A finely constructed linked story collection full of Indigenous American ghosts and goblins.

GHOST DAYS

Elbein shares tales of a turn-of-the-century Appalachian witch in this illustrated debut story collection.

After her husband, Tom, stumbles back to their cabin in a remote Appalachian holler near death and muttering the word “Ewah,” Anna O’Brien knows that the only way to help him is to seek out the aid of the local witch. The witch confirms that an Ewah—an ancient spirit of madness—has possessed Tom, and it will be nearly impossible to save him: “ ‘To banish the Ewah,’ the witch said, soft, ‘you need power, and power is a strange thing. Some you have. Some you have to trade for. A price higher, perhaps, than you wish to pay.’ ” The witch gives Anna the Wampus Mask to drive away the Ewah, but this might not cure Tom, and Anna might lose even more than a husband. In these eight stories, Elbein unspools the legend of Anna O’Brien, the one-legged witch of the Appalachians. In “Night on the Bald,” Anna tries to avoid spending a night in the open by following a dog to an abandoned church, but she ends up amid a coven of witches—led by a malignant raven spirit—thirsty for stolen souls. In “The Revenant Score,” Anna attempts to exorcize a gold-guarding ghost from a lonely graveyard by delivering a message to a living family only to end up a hostage in a bank robbery. In “Pretty Flowers Are Made for Blooming,” a pair of women in a farmhouse invite the traveling Anna in out of the rain, though she soon learns she’s not the only magical being expected for supper. Through hollows and mountain villages, these eight stories track Anna, whose powers bloom as she combats an increasingly strange and dangerous assortment of beasts and spirits straight out of campfire stories. Elbein’s prose is crisp and highly sensory, building tension within each fable with the skill of a veteran storyteller: “When the first movement came under her foot it was a soft shiver, like a sleeper waking from a dream. Anna O’Brien straightened and held up the lamp, the light playing over the gravestones and dried dogsbane, sparkling off the rocks. As she shifted something knocked, deep down below.” The ghouls that populate Anna’s world come mostly from Cherokee mythology—Anna is herself of Cherokee descent—which provides a surprising, refreshing change from typical European-influenced American fabulist fiction. Each story stands alone, but cumulatively, they outline the evolution of Anna from a rural housewife to an old wives’ tale in her own right. Accompanying the collection are marvelous full-page illustrations by Turrill, which help the reader to better picture Anna’s antagonists, like the soul-devouring Kalona Ayeliski, or Raven Mocker. Though Anna is an original character of Elbein’s, the ways the author and illustrator texture her give her the feel of a Rip Van Winkle or Ichabod Crane: a character who has been wandering hills—and storybooks—for generations.

A finely constructed linked story collection full of Indigenous American ghosts and goblins.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-1-73297-641-2

Page Count: -

Publisher: Campanian Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

BAREFOOT

Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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