearthly” charm sends grown women in search of love potions. Heading into the summer of 1960, the three Owens siblings are ever more conscious of their family's quirkiness—and not just the incidents of levitation and gift for reading each other's thoughts while traipsing home to their parents' funky Manhattan town house. The instant Franny turns 17, they are all shipped off to spend the summer with their mother's aunt in Massachusetts. Isabelle Owens might enlist them for esoteric projects like making black soap or picking herbs to cure a neighbor's jealousy, but she at least offers respite from their fretful mother's strict rules against going shoeless, bringing home stray birds, wandering into Greenwich Village, or falling in love. In short order, the siblings meet a know-it-all Boston cousin, April, who brings them up to speed on the curse set in motion by their Salem-witch ancestor, Maria Owens. It spells certain death for males who attempt to woo an Owens woman. Naturally this knowledge does not deter the current generation from circumventing the rule—Bridget most passionately, Franny most rationally, and Vincent most recklessly (believing his gender may protect him). In time, the sisters ignore their mother's plea and move to Greenwich Village, setting up an apothecary, while their rock-star brother, who glimpsed his future in Isabelle’s nifty three-way mirror, breaks hearts like there's no tomorrow. No one's more confident or entertaining than Hoffman at putting across characters willing to tempt fate for true love.

Real events like the Vietnam draft and Stonewall uprising enter the characters' family history as well as a stunning plot twist—delivering everything fans of a much-loved book could hope for in a prequel.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5011-3747-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Aug. 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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Fans of smart horror will sink their teeth into this one.

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THE SOUTHERN BOOK CLUB'S GUIDE TO SLAYING VAMPIRES

Things are about to get bloody for a group of Charleston housewives.

In 1988, the scariest thing in former nurse Patricia Campbell’s life is showing up to book club, since she hasn’t read the book. It’s hard to get any reading done between raising two kids, Blue and Korey, picking up after her husband, Carter, a psychiatrist, and taking care of her live-in mother-in-law, Miss Mary, who seems to have dementia. It doesn’t help that the books chosen by the Literary Guild of Mt. Pleasant are just plain boring. But when fellow book-club member Kitty gives Patricia a gloriously trashy true-crime novel, Patricia is instantly hooked, and soon she’s attending a very different kind of book club with Kitty and her friends Grace, Slick, and Maryellen. She has a full plate at home, but Patricia values her new friendships and still longs for a bit of excitement. When James Harris moves in down the street, the women are intrigued. Who is this handsome night owl, and why does Miss Mary insist that she knows him? A series of horrific events stretches Patricia’s nerves and her Southern civility to the breaking point. (A skin-crawling scene involving a horde of rats is a standout.) She just knows James is up to no good, but getting anyone to believe her is a Sisyphean feat. After all, she’s just a housewife. Hendrix juxtaposes the hypnotic mundanity of suburbia (which has a few dark underpinnings of its own) against an insidious evil that has taken root in Patricia’s insular neighborhood. It’s gratifying to see her grow from someone who apologizes for apologizing to a fiercely brave woman determined to do the right thing—hopefully with the help of her friends. Hendrix (We Sold Our Souls, 2018, etc.) cleverly sprinkles in nods to well-established vampire lore, and the fact that he’s a master at conjuring heady 1990s nostalgia is just the icing on what is his best book yet.

Fans of smart horror will sink their teeth into this one.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-68369-143-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Quirk Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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