Vivid, pithy tales that are, by turns, amusing and appalling.

REVENGE

TALES BEST READ IN THE TWILIGHT HOURS

In this short story collection, characters find themselves in eerie, disturbing, and revenge-fueled circumstances.

Brantley Feldpausch, in the particularly memorable “Daddy Longlegs,” is quite fond of the spiders at his New York farmhouse. But when he inadvertently kills a beloved arachnid during a shower, the spiders see it as outright murder and plot their vengeance. Many of the tales here are equally dark, even when they don’t belong to the horror genre. In the case of “Soiled Utility: A Love Story,” a heart surgeon reluctantly falls for a maintenance worker at her hospital. It’s an unorthodox but romantic tale that takes an unexpectedly grim turn. Similarly, “Malapert’s Dilemma” is pure SF, following Valencia Malapert, of the planet Oxyplesbia, who may not be the only alien gathering information on Earth. Revenge, though a recurring theme, doesn’t propel every story. One example is the pre–World War II “Little Green Eye,” in which a radio show ultimately leads to an otherworldly—and terrifying—encounter for a Chicago retiree and his cat. Bachelder paints his tales with vibrant details: “The clapboards were warped and discolored from years of exposure to the rugged Vermont winters, and a portion of the roof over the wrap-around porch was caved in and near collapse.” At the same time, there’s a healthy share of gruesome imagery, like spewing vomit and cadaver-related acts. In the penultimate story, “The Doomsday Hour,” Reginald Conklin is a death row inmate in New Jersey. With his execution on the horizon, he can’t anticipate the surprising events unfolding in the prison, culminating in an especially gut-churning conclusion. This is unquestionably a collection readers won’t easily forget, with a cast that includes a freelance embalmer on the lam and a tankful of lobsters whose escape comes with retribution against a loathsome night-shift manager.

Vivid, pithy tales that are, by turns, amusing and appalling. (dedication, preface)

Pub Date: April 1, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 260

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Delightfully readable fiction, but the mystery disappoints.

THE IT GIRL

Ten years after having discovered her Oxford roommate’s dead body in front of the fireplace in their room, a young woman struggles with the realization that she may have helped send the wrong man to prison.

Hannah Jones arrives at Oxford hardly believing that she’s been accepted into this haven of learning and wealth. Sharing a picturesque set of rooms with the flamboyant and beautiful April Clarke-Cliveden, she divides her time between rigorous studying and energetic socializing with Emily Lippmana, Ryan Coates, Hugh Bland, and Will de Chastaigne, with whom she shares an attraction even though he's April’s boyfriend. It’s a good life except for the increasingly creepy interactions she has with John Neville, one of the porters. When Hannah finds April dead one night just after she’s seen Neville coming down the stairs from their rooms, it’s her testimony that puts him in jail. Ware divides the novel into alternating “before” and “after” chapters, with the narrative of Hannah’s college experience unfolding parallel to the events of her life nearly a decade later, when she’s married to Will and pregnant with their first child. Then Neville dies in prison and Hannah hears from a reporter who thinks he might actually have been innocent. Hannah begins to wonder herself, and she plunges back into the past to see if she can figure out what really happened that night. As usual with Ware, the novel is well crafted—the setting, characters, and dialogue are all engaging—but it lacks the author's signature sense of urgent and imminent threat. The novel unfolds smoothly, providing a few twists and turns, as the reader might expect, but not really delivering any true suspense. It also lacks the contrast between a luxurious background and the characters’ fears that Ware has often played to great effect. She does offer a deeper dive into the trauma of the survivors than she usually does, but this isn't the breathless page-turner one has come to expect from Ware.

Delightfully readable fiction, but the mystery disappoints.

Pub Date: July 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-9821-5526-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: April 22, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2022

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