A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hamill


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“If John Irving ever wrote a horror novel, it would be something like this. I loved it.” —Stephen King

Noah Turner sees monsters.

His father saw them—and built a shrine to them with The Wandering Dark, an immersive horror experience that the whole family operates.

His practical mother has caught glimpses of terrors but refuses to believe—too focused on keeping the family from falling apart.

And his eldest sister, the dramatic and vulnerable Sydney, won’t admit to seeing anything but the beckoning glow of the spotlight . . . until it swallows her up.

Noah Turner sees monsters. But, unlike his family, Noah chooses to let them in . . .

Yes, this book is as creepy and shivery as the description above implies and this will appeal to fans of psychological as well as anthropomorphic horror.

I confess. I am an end-reader. If I get halfway or more through a story and am a) getting bored with it, or b) *have* to know what happens to a certain character, etc. I will flip to the end and read the last chapter. What happens to Sydney about 1/3 of the way through is what made me flip to the end; what I found there sent me back for more.

The mark of an exceptional book is if, after reading the end, if I go back and finish the book.

Cosmology of Monsters is an *exceptional* book.

Initially, I read the story through the lens of mental illness, considering the action happening to the family as part of a struggle with serious illness and not flesh & blood “monsters.” As I progressed and the story “got real” I was so taken with the complex relationships built between Noah and his family, friends, and the monster that the mental illness aspect drifted to the background. This book is pure imagination. It takes the horror of Lovecraft and the psychological terror of King and blends them into this gorgeous, creepy, frightening slurry of human (and non-human) emotion. All the elements of a good story are here – primarily the hero with a quest – and Shaun Hamill steps confidently into the circle of horror masters. Highly recommended.

Publication Date: September 17, 2019
Published By: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell


891511BE-975B-4C97-B939-2852335A46F5From the New York Times bestselling author of Then She Was Gone comes another page-turning look inside one family’s past as buried secrets threaten to come to light.

Be careful who you let in.

Soon after her twenty-fifth birthday, Libby Jones returns home from work to find the letter she’s been waiting for her entire life. She rips it open with one driving thought: I am finally going to know who I am.

She soon learns not only the identity of her birth parents, but also that she is the sole inheritor of their abandoned mansion on the banks of the Thames in London’s fashionable Chelsea neighborhood, worth millions. Everything in Libby’s life is about to change. But what she can’t possibly know is that others have been waiting for this day as well—and she is on a collision course to meet them.

Twenty-five years ago, police were called to 16 Cheyne Walk with reports of a baby crying. When they arrived, they found a healthy ten-month-old happily cooing in her crib in the bedroom. Downstairs in the kitchen lay three dead bodies, all dressed in black, next to a hastily scrawled note. And the four other children reported to live at Cheyne Walk were gone.

Get ready for it, libraries & book stores. This is going to be big.

Lisa Jewell has delivered a taut, nail-biting story of love, obsession, betrayal, and murder in a way that keeps you reading long after bedtime. Told from three perspectives – siblings Henry & Lucy and “the baby” Libby, this story winds back and forth between the 1980s/90s and the present, eventually revealing the truth about a suicide pact that killed Henry & Lucy’s parents and an unidentified man.

Relatively short chapters keep you riveted as you move between Henry’s caustic but helpless commentary on the subjugation of his family to megalomaniac David Thomsen, Lucy’s present-day struggles as a single mother and victim of an abusive relationship, and Libby’s experiences as she explores the house left to her in trust where, she learns, her “parents” died.

Jewell’s psycho-gothic story joins similar edge-of-your-seat books from Ruth Ware, AJ Finn and Gillian Flynn. Recommended.

Publication Date: November 5, 2019
Published By: Atria Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

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cover161593-mediumFrom the #1 New York Times bestselling author of In a Dark, Dark Wood, The Woman in Cabin 10, The Lying Game, and The Death of Mrs. Westaway comes Ruth Ware’s highly anticipated fifth novel.

When she stumbles across the ad, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss—a live-in nannying post, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan Caine arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten—by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare—one that will end with a child dead and herself in prison awaiting trial for murder.

