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People are the true monsters in two thrilling novels from acclaimed authors Tiffany D. Jackson and Lamar Giles, while shadows gather menacingly in an anthology of folk horror stories from popular YA authors including Chloe Gong, Erica Waters, Aden Polydoros and more.

The Weight of Blood

Maddy Washington is living a lie. To protect herself from the brutal bullying she’s received in her small town of Springville, Georgia, she avoids her peers whenever possible. But she’s also protecting her secret: Though Maddy passes as white, she’s actually biracial. Her fanatically religious father forces her to hide her Blackness, supposedly to protect her, while also hiding the truth about Maddy’s mother from her. 

When an unexpected rainstorm causes Maddy’s perfectly straightened hair to revert to its natural state, the bullying that follows is caught on video. The footage goes viral, painting an ugly portrait of a former sundown town where Black residents are still expected to follow archaic, unspoken rules, such as attending a separate, segregated prom—even in 2014. In response to the negative attention, several students start planning Springville’s first integrated prom, unaware that they’ll lay the groundwork for a night that will never be forgotten—but for very different reasons than they expect, because Maddy has another secret, and after the devastation occurs, all the survivors can say is “Maddy did it.”

Inspired by the real-life town of Rochelle, Georgia, which held its first integrated prom in 2013, The Weight of Blood is an unflinching indictment of racism and cruelty in the Deep South. Critically acclaimed author Tiffany D. Jackson has described her seventh YA novel as a “remix of Carrie,” and The Weight of Blood follows much of Stephen King’s horror classic beat for beat. But Jackson’s sophisticated framing elevates her book from a basic retelling to a brilliant de- and reconstruction.

One of Jackson’s most significant talents is her refusal to talk down to her readers. She offers no concessions or apologies in her portrayal of the chokehold of small-town racism. Take, for instance, Kenny Scott, Springville High’s Black all-star quarterback, who brushes off his friends’ racist jokes to keep the peace, even as Kenny’s sister, Kali, reads Ta-Nehisi Coates and tries to get through to her brother. Jackson highlights the quiet insidiousness of racism through Kenny’s white girlfriend, Wendy, who doesn’t understand her own prejudices or privileges. Jackson also portrays racism at its most violent through cruel pranks played by Wendy’s best friend, Julia, and through acts of brutality from white police officers.

Although The Weight of Blood is Maddy’s story, much of the novel happens around her rather than with her. Jackson circumnavigates the horrors of Maddy’s life via newspaper clippings, testimonies and a true crime podcast investigating Maddy’s case. In the rare moments that the reader spends alone with Maddy, the mystery of her life only grows denser and more shrouded, and even readers intimately familiar with Carrie will be on tenterhooks as they wait to discover how Jackson twists the story’s most infamous moments—and twist she does. The Weight of Blood seizes readers quickly and never lets go. Long after the sirens have quieted and its fires have burned to ash, its heat lingers.

The Getaway

Jay Butler and his family live in Karloff Country, a massive amusement park known as “the funnest place around.” Selected to be part of the lucky few who live and work in one of the park’s residences, the Butlers are safe from the ongoing climate disaster and societal collapse outside the compound’s walls. Jay and his friends Connie and Zeke live in the Jubilee neighborhood, but the final member of their friend group, Chelle Karloff, the biracial daughter of Blythe Karloff and the heir to her hateful grandfather’s massive fortune, lives a life of uneasy privilege on her family’s estate. 

The Karloffs—wealthy, white and seemingly progressive—have promised to provide a good life for the families under their proverbial roof. Though Chelle makes her distaste for her mother’s performative “wokeness” clear and her friends agree with her assessment, everyone is grateful to live inside Karloff Country’s protective walls, and no one scrutinizes anything too closely—until families begin to go missing. Soon, shady rumors of conspiracies become reality. When the park’s trustees arrive, no one is safe, least of all its Black and brown residents. As a place that once represented security becomes a cage to be escaped, time is running out before Karloff Country’s gates close—forever.

