Jun 122024

AudioFile: Lucy Rivers and Will Thorne energize each other as dual narrators of this steamy fantasy-romance blending pirates, fae, and Vikings. Erik rules Ever Kingdom, but that rule is compromised by the man who murdered his father and trapped Erik in the underwater world called the Ever Realm. When Livia, the daughter of the man responsible for trapping Erik, accidentally breaks the Ever Realm open, Erik rages out to avenge his father’s death–but not if Livia can capture his heart first. Rivers provides a captivating portrayal of headstrong, passionate Livia. The sensual encounters crackle with erotic tension as Livia’s voice catches and becomes increasingly breathy. This engaging dark fantasy-romance is best listened to with headphones. J.M.M. © AudioFile 2024, Portland, Maine [Published: MAY 2024]

Jun 072024

Bookpage: A prequel to acclaimed YA author Darcie Little Badger’s 2020 debut Elatsoe (which features Shane’s granddaughter, Ellie, as the protagonist), Sheine Lende is a powerful and deeply moving tale of family, grief, cultural identity and magic. As a Lipan Apache woman herself, Little Badger combines the myths and legends of her tribe with fantastical elements to tell a story that, while fictional, rings true. The universe the book occupies is almost identical to our own, except in Little Badger’s version of reality, the ancient folklores that have informed cultural beliefs and practices since time immemorial are made manifest in the real world—but they exist alongside representations of true and historic modes of systemic oppression used by the U.S. government against indigenous peoples like the Lipan.

This is not to say, however, that Sheine Lende is all darkness. Though frequently consumed by anxiety, doubt and grief, Shane is a vibrant character who continues to find joy in her family, friends and the world around her. And on a larger scale, Little Badger never portrays the Lipan Apache tribe as downtrodden or defeated. Much to the contrary, Sheine Lende presents a family and a people who have had atrocities small and large, but who, despite it all, turn toward the light.


Jun 052024

Booklist: “[T]his is how she and I have spent our long and convoluted journey through time: joined at the hip, joined at the death, haunting each other, carrying each other.” Chandrasekera follows two entwined souls through an endless cycle of reincarnation and destruction in this slipstream novel, a poetic saga about identity and memory, colonialism and revolution, connection and commitment. It begins with a hauntingly enigmatic analysis of a TV show starring teenagers Annelid and Levert and set during a “war which is now over but never over.” Annelid is possessed by a demon in the jungle, and Leveret, a newly made revolutionary, is murdered. Though the show, watched by fans in the far future, ends with Leveret’s death, their story continues in the many nonlinear lives and worlds into which they reincarnate. These worlds, from ancient legends to a ruined, abandoned Earth, are woven from South Asian culture and populated with corrupt politicians and kings, revolutionaries, demons, living corpses, old gods, posthumans, artificial intelligences, and more. Chandrasekera employs multiple narrative forms and storytelling styles in this often difficult to parse but impossible to forget surrealist experience.

Jun 032024

Reactor:  Those Beyond the Wall, Micaiah Johnson’s second novel, can be read as a standalone, or you can read it as a followup that’s something of a mirror image to The Space Between Worlds, her 2020 debut. Space was set mostly inside the walls of Wiley City, where an unlikely survivor named Cara found an unusual way to make a life among the privileged. Beyond is set in the nearby desert community of Ashtown, under the sometimes-deadly glare of the sun. That sun is far from the only deadly thing in Ashtown.

Both places are changed by a technological innovation that allows people to move between worlds. Each person exists, or existed, in every world, though their lives are different—sometimes more different, sometimes less. There are catches, because there are always catches. It’s not an easy experience, seeing the other yous that might have been.

This book isn’t about technology, though. (Johnson is very aware of the fine line between magic and science.) It’s about revolution, and it’s about Mr. Scales, one of the many runners who serve Nik Nik, the emperor of Ashtown. Technically, Scales is a mechanic, but like her fellows, she’s also a killer. She has been other things, and lived other lives, but at this moment, in this life, everything goes to hell when she watches a friend die horribly. There is no killer. Helene X just folds in on herself, bones breaking and reversing, as Scales tries to hold her together.

The threat that causes these terrible deaths—because of course there are more—affects primarily people in Wiley, but trouble in Wiley quickly becomes trouble for Ashtown. In the city, a scientist named Adam Bosch understands better than most what is happening. When Scales and her colleagues bring him to their emperor, a whole host of events are set in motion.

The question of who is killing the mangled dead is less of an issue than the matter of how to stop it. This is the catalyst for Johnson’s story, but its engine, its heart, is Scales, who gradually turns her attention to the pre-existing, systemic issues that affect everyone in Ashtown. The people of this world need to put a wall between themselves and the entitled, brazen enemy that would destroy them. But there is an existing wall that isn’t doing Ashtowners any good.

May 302024

Shelf Awareness: A woman forced into heroism races against time and sinister magical forces to save her family in the perfectly paced and deliciously threatening dark fantasy novella The Butcher of the Forest by World Fantasy Award winner Premee Mohamed (And What Can We Offer You Tonight).

