A devilishly satisfying work of twisted comedy starring the exploits of an unrepentant alcoholic joker.

THEY LAUGHED AT ME

In Kempf’s horror novel, a troubled addict adds revenge to his long list of missteps.

Prolific horror writer Kempf’s knack for deft characterization is on vivid display with his Pennsylvanian protagonist Jack Lively, a recovering alcoholic, raging drunk driver, wife batterer, father of one, and “three-time loser.” After a series of drunken blackouts and arrests, resulting in “three DUIs in two years,” he is placed on nine months of house arrest. Oddly, he is allowed a travel radius that includes a small bar where he performs onstage. Lively is a comedian whose penchant for raunchy black humor often leaves audiences angry. Adding misery on top of despair is Emily—his embittered “heartless, cruel, and mean” ex-wife—for whom he harbors a seething resentment despite the temporary relief found at Twelve Steps meetings and regular romps with Riley, a local escort. Between check-up visits from his community corrections officer and random breathalyzer tests, recurring dreams of murdering Emily haunt him. While his comedy routine is consistently offensive (including a skit involving a bloody stuffed bunny), Lively’s interactions with his appalled, heckling audiences result in several rousing sequences in Kempf’s short novel. Also notable is the author’s realistic portrayal of Lively’s alcoholism, which manifests itself in painful cravings he calls his “sleeping giant.” In the ultimate vengeance ruse to rob and murder Emily, Lively conspires with Riley, who desperately needs a cash infusion to repay her pimp, and the expected mayhem ensues. Kempf’s first-person narration dives deep into Lively’s psyche to expose his fear of failure, his devotion to alcohol, and the dark, murderous nature of a revenge plot. The author manages to evoke sympathy for his protagonist within his innate struggle to survive and to make sense of his misled life. In Kempf’s world, there are no happy endings, but there are unquestionable comeuppance and wry humor in spades. This potent novel will appeal particularly to fans of bleak humor and bad-guy characters who remain shameless from beginning to end.

A devilishly satisfying work of twisted comedy starring the exploits of an unrepentant alcoholic joker.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 172

Publisher: Graylyn Press

Review Posted Online: May 25, 2021

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Through palpable tension balanced with glimmers of hope, Hoover beautifully captures the heartbreak and joy of starting over.

IT STARTS WITH US

The sequel to It Ends With Us (2016) shows the aftermath of domestic violence through the eyes of a single mother.

Lily Bloom is still running a flower shop; her abusive ex-husband, Ryle Kincaid, is still a surgeon. But now they’re co-parenting a daughter, Emerson, who's almost a year old. Lily won’t send Emerson to her father’s house overnight until she’s old enough to talk—“So she can tell me if something happens”—but she doesn’t want to fight for full custody lest it become an expensive legal drama or, worse, a physical fight. When Lily runs into Atlas Corrigan, a childhood friend who also came from an abusive family, she hopes their friendship can blossom into love. (For new readers, their history unfolds in heartfelt diary entries that Lily addresses to Finding Nemo star Ellen DeGeneres as she considers how Atlas was a calming presence during her turbulent childhood.) Atlas, who is single and running a restaurant, feels the same way. But even though she’s divorced, Lily isn’t exactly free. Behind Ryle’s veneer of civility are his jealousy and resentment. Lily has to plan her dates carefully to avoid a confrontation. Meanwhile, Atlas’ mother returns with shocking news. In between, Lily and Atlas steal away for romantic moments that are even sweeter for their authenticity as Lily struggles with child care, breastfeeding, and running a business while trying to find time for herself.

Through palpable tension balanced with glimmers of hope, Hoover beautifully captures the heartbreak and joy of starting over.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-668-00122-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2022

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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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