Reading this novel is like entering a second childhood. You have our permission.

THE WONDER BOY OF WHISTLE STOP

Back to the Whistle Stop Cafe, in a story ranging from the 1930s to the present day.

The setting of Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (1987), beloved both in print and on film, returns in a sweet ol’ novel which could not possibly be less of the moment. That sound you hear? A gazillion fans rejoicing. The update includes several of the original characters—largely a bunch of good-hearted white people and a couple of meanies—from a small town outside Birmingham, Alabama. By the 1990s, it turns out, the whole town is in ruins and its denizens in diaspora throughout the South, mostly kept in touch by Dot Weems, who eventually replaced her long-running newsletter, The Weems Weekly, with Christmas letters and occasional bulletins. The titular wonder boy is the one-armed prince Bud Threadgoode, son of the late Ruth Jamison, who owned the cafe in the 1930s with her partner, Idgie Threadgoode (sadly, no new lesbian romances this time around). In 2013, Bud is retired from his veterinary practice and living at Briarwood Manor in Atlanta, where he moved when his ailing wife, Peggy, became too hard to care for without help. Though healthy himself, he decided to stay on after her death even though his daughter, Ruthie, widowed young, has begged him to move in with her. Unfortunately, she lives next door to her awful mother-in-law, Martha Lee Caldwell, and Bud ain’t goin’ there. Martha Lee is a horrible rich old Southern lady; one of the funniest moments in the book occurs when she gets her 23andMe results. Homesick for the good old days, Bud sneaks out of Briarwood to take one last glance at his hometown, and here the ambling narrative finally gets moving. Though you don’t have to read the first book to understand the new one, it wouldn’t hurt, either, since there’s a lot of backstory filled in in clumps and you’ll catch on sooner if you know who’s who. Or watch the movie; Flagg was nominated for an Oscar for the screenplay.

Reading this novel is like entering a second childhood. You have our permission.

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13384-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 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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