Annie Metcalf

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Xue is a talented musician of unfortunate background, who hopes to use her skill at playing the qin to earn her place in society. Years ago, her uncle brought her to Wudan’s famous House of Flowing Water to hone her skills in music, courtly manners and the arts, in order to secure a patron or other opportunity once she comes of age. Xue’s quiet life of study and performance is punctuated by visits from her beloved uncle, until tragedy strikes and all she has left of the only family she remembers is a qin he gifted her. 

When an inscrutable new customer, Duke Meng, asks to purchase the instrument, Xue barely has time to process his odd request before danger strikes, in the form of an attack by a strange beast. In the aftermath, the Duke offers a bargain: journey to his estate to work with him, and afterward he will reward Xue with admission to any music academy she wishes. Apprehensive but hopeful, Xue accepts and is thrust into a world of courtly intrigue, godly squabbles, ancient grudges and interplanar consequences. Xue’s music might be the key to helping the Duke unravel the plots swirling around his family.

Judy I. Lin’s Song of the Six Realms, is both a love letter to the power of music and a heady tour through a setting inspired by Chinese mythology and legend. Xue’s quest, which mostly takes place through her explorations of the estate and research on songs, poetry and the legendary Celestial realm, is told with elegant prose that complements the courtly formality of her world. Thoughtful and introspective, Xue learns more about her uncle’s past and the strength of his love, gets to know the Duke and his family, and picks up on small clues that become big payoffs. 

Much of the novel is slowly paced—even contemplative—despite its high stakes, mirroring the tranquil beauty of the verses Xue and other characters turn to for inspiration. This unusual prioritization of interiority and introspection bucks expectations of the young adult fantasy genre in a refreshing way, while still delivering an action-packed climax that feels all the more earned after the slow buildup. With a smart, steadfast heroine, a charming love interest and compelling side characters, Song of the Six Realms is a dazzling, dreamlike escape into a world of powerful poetry, godly magic and humble heroism.

With a smart, steadfast heroine, a charming love interest and compelling side characters, Song of the Six Realms is a dazzling, dreamlike escape into a world of powerful poetry, godly magic and humble heroism.
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An orphan and immigrant in the vast industrial city of White Roaring, Arthie Casimir has made a name for herself as the proprietor of Spindrift, an innovative teahouse situated at the intersection of the posh and working class sides of town. Alongside her adopted brother, Jin, Arthie is offering something unique at Spindrift—especially to the city’s vampire population, which is  tolerated but not entirely trusted, especially under the regime of the Ram, the country’s latest masked monarch. As policies shift from hands-off ignorance to active antagonism, the Casimirs realize the Ram intends for Spindrift to close, one way or another.

When Arthie receives a mysterious visit from Laith, a member of the Ram’s guard who claims to want to take down the Ram, she agrees to help, despite knowing Laith is hiding his true agenda. Joined by allies such as a talented forger from high society and a famous artist who happens to be a vampire, Arthie, Jin and Laith plan to challenge the Ram by stealing a ledger containing damning secrets.

With A Tempest of Tea, Hafsah Faizal (We Hunt the Flame) plugs fully into the young adult fantasy zeitgeist while exploring the violence of colonialism, as well as capitalism’s inextricable role in colonial expansion and conquest. Vampires are portrayed fairly traditionally, with characteristics seen throughout literature. Their sultry allure is on full display, and scenes where our young protagonists interact with the more mature vampires are among the novel’s strongest. While the multiple-perspective heist story is a familiar setup, A Tempest of Tea exemplifies many favored themes present throughout YA novels: reevaluating familial ties, validating chosen family and exploring trauma’s role in character development. Readers who enjoy Leigh Bardugo and Roshani Chokshi, are excited about vampires coming back into vogue, or are looking for historical fantasy and fast-paced, alluring drama will surely drink up A Tempest of Tea.

With A Tempest of Tea, Hafsah Faizal plugs fully into the young adult fantasy zeitgeist, weaving serious themes into a fast-paced and thrilling heist story.
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Three teenagers fight back against sinister supernatural forces in their New England town in Rochelle Hassan’s debut YA novel, The Buried and the Bound, the first volume of a planned trilogy. 

The world’s witches are born with specific gifts, and Lebanese American hedgewitch Aziza El-Amin’s gift—and responsibility—is maintaining boundaries, particularly magical ones. Her hometown of Blackthorn, Massachusetts, contains numerous borders between the real world and the magical realm of Elphame, so Aziza regularly patrols the city, closing any gaps and ensuring visitors from Elphame don’t harm the humans of Blackthorn. 

