Shamelessly soapy and dangerously addictive.

THE SWAP

Who could have known that swapping spouses for one night could cause so much trouble?

High school senior Swallow “Low” Morrison has always been too tall, too intense, too strange. It doesn’t help that her parents are polyamorous, which, despite their Pacific Northwest island’s reputation as a haven for recreational spouse swapping, is still considered beyond the pale. After Low gets a glimpse of the ethereally beautiful Freya Light, she doesn’t hesitate to sign up for Freya’s pottery classes at her home studio. Before long, Freya is crossing boundaries with Low and shares a few of her darkest secrets. Freya and her husband, Max, a former professional hockey player, moved to the isolated Hawking to get away from a scandal that ruined Max’s career and tanked Freya’s status as a social media influencer. Low’s fascination with Freya quickly blooms into obsession, but Freya’s close friendship with Jamie Vincent, a local shop owner, threatens Low’s claim her. One night, Jamie and her husband, Brian, join Freya and Max for a night of magic mushrooms and steamy partner swapping. Jamie and Brian, whose relationship is already strained by their inability to conceive a child, are consumed by guilt, but Jamie isn’t about to let that night ruin her friendship with Freya. Unfortunately, Low witnessed all that night’s action from right outside Freya’s glass encased home, and she won’t hesitate to use it to her advantage. Of course, the fallout from that night, and Low’s simmering emotions, inevitably crescendos to a shocking point of no return. The narrative shuffles among all the major players except Freya, which adds to her aura of aloof perfection. As events spiral out of control, Harding’s deft handling of her characters makes it easy to believe that Jamie and Low could fall under the spell of someone like Freya, whose cool beauty hides dark multitudes, and nearly everyone in this passion play becomes delightfully unhinged in the end.

Shamelessly soapy and dangerously addictive.

Pub Date: June 23, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-4176-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A bloody and grotesque but ultimately entertaining and inspiring take on horror movies, trauma, and self-determination.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

THE FINAL GIRL SUPPORT GROUP

Serial killer survivors are forced to cooperate when they’re dragged screaming back into jeopardy.

You have to give it to Hendrix, author of The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires (2020), for tapping into his deep knowledge of horror films and fiction to find a new angle on the tropes of terror with every outing. In the same way Edgar Cantero lampooned Scooby Doo in Meddling Kids (2017), this scary unraveling aims straight for the sheer terrors the best slasher films create. Here, Hendrix has zeroed in on the so-called “final girl,” the sole survivor of a horrific massacre—you’re already thinking of Jamie Lee Curtis in the Halloween movies or Sigourney Weaver in Alien. This book is even more skin-crawling, as deeply paranoid Lynnette Tarkington (impaled on an antler trophy during her first unfortunate encounter years ago) reluctantly participates in group therapy sessions with Dr. Carol Elliot along with fellow survivors Marilyn Torres, who has buried her emotions in wealth; Dani Shipman, who might have killed the wrong person; Julia Campbell, whose encounter left her in a wheelchair; and Heather DeLuca, who is succumbing to addiction. Hendrix can be tongue-in-cheek (see Horrorstör, 2014) but is deadly serious here while still warping the conventions of the genre, including the fact that some of the survivors have participated in graphic horror flicks depicting their very real traumas. The book is creepy enough on its face, but Hendrix’s use of expedient narrative tools, including a laconic cowboy lawman, an overly eager journalist, and a host of archetypal serial killers, heightens the unease. After one member of this vigilant sisterhood is murdered and a series of oddly prescient attacks threaten the rest, Lynnette becomes increasingly suspicious that the attacks are originating way too close to their inner circle. “Does this ever end?” Lynnette asks. “Will there always be someone out there turning little boys into monsters? Will we always be final girls? Will there always be monsters killing us? How do we stop the snake from eating its own tail?”

A bloody and grotesque but ultimately entertaining and inspiring take on horror movies, trauma, and self-determination.

Pub Date: July 13, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-20123-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

Did you like this book?

Eerie atmosphere isn’t enough to overcome an unsatisfying plot and sometimes-exasperating protagonist.

THE MAIDENS

A blend of psychological mystery and gothic thriller puts a psychotherapist in pursuit of a serial killer on the campus of Cambridge University.

The author’s second novel features a psychotherapist as its main character, as did his 2019 debut, The Silent Patient (whose main character makes an appearance here). This book’s protagonist is Mariana, who has a busy practice in London specializing in group therapy. At 36, she’s a widow, reeling from the drowning a year before of her beloved husband, Sebastian. She’s galvanized out of her fog by a call from her niece, Zoe, who was raised by Mariana and Sebastian after her parents died. Zoe is now studying at Cambridge, where Mariana and Sebastian met and courted. Zoe has terrible news: Her close friend Tara has been murdered, savagely stabbed and dumped in a wood. Mariana heads for Cambridge and, when the police arrest someone she thinks is innocent, starts her own investigation. She zeroes in on Edward Fosca, a handsome, charismatic classics professor who has a cultlike following of beautiful female students (which included Tara) called the Maidens, a reference to the cult of Eleusis in ancient Greece, whose followers worshipped Demeter and Persephone. Suspicious characters seem to be around every ivy-covered corner of the campus, though—an audacious young man Mariana meets on the train, one of her patients who has turned stalker, a porter at one of the college’s venerable houses, even the surly police inspector. The book gets off to a slow start, front-loaded with backstories and a Cambridge travelogue, but then picks up the pace and piles up the bodies. With its ambience of ritualistic murders, ancient myths, and the venerable college, the story is a gothic thriller despite its contemporary setting. That makes Mariana tough to get on board with—she behaves less like a modern professional woman than a 19th-century gothic heroine, a clueless woman who can be counted on in any situation to make the worst possible choice. And the book’s ending, while surprising, also feels unearned, like a bolt from the blue hurled by some demigod.

Eerie atmosphere isn’t enough to overcome an unsatisfying plot and sometimes-exasperating protagonist.

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-30445-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

Did you like this book?

more