Author Lamar Giles began his career with YA thrillers such as Fake ID and Endangered. He returns to the genre with his sixth YA novel, The Getaway, which is sure to garner well-deserved comparison to Jordan Peele’s masterpiece psychological thriller Get Out. Much like Peele’s film, The Getaway exists in a strange limbo. Its story is simultaneously propulsive and meandering, and Giles smartly utilizes Jay’s “go along to get along” attitude to create and dispel tension. Jay is the archetypical frog in boiling water who frequently doesn’t notice danger until it’s too late. Brief interludes from Zeke’s, Connie’s and Chelle’s perspectives act like security cameras, providing new perspectives at new angles and sightlines into previously hidden corners. 

Though the book’s pacing and plot twists occasionally get away from him, Giles crafts a story that’s difficult to look away from. He uses classic thriller tropes such as disturbing amusement park mascots to great effect, creating an atmosphere of creeping dread, and artfully juxtaposes the artificial brightness of Karloff Country against scenes of graphic violence.

Giles’ only misstep is the subtlety with which he depicts the true nature of the park’s politics. Although he heavily implies that people of color are the true targets of the Karloffs’ cruel plans and many teen readers will read between the lines, others may need more clarity to understand the entirety of Giles’ large, extended metaphor. Regardless, The Getaway is an excellent addition to the quickly growing canon of YA social horror novels. 

The Gathering Dark

Something lurks in the shadows of the trees. An ancient being stirs. The dead are restless and hungry. A house carries a curse in its walls. A town echoes with whispered legends of burned girls. Enter the realm of folk horror with The Gathering Dark, an anthology edited by YA author Tori Bovalino and featuring original stories from Erica Waters, Chloe Gong, Hannah Whitten, Allison Saft, Olivia Chadha, Courtney Gould, Aden Polydoros, Alex Brown, Shakira Toussaint and Bovalino herself.

Folk horror has long been a controversial horror subgenre, as it often relies on disorientation and ambiguity to build a sense of terror. Its monsters creep through the dark but do not always make themselves known, so catharsis is not easily granted. These types of stories explore themes of memory, tradition and what we sometimes leave buried inside—which, for many readers, hits uncomfortably close to home. 

Fans of atmospheric, folkloric horror like Krystal Sutherland’s House of Hollow, Claire Legrand’s Sawkill Girls and Brenna Yovanoff’s The Replacement will find their niche in The Gathering Dark. Among the collection’s best stories are Hannah Whitten’s “One Lane Bridge,” a masterclass in rising tension. Its terror stems not only from eldritch beings in the woods but also from the cruel ways friends can hurt each other without even trying. Erica Waters’ “Stay” introduces a lonely girl who tends to the graves of her family, while Allison Saft’s haunting “Ghost on the Shore” explores the nightmare of unresolved grief and loss without closure.

As with many anthologies, the collection is somewhat unbalanced in terms of quality. Some of the stories are a tad too obvious to be frightening or rush toward their climax without ample buildup. But the standout stories leave their mark. For teens who grew up reading Alvin Schwartz’s iconic Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, The Gathering Dark will be the perfect shivery autumnal read. 

Warning: These terrifying YA novels may be accompanied by goosebumps, a feeling of lurking unease and a desire to sleep with the lights on. The only known remedy? Keep reading.

Mary Roach investigates the uneasy relationship that exists between humans and wildlife in Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law. Traveling to India, Vatican City and other locales, she meets with a wide cast of characters that includes predator attack investigators, a bear manager and a human-elephant conflict specialist, all in an effort to understand how humankind is striving to coexist with the animal kingdom. Roach mixes expert reporting with moving insights into the natural world while unearthing pertinent questions about wildlife and habitat preservation.

In Liquid Rules: The Delightful and Dangerous Substances That Flow Through Our Lives, Mark Miodownik examines the prominence of liquids (drinking water, bottled soap, the list goes on) and the critical roles they play in the modern world. The narrative is framed by a transatlantic flight during which Miodownik notes the ubiquity of liquid matter, from the fuel that powers the plane to the offerings on the airline’s refreshment cart. Illustrations and photos add an appealing visual dimension to the book, and topics like climate change and conservation will inspire lively dialogue among readers.

