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WRITTEN IN HELL

An entertaining, inventive and occasionally over-the-top fantasy novel.

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Helford (From a Killer’s Mind, 2013) offers a satirical tale of hell and damnation.

Nathaniel “Ate” Blovey is a failed writer of lurid Wild West stories. After his first and only book is a total failure and his girlfriend leaves him, things get even worse: His crude, low-quality writing is a big hit in Hell, so the Devil has him killed to write more hackwork for the damned. The outraged Ate refuses to fulfill the Devil’s wishes and goes on the run, making his way across a Hell that the world of the living never warned him about. Instead of confronting fire, brimstone and medieval imps, he struggles across a perdition that resembles America—specifically, the Old West. The Devil opted to give human souls free rein to build a civilization in Hell’s harsh, alien frontier, and things haven’t gone well. While Ate desperately tries to dodge Hell’s pitfalls, he deals with a cavalcade of absurd, damned souls who all have their own agendas—and some of them are his fans. He moves from misery to fear to fury and back again, facing calamity after calamity on the road to his own eternal destiny. The entire narrative is irreverent fun, with mild overtones of Kurt Vonnegut and Tom Robbins. The pacing is fast and breezy, and the author does an admirable job of designing and describing his version of Hell and the fantastic rules that shape it. His clever, funny tale slyly points fingers at American outlooks and attitudes, although readers who are sensitive to profanity may not find this book to their liking. The characterization and dialogue are outlandishly over-the-top, in an amusing way; no human being has ever had a speech pattern quite like this book’s pompous protagonist (“Little did I know, it was much better received down here, and is surprisingly quite popular amongst the august personages of Hell”). Other supporting characters have equally theatrical personalities, and although most readers will hardly demand a purely naturalistic style in a satire, they may find it a little distracting at times.

An entertaining, inventive and occasionally over-the-top fantasy novel.

Pub Date: Jan. 2, 2014

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Amazon Digital Services

Review Posted Online: March 7, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2014

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  • New York Times Bestseller

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DEVOLUTION

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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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. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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