A novel that forges its own memorable path despite some overly elaborate backstory.

THE LOVE THAT MOVES THE STARS

Debut author Whelan presents a novel about a disciplined wanderer and the many lives that he touches.

It’s 1974 in Canterbury, Massachusetts, and Virgil Peterson is working in the local library. One day, he’s startled by a man in an elaborate leather cape—a local personality known as “the Leatherman,” who, Virgil thinks, looks like “some outlandish composite of 18th-century swashbuckling pirate, American Indian sachem and medieval hermit.” He soon finds that the offbeat Leatherman has a strange effect on him. The man is no ordinary vagabond: He walks in a geographic circle, every 28 days, that takes him through precisely the same towns; the route takes him from Boston to Brockton to Lowell to Somerville. The Leatherman also tells Virgil that he wants to learn about every celestial object in the night sky. He wants to do so for a very specific reason: to impress a woman known as “Honeybee.” In 1943 in Jackson, Mississippi, Honeybee lost her young child after an incident that still causes her great guilt. Now, in 1974, she attempts to contact her sister in Massachusetts, with whom she has a strained relationship. The book darts back and forth between the past and present lives of Virgil, the Leatherman, and Honeybee. All three have suffered a great deal in their respective backstories, and all have doubts about their futures. The Leatherman’s history receives the most attention in the text, delving into his time in France in the 1930s and his love of a married Frenchwoman named Béatrice. He is, after all, “The Man Who Walks In A Circle,” and it becomes clear that he didn’t embark on such a strange existence just for fun. The allusions to the work of poet Dante are many; at the outset, for instance, there’s a reference to a famous quote about abandoning all hope. Readers will enjoy finding out how much of Dante’s work made it into this strange story, and they’ll also be interested in just how strange the story becomes, as drug use, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and a group of other homeless people play parts. The Leatherman also imparts unusual but notably succinct observations along the way. He notes, for instance, how he’s been around long enough to have seen the disappearance of the fedora in men’s fashion as well as “the fleets of Technicolor pleasure boats of the Fifties and Sixties.” Still, he remains a grounded character who’s able to carry much of the story. That said, some developments strain credulity, including events in Leatherman’s detailed past in Europe as a jewel thief and cinephile. Also, readers won’t be surprised that his days as a criminal in the ’30s didn’t turn out well given his current circumstances as a wanderer 40 years hence. Nevertheless, readers will find themselves engaged as the fates of Virgil, the Leatherman, and Honeybee become inexorably intertwined. Taken individually, these players are merely frustrated individuals with sad pasts, but together, they create their own unique adventure.

A novel that forges its own memorable path despite some overly elaborate backstory.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 326

Publisher: Manuscript

Review Posted Online: Jan. 31, 2020

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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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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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