“It was not yet dawn when they came for her,” the story begins, setting an ominous tone that only intensifies as men drag villager Veris Thorn before the Tyrant, her realm’s merciless conqueror. His two children have vanished into the Elmever, a parallel magic world that invisibly opens from a nearby wood, and he has heard that only Veris has ever brought a child back from it alive. He orders her to retrieve his children or “your village will be razed… and we will roast your people alive… and eat them.” Veris slips into the Elmever with only three tokens to guide her and a single day to retrieve the children. She must face poisonous magic; half-rotted undead beasts bent on devouring her; and elder beings who want her deepest self, all to save the children who will one day oppress her people in place of the Tyrant–if Veris can bring them out in one piece.

Mohamed puts a chilling twist on the fairy tale of the stolen child. Veris, a commoner in her late 30s with little power beyond her wits and experience, makes for a captivating heroine whose vulnerability and fear give the narrative the gasping tension of a horror movie. Butcher of the Forest is short, sharp fantasy at its finest.

May 202024

New York Times Book Review: “The Tainted Cup” is a thoroughly satisfying delight from start to finish. If you, like me, enjoy an animating nonsexual relationship between a brilliant, eccentric woman and a devoted and highly competent man, this book is a cornucopia. Bennett pulls off his own feat of engineering in splicing genres together so effectively, marrying the imaginative abundance of a fantasy world to the structure, pace and character dynamics of detective fiction.

May 172024

Library Journal: The old gods are dead, and the new ones are horrific. Karys Eska is bound to a new god, and the price for her ability to speak to the dead is, on an unspecified day, to be snatched away to a realm of terrors. When she attempts to rescue a dying stranger from uncanny creatures, she accidentally merges Ferain with her shadow. If Eska learns how to free him, he’ll make her wealthy. But they soon discover that the creature attack didn’t happen by chance, and forces will pursue them across nations to ensure their deaths. Along the way, both learn that they can’t outrun their pasts, but maybe some parts are worth holding on to. Hall (Second Spear) weaves a fascinating tapestry of mythology and divine politics that she underscores with deep, complicated relationships. Nearly every character struggles with trust, unequal power dynamics, and the expectations of class and nation, despite also having an intense desire for connection. The novel’s charming interludes between deadly situations are few but powerful.

VERDICT This compelling mix of horror, found family, and intricate mythology will appeal to those who loved Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys and The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin.
May 142024

New York Times Book Review: Where “The Space Between Worlds” was a structured book, unfolding its plot the way a scene would on a painted fan, “Those Beyond the Wall” is more tightly focused on character and voice, revolutionary ethics and practice. It’s about apartheid as a violent premise that requires violent resistance, not as a parade of suffering to be solved with pity and charity by those who profit from it. It’s a book that forces its characters and its readers to reckon with two questions: What side of the wall are you on, and what side of the wall do you want to be on?

May 082024

Shelf Awareness: The gritty, luminous Sheine Lende, a prequel to Darcie Little Badger’s acclaimed first novel, Elatsoe, features stouthearted Shane (grandmother to Elatsoe’s Ellie) who uses the family’s ability to raise ghosts to find three people, one of whom is her own mother.

The women in 17-year-old Shane Solé’s Lipan Apache family line know how to reach deep into “the world Below” to “raise the ghosts of animals.” Shane and her mother, Lorenza, are known for their tracking abilities; they and their two living bloodhounds, along with a single shimmering ghost dog, are often called upon to find missing people. Although Shane knows her small family would benefit from being paid for these services–just a few short years ago, they lost their home, father, and grandparents in quick succession–Lorenza “never charge[s] people money for rescue jobs.” When 16-year-old Donnie and 10-year-old Bobby go missing, Lorenza is called to help. Then Lorenza herself disappears. Shane, her younger brother, Marcos, and her grandpa Louis rush to help locate the three missing people.
Little Badger’s beguiling novel includes stories within stories that enrich the main narrative, telling tales whose monumental purposes are “to be shared and remembered.” She entices readers by creating a world where monsters and “powerful magics” exist alongside actual history. Rovina Cai once again gracefully illustrates Little Badger’s work with delicate line drawings that act as chapter headings. Intergenerational relationships form the basis of this wonderful novel, as does Shane’s sense that her family–and their ghost animals–are looking out for her. Here’s hoping readers will receive more sequels, prequels, or spin-offs that take place in this fresh, compelling world.
May 062024

Booklist: Two years ago: after her father was caught cheating, Olivia Owens was forced to move out of the mansion she’d grown up in. Five hours ago: she dressed to the nines to attend her famous father’s third wedding—and rob him of all the money his prenup kept from her ailing mother. Her revenge will hit him hard, if she and her team of misfits, including an old teacher and a dramatic new flame, can get in and out of the huge wedding event with his account passwords. Unpredictable guests and her (also cheating) ex-boyfriend get in the way of Olivia’s careful planning, but she and her coconspirators are determined to make her dad pay—with his millions and with his reputation. Wibberley and Siegemund-Broka, well known for cocreating mainstream romance novels, take an unexpected turn with this heist novel, but it’s a welcome one. There is romance here but also a solid underlying plot and a thrilling heist. Recommended for all libraries.