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HOUSE BOY

Evocative imagery, sociopolitical relevance, and a compelling storyline.

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A young Indian man sets out to support his impoverished family and winds up in a human trafficking ring.

Author, producer, and playwright DeStefano’s debut centers around the life of 20-something Vijay Pallan, born poor in the “solarized and crude topography” of Chettipattu village in southern India. Vijay internalizes his family’s strife and, weary of his father’s belief that “this is how life is when you have nothing,” ventures out into the Chennai capital planning to improve his family’s conditions. Despite Vijay’s steely determination, work doesn’t come easy. Worse, he is attacked by a vicious animal in a city park. But he’s rescued by a local; Santhana offers him food and shelter and boasts about his work with an employment agency that hires “domestics” for Indian families in Britain. Santhana’s evasive, fast-talking boss, Narahari, promises the young man top living conditions, opportunities for “foreign travel,” and a generous hiring bonus. Split into two very different sections, the novel’s first half paints a very realistic, vibrant portrait of poor Indian families and their struggle to thrive amid a violent, discriminatory caste system. In the novel’s second half, vulnerable Vijay is whisked off to North London and immediately enslaved as the unpaid house boy for a family wickedly skilled in physical, sexual, and psychological abuse and torment of servants. Vijay must become a savage outlaw in a vicious whirlwind of murder and retribution. Though the novel is often intense and graphically violent, DeStefano tempers his plot with Vijay’s worldview and atmospheric portrayals of India and England. And Vijay’s traumatic experiences transcend fiction and read like an authentic, contemporary depiction of the effects of the caste system and human trafficking. In his acknowledgements, DeStefano thanks an unnamed contributor “who actually lived this story.”

Evocative imagery, sociopolitical relevance, and a compelling storyline.

Pub Date: June 7, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-63988-243-4

Page Count: 310

Publisher: Atmosphere Press

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2022

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THE HOUSE ACROSS THE LAKE

A weird, wild ride.

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Celebrity scandal and a haunted lake drive the narrative in this bestselling author’s latest serving of subtly ironic suspense.

Sager’s debut, Final Girls (2017), was fun and beautifully crafted. His most recent novels—Home Before Dark (2020) and Survive the Night (2021) —have been fun and a bit rickety. His new novel fits that mold. Narrator Casey Fletcher grew up watching her mother dazzle audiences, and then she became an actor herself. While she never achieves the “America’s sweetheart” status her mother enjoyed, Casey makes a career out of bit parts in movies and on TV and meatier parts onstage. Then the death of her husband sends her into an alcoholic spiral that ends with her getting fired from a Broadway play. When paparazzi document her substance abuse, her mother exiles her to the family retreat in Vermont. Casey has a dry, droll perspective that persists until circumstances overwhelm her, and if you’re getting a Carrie Fisher vibe from Casey Fletcher, that is almost certainly not an accident. Once in Vermont, she passes the time drinking bourbon and watching the former supermodel and the tech mogul who live across the lake through a pair of binoculars. Casey befriends Katherine Royce after rescuing her when she almost drowns and soon concludes that all is not well in Katherine and Tom’s marriage. Then Katherine disappears….It would be unfair to say too much about what happens next, but creepy coincidences start piling up, and eventually, Casey has to face the possibility that maybe some of the eerie legends about Lake Greene might have some truth to them. Sager certainly delivers a lot of twists, and he ventures into what is, for him, new territory. Are there some things that don’t quite add up at the end? Maybe, but asking that question does nothing but spoil a highly entertaining read.

A weird, wild ride.

Pub Date: June 21, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-18319-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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HOME IS WHERE THE BODIES ARE

Answers are hard to come by in this twisting tale designed to trick and delight.

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Three siblings on very different paths learn that their family home may be haunted by secrets.

Eldest daughter Beth is alone with her fading mother as she takes her final breath and says something about Beth’s long-departed brother and sister, who may not have disappeared forever. Beth is still reeling from the loss of her mother when her estranged siblings show up. Michael, the youngest, hasn’t been home since their father’s disappearance seven years ago. In the meantime, he’s outgrown his siblings, trading his share of the family troubles for a high-paying job in San Jose. Nicole, the middle child, has been overpowered by addiction and prioritized tuning out reality over any sense of responsibility, much to Beth’s disgust. Though their mother’s death marks an ending for the family, it’s also a beginning, as the three siblings realize when they find a disturbing videotape among their parents’ belongings. The video, from 1999, sheds suspicion on their father’s disappearance, linking it to a long-unsolved neighborhood mystery. Was it just a series of unfortunate circumstances that broke the family apart, or does something more sinister underlie the sadness they’ve all found in life? In chapters that rotate among the family’s first-person narratives, the siblings take turns digging up stories and secrets in their search for solace.

Answers are hard to come by in this twisting tale designed to trick and delight.

Pub Date: April 30, 2024

ISBN: 9798212182843

Page Count: 270

Publisher: Blackstone

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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