While on patrol, Aziza arrives on the scene of a shocking magical attack, where she meets Leo, who has been searching for a way to break the curse placed on his family. Meanwhile, a lonely teen named Tristan grows desperate to escape his contract with a cruel, powerful hag, but he can’t seem to find a way out that doesn’t endanger his loved ones. The weakening boundary between Blackthorn and Elphame brings Aziza, Leo and Tristan together to solve these problems and more. Accustomed to her solitary patrols, Aziza is slow to trust but grudgingly admits that Leo and even eventually Tristan make her job as Blackthorn’s hedgewitch easier and less isolating.

In this story of friendship and family, classic folkloric creatures such as kelpies, hags and the Fair Folk collide with the mundanities of contemporary high school life, with a strong helping of romantic melodrama on the side. Dead parents, lost loves and desperate acts drive the plot and add a touch of gothic flair. The theme of generational trauma is skillfully woven throughout, as family secrets, shames and losses lurk in each protagonist’s past. Hassan imbues Aziza, Leo and Tristan with such rich personalities and backstories that the novel would feel crowded as a standalone tale. Knowing that each of their stories will unfold over a trilogy makes this first book’s unresolved narrative threads easier to accept.

As she brings a Lebanese immigrant family into the heart of a witches-in-New England tale, Hassan deftly highlights magic’s global presence. Although Aziza’s magical specialty is maintaining borders, her sprawling world of magic illustrates the rewards that await readers when fantasy reaches beyond white, Eurocentric inspirations and characters. Imaginative and urgently paced, The Buried and the Bound will be enjoyed by fans of Holly Black, S. Jae-Jones and Alix E. Harrow.

Classic folkloric creatures collide with the mundanities of contemporary high school life in this imaginative and urgently paced fantasy novel.

Game On

Give this to a reader who has a competitive streak, whether it manifests on the field, in the classroom or at game night. 

Game On: 15 Stories of Wins, Losses, and Everything in Between highlights the importance of “playing the game” to find yourself. In each tale, characters interact with a game, from sports and video games to neighborhood pastimes and more. Many stories illustrate the thrill of competition, even as characters grapple with why rivalries and the act of winning mean so much to them. Nearly all the stories capture the central game’s emotional underpinnings, allowing characters to become closer to one another, to find courage in other aspects of their lives or to see something in a new light. 

Standout story: Gloria Chao’s “Mystery Hunt” follows two college freshmen who share an adorably nerdy passion for language puzzles as they embark on the linguistics department’s annual scavenger hunt. As they race to piece clues together, Faye’s growing friendship with her cute classmate, Pierce, inspires her to form deeper connections with other people in her life. The story’s puzzles are challenging, the emotional stakes are high, the pace is fast, and by the end of the hunt, readers will be eager for more adventures with Faye and Pierce.

—Annie Metcalf

★ Tasting Light

Give this to a reader who yearns to expand the limits of what is possible.

Every story in Tasting Light: Ten Science Fiction Stories to Rewire Your Perceptions masterfully demonstrates how powerful science fiction can be. Whether the teens in these futuristic tales are sipping coffee in a spinning city, exploring parallel universes or experiencing bold new technologies, they’re contemplating themes like race, class, disability and gender as thoughtfully as teens today, while dreaming up new and inventive ways to improve themselves and their worlds. As one character muses, “You can be a teenager and make things happen. They’re not mutually exclusive at all.”

Standout story: Junauda Petrus-Nasah’s “Melanitis” begins in the middle. What’s a FAN, and why is it a big deal that another one has been murdered by police? To give away more would spoil the experience: As narrator Amari processes the unfolding news, so do we. Petrus-Nasah takes a classical sci-fi theme—the perils of scientific overreach—and applies it to the disparity between joyous Black energy and the dangers of being Black in a white-dominated society. The result is daring and devastating.

—Jill Ratzan

Eternally Yours

Give this to a reader who is smitten with all things magical, mysterious and macabre.

In Eternally Yours, editor Patrice Caldwell collects 15 paranormal romance stories that feature supernatural suitors ranging from ancient immortals to undead high school students. Many of the tales have contemporary settings, their speculative elements intertwined with familiar teenage concerns like part-time jobs and parties. These realistic details—and the often relatable protagonists—give the collection a grounded core that allows readers to truly connect with larger-than-life dramas such as hunting vampires or making out with mermaids. This anthology will sweep romance-minded readers away into one otherworldly love story after another.

