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

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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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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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