Bill Bryson’s The Body: A Guide for Occupants is an engaging survey of the human physique. Bryson delves into the history of anatomy, examines the nature of disease and pain, and generally explores the ways in which our bodies function. He blends scientific fact and input from experts with humanizing anecdotes, and his trademark wit is on display throughout the proceedings. An illuminating look at the systems, organs and processes that define the human organism, The Body is filled with fascinating facts. From start to finish, it’s vintage Bryson.

Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life by Helen Czerski is a reader-friendly overview of the ways in which physics shapes our lives. Making connections between commonplace activities (popping popcorn, for instance) and larger phenomena, from weather patterns to medical technology, Czerski demonstrates that scientific processes large and small take place all around us. Over the course of nine chapters, she covers a range of fundamental physics concepts, writing in an accessible, offbeat style. With a gift for intriguing anecdotes, Czerski makes physics fun.

You don't need scientific training to enjoy these entertaining, offbeat books.

Ruby Fever

In Ilona Andrews’ Hidden Legacy series, the world is dominated by magical families known as Houses. Catalina Baylor is the Deputy Warden of Texas and a Prime, an extremely powerful magic user. She’s moving her House and her fiancé, assassin Alessandro Sagredo, into a new compound when an important politician is killed and a powerful family friend is severely injured. An assassin kingpin is responsible for both events, and now he has his sights set on Alessandro. Can they stop him before he succeeds? Ruby Fever starts with a bang and races on from there. This installment has everything Andrews’ readers love: a large cast of magical characters, fast-paced plot and dialogue, and imaginative scenes of electrifying combat described in technicolor detail. Told in Catalina’s engaging first-person voice as she capably handles all that’s thrown at her, this superlative romance doesn’t have a single dull moment. Sit back and happily immerse yourself in Andrews’ unparalleled paranormal world.

Do You Take This Man

The central couple of Denise Williams’ Do You Take This Man doesn’t really have a meet cute. In fact, it’s more of a meet mad. RJ Brooks is a high-powered, ambitious divorce attorney with a surprising side gig: She officiates marriage ceremonies. Which is why she keeps meeting and mutually antagonizing event planner Lear Campbell again, and again, and again. The enemies-to-lovers trope is a romance fan favorite for a reason, and when RJ and Lear finally succumb to their attraction, their love scenes sizzle. There’s enough authentic angst between the two, both of whom have been hurt badly in the past, to keep the reader doubting and wishing for their happily ever after in equal measure.

Aphrodite and the Duke

First loves try to get it right the second time around in J.J. McAvoy’s “Bridgerton”-esque Regency romance, Aphrodite and the Duke. Aphrodite Du Bell can’t help but feel her acclaimed beauty might be something of a curse. The only man she ever cared for, Evander Eagleman, the Duke of Everely, married someone else. In the four years since, she’s retreated from society. But when it’s her sister’s turn to hunt for a husband, Aphrodite gets dragged back to the London season. There, she’s reunited with Evander, who’s newly widowed and immediately begins to pursue Aphrodite. She thinks she’d be mad to trust him again with her heart, until he reveals what prompted his first marriage and they begin to work through their differences. However, new dangers await the couple. The characters’ somewhat formal voices lend a verisimilitude that balances the enjoyable escape of McAvoy’s Regency world of balls, gowns and romance.

Ilona Andrews' Hidden Legacy series returns! Read our romance columnist's review of Ruby Fever.

