An often entertaining but usually uninvolving spirit-quest fantasy.

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THE SPIRIT SHERPA

A schlub spends many lives figuring out where he went wrong in this lightweight reincarnation adventure.

Manus, a crass, slightly bigoted 41-year-old CPA, has a great relationship with his Corvette, but almost none with his wife and kids. When he’s killed in a collision with a Sikh ice-cream-truck driver, he finds himself adrift in the afterlife with his wisecracking great-grandmother, Oma, assigned as his “spirit sherpa” to guide him toward enlightenment. She might also be an ancient Hun warrior. Manus’ spiritual curriculum requires him to be reborn as a series of characters, including a Polish Jew packed off to Auschwitz in a cattle car, an African-American ex-con trying to spruce up an inner-city park, and a teenage Australian girl out for a glorious day’s surfing. In each scene, a life lesson is learned (love God, love your community, love the waves), after which a swift demise (shot by Nazi, stabbed by punk, chomped by shark) sends Manus’s spirit on to a new vessel. In between incarnations, Manus and Oma hang out on the Other Side, a paradise where he receives personal-growth tutorials from Albert Einstein, Elvis and Wilt Chamberlain. The author pens a half-serious, half-farcical picaresque that’s a kaleidoscope of well-observed bits of history, sketchy philosophical musings and jokey supernatural whimsy. There are a few funny vignettes, including a raucous marital spat between Manus and his widow conducted through a put-upon psychic medium. There are also many draggy passages of New Age catechism: “You learn from each life, you evolve, becom[ing] more attuned with the universal force,” says an “amorphous spirit.” The novel’s center lies in Manus’ experiences of moral crises in lives unfamiliar to him; the most substantial of these, like the story of an Iraqi romance that crosses hostile sectarian boundaries, achieve real emotional depth. Unfortunately, the ongoing reincarnation device ushers Manus on so glibly that the various characters’ life-and-death traumas—and the lessons they are meant to impart—lose their dramatic force.

An often entertaining but usually uninvolving spirit-quest fantasy.

Pub Date: May 3, 2012

ISBN: 978-1470056902

Page Count: 172

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2012

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Vintage King: a pleasure for his many fans and not a bad place to start if you’re new to him.

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IF IT BLEEDS

The master of supernatural disaster returns with four horror-laced novellas.

The protagonist of the title story, Holly Gibney, is by King’s own admission one of his most beloved characters, a “quirky walk-on” who quickly found herself at the center of some very unpleasant goings-on in End of Watch, Mr. Mercedes, and The Outsider. The insect-licious proceedings of the last are revisited, most yuckily, while some of King’s favorite conceits turn up: What happens if the dead are never really dead but instead show up generation after generation, occupying different bodies but most certainly exercising their same old mean-spirited voodoo? It won’t please TV journalists to know that the shape-shifting bad guys in that title story just happen to be on-the-ground reporters who turn up at very ugly disasters—and even cause them, albeit many decades apart. Think Jack Torrance in that photo at the end of The Shining, and you’ve got the general idea. “Only a coincidence, Holly thinks, but a chill shivers through her just the same,” King writes, “and once again she thinks of how there may be forces in this world moving people as they will, like men (and women) on a chessboard.” In the careful-what-you-wish-for department, Rat is one of those meta-referential things King enjoys: There are the usual hallucinatory doings, a destiny-altering rodent, and of course a writer protagonist who makes a deal with the devil for success that he thinks will outsmart the fates. No such luck, of course. Perhaps the most troubling story is the first, which may cause iPhone owners to rethink their purchases. King has gone a far piece from the killer clowns and vampires of old, with his monsters and monstrosities taking on far more quotidian forms—which makes them all the scarier.

Vintage King: a pleasure for his many fans and not a bad place to start if you’re new to him.

Pub Date: April 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3797-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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Fans of gothic classics like Rebecca will be enthralled as long as they don’t mind a heaping dose of all-out horror.

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MEXICAN GOTHIC

Moreno-Garcia offers a terrifying twist on classic gothic horror, set in 1950s Mexico.

Inquisitive 22-year-old socialite and anthropology enthusiast Noemí Taboada adores beautiful clothes and nights on the town in Mexico City with a bevy of handsome suitors, but her carefree existence is cut short when her father shows her a disturbing letter from her cousin Catalina, who recently married fair-haired and blue-eyed Virgil Doyle, who comes from a prominent English mining family that built their now-dwindling fortune on the backs of Indigenous laborers. Catalina lives in High Place, the Doyle family’s crumbling mansion near the former mining town of El Triunfo. In the letter, Catalina begs for Noemí’s help, claiming that she is “bound, threads like iron through my mind and my skin,” and that High Place is “sick with rot, stinks of decay, brims with every single evil and cruel sentiment.” Upon Noemí’s arrival at High Place, she’s struck by the Doyle family’s cool reception of her and their unabashed racism. She's alarmed by the once-vibrant Catalina’s listless state and by the enigmatic Virgil and his ancient, leering father, Howard. Nightmares, hallucinations, and phantasmagoric dreams of golden dust and fleshy bodies plague Noemí, and it becomes apparent that the Doyles haven’t left their blood-soaked legacy behind. Luckily, the brave Noemí is no delicate flower, and she’ll need all her wits about her for the battle ahead. Moreno-Garcia weaves elements of Mexican folklore with themes of decay, sacrifice, and rebirth, casting a dark spell all the way to the visceral and heart-pounding finale.

Fans of gothic classics like Rebecca will be enthralled as long as they don’t mind a heaping dose of all-out horror.

Pub Date: June 30, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-62078-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Del Rey

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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