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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Certainly not for all readers, but anyone interested in seeing William Peter Blatty’s infamous The Exorcist (1971) by way of...

MY BEST FRIEND'S EXORCISM

The wonder of friendship proves to be stronger than the power of Christ when an ancient demon possesses a teenage girl.

Hendrix was outrageously inventive with his debut novel (Horrorstör, 2014) and continues his winning streak with a nostalgic (if blood-soaked) horror story to warm the hearts of Gen Xers. “The exorcist is dead,” Hendrix writes in the very first line of the novel, as a middle-aged divorcée named Abby Rivers reflects back on the friendship that defined her life. In flashbacks, Abby meets her best friend, Gretchen Lang, at her 10th birthday party in 1982, forever cementing their comradeship. The bulk of the novel is set in 1988, and it’s an unabashed love letter to big hair, heavy metal, and all the pop-culture trappings of the era, complete with chapter titles ripped from songs all the way from “Don’t You Forget About Me” to “And She Was.” Things go sideways when Abby, Gretchen, and two friends venture off to a cabin in the woods (as happens) to experiment with LSD. After Gretchen disappears for a night, she returns a changed girl. Hendrix walks a precipitously fine line in his portrayal, leaving the story open to doubt whether Gretchen is really possessed or has simply fallen prey to the vanities and duplicities that high school sometimes inspires. He also ferociously captures the frustrations of adolescence as Abby seeks adult help in her plight and is relentlessly dismissed by her elders. She finally finds a hero in Brother Lemon, a member of a Christian boy band, the Lemon Brothers Faith and Fitness Show, who agrees to help her. When Abby’s demon finally shows its true colors in the book’s denouement, it’s not only a spectacularly grotesque and profane depiction of exorcism, but counterintuitively a truly inspiring portrayal of the resilience of friendship.

Certainly not for all readers, but anyone interested in seeing William Peter Blatty’s infamous The Exorcist (1971) by way of Heathers shouldn’t miss it.

Pub Date: May 17, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59474-862-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Quirk Books

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

A BLIGHT OF BLACKWINGS

Book 2 of Hearne's latest fantasy trilogy, The Seven Kennings (A Plague of Giants, 2017), set in a multiracial world thrust into turmoil by an invasion of peculiar giants.

In this world, most races have their own particular magical endowment, or “kenning,” though there are downsides to trying to gain the magic (an excellent chance of being killed instead) and using it (rapid aging and death). Most recently discovered is the sixth kenning, whose beneficiaries can talk to and command animals. The story canters along, although with multiple first-person narrators, it's confusing at times. Some characters are familiar, others are new, most of them with their own problems to solve, all somehow caught up in the grand design. To escape her overbearing father and the unreasoning violence his kind represents, fire-giant Olet Kanek leads her followers into the far north, hoping to found a new city where the races and kennings can peacefully coexist. Joining Olet are young Abhinava Khose, discoverer of the sixth kenning, and, later, Koesha Gansu (kenning: air), captain of an all-female crew shipwrecked by deep-sea monsters. Elsewhere, Hanima, who commands hive insects, struggles to free her city from the iron grip of wealthy, callous merchant monarchists. Other threads focus on the Bone Giants, relentless invaders seeking the still-unknown seventh kenning, whose confidence that this can defeat the other six is deeply disturbing. Under Hearne's light touch, these elements mesh perfectly, presenting an inventive, eye-filling panorama; satisfying (and, where appropriate, well-resolved) plotlines; and tensions between the races and their kennings to supply much of the drama.

A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-345-54857-3

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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