Fox Creek

Author William Kent Krueger’s Cork O’Connor is an unusual sort of protagonist, a fast-food restaurateur who doubles as a private investigator. One might not necessarily think that a man with those qualifications would find a lot of sleuthing work in rural Tamarack County, Minnesota, but one would be mistaken. In Fox Creek, the 19th entry in Krueger’s long-running series, Cork is approached by one Louis Morriseau, whose wife, Dolores, has gone missing. Louis is concerned that she has run off with another man, Henry Meloux, an Ojibwe healer who also happens to be the uncle of Cork’s wife, Rainy. This scenario seems . . . unlikely, as Henry is somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 years old. As it turns out, Dolores actually is with Henry, but he’s guiding her through a sweat lodge ceremony. However, Louis is not actually who he claims to be but rather a member of a team of mercenaries bent on kidnapping Dolores for reasons unknown. Henry senses trouble and narrowly escapes upcountry with Rainy and Dolores in tow, but an expert tracker and two gunmen are in hot pursuit. Not far behind them, Cork and a tribal cop with a vested interest in the case join the fray. Tension mounts as Krueger pits modern tech against Ojibwe traditions, with unexpected twists abounding until the very end.  

Bad Day Breaking

A bit to the east of Krueger’s Tamarack County lies Bad Axe County, Wisconsin, the setting of John Galligan’s riveting Bad Day Breaking. Beleaguered Sheriff Heidi Kick is facing uphill battles on at least two fronts: first, a personnel issue involving an overly aggressive deputy, and then a strange, Jonestown-esque cult that has taken up residence in a self-storage facility (to the chagrin of many locals, who are starting to resemble the torch-bearing, pitchfork-wielding villagers in dystopian horror movies). Sheriff Kick attempts to placate both the cult and the locals, with limited success at best. The pressure ratchets up dramatically after one of the cult members is murdered. And if there wasn’t enough on her plate already, Sheriff Kick must deal with the reappearance of a very difficult ex-boyfriend, a man whose imprisonment she caused who now, unsurprisingly, seeks to exact revenge upon her for his incarceration. Bad Day Breaking is a page turner of the first order, with a killer cliffhanger that will have readers anxiously awaiting Sheriff Kick’s return.

WAKE

In rural New South Wales, Australia—part of the legendary Outback where spiders, snakes, crocodiles, etc., are all eagerly waiting to kill you—it bodes well to remember that sometimes the human inhabitants can be lethal as well. Such is the case in Shelley Burr’s debut, WAKE, which centers on the 20-year-old cold case of missing (and now presumed dead) Evelyn McCreery. Evelyn’s twin sister, Mina, soldiers on, now something of a recluse in her remote farmhouse. All these years later, she remains a suspect in the disappearance of her sister, particularly in online forums where the acronym WAKE is used to mean “Wednesday Addams Killed Evie,” a nod to Mina’s resemblance to actor Christina Ricci in the 1990s films about the creepy, unorthodox Addams family. Mina is forced to revisit Evelyn’s disappearance when Lane Holland arrives in town. A freelance private investigator, Lane makes his living via the rewards he collects after solving missing persons cases. Mina’s late mother established a reward of $2 million, but Lane isn’t just motivated by the money; something altogether deeper, darker and more personal has led him to Mina’s door. Burr won the 2019 Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger award for WAKE, and after reading it, you’ll be applauding their choice right along with me.

From the Shadows

In James R. Benn’s From the Shadows, Captain Billy Boyle, a onetime Boston cop now assigned to the European theater of World War II, is snatched from some much needed R & R in Cairo and tasked with a dangerous new mission: Billy must locate an English operative in the wilds of Crete, after which they will head to newly liberated France via Algiers, liaise with the French Resistance and weed out enemies from allies. That’s the plan, anyway; but in wartime, things do not often go according to plan, and this mission is no exception. As is the case with the 16 previous books in the Billy Boyle series, the action takes place against a backdrop of real-life operations and personnel. The reader is introduced to Jack Hemingway, son of iconic writer Ernest; to Wells Lewis, son of author Sinclair; to the heroic 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the most decorated unit in U.S. military history, which was composed primarily of Nisei, second-generation Japanese Americans; to the stubborn and tragically inept General John E. Dahlquist, commander of “The Lost Battalion”; and to Daniel Inouye, who lost his right arm to a grenade in France and went on to serve as a U.S. senator for Hawaii. Without a doubt, I have learned more about WWII history from Benn’s novels than I ever learned from a textbook. Where he excels, though, apart from superb suspense plotting, is in documenting vignettes of humanity and its black-sheep cousin, brutality. Benn makes combat feel real and immediate to his readers, even those who have never experienced it firsthand. It would be impossible to depict war accurately without killing off some of the good guys, and there are a couple of losses here that will truly hurt, as they should.