Writing to her lawyer from prison, she struggles to explain the unravelling events that led to her incarceration. It wasn’t just the constant surveillance from the cameras installed around the house, or the malfunctioning technology that woke the household with booming music, or turned the lights off at the worst possible time. It wasn’t just the girls, who turned out to be a far cry from the immaculately behaved model children she met at her interview. It wasn’t even the way she was left alone for weeks at a time, with no adults around apart from the enigmatic handyman, Jack Grant.

It was everything.

She knows she’s made mistakes. She admits that she lied to obtain the post, and that her behavior toward the children wasn’t always ideal. She’s not innocent, by any means. But, she maintains, she’s not guilty—at least not of murder. Which means someone else is.

Ruth Ware is one of those authors who delivers clever, imaginative stories again and again. Turn of the Key joins her earlier work and more than lives up to the hype and anticipation surrounding its publication. With nods to classics like Turn of the Screw and Rebecca, Ware tells an imaginative tale of an emotionally damaged young woman dropped into the middle of one of the strangest family situations I’ve read in a very long time. Ware takes the remote-old-house trope and drags it into the 21st century by adding smart-house technology, thereby creating a truly all-seeing, electronic “Mrs. Danvers,” which is enough to make anyone shiver in their boots.

As she does, Ware drops bombs of information gradually throughout the story, which serve to keep the reader saying “just one more page,” and which had me reading well into the night. The final bombshell was one that I had thought about but dismissed as too awful, but there it was…making me put the book down, close my eyes, and sigh deeply.

One of the things I appreciate about Ware’s writing is her subtle but well-crafted attention to characters and their relationships. In Death of Mrs. Westaway, the relationship between siblings was key; here it’s the relationship between fathers and daughters that sparks and drives the action, creating layer upon layer of plot.

I look forward to more from Ms. Ware’s imagination! Recommended.

Publication Date: August 6, 2019
Published By: Gallery Pocket Scout
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates


cover165563-mediumFrom the National Book Award–winning author of Between the World and Me, a boldly conjured debut novel about a magical gift, a devastating loss, and an underground war for freedom.

From the Publisher: Young Hiram Walker was born into bondage. When his mother was sold away, Hiram was robbed of all memory of her—but was gifted with a mysterious power. Years later, when Hiram almost drowns in a river, that same power saves his life. This brush with death births an urgency in Hiram and a daring scheme: to escape from the only home he’s ever known.

So begins an unexpected journey that takes Hiram from the corrupt grandeur of Virginia’s proud plantations to desperate guerrilla cells in the wilderness, from the coffin of the Deep South to dangerously idealistic movements in the North. Even as he’s enlisted in the underground war between slavers and the enslaved, Hiram’s resolve to rescue the family he left behind endures.

This is the dramatic story of an atrocity inflicted on generations of women, men, and children—the violent and capricious separation of families—and the war they waged to simply make lives with the people they loved. Written by one of today’s most exciting thinkers and writers, The Water Dancer is a propulsive, transcendent work that restores the humanity of those from whom everything was stolen.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a remarkable and important writer, perhaps one of the most important to emerge in the last few years. His first foray into fiction writing is a heartbreaking, uplifting, lyrical masterpiece. Family is the one thing that can keep people going, even through the hardest of times. Family today can mean many things, and people find family where they can. Coates gives us an intimate view of what family meant to slaves living on plantations in the South in the 19th century, where a child or a parent could be sold and sent away at any time. Try to imagine living under a condition like that. I cannot fathom it, and that makes me more aware of the science and research around post-traumatic slave syndrome.

Here, Hiram loses all memory of his mother when she is sold away, and he spends his life trying to recover from that loss. Along the way, he comes to understand that his people, the Taskers, have a unique relationship to the earth, the sky, the water, and to each other. Coates tells a story imbued with the magic of creation and re-building as we follow Hiram from South to North and back again, driven and guided by his own gifts and spirit.

This is not to be missed. Highly recommended.

