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Posts Tagged ‘The Bellwether Revivals’

joylandThe ghosts of summer past haunt Stephen King’s beguiling coming-of-age novel Joyland (Hard Case Crime, purchased paperback), set in a North Carolina coastal amusement park in 1973. For rising college senior Devin Jones, working at the park means wheeling the popcorn wagon and running rides, hearing the fast-paced pitch of the carnies — “time to take a little spin, hurry hurry, take a ride upstairs to where the air is rare” — and little kids squealing at the sight of Howie the Happy Hound Dog doing the Hokey-Pokey. The sweat pours down his neck when he is “wearing the fur” in the melting heat, but a shiver runs down his spine in Horror House, where a pretty girl was viciously murdered a few years back. Dev, nursing a broken heart, is intrigued by the stories of her pleading ghost, especially after hearing details of the crime from his landlady and the strange behavior of his buddy Ted who saw “something” on the ride. Add in a pragmatic fortune teller whose prognostications have a way of coming true, old-timers who know more than they tell, a sick little boy with supernatural sensitivity and a beautiful mother, and Dev’s got a summer he’ll remember the rest of his life.
Joyland reads like the memoir of a mystery as Dev looks back; the atmospheric narrative is laced with nostalgia and an older man’s musings on mortality and friends gone by. But King grounds his characters in reality and tethers the dialogue and details to the time. Take it for a spin. Enjoy the ride.
oceanlaneNeil Gaiman’s hushed new fantasy The Ocean at the End of the Lane (William Morrow, review copy) is a dream of a book, one that leaves you unsettled and staring at shadows, trying to remember…
The nameless narrator is attending a funeral when he takes a break and drives down the English country road where he lived as a child. The house is no longer there, but the landscape is familiar enough for him to recall when his bookish 7-year-self was caught in a mysterious battle between good and evil. He remembers his parents and sister, the cherry-faced opal miner who boarded with them, a nasty governess called Ursula, and the neighbors down the lane — Lettie Hemstock, her mother and her grandmother. They are old-fashioned, and it turns out, immortal. Their magic is somehow mixed in with the pond that Lettie calls her “ocean,” and when something monstrous buries its way into his heart, the Hemstocks’ secrets come to his aid. But then the hunger birds descend to rip the world to pieces.
So yes, it’s a dark dream, but one tempered by Gaiman’s lovely writing and imagery, plus a suitable ever-after of an ending.
shininggirlsSomething seriously creepy stalks Lauren Beukes’ genre-bending The Shining Girls (Little, Brown, digital galley), a serial killer with a whopper of a secret — he can travel through time. In 1931 Chicago, Harper Curtis stumbles from Hooverville into a house that turns out to be a portal to future eras. Inside the house are the names of his future/past victims and anachronistic souvenirs he will take from one murdered woman and leave with the disemboweled corpse of another. Actually, it’s a little more complicated than that; Beukes’ explanations tend toward the vague but all credit to her for keeping track of Harper’s victims, “the shining girls” he spots in one time and returns to kill in another. Only Kirby Mazrachi, first spotted in 1974 as a 6-year-old, survives Harper’s attack in 1989, and in 1992, while working as an intern at the Sun-Times, she begins to connect the mind-boggling dots with the help of a cynical sportswriter.
The tricky narrative jumps around from Kirby hunting Harper, to Harper hunting victims, to victims unknowingly living out their last days or hours. Not for the faint-hearted.
bellwetherHow did I miss Benjamin Woods’ The Bellwether Revivals (Viking Penguin, digital galley) when it came out in hardcover last year? Now available in paperback and e-book, this British academic mystery — a cross between Brideshead Revisited and A Secret History — is so my cup of tea.
Oscar Lowe, bright, bookish and working as a health care assistant, is drawn by organ music into the chapel at King’s College, Cambridge, and thus into the privileged world of the Bellwethers. He’s taken up as almost a mascot to medical student Iris Bellwether, her musically gifted brother Eden and several of their friends. But his love affair with Iris is threatened by Eden’s increasingly bizarre behavior, underscored by strange musical therapy experiments.
Readers know from the beginning that something terrible happens involving at least one body and Oscar waiting for the police, but the trip from there to the end is still suspenseful, strange and lovely.

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