The standout story: Marie Rutkoski’s dreamlike “Bride-Heart” follows a teenage waitress caught up in the ominous affections of a wealthy older man. As it becomes clear that there is far more to the rich stranger than anyone suspects, a test of agency, control and subtle magic unfolds. Rutkoski crafts an atmosphere of creeping dread as she upends many paranormal romance tropes. Her tense, twisty tale will keep readers guessing all the way to the end. 

—RJ Witherow

Generation Wonder

Give this to a reader who knows exactly what they’d do if they woke up with superpowers. 

Many of today’s most successful superhero stories were dreamed up long before current teenage readers were born. The 13 tales in Generation Wonder: The New Age of Heroes introduce brand-new, contemporary superheroes across a range of genres, from comical adventures to fast-paced thrillers. In a clever touch, each story opens with an illustration in the epic style of a comic book cover by artist Colleen Doran. Diverse, imaginative and entertaining, these stories prove that extraordinary heroes can truly come from the most ordinary circumstances.

The standout story: In Nulhegan Abenaki author Joseph Bruchac’s “Ordinary Kid,” Leonard is a Native American teen just trying to survive high school—and figure out how to use his newly acquired superpowers, of course. After an encounter with a mysterious entity called Crow, Leonard becomes telekinetic and gains an “uncanny ability to sense when someone [is] picking on someone else.” He decides to use his powers to disrupt his town’s drug trade before turning his attention to an even more dangerous target. Leonard’s self-deprecating humor and hunger for justice call to mind such well-known superheroes as Captain America and Spiderman. 

—Hannah Lamb

Teens will discover whole new worlds within the short stories of these four anthologies.
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Neil Kearney has never been in love. This becomes a major issue when Josh, his friend-with-benefits, confesses that he’s in love with Neil. Neil promptly rejects Josh but doesn’t understand why Josh is so upset. The two had agreed that their relationship wouldn’t go beyond simple hooking up, and now Neil is in exactly the messy situation he’d hoped to avoid: During their bougie boarding school’s spring break, they’re supposed to attend Neil’s brother’s fancy wedding together, but that’s clearly a bad idea now that Josh has caught feelings. The solution? Neil’s roommate, Wyatt. Neil and Wyatt are far from friendly, but surely they can pull off a week of fake dating and convince Josh that Neil has moved on. Right? 

Over a marathon week of wedding obligations with Neil’s wealthy family, Neil and Wyatt finally forge the close, intimate friendship they never had as roommates. Wyatt sees that Neil’s brash, confident exterior conceals turmoil caused by his unsupportive, emotionally distant family— especially Neil’s grandparents, who routinely make callously transphobic comments toward him. In turn, Neil opens his eyes to Wyatt’s reality as a scholarship student whose hardworking parents can’t provide a fraction of what Neil takes for granted. 

Discover Mason Deaver’s favorite romance tropes.

The sense of ease that develops between Neil and Wyatt is unlike anything Neil ever thought possible. As their boyfriend act begins to feel real, Neil is thrown off balance. Is this what it feels like to fall in love? If so, how do you hold on to it? And scariest of all, how could Neil possibly deserve Wyatt’s love? 

In The Feeling of Falling in Love, Mason Deaver (I Wish You All the Best) delivers a satisfying romance right out of the rom-com playbook. Though there are plenty of these-two-are-obviously-in-love moments and heaps of witty banter, other details are what make this book truly exceptional: While some characters don’t treat Neil with respect, the novel always does. And when Wyatt’s own questions about gender identity arise, Neil adjusts supportively. Deaver gives characters chances to reflect on and address harm they’ve caused, but provides no abrupt or trite conclusions. The Feeling of Falling in Love is a delightfully nuanced queer rom-com that fans of contemporary YA romances will love. 

Read our Q&A with ‘The Feeling of Falling in Love’ author Mason Deaver.

Mason Deaver delivers a satisfying, nuanced queer romance right out of the rom-com playbook.
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Bree, a middle school math enthusiast, has just moved to Palmetto Shores, Florida, with her dad so he can attend a technology training program. Bree’s friendship with her new neighbor Clara helps alleviate the nerves of attending a new school, but disaster strikes on the first day of classes: Nearly every elective, including the math puzzles course Bree had looked forward to, is full. Bree’s only option is Swim 101. The problem? Bree is scared of pools and doesn’t know how to swim.