These beautiful rural landscapes are anything but peaceful, plus James R. Benn's latest gets a starred review in this month's Whodunit column.

From the Greek isle of Corfu to Washington’s Whidbey Island, hope can always be found in friendship.

Where the Wandering Ends

The latest novel from bestselling author and three-time Emmy Award-winning producer and journalist Yvette Manessis Corporon is a work of incredible depth, brimming with turmoil, compassion and remarkable historical detail.

Set on the gorgeous Greek island of Corfu, Where the Wandering Ends is a multigenerational, decades-spanning story that begins in 1946, when Greece appears to be on the verge of civil war. Despite the brewing unrest, life in Katerina’s village of Pelekito remains calm. She even has the opportunity to go to school, unlike provincial girls in older generations. 

As the conflict between communists and monarchists escalates, the war eventually reaches Pelekito, and the villagers are forced to flee. Katerina is separated from her best friend, Marco, but they both promise to someday return.

Corporon’s characters are indelible and authentic. Katerina’s father, Laki, is horrified by the divisions in his country: “Greek killing Greek. Cousin killing cousin. Brother killing brother. . . . Laki never would have imagined that his own people would turn against each other the way they had.” Meanwhile, Marco’s mother, Yianna, holds fast to the stories told by her own mother, who was a maid to Princess Alice, wife of Prince Andrew, both of whom were exiled from Greece after the Greco-Turkish War of 1922.

Written with a perceptive eye, Where the Wandering Ends considers the challenges faced by people during wartime and highlights the determination to survive despite painful circumstances. Corfu’s beauty, which Corporon describes in sumptuous detail, is juxtaposed against the turbulence and devastation caused by war. Fascinating historical facts and references to mythological Greek tales intertwine with moving scenes, tension-building plot points and surprising revelations to create a powerful, soaring story. This is a spectacular novel about the enduring devotion of family and the steadfast loyalty between friends.

Heirlooms

Bestselling author Sandra Byrd blends romance, laughter, community and family secrets in her novel Heirlooms, a delightful story of uplifting female friendships.

After her husband’s death, Choi Eunhee, a Korean woman living in the United States, turns to Helen Devries for help. It’s 1958, and both women are Navy widows. While living together in Helen’s farmhouse on Whidbey Island, Washington, the women assist each other through their losses and develop a lifelong friendship. 

In the present day, Helen’s dying wish is that her granddaughter Cassidy Quinn will pack up the attic at the Whidbey Island house with help from Eunhee’s granddaughter Grace Kim. While going through Helen’s hope chest, Cassidy and Grace discover a family secret. 

Meanwhile, Cassidy must work to save her grandmother’s property from foreclosure, so she turns to her ex-boyfriend Nick for help. Helen’s house was the setting of many beloved summers for Cassidy, and she dreams of reinstating her grandmother’s garden to its former glory. 

Helen and Eunhee’s friendship is much like the garden, tended with loving care over many years. As the women draw faith and strength from each other, their bond becomes akin to sisterhood. From this foundation grows Cassidy and Grace’s own connection, and the two young women learn to lean on each other throughout Cassidy’s fight for her grandmother’s house and garden and as Grace begins to doubt her chosen career path.

With warmth and sensitivity, Heirlooms examines the challenges faced by immigrants living in the United States, and the difficulties for women seeking health care and financial security for both themselves and their children throughout American history. As friends become family, readers will marvel at the strength found in community and the deep connections that can exist between generations.

Authors Yvette Manessis Corporon and Sandra Byrd intertwine past and present in two stories of love, courage and survival.

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