An impressive launch of what has the potential to be an exemplary tale about a runaway.

Sweet Trolley

THE SERIAL NOVEL

A debut offers the beginning of a novel in serial form, following a teenage girl fleeing her abusive home in 1980s Louisiana.

A missing poster boasts $10,000, presumably a reward for information to help find 18-year-old Missi Piessy. But the young lady with a “puppy face” carrying a high school gym bag calls herself Bridget. Coming from Boottown, Baton Rouge, a week before Christmas in 1983, Bridget rides the trolley in New Orleans, getting off at 2nd Chance Clothing. Owner Hilma Burtte can see the reticent girl is hiding something—or possibly running away, her temple sporting a pronounced bruise. Bridget, careful not to say too much to Hilma or her daughter Clair Wildes, buys a wool coat and turns down the owner’s offer of money or a part-time job. Bridget later splurges on a catfish po’ boy but eventually makes her way to a homeless shelter. There, she meets volunteer Marvin, who may have sinister motives, trying to convince Bridget the shelter won’t take her right away and suggesting she stay at his place. The novel’s first volume ends with a short but ominous flashback to the day before. As her drunk mother sleeps, Bridget packs her bag with essentials, including a switchblade, preparing for an uncertain future. The author sets the story’s tone immediately, opening with the photo of a girl in pigtails. Details, of course, are sparse, but it’s evident that Bridget’s escaping her mother, at one point recalling Mom screaming for her glass. Bridget, too, is savvy, not readily fooled by Marvin, even suspecting he’s recited his spiel to other girls. Despite the volume’s relatively short length, Honest manages nuance, providing a back story for Hilma, who decades ago worked at a brothel, the Cherry. Dialogue is the phonetic rendering of the New Orleans dialect Yat; readers may have to read a few lines aloud, but it’s perfectly clear, for example, what “Dank ya” is. At the same time, the narrative’s prose is often foreboding, like Madam Selma White aiming a pistol at a belligerent client: “Her eyes focused on his entirety, wary of sudden movements while her index waited by the trigger.”

An impressive launch of what has the potential to be an exemplary tale about a runaway.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 16

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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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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