Ruiz Zafón narrowly avoids preciousness, and the ghosts of Spain that turn up around every corner are real enough. Readers...

THE PRISONER OF HEAVEN

From the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series , Vol. 3

The Count of Monte Cristo finds justice—after a fashion, anyway, and by the most roundabout of routes.

Daniel Sempere leads a life of bookish desperation in a Barcelona still reeling from the years of the Franco dictatorship. His father is even more desperate; no one is buying his wares, and there are always bills to pay. It’s with considerable if very temporary relief that, while his father is away from their bookshop, Daniel sells a rare copy of The Count of Monte Cristo to a shadowy stranger who uses it to send a message to a helper in the store: “For Fermín Romero de Torres, who came back from among the dead and holds the key to the future.” Who is the stranger, and what does his dark message mean? Will Daniel’s long-suffering wife run off, leaving the book retailer for a book publisher? Will anyone in our time read Dumas père’s book without having to be assigned to do so? For that matter, why did Franco ban Dumas, and what kind of trouble is Daniel in for because he has a copy for sale? From those promising if murky beginnings, Ruiz Zafón’s story takes off, resembling a Poe story here, a dark Lovecraft fantasy there, a sunny Christopher Morley yarn over there. The influences of those authors, to say nothing of Dumas and Balzac, are everywhere, though it’s a little disconcerting to find a street girl talking like Oliver Twist: “It’s me tits....A joy to look at, aren’t they, even though I shouldn’t say so.” But Ruiz Zafón’s story soon takes twists into the fantastic and metaphorical, heading underground literally and figuratively, to places such as the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a place that only good and diligent readers ever get to visit, and in which the solution to the mystery is lain.

Ruiz Zafón narrowly avoids preciousness, and the ghosts of Spain that turn up around every corner are real enough. Readers are likely to get a kick out of this improbable, oddly entertaining allegory.

Pub Date: July 10, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-220628-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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

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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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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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