Master storyteller Hoffman’s tale pours like cream but is too thick with plot redundancies and long-winded history lessons.

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MAGIC LESSONS

Set in late-17th-century England and America, the pre-prequel to Hoffman’s Practical Magic (1995) and The Rules of Magic (2017) covers the earliest generations of magically empowered Owens women and the legacy they created.

In 1664, Hannah Owens, practitioner of “the Nameless Art” sometimes called witchcraft, finds baby Maria abandoned near her isolated cottage in Essex County, England. She lovingly teaches ancient healing methods to Maria, whose star birthmark indicates inherent magical powers; and since Hannah considers ink and paper the most powerful magic, she also teaches Maria reading and writing. After vengeful men murder Hannah in 1674, Maria escapes first to her unmotherly birth mother, a troubled practitioner of dark, self-serving magic, then to Curaçao as an indentured servant. At 15 she is seduced by 37-year-old American businessman John Hathorne (his name an allusion to Nathaniel Hawthorne, who wrote about mistreatment of marked women). Enchanted by the island, Puritan Hathorne loses his rigidity long enough to impregnate Maria before returning to Salem, Massachusetts, without saying goodbye. Maria, with new daughter Faith, whose birthmark is a half-moon, follows him. The ship on which she travels is captained by a Sephardic Jew who gives her passage in return for treating his son’s dengue fever, an excuse for Hoffman to link two long-standing unfair persecutions—of smart women as witches and Jews as, well, Jews. That Maria will find a truer love with warmhearted Jewish sailor Sam than with icy Hathorne makes sense in terms of later Owens women’s stories. For the earlier books to work, Maria must found her female dynasty in Salem, but first she and Faith face betrayals, mistakes, and moral challenges. Maria uses her powers to help others but often misreads her own future with devastating results; separated from Maria during her childhood, emotionally damaged Faith is tempted to use her grandmother’s selfish “left-handed” magic.

Master storyteller Hoffman’s tale pours like cream but is too thick with plot redundancies and long-winded history lessons.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982108-84-7

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Follett's fans will enjoy this jaunt through the days before England was merry.

THE EVENING AND THE MORNING

Murder, sex, and unholy ambition threaten to overwhelm the glimmers of light in Dark Ages England in this prequel to The Pillars of the Earth (1989).

A Viking raid in 997 C.E. kills Edgar’s one true love, Sungifu, and he vows never to love another—but come on, he’s only 18. The young man is a talented builder who has strong personal values. Weighing the consequences of helping a slave escape, he muses, “Perhaps there were principles more important than the rule of law.” Meanwhile, Lady Ragna is a beautiful French noblewoman who comes to Shiring, marries the local ealdorman, Wilwulf, and starts a family. Much of the action takes place in Dreng’s Ferry, a tiny hamlet with “half a dozen houses and a church.” Dreng is a venal, vicious ferryman who hurls his slave’s newborn child into a river and is only one of several characters whose death readers will eagerly root for. Bishop Wynstan lusts to become an archbishop and will crush anyone who stands in his way. He clashes with Ragna as she announces she is lord of the Vale of Outhen. “Wait!” he says to the people, “Are you going to be ruled by a mere woman?” (Wynstan’s fate is delicious.) Aldred is a kindly monk who harbors an unrequited love for Edgar, who in turn loves Ragna but knows it’s hopeless: Although widowed after Wilwulf’s sudden death, she remains above Edgar’s station. There are plenty of other colorful people in this richly told, complex story: slaves, rapists, fornicators, nobles, murderers, kind and decent people, and men of the cloth with “Whore’s Leprosy.” The plot at its core, though, is boy meets girl—OK, Edgar meets Ragna—and a whole lot of trouble stands in the way of their happiness. They are attractive and sympathetic protagonists, and more’s the pity they’re stuck in the 11th century. Readers may guess the ending well before Page 900—yes, it’s that long—but Follett is a powerful storyteller who will hold their attention anyway.

Follett's fans will enjoy this jaunt through the days before England was merry.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-595498-9

Page Count: 928

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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