Though far from the Christian Rome of Ben-Hur or the classic one of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, this Roman holiday offers a...

THE NIGHT WATCH

Laing’s novel shows a side of the Roman Empire that’s downright frightening.

During the reign of Emperor Caracalla, perhaps best known for his baths, Prefect Gallus Florio Secundus is the night watchman of Rome, ever on the alert for the fires that threaten to destroy the city. But fire isn’t the only problem: Gallus is also searching for the madman—or woman—who is murdering gladiators, leaving behind their bodies minus their arms or legs, just as someone murdered women to harvest their parts several years before. Senator Quintus Orata seems only to want to help keep the peace, so why has he paid Lucretia, a beautiful prostitute, to spy on Gallus? And why are the Sun and the Moon, members of Rome’s Day Watch, following Gallus about the city, determined to trip him up? Will Gallus find the murderer before he himself becomes a victim? Gallus, a bit of a Roman Kolchak: The Night Stalker, isn’t scared off by the macabre, which is a lucky thing, since that’s exactly what he finds. His stalwart personality makes him a strong hero, though he disappears from the scene from time to time to be replaced by Palpitus, also known as the Little Death, a gladiator with a side story that is hard to follow. The ghoulishly fun tale suffers from a lack of background information and too much modern verbiage. Youths in Ancient Rome weren’t referred to as teens, and readers will be jarred from the time and place when Gallus calls someone “the silent type” and spouts the Middle English “verily,” instead of something a little more Latin. The female characters are underdone; Lucretia is a typical whore with a heart of gold, and Julia the curse-maker and her ancient daughter never really come to life. There are no red herrings here; the villain is apparent from the book’s first chapter, but readers willing to suspend disbelief and unbothered by a lot of bloody goings-on will be entertained, if not enthralled.

Though far from the Christian Rome of Ben-Hur or the classic one of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, this Roman holiday offers a picture of the world of the gladiators readers will be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.

Pub Date: July 5, 2012

ISBN: 978-1475127515

Page Count: 184

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2012

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A tale that’s at once familiar and full of odd and unexpected twists—vintage King, in other words.

FAIRY TALE

Narnia on the Penobscot: a grand, and naturally strange, entertainment from the ever prolific King.

What’s a person to do when sheltering from Covid? In King’s case, write something to entertain himself while reflecting on what was going on in the world outside—ravaged cities, contentious politics, uncertainty. King’s yarn begins in a world that’s recognizably ours, and with a familiar trope: A young woman, out to buy fried chicken, is mashed by a runaway plumber’s van, sending her husband into an alcoholic tailspin and her son into a preadolescent funk, driven “bugfuck” by a father who “was always trying to apologize.” The son makes good by rescuing an elderly neighbor who’s fallen off a ladder, though he protests that the man’s equally elderly German shepherd, Radar, was the true hero. Whatever the case, Mr. Bowditch has an improbable trove of gold in his Bates Motel of a home, and its origin seems to lie in a shed behind the house, one that Mr. Bowditch warns the boy away from: “ ‘Don’t go in there,’ he said. ‘You may in time, but for now don’t even think of it.’ ” It’s not Pennywise who awaits in the underworld behind the shed door, but there’s plenty that’s weird and unexpected, including a woman, Dora, whose “skin was slate gray and her face was cruelly deformed,” and a whole bunch of people—well, sort of people, anyway—who’d like nothing better than to bring their special brand of evil up to our world’s surface. King’s young protagonist, Charlie Reade, is resourceful beyond his years, but it helps that the old dog gains some of its youthful vigor in the depths below. King delivers a more or less traditional fable that includes a knowing nod: “I think I know what you want,” Charlie tells the reader, "and now you have it”—namely, a happy ending but with a suitably sardonic wink.

A tale that’s at once familiar and full of odd and unexpected twists—vintage King, in other words.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-66800-217-9

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2022

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A unique story of transcendent love.

LAYLA

An aimless young musician meets the girl of his dreams only to have his newfound happiness threatened by several inexplicable—and possibly supernatural—events.

The story opens as Leeds Gabriel meets with a detective while his girlfriend, Layla, is restrained in a room one flight above them. Through the interview, readers learn that Leeds was wasting both his time and his musical talent playing backup for a small-town wedding troupe called Garrett’s Band when he spied Layla dancing her heart out to their mediocre music at a wedding. When Leeds approaches Layla, their connection is both instant and intense. A blissful courtship follows, but then Leeds makes the mistake of posting a picture of himself with Layla on social media. A former girlfriend–turned-stalker wastes no time in finding and attacking Layla. Layla spends months recovering in a hospital, and it seems the girl Leeds fell for might be forever changed. Gone is her special spark, her quirkiness, and the connection that had entranced Leeds months before. In a last-ditch effort to save their relationship, he brings Layla back to the bed-and-breakfast where they first met. When they get there, though, Leeds meets Willow, another guest, and finds himself drawn to her in spite of himself. As events unfold, it becomes clear that Willow will either be the key to saving Leeds’ relationship with Layla or the catalyst that finally extinguishes the last shreds of their epic romance. Told entirely from Leeds’ point of view, the author’s first foray into paranormal romance does not disappoint. Peppered with elements of mystery, psychological thriller, and contemporary romance, the novel explores questions about how quickly true love can develop, as well as the conflicts that can imperil even the strongest connections. Despite a limited cast of characters and very few setting changes, the narrative manages to remain both fast-paced and engaging. The conclusion leaves a few too many loose ends, but the chemistry between the characters and unexpected twists throughout make for a satisfying read.

A unique story of transcendent love.

Pub Date: Dec. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5420-0017-8

Page Count: 301

Publisher: Montlake Romance

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2020

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