It turns out that Palmetto Shores is utterly obsessed with swimming, from the fancy prep school that always wins the state championship, to the diner whose menu is full of pool puns (“Sea Biscuits,” “Orca Julius”), to Bree’s own Enith Brigitha Middle School, named after the woman who became the first Black athlete to win an Olympic medal in swimming. Bree’s new friends, Clara and Humberto, along with her neighbor Miss Etta, convince Bree to face her fears and learn to swim. When Bree turns out to have a natural talent for racing, she joins the swim team with Clara and begins to embrace the water, developing a passion for the way competing makes her feel. But faced with stiff competition from Holyoke Prep, mounting tension among the team and a busy schedule that prevents Bree’s dad from attending meets, Bree’s newfound love of swimming may fizzle as quickly as it sparked.

Featuring a countdown-to-competition plot, well-developed and relatable characters and expressive, inviting art, Swim Team delivers an energetic, heartfelt look at an exciting sport, as well as crucial context about its history. As Bree learns, racism and segregation directly impacted Black people’s access to public pools. Although this meant many Black people were denied the opportunity to learn to swim, it also created a stereotype—voiced by Bree herself at one point— that “Black people aren’t good at swimming.” While Swim Team includes a few minor inaccuracies that may be distracting to readers who swim competitively, its depiction of swimming’s joys and challenges is spot on.

Swimming is only part of the story. Author-illustrator Johnnie Christmas, best known for illustrating Margaret Atwood’s Angel Catbird graphic novels, creates an affectionate portrait of Bree and her friends, a group of kids who love their sport, long to win and get up to some funny hijinks along the way. Christmas conveys the enthusiasm that Bree and her teammates have for working hard, improving their abilities and supporting one another, excellently portraying the way that sports can serve as channels for personal growth and lasting relationships.

Swim Team captures the fun of an athletic endeavor that can—and should—be enjoyed by everyone.

This energetic, heartfelt graphic novel captures the joys and challenges of a sport that should be—but hasn’t always been—freely enjoyed by everyone.
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A group of teenagers must survive an interstellar disaster in Alone Out Here, a blistering standalone science fiction novel.

Leigh Chen, first daughter of the United States, is fortunate to have a spot on the Lazarus, one of several huge spacecrafts that will evacuate some of Earth’s population before a volcanic eruption renders the planet uninhabitable. Leigh and many of the Lazarus’ other young passengers are touring the ship when disaster strikes, forcing them to launch much earlier than planned.

It soon becomes clear that the Lazarus wasn’t fully prepared for the journey, and there are no adults on board. Attempts to communicate with anyone else in orbit or on Earth fail, and the truth sinks in: Leigh and a group of survivors are completely alone with no planet to return to, no viable destination in sight and only enough supplies to last a few months.

Leigh emerges as one of the leaders who start to cobble together a survival plan, as does Eli, whose mother would have been the ship’s pilot. Through Leigh’s methodical mindset, author Riley Redgate excellently establishes the enormity of the crisis. Everyone must begin training as pilots, mechanics, scientists or doctors to gain even a slim hope of success, let alone live long enough to create and educate future generations.

But what is lost amid this overwhelming focus on the future? Some aboard the Lazarus find it easier to leave the past behind than others, and Leigh tries to keep the peace between conflicting sides of a growing divide. As Eli’s decisions raise ethical concerns, Leigh questions her own neutrality and whether her skill for seeing both sides is preventing her from developing opinions of her own. Can Leigh discover what she stands for in time to save the crew—and her soul?

On the surface, Alone Out Here is an enjoyable sci-fi tale with many familiar elements, including a ticking-clock survival plot, plausibly futuristic technology, a lovely slow-burn romance and a cast of interesting, complex and diverse characters.

But what makes Alone Out Here compelling, even haunting, is Redgate’s fearless exploration of the deeper moral questions prompted by her plot’s high stakes: What is survival without memory? What if the cost of saving humanity was everything that makes us human? The result is a far more intense and emotional experience than readers may expect from the book’s premise, but it’s also a rewarding one for readers with the courage to ride along.

Riley Redgate’s Alone Out Here is a haunting sci-fi tale that fearlessly explores the moral questions prompted by its high-stakes plot.
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Miuko lives with her father, an innkeeper, in a quiet village in the realm of Awara, a place where women must abide by many rules and expectations. Miuko tries hard, but she’s clumsy, loud and opinionated—all of which violate how a respectable Awaran woman should behave.

While running an errand one evening, Miuko finds herself on the road during the verge hour, the time each day when the veil between the mortal and spirit worlds is thinnest. There, she is cursed by a demon and begins to transform into a demon herself. When the curse is discovered by the village priests and her father, Miuko must flee, setting off on a quest to reverse the curse.

