A novel premise that comes out of left field but launches an oddly poignant adventure.

SAMURAI BARBER VERSUS NINJA HAIRSTYLIST

Dee offers a playful dystopian novel about the adventures of an unusual hairstylist.

The city of Lionfish is home to a samurai who cuts hair. This samurai, whose name is later revealed to be Dakota, does his haircutting with a katana, and he’ll do it for free for the poor. As a result, he’s never made much of a living with his skill set until one day when he gets the opportunity to “cast” his work, giving him a large audience of smartphone users. Not all is well for the samurai barber, however. On a train ride, he meets an unusual ninja who’s also skilled at cutting people’s locks by nontraditional means—and he’ll do so even if the person doesn’t ask for a haircut. After the ninja manages to slice off a miniscule bit of Dakota’s hair, the samurai retaliates by killing him. Dakota feels bad about this act, though, and is soon brought to justice—not for taking the ninja’s life but, oddly enough, for murdering the train on which the event took place. It’s no surprise that justice in Lionfish is so strange, as a lot of things about the town seem a bit weird. It’s a place where cellphones literally eat batteries and homes can be grown from seeds. However, it also has a less quirky, darker side; greedy nurses attempt to upsell patients, and the difference between rich and poor is truly vast. The samurai barber is fined and whipped for his crime, but Dakota is left with questions afterward: Who trained this audacious ninja? And why would someone go around cutting the hair of those who don’t want it? Dakota’s quest takes him deeper into what makes Lionfish tick. Can society, as one character professes, be changed “one haircut at a time”?

To many readers, this novel’s premise may initially seem rather silly, but the story ventures to many serious places. Blood flows freely and violence runs rampant, but the average citizen of Lionfish is too busy looking at casts to care much about any of it. All the injustice draws many people to anarchy, but is that the answer to their problems? The contrast between the novel’s lightheartedness and its earnest critique of modern living is refreshing. Likewise, the free-wheeling style keeps the narrative in constant motion. Many scenes are sparsely embellished, and characters are only provided backstories when necessary—no matter how out of the ordinary they may be. Some things, however, get lost in the shuffle. At one point, for instance, the samurai has a nightmare, and although it’s full of vivid imagery, it pales in comparison to the more concrete events, as when a character loses his job, his savings, and even his family to a scam. The town of Lionfish proves to be both tough and bizarre but never entirely unrelatable, and the story’s end, when it comes, is just as off-kilter as its beginning.

A novel premise that comes out of left field but launches an oddly poignant adventure.

Pub Date: Nov. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-80046-049-2

Page Count: 202

Publisher: Troubador Publishing Ltd

Review Posted Online: Dec. 20, 2020

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A tale that’s at once familiar and full of odd and unexpected twists—vintage King, in other words.

FAIRY TALE

Narnia on the Penobscot: a grand, and naturally strange, entertainment from the ever prolific King.

What’s a person to do when sheltering from Covid? In King’s case, write something to entertain himself while reflecting on what was going on in the world outside—ravaged cities, contentious politics, uncertainty. King’s yarn begins in a world that’s recognizably ours, and with a familiar trope: A young woman, out to buy fried chicken, is mashed by a runaway plumber’s van, sending her husband into an alcoholic tailspin and her son into a preadolescent funk, driven “bugfuck” by a father who “was always trying to apologize.” The son makes good by rescuing an elderly neighbor who’s fallen off a ladder, though he protests that the man’s equally elderly German shepherd, Radar, was the true hero. Whatever the case, Mr. Bowditch has an improbable trove of gold in his Bates Motel of a home, and its origin seems to lie in a shed behind the house, one that Mr. Bowditch warns the boy away from: “ ‘Don’t go in there,’ he said. ‘You may in time, but for now don’t even think of it.’ ” It’s not Pennywise who awaits in the underworld behind the shed door, but there’s plenty that’s weird and unexpected, including a woman, Dora, whose “skin was slate gray and her face was cruelly deformed,” and a whole bunch of people—well, sort of people, anyway—who’d like nothing better than to bring their special brand of evil up to our world’s surface. King’s young protagonist, Charlie Reade, is resourceful beyond his years, but it helps that the old dog gains some of its youthful vigor in the depths below. King delivers a more or less traditional fable that includes a knowing nod: “I think I know what you want,” Charlie tells the reader, "and now you have it”—namely, a happy ending but with a suitably sardonic wink.

A tale that’s at once familiar and full of odd and unexpected twists—vintage King, in other words.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-66800-217-9

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2022

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With captivating dialogue, angst-y characters, and a couple of steamy sex scenes, Hoover has done it again.

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REMINDERS OF HIM

After being released from prison, a young woman tries to reconnect with her 5-year-old daughter despite having killed the girl’s father.

Kenna didn’t even know she was pregnant until after she was sent to prison for murdering her boyfriend, Scotty. When her baby girl, Diem, was born, she was forced to give custody to Scotty’s parents. Now that she’s been released, Kenna is intent on getting to know her daughter, but Scotty’s parents won’t give her a chance to tell them what really happened the night their son died. Instead, they file a restraining order preventing Kenna from so much as introducing herself to Diem. Handsome, self-assured Ledger, who was Scotty’s best friend, is another key adult in Diem’s life. He’s helping her grandparents raise her, and he too blames Kenna for Scotty’s death. Even so, there’s something about her that haunts him. Kenna feels the pull, too, and seems to be seeking Ledger out despite his judgmental behavior. As Ledger gets to know Kenna and acknowledges his attraction to her, he begins to wonder if maybe he and Scotty’s parents have judged her unfairly. Even so, Ledger is afraid that if he surrenders to his feelings, Scotty’s parents will kick him out of Diem’s life. As Kenna and Ledger continue to mourn for Scotty, they also grieve the future they cannot have with each other. Told alternatively from Kenna’s and Ledger’s perspectives, the story explores the myriad ways in which snap judgments based on partial information can derail people’s lives. Built on a foundation of death and grief, this story has an undercurrent of sadness. As usual, however, the author has created compelling characters who are magnetic and sympathetic enough to pull readers in. In addition to grief, the novel also deftly explores complex issues such as guilt, self-doubt, redemption, and forgiveness.

With captivating dialogue, angst-y characters, and a couple of steamy sex scenes, Hoover has done it again.

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5420-2560-7

Page Count: 335

Publisher: Montlake Romance

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

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