Advance praise for The Water Dancer

“In prose that sings and imagination that soars, Coates further cements himself as one of this generation’s most important writers, tackling one of America’s oldest and darkest periods with grace and inventiveness. This is bold, dazzling, and not to be missed.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Coates brings his considerable talent for racial and social analysis to his debut novel, which captures the brutality of slavery and explores the underlying truth that slaveholders could not dehumanize the enslaved without also dehumanizing themselves. Beautifully written, this is a deeply and soulfully imagined look at slavery and human aspirations.”—Booklist (starred review)

Publication Date: September 24, 2019
Published By: Random House
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister


cover154444-medium Emmeline lives an enchanted childhood on a remote island with her father, who teaches her about the natural world through her senses. What he won’t explain are the mysterious scents stored in the drawers that line the walls of their cabin, or the origin of the machine that creates them. As Emmeline grows, however, so too does her curiosity, until one day the unforeseen happens, and Emmeline is vaulted out into the real world–a place of love, betrayal, ambition, and revenge. To understand her past, Emmeline must unlock the clues to her identity, a quest that challenges the limits of her heart and imagination.

Lyrical and immersive, The Scent Keeper explores the provocative beauty of scent, the way it can reveal hidden truths, lead us to the person we seek, and even help us find our way back home.

Erica Bauermeister, the national bestselling author of The School of Essential Ingredients, presents a moving and evocative coming-of-age novel about childhood stories, families lost and found, and how a fragrance conjures memories capable of shaping the course of our lives.

This book is a gift that I did not expect. The story is by far one of the most unusual and imaginative I’ve read in a long time, and the characters by turns fascinating and exasperating. I first became interested in the properties of scent, particularly of how scent can trigger memories, when working with an elderly woman. Scent was a trigger for her and she shared the loveliest memories of her childhood and early adult years living on a farm and serving in the WAVES in World War II.

Emmeline’s experience with scent and the scent-machine is fascinating, and I particularly appreciated how scent continued to play a role in her life even after she left the island. I was pleased that she found a new family, and even more pleased that she eventually reconnected with her mother. However, the first meeting between Victoria and Emmeline was a little hard to swallow. Victoria’s acceptance of Emmeline as her daughter was a little too quick from someone being portrayed as hard-as-nails. Even so, their relationship building was interesting, and I totally loved the end, bringing both of them full circle back to John. Fans of M.J. Rose will enjoy this. Recommended.

Publication Date: May 21, 2019
Published By: St. Martin’s Press
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

May Micro-Reviews


28A02E25-07BA-4CBD-B1E0-6AEE24541D0DThe Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden by Karina Yan Glaser – The Vanderbeeker kids are back in another charming story about generosity, being a good neighbor, and growing up. This is one of those gentle, feel-good stories where nothing much happens, except real life. The kids witness a beloved neighbor having a stroke, they struggle with their own emotions, and they learn that even kids who appear to have it all often don’t. The Vanderbeekers are definitely “free range” kids, and their adventures in their Harlem neighborhood are the stuff of dreams. The kids are all written beautifully and the family dynamics are definitely something to emulate. This is not a particularly special story in that it’s something “new” but it will be enjoyed by early to middle grade readers who just like to read about other kids.

Publication Date: September 25, 2018
Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy

657A0259-7343-412B-A674-DF6D9DD31EA2In the Night Wood by Dale Bailey – Bailey checks all the boxes in this supernatural, psychological thriller of a book: a couple whose marriage is in trouble, a dead child, a mysterious English manor house, a spooky forest, intimidating & creepy manor staff, a past tragedy…and more. Charles, Erin & Lissa are the seemingly perfect family whose life is turned upside down by a truly horrible accident. The psychological strain of that experience coupled with the gothic-horror experience of Hollow House makes for a top-notch, nail-biting, check-under-the-bed thrilling novel. For fans of English folklore, horror, and suspense. Recommended.

Publication Date: October 9, 2018
Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy

994C1041-BFDE-4E07-9D99-917BC0590A95Bluecrowne by Kate Milford – As a diehard Greenglass House fan, I eagerly anticipated this prequel to the series, and I am not disappointed. Kate Milford introduces us to a whole new cast of colorful characters who are every bit as entertaining, clever, and quirky as Milo and company. Lucy Bluecrowne is a character for the ages, and I look forward to following her adventures as she grows up. Liao and Xianming are also so intriguing that they deserve another book as well. Milford is well on her way to creating a world in Nagspeake that is every bit as magical and real as J.K. Rowling’s Hogwarts. Her writing is full of lovely descriptions, clever and thoughtful dialogue, and plenty of mystery, suspense, action, adventure, and magic. Highly recommended.

