Jan 072022
 
Locus: I’ve seen Darcie Little Badger’s A Snake Falls to Earth described as young-adult fantasy and young-adult science fiction, but it’s really young-adult Indigenous futurism.

In a novel full of remarkable things, one of the most remarkable is the narrative itself….The way Little Badger jumped between Oli and Nina, between first and third person, between mainstream and traditional narratives, is really quite something. It should feel jarring and disjointed, but it doesn’t. It flows seamlessly while also letting the structure act almost like a third main character.

Even the endings – Oli’s, Nina’s, and the book as a whole – show the depth of Little Badger’s vast talent. Throughout A Snake Falls to Earth, Nina and Oli encounter inexplicable things or mysterious animal people, but they never let their curiosity intrude on another person’s life. They recognize that they don’t need to have the answers to all their questions in order to be able to empathize, make wise decisions, or behave in a socially responsible manner. They can be respectful without analyzing or critiquing. Sometimes we can just let things be as they are without demanding “why” and “how.” These are not plot holes or loose threads but a clever, powerful way to bring Little Badger”s cultural storytelling traditions into a Western medium.

If Elatsoe was a ten out of ten, then A Snake Falls to Earth is a solid 11. This book could have been twice as long and I still would have begged for more. Although aimed at a young-adult audience, it has the kind of easy appeal and heartfelt tone that will entice younger kids and older adults as well. Anyone reading or buying YA needs to add this to their shelves immediately.

Jan 062022
 

Booklist: Shortly after moving from Seattle to his father’s hometown of Merritt, Florida, Virgil Knox, 15, is attacked by a monster. Barely clinging to his sanity and bleeding copiously from his injuries, he makes his way to a parking lot and collapses. In spite of his wounds, however, people either don’t believe him, laugh at him, or say he asked for it by walking alone in a deserted area at night, and when he starts school, the pranks and teasing are nonstop. Virgil relives the attack at the slightest trigger, but all anyone tells him is to get over it. Virgil has more to worry about, however; he wonders whether he will become a monster as well. Hutchinson is known for offbeat, edgy books, and this is no exception. Convincing, well-rounded characters come to life in Hutchinson’s lyrical, punchy writing, and his skills for maintaining suspense and intrigue mean the story never drags. There are echoes of a werewolf story here, but Virgil’s experiences after the monster attack mirror the treatment of victims of sexual assault, which adds a dynamic level to the story. As Virgil starts to make connections in his new home, from irrepressible classmate Tripp to his seemingly dour grandmother, he realizes that he has more choices than he thought. Hutchinson never misses a beat in this gripping, dynamic novel.

Dec 082021
 

Library Journal: A new entry (following Lake Silence) in Bishop’s “World of the Others” urban fantasy series set in an alternate North America. It’s Trickster Night in Lake Silence, a celebration of ghosties and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night. Lake Silence is a mostly human settlement in an area controlled by the terra indigene, or the Others (a group of supernatural beings and cryptids), making Trickster Night a perfect chance to generate tourism from humans who want to walk a bit closer to the real wild side. It’s all fun and games and just a bit of a fright, until someone uses those small fears to turn humans and terra indigene against each other in order to cause trouble and learn how to get the better of the powerful Others. It’s up to the human storyteller, the police chief, and the local vampire leader to figure out what’s gone rotten in town before the overseeing council sweeps in with a permanent and deadly solution.

VERDICT A compelling exploration of manipulative personalities, small town murders, and the lengths to which these fascinating and beloved characters will go in order to protect one of their own.

Dec 072021
 

Kirkus: Can perfume kill?

Scent is everything in Donnelly’s unique, voluptuous thriller. Not only does suave antihero Vic Fowler analyze the mix of odors emanating from every person and place he encounters; Donnelly’s introductory list of characters describes them in terms of their “base notes.” She opens each chapter with an analysis of its content in scent—for example, Chapter 1: “Notes de Tête: Whiskey, Jasmine, Oakmoss. Notes de Cœur: Old Cigarettes and Stale Coffee. Notes de Fond: Mildew, Charcoal, Barbicide.” The death of iconoclastic perfume magnate Jonathan Bright has left his company, Bright House, in tatters under the stewardship of Vic, his lover and protégé. Vic’s brilliant invention is a line of perfumes that allows the wearer to relive memories. Down at the heels and subletting a bas ement apartment in Harlem, Vic is determined to use his considerable charm and sex appeal to return to his former glory and exact revenge upon Joseph Eisner, the man he blames for bringing him low. As Vic is implicated in both Jonathan’s death and the disappearances of wealthy Conrad and Caroline Yates, dogged detective Pip Miles lurks in methodical pursuit of the truth. Details of those crimes are doled out in tidbits over hundreds of pages. Vic accepts a commission from Eisner to devise a fatal scent and, with an offbeat trio of sexy sidekicks—bartender, barber, and tailor—hopes to use it as the vehicle of his vengeance. Donnelly offers physical descriptions nearly as rich as the olfactory, and she colorfully depicts a pre-Covid New York City, heavy with detail and likely to trigger nostalgia. But her plot moves at a glacial pace. The question for readers to ponder: Is the journey luscious enough to mitigate a long-delayed destination?

