An impressive step forward for the versatile Phillips, who continues to engage, surprise and entertain.

ANGELICA

A symphony of psychological complexity and misdirection in four increasingly tricky movements displays the varied wares of the gifted Phillips (The Egyptologist, 2004, etc.).

In a brooding family drama set in turn-of-the-century London (presumably the turn from the 19th to the 20th), former shopgirl Constance Barton begins to withdraw from her husband, Joseph (a medical researcher who had formerly served with the British Army), and into protective intimacy with their bewitching four-year-old daughter Angelica, whose birth had been preceded by several miscarriages. Fearful of enduring another failed pregnancy, Constance forsakes her husband’s bed, pleading that the sensitive Angelica needs her constantly. And, appalled by evidence of the “cruelty” of Joseph’s researches (i.e., mutilation and vivisection of animals), repelled by his evident masculine needs, Constance persuades herself that she sees proof of both malign ghostly presences invading their home and the more-than-fatherly interest shown toward Angelica by Joseph (born Bartone, hence of hot-blooded ancestry). Is Constance mad, or does she alone sense the presence of unspeakable evil? Phillips juggles possibilities almost as adroitly as did Henry James in this novel’s likely inspiration, The Turn of the Screw—and he ups the ante in successive narratives focused on the duplicitous spiritualist (“Anne Montague”) engaged by Constance, who quickly falls under this formidable older woman’s not-entirely-professional influence; “Joseph Barton” himself, who gradually emerges as rather less a villain than an ingenuous victim; and finally “Angelica,” years after the novel’s major events, when she has learned—but still does not fully understand—the personal histories that set her formerly loving parents at incompatible odds. A further mystery is found in the identity of the narrator, neatly revealed late in the story (though less of a surprise than Phillips perhaps intends). Elegant writing abounds, as do probing characterizations and flashes of wit (the two nicely conjoined in the figure of self-important, gourmandizing consulting psychologist Doctor Miles).

An impressive step forward for the versatile Phillips, who continues to engage, surprise and entertain.

Pub Date: April 10, 2007

ISBN: 1-4000-6251-9

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2007

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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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