Aided by a mischievous magpie spirit who can take the form of a boy and a quirky cast of supporting characters, both human and nonhuman, Miuko doggedly seeks to preserve her humanity and evade a vengeance demon bent on using Miuko’s budding powers for his own destructive ends. But as her journey continues, Miuko finds that there are benefits to the power, strength and autonomy that demonhood offers. Will she be able to keep herself and her new friends safe from harm while maintaining a grasp on her humanity? And if Miuko does manage to break the curse, will her old life—with all its restrictions—be enough for her? 

National Book Award finalist Traci Chee’s A Thousand Steps Into Night is an enthralling fantasy adventure that draws deeply on Japanese mythology and spirituality. With surrealism and charm reminiscent of Studio Ghibli films, the story unfolds in short chapters that are more sequential and interconnected than vignettes, but with demarcations that make each beat feel like a small folktale of its own. 

As she travels, Miuko crosses paths with the spirits of clouds, trees, monkeys and more, and these spirits help and hinder her in often unexpected ways. Although the spirit world can be frightening, many of Miuko’s most dangerous and upsetting scrapes result from interactions with the human world and its vengefulness, fearfulness and bigotry. But Miuko rallies delightful companions to her side, and they show her loyalty, compassion, bravery and kindness in the face of what seems like a hopeless fate. 

Filled with moments of sweet humor, gruesome realism and mystical excitement, A Thousand Steps Into Night is dreamy and thrilling. Teen readers will find its themes of discovering independence, building community and creating change inspiring. 

Traci Chee’s A Thousand Steps Into Night is an enthralling fantasy adventure whose surrealism and charm is reminiscent of Studio Ghibli films.
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In the city of Setar, the capital of the kingdom of Ardunia, Alizeh works her fingers to the bone all day cleaning the 116-rooms of Baz House, a noble estate. At night, she works on commissions as she tries to establish herself as a seamstress. She can only survive this exhausting schedule because of her supernatural strength and endurance. Alizeh is Jinn, and while Jinn and humans have coexisted for many years, Jinn are considered untrustworthy and are not allowed to openly use their magic.

Even among Jinn, Alizeh is extraordinary, with more reason than most to put up with the abuses of life among the servant class. She has been on the run since the death of her parents, and a noble house with a large staff and plentiful security is the perfect place to hide. Yet there are parts of Alizeh’s story that are unknown even to her.

Kamran, crown prince of Ardunia, is destined to succeed his grandfather as king. On a visit home from his military duties, Kamran notices a strange interaction between a street urchin and a servant girl, and fears the servant girl may be a spy from the rival kingdom of Tulan. His suspicions set in motion a series of events he cannot control as Alizeh becomes a wanted woman who is believed to be a significant threat to the king. Kamran’s conflicting principles—loyalty to his king and conviction that Alizeh is not a danger—draw him down a path to find out the truth for himself.

A retelling of “Cinderella” complete with an aspiring seamstress on a crash course toward a fateful royal ball, This Woven Kingdom masterfully incorporates influences from Persian and Muslim history, culture and mythology. Exceedingly powerful but not invulnerable, the novel’s Jinn are an intriguing addition to the YA canon of such figures. Setar is vibrantly evoked, and its wintry climate and snowy landscape set it apart from books with similar plots and themes.

The novel’s standout feature is its language. This Woven Kingdom is a fairy-tale retelling that actually sounds like a fairy tale: Its characters speak like they’re in one, using formal tones and sophisticated vocabularies. That is not to say the novel is devoid of levity. Indeed, the grandiosity of Alizeh and Kamran’s banter adds to the intoxicating sense of wonder and flirtation that marks their interactions.

Tightly paced, with a rollicking set of twists and revelations and a chaotic climax that leads straight to a whopping cliffhanger of an ending, This Woven Kingdom is an exceptional fantasy that blends its various influences to addictive effect.

Tahereh Mafi masterfully incorporates Persian and Muslim influences into this exceptional, addictive “Cinderella” retelling.
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This summer, two domestic thrillers provide a dark take on the secrets families keep from one another and the emotional damage wrought when those secrets emerge during times of crisis. 

In Watch Me Disappear, when Billie Flanagan goes missing, her husband, Jonathan, and teenage daughter, Olive, are devastated. One year later, money is tight—Jonathan has quit his tech journalism gig to write a memoir, and the bills for Olive’s private school are mounting—and Billie's life insurance money hasn’t come through. Just when Jonathan is completing the steps necessary for Billie to be declared legally dead, Olive begins having visions. She sees her mother, asking to be found, and becomes convinced that Billie is alive.