Publication Date: October 2, 2018
Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Childrens Books Group; Clarion Books
Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy

97EB1610-2008-4809-8637-BEB706E2DBEF Secret History of the Jersey Devil: How Quakers, Hucksters, and Benjamin Franklin Created a Monster by Brian Regan – It seems that creating monsters to distract people from real issues is not something unique to 21st century politics. As a longtime but amateur student of cryptozoology, I am always open to reading new accounts of legends and monsters, so I was eager to learn more about the infamous Jersey Devil. The origin story of Mother Leeds giving birth to an evil, horrifying “monster” that flew up the chimney certainly has its roots in European folklore and fairytales. Those tales were often created to make people do things – e.g. Peg Powler and Jenny Greenteeth were invented to keep children away from rivers and streams, thereby keeping them safe from drowning. In this book, Regal and Esposito take the Jersey Devil out of the New Jersey Pine Barrens and link it to political intrigue and opinion-shaping. What better way to get people to do what you want than to scare the crap out of them? I suppose it’s somewhat comforting to know that such political maneuvering has been going on for hundreds of years without the world ending, which suggests that the current version of the Jersey Devil (immigrants/Muslims) will eventually be replaced with something else. This is not light reading, however, so I will recommend for those who enjoy non-fiction related to politics and history.

Publication Date: March 1, 2018
Published by: Johns Hopkins University Press
Thanks to Edelweiss for the review copy

06FD49B1-679B-46B2-80F7-D50D936D72F1Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson – Leonardo da Vinci has always fascinated me, so this new biography of possibly one of the greatest humans ever to live was something I had to read.  Isaacson delivers a well-crafted look not only into da Vinci’s life but into the culture of the time which certainly shaped his world view and supported his curiosity. It was da Vinci’s insatiable curiosity about everything that first attracted me to him so many years ago, and Isaacson provides a laser view into the mind that envisioned flight, surgery, and so much more. Highly readable, well written, and meticulously researched, this is very much recommended.

Publication Date: October 17, 2017
Published by: Simon & Schuster
Thanks to Edelweiss for the review copy

 

 

 

 

April Micro-Reviews


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The Unforgotten by Laura Powell – What a ride! This is a book that forces you to pay attention, which really isn’t a problem because you will want to keep turning those pages. The story begins with Betty Broadbent, a young girl who suddenly finds her quiet life in a small Cornish village turned upside down by a series of grisly murders. The local hotel run by Betty’s mother becomes de facto headquarters for the journalists who descend on the town, and that’s where Betty meets Gallagher. The two fall into an unlikely and unpredictable relationship/friendship as the search for the “Cornish Cleaver” goes on. While I expected a tightly written mystery, I got that plus a really well-crafted story about obsession, madness, and guilt. I found the characters charming at first, then a little irritating, then a little scary and suspicious. The author does a good job of blending past and present, and skillfully demonstrates how the past never really leaves you. I’m not often surprised by endings, but this one had me gobsmacked. Really, really good.

Publication Date: February 6, 2018
Published By: Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

islandIsland of the Mad by Laurie King – I’ve been a fan of Laurie King’s Mary Russell series for years, but the last couple felt a little played out. This one, unfortunately, continued that trend. Here, Mary is contacted by an old, dear friend whose beloved Aunt Vivian has disappeared. Vivian, who has been a resident of an asylum for years, was visiting family when she disappeared along with some jewels and other items from her brother’s safe. Russell is called upon to find the Lady Vivian and recover both the lady and the jewels. This involves an undercover stay in Bedlam (the asylum where Vivian lived for years), fascism in Britain and Italy, and Cole Porter. While the story was entertaining enough, it didn’t spark like previous books. The younger Russell would have twigged on the reason for Lady Vivian’s “madness” long before this Mary Russell figured it out. I found myself shaking my head at her thickness by chapter 4. I think it’s time to move on.

