An original, if sometimes melodramatic, look at how the past bleeds into the present.

WHEN THE RECKONING COMES

The dark history of a North Carolina tobacco plantation casts a shadow on 21st-century visitors in McQueen's wrenching debut novel.

Mira, a Black high school English teacher in Winston-Salem, hasn't returned to her rural hometown for more than 10 years when she receives a call from her old friend Celine, who's White, saying she's marrying a local dentist who's the heir to a tobacco fortune and asking Mira to come to their wedding. Though Mira is shocked to discover that the wedding is taking place at a restored plantation now functioning as a sort of antebellum theme park, complete with locals playing the roles of slaves, she agrees to attend, partly because she wants to see Jesse, who's Black and was formerly close to both her and Celine. Her friendship with Jesse fell apart when, as kids, they broke into the Woodsman Plantation, the same place the wedding is being held. Mira ran away because she thought she saw ghosts, and, soon after, Jesse was accused of killing a man whose body washed up in the river nearby. Returning to the plantation, Mira again strongly senses the presence of slaves who were killed during an attempted rebellion and feels that they are about to take revenge on the descendants of their former masters—a feeling that is borne out as the wedding goes awry in deadly ways. A subplot involving a romantic attraction between Mira and Jesse seems shoehorned in, and some of the later plot twists are more convenient than convincing. But McQueen carefully walks the line between visions and reality, weaving the voices and stories of the former slaves into the present-day lives and thoughts of her characters as history that has been denied and buried asserts itself.

An original, if sometimes melodramatic, look at how the past bleeds into the present.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-303-504-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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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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