As Olive earnestly searches places similar to those in her visions, and Jonathan reluctantly revisits Billie’s belongings and computer files, incongruities emerge. Did she or did she not see her estranged parents after running away at 17? What exactly happened during Billie's years in Oregon with her ex? And if she wasn’t hiking with her trainer those weekends away, where was she? The more Jonathan uncovers, the harder it is to keep the anger and hurt out of his memoir. Because if Billie isn’t dead, then why isn’t she with her family?

Brown’s third novel is a slow-burning family drama that hinges on the well-worn question of how one can ever claim to truly know another person. The sequence of new information Jonathan and Olive discover is meant to be surprising, but once Billie’s character is firmly established in the prologue, all the twists are fairly predictable, and certainly not shocking. The strongest aspect of the novel is the relationship between Jonathan and Olive, a timid father-daughter bond that Brown captures with depth, nuance and tenderness. How Jonathan and Olive react to the destruction of their family narrative is the true crux of this novel.

If Watch Me Disappear slowly peeled back layers of a family lie, Robyn Harding’s The Party delivers the nonstop, nail-biting tension of watching multiple characters lie and self-sabotage. Hannah Sanders is desperate for her 16th birthday party to impress Lauren and Ronnie, two popular girls who have recently absorbed Hannah into their orbit. With her parents, uptight Kim and penned-in Jeff, at odds over a past indiscretion, it’s easy for Hannah to sneak alcohol into the basement. Her party guests sneak in more booze, drugs and boys, but the festivities come to a bloody halt when Ronnie is badly injured. When the injury leads to permanent disfigurement, adults and teens alike reveal their ugly side.

In the chaotic aftermath, everyone involved makes decisions that turn a bad situation worse. Kim, obsessed with her social standing as a responsible mother, is so desperate to prove that the accident wasn’t due to neglectful parenting that she loses her capacity for empathy and spirals out of control. Jeff, chafing at the restrictions in his marriage (brought on by his own mistakes), becomes entangled in a spectacularly ill-advised emotional affair. Ronnie’s mother Lisa, devastated at her daughter’s distress, is out for revenge—and a lot of money—in a nasty lawsuit against the Sanders. And amidst the adult acrimony, the teenagers are playing out their own cruel drama to its bleak conclusion.

When their cherished beliefs are exposed as total falsehoods or naïve misunderstandings, the families in these novels are rocked to their core. Neither The Party nor Watch Me Disappear feature a true thriller moment such as a missing fact or shocking twist, but they are subtly thrilling in their adherence to the idea that human nature is darker, crueler, and stranger than we want to believe.

It’s Private Eye July at BookPage! All month long, we’re celebrating the sinister side of fiction with the year’s best mysteries and thrillers. Look for the Private Eye July magnifying glass for a daily dose of murder, espionage and all those creepy neighbors with even creepier secrets.

This summer, two domestic thrillers provide a dark take on the secrets families keep from one another and the emotional damage wrought when those secrets emerge during times of crisis.
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Three female-led literary thrillers explore the ways in which love (both romantic and familial) can nurture or destroy, and how devastating the consequences can be when it does the latter. With excellently placed twists, clever metafictional elements and chilling conclusions, these three books are the standouts of this season’s thriller shelves.

In Roz Nay’s debut, Our Little Secret, a young woman stuck in a police interview room takes a detective on a meandering journey down memory lane, revealing the history of her first love, how they parted and what happened next.

Angela Petitjean and her high school sweetheart, Hamish “HP” Parker, still live in their Vermont hometown. Over the years, HP married a woman named Saskia and had a child, and now Saskia is missing. Detective Novak just wants Angela to answer some questions. Angela just wants Novak to realize that the story she’s telling will give him all the answers he needs.

Angela’s delicious narration spins a tale of heady high school love, an idyllic year of study at Oxford University and the stale monotony born of unfulfilled potential. Our Little Secret takes the unreliable narrator trope and ramps it up: Angela is a fantastic liar, but she might not realize that her lies can be just as revealing as the truth. With a slow-burning plot and solid characters, this novel introduces a promising new author with a range of strengths.

Another debut novel, Aimee Molloy’s The Perfect Mother, melds traditional suspense fare—a missing child—with a nuanced portrayal of women during the early days of motherhood. Brought together by their similar due dates, the women of a Brooklyn “mommy group” known as the May Mothers forge tentative friendships and share support. When they decide to have a night out, Winnie isn’t sure. But Francie, Colette and Nell are worried Winnie is feeling the stress of single motherhood, and they insist she join them. What starts out as a fun evening turns into a nightmare when Winnie’s infant son, Midas, goes missing. As the police investigation stalls out and the media coverage reaches a frenzy, Winnie’s three friends are determined to help. But with each dead end, the women are forced to wonder if something darker than kidnapping could have happened that night.

