An offbeat set of horror stories that impart subtle, rather than raw, shocks.

The Holy Innocents and Other Stories

Short story writer Bird (Nightmare and Nostalgia, 2013) offers five tales of the fantastic, most involving haunted (or haunting) females.

The author makes ghost stories her specialty in this collection, and hers are of an especially gentle variety, grounded more in emotion than horror, with very few things likely to say “boo.” However, it’s not the sole genre in her repertoire. In the title tale, Holy Innocents is a Catholic convent/orphanage in Cincinnati, taking in children during the depths of the Depression as a flu epidemic ravages the city. The narrator, Agnes, lovingly looks after one newcomer, Lizzie, but seems to never interact with the other nuns or children. (Readers get one guess at the benevolent Agnes’ true nature.) Bird distinguishes her tales with pleasing, well-chosen language, and the second, “Magnetic Attraction,” is a standout: an imagining of the fractured family relationships of scientist-spouses Marie and Pierre that uses wordplay and terminology derived from physics and chemistry (although it’s set during a séance, naturally). “A Serpent in Paradise” is the lone sci-fi entry and also the only one from a male point of view. In it, a developer despoiling Brazilian rain forests encounters a fungus that normally infects ants and alters their behavior; now, however, it’s aiming higher up the food chain. In “Monster,” the spirit of a dancer resents her early death and forcibly and grotesquely reincarnates itself in a random woman, resulting in a medical anomaly. The closer, “Walk-In,” describes an eager ghost possessing a willing host—a mentally unstable wife and mother. Readers can finish this collection in the time it takes to watch a Creepshow-style horror-film anthology. The tales don’t have that movie’s gore, but they do offer consistency, intelligence and a few haunting notions.

An offbeat set of horror stories that impart subtle, rather than raw, shocks.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2014

ISBN: 978-1499182101

Page Count: 88

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 12, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2015

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King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

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THE INSTITUTE

The master of modern horror returns with a loose-knit parapsychological thriller that touches on territory previously explored in Firestarter and Carrie.

Tim Jamieson is a man emphatically not in a hurry. As King’s (The Outsider, 2018, etc.) latest opens, he’s bargaining with a flight attendant to sell his seat on an overbooked run from Tampa to New York. His pockets full, he sticks out his thumb and winds up in the backwater South Carolina town of DuPray (should we hear echoes of “pray”? Or “depraved”?). Turns out he’s a decorated cop, good at his job and at reading others (“You ought to go see Doc Roper,” he tells a local. “There are pills that will brighten your attitude”). Shift the scene to Minneapolis, where young Luke Ellis, precociously brilliant, has been kidnapped by a crack extraction team, his parents brutally murdered so that it looks as if he did it. Luke is spirited off to Maine—this is King, so it’s got to be Maine—and a secret shadow-government lab where similarly conscripted paranormally blessed kids, psychokinetic and telepathic, are made to endure the Skinnerian pain-and-reward methods of the evil Mrs. Sigsby. How to bring the stories of Tim and Luke together? King has never minded detours into the unlikely, but for this one, disbelief must be extra-willingly suspended. In the end, their forces joined, the two and their redneck allies battle the sophisticated secret agents of The Institute in a bloodbath of flying bullets and beams of mental energy (“You’re in the south now, Annie had told these gunned-up interlopers. She had an idea they were about to find out just how true that was"). It’s not King at his best, but he plays on current themes of conspiracy theory, child abuse, the occult, and Deep State malevolence while getting in digs at the current occupant of the White House, to say nothing of shadowy evil masterminds with lisps.

King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-9821-1056-7

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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Real events like the Vietnam draft and Stonewall uprising enter the characters' family history as well as a stunning plot...

THE RULES OF MAGIC

The Owens sisters are back—not in their previous guise as elderly aunties casting spells in Hoffman’s occult romance Practical Magic (1995), but as fledgling witches in the New York City captured in Patti Smith's memoir Just Kids.

In that magical, mystical milieu, Franny and Bridget are joined by a new character: their foxy younger brother, Vincent, whose “unearthly” charm sends grown women in search of love potions. Heading into the summer of 1960, the three Owens siblings are ever more conscious of their family's quirkiness—and not just the incidents of levitation and gift for reading each other's thoughts while traipsing home to their parents' funky Manhattan town house. The instant Franny turns 17, they are all shipped off to spend the summer with their mother's aunt in Massachusetts. Isabelle Owens might enlist them for esoteric projects like making black soap or picking herbs to cure a neighbor's jealousy, but she at least offers respite from their fretful mother's strict rules against going shoeless, bringing home stray birds, wandering into Greenwich Village, or falling in love. In short order, the siblings meet a know-it-all Boston cousin, April, who brings them up to speed on the curse set in motion by their Salem-witch ancestor, Maria Owens. It spells certain death for males who attempt to woo an Owens woman. Naturally this knowledge does not deter the current generation from circumventing the rule—Bridget most passionately, Franny most rationally, and Vincent most recklessly (believing his gender may protect him). In time, the sisters ignore their mother's plea and move to Greenwich Village, setting up an apothecary, while their rock-star brother, who glimpsed his future in Isabelle’s nifty three-way mirror, breaks hearts like there's no tomorrow. No one's more confident or entertaining than Hoffman at putting across characters willing to tempt fate for true love.

Real events like the Vietnam draft and Stonewall uprising enter the characters' family history as well as a stunning plot twist—delivering everything fans of a much-loved book could hope for in a prequel.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5011-3747-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Aug. 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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