An often thrilling tale that expertly mixes fantasy and history.

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In O’Brien’s historical novel, an Irishman can’t seem to escape chaos and strife, no matter where he goes.

Starting with the Irish Rebellion in 1798, this tale follows Kevin Neal as he grows up surrounded by political turmoil and talk of supernatural beings, including faeries and the Púca, a beastly warrior who he claims is real. One day, the 7-year-old protagonist and his female friend Anty discuss the area’s ongoing violence; soon afterward, Kevin loses his whole family in a military battle. He’s taken in by the Walsh family, consisting of father Nick, mother Judith, and two sons. After years of hardship, their land continues to keep them in debt. Nick is asked by the uncaring landlord to patch his roof, but he slips and falls, resulting in a permanent limp. Then the Walshes’ friend Joseph Kavanaugh is killed—one of the first in a string of mysterious, terribly violent murders. The family finds a new place to live, but the change of setting doesn’t save Kevin and his adopted family from misfortune, and conflicts between the Catholics and Protestants cause more trouble for them. One good thing comes of the move, though: Kevin is reunited with Anty, and as they grow older, romantic feelings blossom. But more violence is in store for Kevin and those closest to him. Soon, suspicions rise and people in town accuse Kevin of bringing the Púca, and all its evils, into their lives. Over the course of this novel, O’Brien’s realistic dialogue is its strongest attribute, occasionally using phonetic speech to get across each character’s vernacular, which allows each one to come alive on the page. The author combines this technique with phrasing that seems rather modern for the time period, but it allows for clear plot development through conversation; indeed, at times, some of these exchanges feel a bit too exposition-heavy. That said, O’Brien keeps the narrative pace steady, and it’s clear he’s done a significant amount of research into the politics and folklore of his story’s time and place, resulting in compelling worldbuilding throughout.

An often thrilling tale that expertly mixes fantasy and history.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-77781-550-9

Page Count: 512

Publisher: LOONCE

Review Posted Online: Oct. 23, 2021


A captivating allegory about evil, lies, and forgiveness.

Truth and deception clash in this tale of the Holocaust.

Udo Graf is proud that the Wolf has assigned him the task of expelling all 50,000 Jews from Salonika, Greece. In that city, Nico Krispis is an 11-year-old Jewish boy whose blue eyes and blond hair deceive, but whose words do not. Those who know him know he has never told a lie in his life—“Never be the one to tell lies, Nico,” his grandfather teaches him. “God is always watching.” Udo and Nico meet, and Udo decides to exploit the child’s innocence. At the train station where Jews are being jammed into cattle cars bound for Auschwitz, Udo gives Nico a yellow star to wear and persuades him to whisper among the crowd, “I heard it from a German officer. They are sending us to Poland. We will have new homes. And jobs.” The lad doesn’t know any better, so he helps persuade reluctant Jews to board the train to hell. “You were a good little liar,” Udo later tells Nico, and delights in the prospect of breaking the boy’s spirit, which is more fun and a greater challenge than killing him outright. When Nico realizes the horrific nature of what he's done, his truth-telling days are over. He becomes an inveterate liar about everything. Narrating the story is the Angel of Truth, whom according to a parable God had cast out of heaven and onto earth, where Truth shattered into billions of pieces, each to lodge in a human heart. (Obviously, many hearts have been missed.) Truth skillfully weaves together the characters, including Nico; his brother, Sebastian; Sebastian’s wife, Fannie; and the “heartless deceiver” Udo. Events extend for decades beyond World War II, until everyone’s lives finally collide in dramatic fashion. As Truth readily acknowledges, his account is loaded with twists and turns, some fortuitous and others not. Will Nico Krispis ever seek redemption? And will he find it? Author Albom’s passion shows through on every page in this well-crafted novel.

A captivating allegory about evil, lies, and forgiveness.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 2023

ISBN: 9780062406651

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023


Loyal King stans may disagree, but this is a snooze.

A much-beloved author gives a favorite recurring character her own novel.

Holly Gibney made her first appearance in print with a small role in Mr. Mercedes (2014). She played a larger role in The Outsider (2018). And she was the central character in If It Bleeds, a novella in the 2020 collection of the same name. King has said that the character “stole his heart.” Readers adore her, too. One way to look at this book is as several hundred pages of fan service. King offers a lot of callbacks to these earlier works that are undoubtedly a treat for his most loyal devotees. That these easter eggs are meaningless and even befuddling to new readers might make sense in terms of costs and benefits. King isn’t exactly an author desperate to grow his audience; pleasing the people who keep him at the top of the bestseller lists is probably a smart strategy, and this writer achieved the kind of status that whatever he writes is going to be published. Having said all that, it’s possible that even his hardcore fans might find this story a bit slow. There are also issues in terms of style. Much of the language King uses and the cultural references he drops feel a bit creaky. The word slacks occurs with distracting frequency. King uses the phrase keeping it on the down-low in a way that suggests he probably doesn’t understand how this phrase is currently used—and has been used for quite a while. But the biggest problem is that this narrative is framed as a mystery without delivering the pleasures of a mystery. The reader knows who the bad guys are from the start. This can be an effective storytelling device, but in this case, waiting for the private investigator heroine to get to where the reader is at the beginning of the story feels interminable.

Loyal King stans may disagree, but this is a snooze.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2023

ISBN: 9781668016138

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2023

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