Occasionally ham-fisted, but good fun overall.

THE WEREWOLF OF BAMBERG

Someone or something is chomping on the good burgers of Bamberg, and it’s up to executioner-turned-detective Jakob Kuisl to figure out the whys and wherefores.

Being a hangman has some bennies, including, in the fraught era of counterreformation and inquisition, plenty of job security. Yet Jakob has been ticked off at the good citizens of Schongau ever since his pop “died in great agony” in a cold winter that saw the 1 percent comfortably bundled in furs and the great masses dying of hunger and frostbite. So what’s a self-respecting Bavarian to do? Head for a cathedral city for beer and solace, of course. In the company of daughter Magdalena and occasionally hapless son-in-law Simon (“If you can read books,” growls Jakob, “why can’t you read people?”), Jakob thus makes for Bamberg, where much is amiss. In this latest installment in the Hangman’s Daughter series, bestselling German writer Pötzsch (The Beggar King, 2013, etc.) is not always well-served by an off-handedness that sometimes comes off like Dick Shawn in The Producers (“Maybe he has the plague….That’s going around now”). Still, the setup is delicious: in a time of maddening superstition and general ineptitude (“These stupid drunks would probably get stuck even in a dry riverbed”), some party unknown is adding to the chaos by sinking blades or perhaps fangs and claws into the necks of the unsuspecting Bambergers, and it’s a grand entertainment to watch Jakob and associates go all CSI on the proceedings and sniff, deduce, and otherwise reason toward a solution that involves plenty of red herrings—or red simians, anyway. Fans of catacombs and secret underground cities will thrill at Jakob’s discoveries, and along the way Pötzsch turns in some quietly thoughtful moments that aren’t gooey with sentiment: “As a hangman’s daughter,” he writes to lovely effect, “Magdalena knew all too well how it felt when people looked away when they saw you and secretly crossed themselves.”

Occasionally ham-fisted, but good fun overall.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-544-61094-1

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Oct. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 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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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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