Oct 152021

Library Journal: Four friends gather at a Heian-era mansion in the Japanese countryside to celebrate the elopement of two of their group. From the start, something is off. There’s no paper trail of their rental, for reasons the owner makes vague; more unsettling is that this house has a haunted history. A thousand years ago, a bride awaited her groom at the site; he never arrived. She made her guests bury her alive under the building’s foundation so she could await him forever. Every year since, it is said, a young woman is sacrificed to help the lost groom find his way back to his beloved. This short novel, immersed in unease and oozing menace, is engrossing and methodically paced. The atmosphere, the characters, and their strained, complicated relationships are carefully constructed and slowly revealed, until the group finds itself in the middle of a nightmare, stalked by a faceless woman in white as they fight to leave the mansion alive. The conclusion will leave all unsettled, haunting both characters and readers.

VERDICT As if the set-up doesn’t sell itself, the book also has a creepy cover that’s perfect for display. Recommend to those who love tales of haunted houses with menacing and dangerous histories that reach out from beyond the grave to entrap the living, such as Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic or David Mitchell’s Slade House.

Oct 142021

Publishers Weekly: Hackwith brings her Hell’s Library series to a vibrant, satisfying conclusion…. As in previous volumes, Hackwith suffuses this story with love in many forms, deep thoughts on reading, and variations on reality…. It’s the perfect finish to this inventive saga, highlighting fun, angsty romance and musing on the nature of storytelling.

Oct 122021

Library Journal: This is a gripping story with characters that come to life on the page, but it is a difficult, possibly triggering read. The heartbreak of an abusive marriage should be fertile ground for book groups.

Oct 082021

BookPage: Cassandra Khaw’s horror novella Nothing but Blackened Teeth brings readers to Japan, where a wedding of questionable taste is about to unfold. Nadia, who is engaged to Faiz, has decided she wants to be married in a haunted house. The couple’s mega-rich friend Phillip secures a venue for them: a Heian-era mansion in a forest, built on the bones of a bride-to-be and other girls killed to appease her loneliness.

Khaw builds horror slowly and evenly. Rather than sporadically appearing to frighten and terrorize the young squad of not-quite-friends, the spirits of the house appear with steadily increasing frequency until they are simply present in every scene. By the novella’s climax, the tension has increased to such an unbearable degree that the final burst of violence is more expected than surprising.

Readers looking for bite-size horror on a stormy night will appreciate Khaw’s twisted tale of foolish young adults, all of whom are poorly prepared for the effects their decisions will have on their psyches (and lives).

Oct 072021

NPR: Shaun David Hutchinson’s Before We Disappear begins with a lighter premise: Jack is a pickpocket and magician’s assistant. He works for The Enchantress, a stage magician who has stunned audience across Europe with her illusions — while robbing them blind with her scam artist schemes. When they have to flee Paris after unwisely stealing another magician’s trick, she announces that their next stop is America, where she has been engaged to headline at Seattle’s Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. When they arrive in Seattle, it feels like a place Jack might actually want to stay a while. But then a mysterious new magician turns up and begins stealing their audience with an impossible trick — one that even Jack can’t seem to figure out.

And even more mysterious is this new magician’s assistant, a boy called Wilhelm. The more Jack finds out about him, the clearer it becomes that maybe the reason he can’t figure out the trick is because it isn’t really a trick at all, and Wilhelm is somehow performing actual magic. And even worse, perhaps he isn’t a magician’s assistant by choice, but is being held captive by a con artist far, far more malicious than Jack can even imagine. But when everyone is running a con, who can you really trust?

Oct 062021

Publishers Weekly: The triumphant conclusion to French’s Lot Lands trilogy (after The True Bastards) thrills with combat and astonishing magic, balanced by skillful character development. Series fans will relish this thoroughly satisfying finale.

Oct 042021

Booklist: Hetty Rhodes never met a problem she couldn’t solve. And when she gets into trouble, her husband, Benjy, calms her down and helps her out. But the couple has never faced so many crises at once. There are murders, of course. And arson. A few secret societies. Don’t forget an unintelligible cypher that could lead to a fabulous treasure. Although The Undertakers is the sequel to The Conductors (2021), it works well as a standalone book. The novel covers multiple interconnected mysteries with humor and warmth. It also expands the cast of characters that fill out the Rhodes’ found family and the city of Philadelphia, making the city feel like a character itself. A constellation-based magic system is heavily featured (especially in the many action scenes), and recalls the use of stars by enslaved people as navigational aids. Hetty and Benjy’s camaraderie is the real star of the show, no matter how many spells they fire off at assailants. The Undertakers’ historical fantasy vibe will appeal to fans of Alyssa Cole’s Loyal League series and Maurice Broaddus’ Buffalo Soldier (2017).

Oct 012021

NPR: A rag-tag band of criminals must come together for one last heist; of course, they didn’t part on good terms after the last job…

You might know this story, but you don’t yet know it in the hands of Cassandra Khaw. They transform one last heist into The All-Consuming World: a visionary, foul-mouthed, gory sci-fi adventure, dripping viscera, violence, and beauty in equal measure.

The All-Consuming World is a gory, gloriously punk, queer heist story set in an unsettling and cold universe. It delivers thrills and questions. This is Cassandra Khaw’s debut novel, although they’ve published many novellas before, and it’s a worthwhile addition to the sci-fi canon. The ending is abrupt; a sudden stop. But it feels right that this story leaves you with questions unanswered and futures uncertain. The All-Consuming World will consume your attention and linger in your thoughts, a very good ride and a remarkable what-if.

Sep 302021

a pair of black ear budsAudio rights to Alex Bledsoe’s DANDELION, to Addi Black at Blackstone, at auction, by Katie Shea Boutillier on behalf of Paul E. Stevens.

Audio rights to Lindsay Portnoy’s GAME ON? BRAIN ON!: The Surprising Relationship between Play and Gray, to Kim Budnick at Tantor Media by Katie Shea Boutillier.