With multiple narrators and a clever construction that plays on readers’ assumptions, The Perfect Mother is an impressive and satisfying domestic thriller. Particularly interesting is its depiction of female insecurities, as well as its open interrogation of the expectations placed on mothers. This gripping and fresh novel will provoke as much thought as it does excitement.

In The Elizas, the first adult novel from Sara Shepard (author of the bestselling Pretty Little Liars YA series), a young woman grapples with memory gaps and paranoia after she is found at the bottom of a hotel pool. Eliza Fontaine is certain someone pushed her in, but her family isn’t convinced; Eliza has survived several suicide attempts involving water. Plus, she was drunk that night, and a storm knocked out the pool security cameras.

Although Eliza wants to find out the truth, she is also occupied with the upcoming publication of her first novel, The Dots, about a girl’s relationship with her troubled aunt. Demands from her editor and agent contend with Eliza’s increasing anxiety over lost memories and the certainty that someone is following her. Why is her family unwilling to discuss the pool incident? Why do they seem like they’re hiding something? And why do people keep insisting that they’ve seen Eliza around town in places she knows (does she know?) she never went?

Narrated by Eliza and interspersed with chapters from The Dots, The Elizas is more of a satisfying puzzle than a shocking thriller, as readers will piece together the truth well before the final pages. But it’s enjoyable to parse the well-paced clues, and readers will root for the likable, yet sometimes worrying Eliza. Equal parts fun and disturbing, The Elizas delivers a heavy dose of psychodrama and a punchy, contemporary voice.


This article was originally published in the May 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Three female-led literary thrillers explore the ways in which love (both romantic and familial) can nurture or destroy, and how devastating the consequences can be when it does the latter. With excellently placed twists, clever metafictional elements and chilling conclusions, these three books are the standouts of this season’s thriller shelves.

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It was much easier to get away with nefarious deeds in eras past. Crime fighters didn’t have the aid of DNA testing or security cameras, and it was relatively easy for a guilty party to slip away, change their name and evade justice entirely—all of which makes the sleuths in these three historical mysteries even more impressive.

An Artless Demise, the seventh installment of Anna Lee Huber’s Regency-era series, brings Kiera Darby back to London after scandal sent her to Scotland. Newly married to her partner in investigation, Sebastian Gage, Kiera hopes their return will be without incident. But when the killing of a young migrant boy resembles the methods of notorious criminals Burke and Hare, who sold their victims’ bodies to medical schools, polite society can’t help but recall Lady Darby’s late first husband, who purchased corpses from body snatchers in order to further his study of the body. Kiera tries to keep a low profile, but when a gentleman is similarly murdered in Mayfair, she and her husband are hired to investigate.

Huber highlights the simmering chemistry between the main couple, reminding readers of their physical and intellectual compatibility. Because the plot relies on the emotional toll of Kiera’s abusive first marriage and the criminal activity of her late husband, this installment—more so than other books in the series—will be best enjoyed by readers familiar with the first book. However, a solid whodunit and the atmospheric London gloom anchor the novel well, even for a new readership.

Inspectors Ian Frey and “Nine-Nails” McGray are summoned to a remote estate in Oscar de Muriel’s Loch of the Dead. The islands of Loch Maree are rumored to harbor healing powers or evil curses, depending on who’s telling the tale. The detectives are tasked with protecting Benjamin Koloman, the illegitimate son of one of the estate’s heirs, by his mother—who believes her son is in grave danger. After the unexpected death of the father he never met, Benjamin has been invited to take his place among the wealthy Kolomans. But does the close-knit clan really want him there, or is there something darker afoot? Frey and McGray deal with murder and metaphysical mayhem as the family’s past gradually comes into the light.

McGray and Frey are constantly bemoaning the other’s shortcomings in entertaining, relatable asides, although it’s clear a mutual respect has blossomed. McGray’s sincere belief in the supernatural is a unique twist on the hardened sleuth archetype, and Frey’s funny, fussy adherence to decorum grounds the reader in the time period. The mystery itself is delightfully gruesome and unhinged right up to the heart-pounding conclusion. Readers who love bickering banter and want a historical mystery with a twist will be pleased.