Publication Date: June 12, 2018
Published By: Random House Group/Ballantine/Bantam
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

darkangelDark Angel by Elly Griffiths – I’ve loved Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series from the first, and was eagerly anticipating this next entry in the series. “Was” is the keyword in that last sentence. Griffiths has gone from writing top-notch mysteries focusing primarily on Ruth’s role as a forensic anthropologist to writing sappy relationship novels that focus on Ruth as the “other woman” in a love triangle, successfully reducing her to a cliché. Why do writers do that? Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series suffered from the same issue, but Winspear is finally bringing Maisie back around to detecting. Griffiths needs to do the same. Ruth Galloway is so much more than Nelson and Kate. Bring her back! Please!

Publication Date: May 13, 2018
Published By: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

168987AA-65EE-4C22-828E-3AD4FE97BFE7The Fairies of Sadieville by Alex Bledsoe – Another highly anticipated series entry from Alex Bledsoe that more than lived up to the anticipation. Begun with the Hum & the Shiver and concluded here, Bledsoe’s Tufa series is one of the most creative and well-written modern fairy tales out there. Bledsoe beautifully wraps up the story arc of an exiled tribe of Tuatha de Danaan living in Tennessee, providing closure to a number of stories included in the earlier books. We finally learn the one story that Bledsoe has never told – the origin story of the Tufa – and it’s fascinating, especially the little nugget of info from the King of Fairyland regarding the bet that landed the Tufa in Tennessee.  While I am sad that this is the last in the series, I am very much looking forward to the tales Bledsoe will spin next. I highly recommend the entire series.

Publication Date: April 10, 2018
Published By: MacMillan/Tor-Forge
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

westawayDeath of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware – Ruth Ware has done it again. The Death of Mrs. Westaway is an un-put-downable tale of family turmoil, long-buried secrets, and deception that will keep you up at night, reading just one more chapter…until you’ve devoured the whole thing in one sitting. Harriet “Hal” Westaway is a young woman making her living as a tarot reader on the Brighton Pier. She’s all alone in the world, having lost her mother in an unexpected accident when she was 18. Not only is she alone, but she’s also in debt. So when she receives a letter from an attorney informing her that she is a beneficiary in the will of  her grandmother Hester Westaway, she packs up her few belongings and heads to Cornwall, even though she believes the letter was sent in error. Her arrival sets in motion a chain of events begun decades earlier and brought to a grim conclusion here. Ware gives us an appealing protagonist, shifty characters, a questionable will, and the de rigeur treacherous housekeeper all wrapped up in a brooding Cornish mansion right out of Agatha Christie. One of the best I’ve read this year. Highly recommended.

Publication Date: May 29, 2018
Published By: Simon & Schuster/Gallery/Scout Press
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Beloveds by Maureen Lindley


DAC8DC0A-0732-4704-BC55-BE0DD6800046We’ve all known them. People for whom life seems golden from the moment they’re born. They have all the friends, all the good looks, all the personality, luck, and wit that we lack. Maureen Lindley calls them “The Beloveds.” Her story of two sisters – one a Beloved and one not – is a frightening look at sibling rivalry and one woman’s descent into madness.

Betty Stash, the elder sister, immediately recognizes a Beloved when her little sister Gloria is born. From a very young age, Betty believes Gloria is somehow More – more beautiful, more loved, more everything – and relishes committing little (and big) transgressions against her sister. Betty longs to be alone, away from her sister, and comes to see their home, Pipits, as her special place. Indeed, she feels the house is alive and has “claimed her.” Betty’s resentment of Gloria continues to fester as they grow up, as Gloria slowly takes everything from Betty, including her boyfriend who becomes Gloria’s husband, and eventually the house, Pipits. When their mother commits the ultimate betrayal and bequeaths Pipits to Gloria instead of Betty, the eldest child, Betty spirals even faster into madness.

There aren’t many books that give me chills right from the start. This is one of them. The dynamics between Betty and Gloria are tense as only sisters will understand, but Lindley takes the tension to new levels of crazy by immersing the reader completely into Betty’s psyche. The skill with which Lindley envelops the reader in that crazy desperation is laudable and puts this book on the same level as Rebecca. So much fodder for book discussions here, as well as a totally gripping story. Highly recommended.

Publication Date: April 3, 2018
Publisher: Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books
Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy