A tale with an unforgettable villain that’s more amusing than scary.

ATOMIC CITY TERROR

CURSE OF THE MURDEROUS DUMMY

In Laemmle’s (co-author: Asylum of Insanity, 2016, etc.) horror tale, an evil, sentient ventriloquist doll terrorizes citizens in a secluded mountain town.

Hank Cooper is an environmental scientist in Atomic City, New Mexico, but has ambitions to be a celebrity ventriloquist. Ideally, he thinks, his entire family would become famous for their ventriloquism skills. His wife, Nancy, and their twin 14-year-old children, Jake and Jessie, dismiss his plans, which Hank, an alcoholic, proclaims while drunk. But one day, he stops by a local store called the Hobby Dungeon to buy a ventriloquist doll. As it happens, Woody the Wooden Dummy mysteriously arrived at the shop’s door that very morning. Hank takes Woody home, where it suddenly starts talking to him—all on its own. Woody is crass and insulting—and he soon forms a telepathic link with Hank that allows him to control the man’s body. Woody, as a puppeteer, causes trouble around town, but some people, including Nancy, believe that a drunken Hank has simply gone wild. Then the dummy targets Jake, as well. The Coopers eventually learn Woody’s origin and realize that the doll is possessed by something diabolical and frighteningly methodical. They also suspect that Woody is cooking up an even more sinister scheme. Although Woody is indeed chilling at times, Laemmle’s novel is more of a black comedy than a serious horror tale. The Coopers’ conversations are full of engaging quips and references to pop culture, and Woody’s initial “mind-meld” with Hank is macabre and droll, by turns. The jokes are abundant and generally funny, as when Woody assures Hank that he’s not a problem drinker: “Alcoholics are people who need a drink, and clearly you’ve had plenty.” The evil dummy’s backstory is thorough and coherent, but the explanation is unnecessarily long and somewhat disrupts the pace. Fortunately, the final act regains momentum as Hank and family aim to thwart Woody’s wicked plans. (Although this novel reads as a stand-alone, it launches a prospective series of horror stories set in Atomic City.)

A tale with an unforgettable villain that’s more amusing than scary.

Pub Date: May 20, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-09-718494-1

Page Count: 242

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: July 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

BAREFOOT

Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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