Fortified by vibrant characters and a tenacious plot; it packs a mean punch when readers least expect it.

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MISSING IN MACHU PICCHU

A hike on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu leads a group of Ivy League women into the crux of deceit and debauchery in Velástegui’s novel.

Taki and Koyam, street vendors in the Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru, overhear several ladies talking about a tour group. The two elderly locals are worried when they mention their prospective guide, Rodrigo, who’s notorious for his reputed involvement in child trafficking and hasn’t shown his face in Cusco in two years. Taki, who has psychiclike visions, and Koyam trail the group as the women trek to meet up with Rodrigo, while revenge-seeking Violette, who once accused the corrupt man of sacrificing her baby, also shadows the hikers. The novel (Traces of Bliss, 2012, etc.) brims with historical facts, including recurrent allusions to Hiram Bingham, the explorer who claimed to have discovered Machu Picchu in 1911. Some of these passages, like specifics on mallquis (mummified remains used in worship), slow the novel’s tempo a bit. Still, they serve a narrative purpose and occur less frequently in the more intense second half, when Rodrigo’s plan comes to light. The five women of the group, all with hopes of overcoming the perils of online dating, are each given memorable personalities, including the dense but resilient Tiffany, who drives home points with “duh-uh.” The evolutions of the individual women provide some of the book’s pluses—their mutual dislike of one another is indisputable, but they gradually come to friendly terms during their ordeal. Rodrigo is an intimidating bad guy, complete with minions who do his bidding and a god complex; he quite literally believes he’s Illapa, the god of thunder. The novel does have comic relief, mostly in the form of Sandra, whose accented English is phonetically rendered. She insists that others pronounce her name “Zahndrah,” and she spends much of her time not spending money and even demanding a refund when she hasn’t paid anything at all. There’s also a considerable narrative bite—some characters end up battered and bloody, and others may not make it out alive.

Fortified by vibrant characters and a tenacious plot; it packs a mean punch when readers least expect it.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-9851769-4-5

Page Count: 344

Publisher: Libros

Review Posted Online: Dec. 10, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2013

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Vintage King: a pleasure for his many fans and not a bad place to start if you’re new to him.

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IF IT BLEEDS

The master of supernatural disaster returns with four horror-laced novellas.

The protagonist of the title story, Holly Gibney, is by King’s own admission one of his most beloved characters, a “quirky walk-on” who quickly found herself at the center of some very unpleasant goings-on in End of Watch, Mr. Mercedes, and The Outsider. The insect-licious proceedings of the last are revisited, most yuckily, while some of King’s favorite conceits turn up: What happens if the dead are never really dead but instead show up generation after generation, occupying different bodies but most certainly exercising their same old mean-spirited voodoo? It won’t please TV journalists to know that the shape-shifting bad guys in that title story just happen to be on-the-ground reporters who turn up at very ugly disasters—and even cause them, albeit many decades apart. Think Jack Torrance in that photo at the end of The Shining, and you’ve got the general idea. “Only a coincidence, Holly thinks, but a chill shivers through her just the same,” King writes, “and once again she thinks of how there may be forces in this world moving people as they will, like men (and women) on a chessboard.” In the careful-what-you-wish-for department, Rat is one of those meta-referential things King enjoys: There are the usual hallucinatory doings, a destiny-altering rodent, and of course a writer protagonist who makes a deal with the devil for success that he thinks will outsmart the fates. No such luck, of course. Perhaps the most troubling story is the first, which may cause iPhone owners to rethink their purchases. King has gone a far piece from the killer clowns and vampires of old, with his monsters and monstrosities taking on far more quotidian forms—which makes them all the scarier.

Vintage King: a pleasure for his many fans and not a bad place to start if you’re new to him.

Pub Date: April 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3797-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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