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King, Stephen (author).
Nov. 2014. 416p. Scribner, hardcover, $30 (9781476770383); Scribner, e-book (9781476770406).
REVIEW. First published September 15, 2014 (Booklist).

Saying that this is one of King’s most harrowing, most fatalistic works should only endear it to his base—this is horror, after all; we’re not here for the positive vibes. In the kind of loose, garrulous voice that has marked his last decade, King spins the yarn of Jamie Morton and Reverend Charles Jacobs, whose lives wretchedly intertwine for 50 years. Jamie is six when he meets the wholesome preacher whose hobby, electronics, makes him a hit with the Methodist youth. A tragic accident leads to Jacobs’ loss of faith—readers will also be scarred—but only increases his devotion to electrical experimentation: “one of God’s doorways to the infinite.” Jamie grows up to be a drug-addicted rhythm guitarist, but a reunion at Jacobs’ electricity-based carnival act proves the curative potential of “secret electricity” . . . despite unsettling side effects. Frankenstein is a touchstone here, but more so is Lovecraft, as King edges ever closer to the madness of the unknowable and eventually, to his courageous credit, stares directly at it. Though narrative wheels spin in place on occasion, the book’s engine is powered by high-octane dread, and few fuels run stronger.

HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: This is old-school, capital-H horror the likes of Thinner, Pet Sematary, and The Shining. Readers will be up for the endurance test.

— Daniel Kraus

School Library Journal

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Kirkus Reviews

Book Cover

An encyclopedic study of the barbarian warrior women of Western Asia, revealing how new archaeological discoveries uphold the long-held myths and legends.

The famed female archers on horseback from the lands the ancient Greeks called Scythia appeared throughout Greek and Roman legend. Mayor (Classics and History of Science/Stanford Univ.; The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy, 2009, etc.) tailors her scholarly work to lay readers, providing a fascinating exploration into the factual identity underpinning the fanciful legends surrounding these wondrous Amazons. Members of nomadic cultures who inhabited the arid steppes in the regions above the Black Sea, Caucasus Mountains and Caspian Sea—extending from Thrace to Mongolia—the Amazons were raised in an egalitarian, horse-centered society in which the girls became “battle-hardened warriors who prized independence and repelled all would-be conquerors.” Though they left no written record, the archaeological discoveries in grave sites reveal their violent lifestyles: Clad in trousers and other clothing similar to that worn by men, they were buried with their horses, battle gear and children. Many of them died from combat injuries, and their corpses showed tattoos and bowed legs from horse riding. While there are known “Nart” sagas, such as a recent one translated from the Circassian language about a leader of nomadic women warriors, the best known stories are from the early Greeks—e.g., Homer and Herodotus, who first recorded the deeds of these “equals of men,” the allies of the Trojans led by Queen Penthesilea, who eventually battled Achilles and lost. Other famous Amazons included Queen Hippolyta, who was killed by Heracles to attain her Golden Girdle, thus setting off for the Athenians a terrible war with the Amazons. Mayor clears away much of the man-hating myths around these redoubtable warriors.

Thanks to Mayor’s scholarship, these fearsome fighters are attaining their historical respectability.

Book Cover

A homespun novel finds a small Wisconsin town torn between preservation and progress.

Folksy activism provides the impetus for Apps’ return to Ames County, where he's set five earlier novels in this series (Tamarack River Ghost, 2012, etc.). He's also published many nonfiction books about farming and rural life in Wisconsin, and the themes in those volumes invariably make their ways into his fiction as well. In this case, the small village of Link Lake finds itself caught between its past as a farming community and whatever prosperity the future might hold as a tourist destination. There's a battle for the soul of the village between two organizations headed by two strong-willed women. Marilyn Jones, who inherited the village’s only supper club when her parents died in a car crash, leads the Link Lake Economic Development Council, whose initiatives invariably meet resistance from the Link Lake Historical Society, headed by feisty octogenarian Emily Higgins. Marilyn fumes, “When are these people going to quit focusing on the past and begin thinking about the future?” Tensions come to a head when a sand mining company strikes an agreement with the village that will require the removal of a “sacred tree.” The controversy attracts the attention of a mysterious but widely read syndicated environmental columnist with the pen name Stony Field, whose writings attract protestors to the site. Too many coincidences and surprises strain the reader’s credulity (including the possibility that an environmental columnist with an unknown identity could wield such national influence), but a Fourth of July parade, an explosion and a potentially fatal storm threaten to tear the town apart—or perhaps heal its wounds.

The result is Lake Wobegon with more environmental activism and historical preservation and considerably less humor.

Book Cover

Chávez's new novel is the sprawling tale of Comezóna New Mexico border town. The book is anchored by the aging master of ceremonies of the town's yearly fiesta, Arnulfo Olivárez, as he regretfully looks back on his life.

Longing, the author’s  translation of “comezón,” is at the center of this book and all its characters. Longing for the local priest, El Padre Manolito (Juliana Olivárez); longing for the crippled Juliana, the woman he cannot have (El Padre Manolito); longing for the family she knows is her right (Juliana's sister, Lucinda Olivárez); longing for peace from his obsession with the illegals he helped deport to Mexico (Rey Suárez the bar owner); and longing for her husband’s attention (Emilia Olivárez). Everyone longs for love and for the body they desire—whether that body be their own full and healthy again or the body of a lover. “What was he doing here…besides longing for love?” asks El Padre Manolito. Indeed, whose longings will be satisfied and whose will go unrequited becomes the central drama of the novel. And when Emilia suffers a near-fatal stroke, it sets off a chain of events that forces the characters, especially her husband, Arnulfo, to reconsider what they truly desire. Told in the close third person, the narrative shifts among the points of view of all the characters. While the rotating perspective does create some beautiful moments and reveal some delicious ironies, at times the story slows when information is repeated from multiple perspectives without adding further depth. But if you have a penchant for winding narratives in which the drama of the story takes place within the Proustian world of memory, this is the book for you. 

A haunting book from a novelist (Loving Pedro Infant, 2001, etc.) who inspires us to appreciate what we have before it is gone.

<September 2014>