A sprawling tale of persecution and hysteria set in the vivid world of New York City’s Victorian era.

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THE WITCHES OF NEW YORK

Old New York shows its magic and its darkness in McKay’s (The Virgin Cure, 2012, etc.) latest novel.

It wasn’t easy for 17-year-old Beatrice Dunn to make it to Manhattan in 1880, but she experienced a pull to the city that felt otherworldly. Open to witchcraft and magic, Beatrice makes her way to Tea and Sympathy, a small tea shop near Madison Square Park that specializes in more than just the newest brew. Its owners, Adelaide Thom and Eleanor St. Clair, provide a variety of services to their predominantly female clientele, including access to marital aids and abortifacients. While the women who come into the shop are seeking the means to control their own destinies, the shop’s unique product line makes it a target of religious fanatics and zealots aiming to rid the world of evil and witchcraft. The atmosphere becomes even more dangerous with Beatrice’s arrival; it is discovered that she possesses the power to communicate with the dead. Though Adelaide and Eleanor help her learn the intricacies of her gift, her ability places her in grave danger. With a remarkable cast of characters—from the obsessive and maniacal Rev. Townsend, who aims to rid society of witchcraft, and the occasionally helpful ghost of his victim, suspected witch Lena McLeod, to the talking raven, Perdu, and a cast of mysterious and meddlesome creatures called Dearlies who inhabit the tea shop—McKay has crafted a stunning work that bridges the gap between historical and contemporary women's issues. The novel is ambitious in its scope yet still delves deep into the thoughts and motivations of characters who normally exist on society's outskirts—or even beyond the earthly realm. Working alongside the women’s suffrage movement, these “witches” demonstrate that there are many routes to take toward freedom and autonomy. While Tea and Sympathy seeks to be a refuge for women in need, paranoia and fear of the unknown are sweeping through the city’s most devoutly religious circles. The novel is brimming with the spirits of those who have been lost to others' devotion and fear, and McKay's elegant prose bridges the gap between the real world and the spiritual realm with skill and compassion.

A sprawling tale of persecution and hysteria set in the vivid world of New York City’s Victorian era.

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-235992-6

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Harper Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2017

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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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Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.

THE TESTAMENTS

Atwood goes back to Gilead.

The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), consistently regarded as a masterpiece of 20th-century literature, has gained new attention in recent years with the success of the Hulu series as well as fresh appreciation from readers who feel like this story has new relevance in America’s current political climate. Atwood herself has spoken about how news headlines have made her dystopian fiction seem eerily plausible, and it’s not difficult to imagine her wanting to revisit Gilead as the TV show has sped past where her narrative ended. Like the novel that preceded it, this sequel is presented as found documents—first-person accounts of life inside a misogynistic theocracy from three informants. There is Agnes Jemima, a girl who rejects the marriage her family arranges for her but still has faith in God and Gilead. There’s Daisy, who learns on her 16th birthday that her whole life has been a lie. And there's Aunt Lydia, the woman responsible for turning women into Handmaids. This approach gives readers insight into different aspects of life inside and outside Gilead, but it also leads to a book that sometimes feels overstuffed. The Handmaid’s Tale combined exquisite lyricism with a powerful sense of urgency, as if a thoughtful, perceptive woman was racing against time to give witness to her experience. That narrator hinted at more than she said; Atwood seemed to trust readers to fill in the gaps. This dynamic created an atmosphere of intimacy. However curious we might be about Gilead and the resistance operating outside that country, what we learn here is that what Atwood left unsaid in the first novel generated more horror and outrage than explicit detail can. And the more we get to know Agnes, Daisy, and Aunt Lydia, the less convincing they become. It’s hard, of course, to compete with a beloved classic, so maybe the best way to read this new book is to forget about The Handmaid’s Tale and enjoy it as an artful feminist thriller.

Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54378-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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