What starts as a creepy slow burn fizzles in the homestretch.

WONDERLAND

A plot of land becomes a family’s prison.

Ballet dancer Orla Moreau has long been the Moreau-Bennett clan’s breadwinner, but now that she’s 41, it’s time for her to retire and watch the kids while her husband, 38-year-old painter Shaw Bennett, pursues his dream. Nature inspires Shaw, and their money will go further up north, so they put their New York City co-op on the market and start house hunting. When a realtor shows them a dilapidated dwelling on six remote acres in the Adirondacks, they pass; although Shaw feels drawn to a 500-year-old Eastern white pine that occupies the property, an isolated fixer-upper isn’t what they had in mind. In the ensuing months, though, Shaw grows obsessed with the tree—dreaming about it, painting it—so when the price drops, they take the plunge and sink their savings into renovations. Orla, Shaw, and their children, 9-year-old Eleanor Queen and 4-year-old Tycho, move in after Thanksgiving, anticipating an idyllic winter in the country. Instead, Shaw turns manic and distant, Eleanor Queen senses an entity trying to communicate with her, and the homestead is beset by inexplicable phenomena. Attempts to leave are not only thwarted, but punished. Orla resolves to figure out what is tormenting her family and why, but she might not like the answer. Author Stage perfectly captures the fears and frictions that accompany household moves and career changes; indeed, her keen portrayal of domestic upset is what grounds the story and imparts verisimilitude. Regrettably, the book’s bigger emotional beats fail to resonate, blunting the tale’s impact, and a silly denouement further disappoints.

What starts as a creepy slow burn fizzles in the homestretch.

Pub Date: July 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-45849-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Mulholland Books/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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Perhaps A-list screenwriters will be able to spin TV gold from this sketchy treatment.

THE LIONESS

An actress and her entourage are kidnapped by Russians in Bohjalian’s uneven thriller.

In 1964, Hollywood’s gossip rags are agog as movie star Katie Barstow marries gallerist David Hill and takes her inner circle along on her honeymoon. And an adventuresome honeymoon it is—on safari in the Serengeti with aging big-game hunter Charlie Patton, who once helped Hemingway bag trophies. But Katie is not the star of this ensemble piece. The populous cast—a who’s who at the beginning is indispensable—includes Katie’s publicist, Reggie Stout; her agent, Peter Merrick; her best friend, Carmen Tedesco, a supporting actress who plays wisecracking sidekicks; and Terrance Dutton, Katie's recent co-star, a Black actor who's challenging Sidney Poitier's singularity in Hollywood. With obvious nods to Hemingway’s worst fear—masculine cowardice—Bohjalian adds in Felix Demeter, Carmen’s husband, a B-list screenwriter who reminds his wife of Hemingway’s weakling Francis Macomber. Felix seems a superfluous double of David, who feels inadequate because Katie is the breadwinner and his father is CIA. Then there’s Katie’s older brother, Billy Stepanov, whose abuse at the hands of their mother shaped the psychologist he is today; Billy’s pregnant wife, Margie; and Benjamin Kikwete, an apprentice safari guide. Thus, a proliferation of voices whose competing perspectives fragment rather than advance the story. The kidnapping plot seems less designed to test each character’s mettle than to exercise Bohjalian’s predilection for minute descriptions of gore. The most heartfelt portrayal here is of the Serengeti and its flora and fauna, but none of the human characters net enough face time to transcend their typecasting. The motives behind the kidnapping might have lent intrigue to the proceedings, but foreshadowing is so slight that the infodump explainer at the end leaves us shocked, mostly at how haphazard the plot is.

Perhaps A-list screenwriters will be able to spin TV gold from this sketchy treatment.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-385-54482-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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Hits the marks for spooky thrills and mysterious chills.

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BOOK OF NIGHT

A former thief who specialized in stealing magical documents is forced back into her old habits in Black's adult debut.

Charlie Hall used to work as a thief, stealing for and from magicians—or rather, “gloamists.” In this world, gloamists are people with magical shadows that are alive, gaining strength from the gloamists' own blood. A gloamist can learn to manipulate the magic of their shadow, doing everything from changing how it looks to using it to steal, possess a person, or even murder. Gloamists hire nonmagical people like Charlie to steal precious and rare magical documents written by their kind throughout history and detailing their research and experiments in shadow magic. Gloamists can use onyx to keep each other from sending shadows to steal these treasures, but onyx won't stop regular humans from old-fashioned breaking and entering. After Charlie’s talent for crime gets her into too much trouble, she swears off her old career and tries to settle down with her sensible boyfriend, Vince—but when she finds a dead man in an alley and notices that even his shadow has been ripped to pieces, she can’t help trying to figure out who he was and why he met such a gruesome end. Before she knows it, Charlie is forced back into a life of lies and danger, using her skills as a thief to find a book that could unleash the full and terrifying power of the shadow world. Black is a veteran fantasy writer, which shows in the opening pages as she neatly and easily guides the reader through the engrossing world of gloamists, magical shadows, and Charlie’s brand of criminality. There's a lot of flipping back and forth between the past and the present, and though both timelines are well plotted and suspenseful, the story leans a touch too hard on the flashbacks. Still, the mystery elements are well executed, as is Charlie’s characterization, and the big twist at the end packs a satisfying punch.

Hits the marks for spooky thrills and mysterious chills.

Pub Date: May 3, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-81219-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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