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Friday, November 2, 2018

What I'm Reading: 2 Great Speculative Crossovers for Booklist

Today I have reviews of two books that are under the speculative umbrella, but also have wide appeal to readers of non-speculative genres too [historical fiction and thrillers to be specific]. These are both excellent titles that patrons will gobble up [get it, because they both come out in November].

These reviews also appear in the November 1, 2018 issue of Booklist Magazine, but as always, I have posted my draft reviews here. They are longer and have added readalikes and appeal comments.

I highly recommend both of these titles. They are both extremely well constructed, well paced, and most importantly, there were fun to read.

Creatures of Want & Ruin.Tanzer, Molly (author).
Nov. 2018. 352p. Houghton/John Joseph Adams, paper, $16.99  (9781328710253); e-book (9781328710352)First published November 1, 2018 (Booklist).

Tanzer [Creatures of Will and Temper- Becky's review] returns to a compelling historical fantasy world where demons live among us and there is a struggle between those who channel them for good vs evil, in what is more of a companion novel than a sequel. Across the ocean in the seaside village of Amityville, NY, a generation later, thick in the midst of Prohibition. Ellie West is a moonshiner, the daughter of an injured vet, the family’s breadwinner, saving up for her frail brother’s medical school fees. On a stormy night, she comes upon a stash of booze that appears to have a strange power over those who drink it. This discovery sets in motion a chain of events leading Ellie to Fin, another unconventional woman, as they gather their diverse group of outcast friends to do battle with a KKK like cult that is gathering power by preying off both the inherent racism in the community and by tapping into a supernatural evil to seduce those who will not join them. As with the series opener, Tanzer expertly weaves an authentic historical setting into a tense, and engrossing supernatural frame with lush descriptions and a steadily building pace. But it is the alternating point of view of the two strong female protagonists, characters who are unwilling to live within the confines of their time and place that stand out here. This may be a supernatural story set in the past but it is one whose themes and issues readers cannot help but see eerily reverberated in our present. Suggest to fans of Donnelly’s Amberlough or Schwab’s Darker Shade of Magic.

Further appeal: I really enjoyed Creatures of Will and Temper last year, but I may like this one even better. First thing to point out, this is a parallel novel. Yes it's the second, but you do NOT need to read them in order. They are set in the same world but only in that demons live among us and can live in certain people, making some evil and helping others.

This is a historical novel with element of alternative history and speculative elements. The historical issues are on point, but Tanzer adds strong women who refuse to conform to society's norms both sexually and by not quietly being good ladies. And man, can these ladies fight- literally. The battle scenes are very well done- tense, visually stunning, and lyrically written.

Instead of the fencing of the first book, there are details about archery here. And of course, all the fun of the demon frame from the first book.

The gender and race issues are spot on making this a thought provoking read, but also, it was a lot of fun to read. Tanzer clearly sets the book in the past, but she also makes it clear that we are not necessarily much better off today. [The cult meetings seemed a lot like a Trump Rally today.]

Finally, I loved the setting of Amityville. It is nothing like it is portrayed in the classic horror book. In Tanzer's hands is is a sleepy fishing and vacation village, but Tanzer knows that the name brings with it a slew of dark thoughts. Therefore, while the people who live there in the book think their town is boring, readers will come into the story with tense expectations. It's a brilliant way to make the reader uneasy from the start, questioning our anxiety even though it seems like such a sleepy place. Obviously, that changes fairly early in the book, but because of the setting choice, as readers we are tense, waiting for the other shoe to drop from the first page. For that choice, to Tanzer I say-- well played.

Three Words That Describe This Book: atmospheric, inclusive, thought provoking

Readalikes: The two books I mentioned in the review above get at a lot of the feel of this book, but I think Tanzer has a lot of Shirley Jackson in her too. This novel also reminded me of Amy Stewart's Kopp Sisters mysteries, but you need to let readers of that series know that there are speculative elements here. Some may not be willing to take that leap. Finally, there are a lot of inclusive alternative history stories out these days with strong female characters and/or sexually fluid characters that I would also recommend like River of Teeth, Dread Nation or The Black God's Drum.

Someone like Me.
Nov. 2018. 400p. illus. Orbit, $26 (9780316477420); e-book (9780316477444)

Carey, M. R. (author).

Carey [The Girl With All The Gifts] returns with an intense supernaturally tinged psychological suspense story featuring an alternating narration by two female protagonists, both deeply troubled women who the reader will sympathize with, even while they cannot fully trust them. Liz is a single mom, who when the book opens, is in a brutal fight with her abusive ex-husband, but as she is defending herself, Liz feels as if someone else is taking over her body and mind. Fran, 16, is trying to get by 10 years after being the victim of a kidnapping and attempted murder, but her frequent hallucinations and imaginary best friend, a fox, may say say otherwise. What follows is a compelling, anxiety fueled story filled with violence, darkness, and the ghosts living at the edges of all of our everyday realities. Liz and Fran are fighting forces that they don't understand, in order to save themselves and those they love, but would anyone believe the truth? While Carey has his own built in audience, this title is of a different breed and you should also suggest it to fans of other tension driven psychologically driven thrillers that lap at the shore of horror like those by Gillian Flynn, Sarah Pinborough, or Paul Tremblay.

Further Appeal: This book was intense. From the first scenes you know something really bad is coming. We are also quickly introduced to our 2 protagonists even though it takes a bit for them to meet each other. Both women are unreliable and flawed, but not in the way of a typical domestic suspense. They are not hiding anything from us the reader, it is more that they are hiding things from themselves. I know that is vague, but saying more would give stuff away. As a reader, I enjoyed that the author wasn't trying to trick me by keeping key details from me to reveal later. Rather, this book is fairly character centered for a thriller; we get to know Liz and Fran and they are forced to deal with their own issues and we come to understand them as they better understand themselves and their place in this story.

And this really is a supernatural thriller. More thriller than supernatural, but clearly, there are supernatural elements here. The pacing is compelling, but it is not as break neck as a typical domestic suspense because of the need to build the characters and the complicated backstory. Carey writes in a way that keeps everything moving at the perfect pace so that you keep turning the pages, the tension is building, you are learning more and more, and then the action comes.

As a reader I appreciated the restraint Carey brings to what could have been a cookie cutter, violent, domestic suspense tale. Now you can race through this if you are a general thriller reader, but there is more here for readers who want to take it in too.

Three Words That Describe This Book: intense, compelling, character-centered

Readalikes: I mentioned three authors in the review, but specifically if you could combine Gone Girl, Behind Her Eyes and Cabin at the End of the World into one book-- that is this novel. Seriously. If you could put those three books together, you would get this novel. Use the links for each title to see more readalikes.

Interestingly, after I turned in the review, my editor asked if this book should have a YA statement of appeal since The Girl With All the Gifts is a popular YA title. In this case though, the answer is No. Teens who have read the three readalike authors will be fine, but this is way more intense and realistically violent than Carey's zombie novel.

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