Manhattan’s beau monde served up in juicy, evocative prose.

Dec 022021
 

Publishers Weekly: New York City perfumer Vic Fowler, the narrator of this clever standalone from Donnelly (the Amberlough Dossier series), has a somewhat less respectable sideline—murder for hire. To save his financially strapped perfume business, Vic accepts a contract from Joseph Eisner to kill the three partners in Eisner’s asset management company. A further condition is that before Vic disposes of the victims’ bodies, he must produce a fragrance that evokes a particular memory in Eisner, a task Vic has no idea if he can accomplish. Vic’s previous victim was Caroline Yates, whose death was ordered by her husband, a partner of Eisner and now one of Eisner’s intended targets. When an investigator comes to interview Vic about Caroline’s disappearance, Vic knows he can no longer do Eisner’s job himself without raising suspicion. He decides to find three other people to carry out the murders. Whom he picks and how he convinces them to do his bidding develops into a fascinating psychological drama. This intoxicating thriller keeps the reader guessing. With luck, Vic will be back for an encore.

Nov 232021
 

Kirkus: Creepy hotel managers, jump scares, and an overall eerie atmosphere are entertaining, and the plot moves swiftly…. A brief, engaging, and at times grisly mystery that will keep readers guessing.

 

Nov 192021
 

Financial Times: Nick Mamatas’s The Second Shooter likewise revels in weirdness, delving into America’s conspiracy theory culture. Mike Karras, a down-at-heel journalist working for a small-press publisher, is carrying out research for a book about mysterious, half-glimpsed additional gunmen whom eyewitnesses claim to have seen at assassinations and mass shootings.

Karras’s investigations into the phenomenon lead him deep into the realms of rightwing radio talk-show hosts and QAnon-style paranoia. In its final third, the story takes a turn for the metaphysical, following its own dark logic to a downbeat conclusion. Along the way Mamatas offers plenty of scathing commentary on gun violence and misuse of social media, in a novel that is both smart and topical.

Nov 182021
 

Publishers Weekly: McHugh’s gripping debut focuses on Jennifer Scarborough, who has been grooming her daughter, Abby, for media stardom for nearly 10 years. Since Abby was four, she has been photographed, videoed, and packaged under the name Chloe Cates in Jennifer’s popular blog, CC and Me. Jennifer, who cherishes her identity as a blogger and entrepreneur, won’t let anyone stand in the way of her dreams for her daughter—not even the girl herself. Meanwhile, 13-year-old Abby writes in her journal: “Everybody knows CC Spectacular, but Abby Scarborough doesn’t exist, not on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat—nowhere that counts… Who cares about me when Chloe is the star?” Chloe’s subsequent disappearance is national news, and the internet is fueled with viral hashtags like #CatchChloeCates trending on every major platform. Emilina Stone, the detective with the Children and Family Services Unit in Albany, N.Y., who’s assigned the case, declines to reveal to her superiors that she and Jennifer were childhood friends. Chapters told from multiple perspectives skillfully tease out the characters’ respective secrets to reveal the rage lurking beneath their smiling faces. McHugh is off to a strong start.

Nov 122021
 

NPR: Nothing But Blackened Teeth is visually stunning. Of course, a novella is just words but Khaw’s command of language in service of an image — their brilliance when it comes to wedding image with emotion — is sheer perfection here, with gorgeous turns of phrase that deepen our understanding of the characters and their responses to one another. Atmosphere seeps from every page, and you really feel like you too are exploring this house, like this house is closing around you, too. You feel like you just might be able to notice what’s wrong, or where the wrongness is springing from, before anybody else.

I like the characters. They form a unit more because of shared history than because they would be friends in the present, which serves this particular type of story very well. Readers will get frustrated with one person’s choices and say “Why are you being so stupid?” or “Don’t do that!” — but so will another character. One of Khaw’s strengths is their ability to show fully realized, nuanced social dynamics.

This is a creepy, meticulously-crafted tragedy and frankly, one of the most beautifully written haunted stories I’ve ever read. As in the best ghost stories, the house is full of ghosts, but it’s the people who are the houses. We’re haunted by our histories, by the ugly things we want to keep buried, by the things we just can’t let go. Nothing But Blackened Teeth will linger with you.

Nov 032021
 

New York Times: Caitlin Starling’s THE DEATH OF JANE LAWRENCE is a jewel box of a Gothic novel, one filled with ghosts and sorcery, great stores of romance, medical curiosities and so much galloping about in carriages that there is hardly a moment to catch your breath.