The literary equivalent of a slasher movie, one that garners its biggest frights with mere implication.

GRIMM WOODS

A demented murderer—inspired by a summer camp’s fairy-tale theme—hunts young counselors in this horror outing.

Scott Mamer is one of several first-time counselors for the upcoming three-month stint at Camp Crownheart, but at 21, he’s also the oldest. Losing out on six weeks of construction work and with rent due, Scott responded to an ad for the camp, which caters to troubled kids and resembles a fairy tale, with cobblestone paths leading to huts instead of cabins. Abiding by owner Charlotte Becker’s rule to “behave impeccably” means Scott will temporarily have to give up his beloved cigarettes. But things are looking up once he sparks a conversation with striking blonde and fellow counselor Brynn. The next morning, however, when the first busload of kids arrives, two counselors are noticeably absent. They both turn up dead from an apparent accident, but Charlotte has no plans to shut down the camp, believing that would be more harmful for the hundreds of children who’ll be attending this summer. Sadly, later deaths are unmistakably at the hands of a killer, whose murders recall fairy tales: not the family-friendly variety, but the original, violent stories à la the Brothers Grimm. The generally indifferent Scott will have to decide whether he wants to help others or only himself. Melhoff (Turkey Town, 2014, etc.) hits all the trademarks of a slasher film, from the camp setting to a horde of sex-starved teens. This includes the occasional pratfall: most of the would-be victims, even the protagonist initially, are unsympathetic, seemingly interested in partying above all else. Regardless, the author shrewdly gives prominence to suspense over the murders, often shown after the fact. Tension builds with copious scenes in the woods at night, ominous sounds like hooting owls, and silhouettes lurking in the shadows. At the same time, Scott’s likability gets a significant bump when he conquers his obvious discomfort around children and becomes a protector. And while the killer’s identity isn’t immediately known, there’s likewise mystery surrounding Scott, who receives a cryptic message from the murderer that may have him revisiting a stowed-away memory.

The literary equivalent of a slasher movie, one that garners its biggest frights with mere implication.

Pub Date: June 17, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9921331-3-9

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Bellwoods Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 13, 2016

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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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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