The intrepid Maisie Dobbs returns in The American Agent, set during World War II and the terror of the London Blitz. When Catherine Saxon, an ambitious American journalist, is found murdered, Maisie is enlisted to assist. Also working the case is Mark Scott, the American agent who helped Maisie get out of Munich two years prior. Maisie must balance her determination to find the killer with the suspicion that Mark isn’t telling the whole truth. As Londoners face the fire with stiff upper lips, Maisie homes in on the truth. 

Jacqueline Winspear captures the juxtaposition of the utter chaos and eerie normalcy of the Blitz with cinematic style. Maisie is much in the mold of a Golden Age sleuth, with a sharp eye and almost unrealistically good instincts. The looming question of whether she will be able to balance motherhood with her dangerous career is brilliantly relevant both to the era Winspear writes about and the current era. A straightforward yarn with excellent historical detail, The American Agent will satisfy fans and newcomers alike.

It was much easier to get away with nefarious deeds in eras past. Crime fighters didn’t have the aid of DNA testing or security cameras, and it was relatively easy for a guilty party to slip away, change their name and evade justice entirely—all of which makes the sleuths in these three historical mysteries even more impressive.
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Two new female-helmed YA fantasy novels draw from South Asian folklore and traditions. Whether you’re looking for a romantic and roguish tale set in an alternate India or a magical warring djinn story set along the Silk Road, these stories will keep readers on the edges of their seats.

In The Tiger at Midnight, Swati Teerdhala’s first installment in a new series, an assassin and a soldier cross paths on a fateful night, setting off a tense game of cat and mouse. Esha is the Viper, a legendary killer for the Dharkan rebels, and her target is General Hotha, leader of the Jansan army. When Esha arrives to find the general already mortally wounded, she realizes she is being framed. Esha rushes to escape the crime scene, and she is followed by a select crew of Jansan soldiers. Most of these young men are at the disadvantage, not knowing that the Viper is a woman, except for Kunal. Kunal was raised by his uncle, the General, since the rest of his family’s death in the coup 10 years ago. He already suspects that the Viper is the compelling girl he met outside the fort on the night of his Uncle’s murder, and he soon determines that his hunch was correct. Her identity discovered, Esha and Kunal cross paths throughout Jansa, engaging in banter and developing a delicate code of honor as they fight, save, betray and escape one another.

While journeying, Kunal’s eyes are opened to the growing environmental disaster and spread of poverty in Jansa’s towns, causing him to doubt the work of the military he’s spent his life serving. Meanwhile, Esha struggles with feeling that her self-identity has been consumed by the personality of the Viper, and wonders if there’s hope for a life untethered from death and deception. A fascinating world with a landscape dependent on a mystical blood bond between humans and nature surrounds the characters, but the reality of the environmental disaster isn’t woven into the plot as well as it could be. A hint of intriguing myth and history runs through this debut, but most of the novel is spent on an enemies-to-lovers romance. Whether readers love or loathe this trope will determine their enjoyment of this #ownvoices debut.

Nafiza Azad’s The Candle and the Flame is a magical tale based on Arab and Muslim djinn folklore that is set in a vibrant city spanning two climates and encompassing a multitude of faiths and peoples. When Fatima was very small, the Shayateen, a race of chaotic djinn, attacked her family’s caravan along the Silk Road. Years later, the Shayateen launched an unprecedented attack within the walled city of Noor, killing every human but Fatima, her adopted sister and an elderly woman. Fatima and her companions survived because Fatima’s blood proved deadly to the Shayateen, though Fatima has never known why. After that night, the maharajah has relied upon the aid of the Ifrit, the djinn of order, who have controlled half the city of Noor—and protected the whole of it—ever since.

Now a young woman, Fatima spends her days working as a delivery girl and studying with an elderly djinn bookseller, Firdaus. But when disaster befalls Firdaus, Fatima realizes he was not just any djinn and Fatima is then reborn as something new. Pulled into a world of politics, ancient grudges and magic, Fatima struggles to hold onto loved ones while becoming closer to the Ifrit, especially Zulfikar, the Emir of Noor City.

Utilizing multiple narrative points of view with an excellent supporting cast (including djinn and humans), Azad shows a deep understanding of the folklore and culture that inspires her plot. Readers are immersed in both the human and djinn culture, and they are trusted to follow along without unnecessary exposition in this mature and sure-handed debut. A satisfying ending will allow Fatima’s story to stand alone, but intriguing open-ended plot points make it possible for Azad to continue the story of Noor and its world. Readers looking for fresh plots, enticing settings and strong female characters will sincerely hope she does.

Two new female-helmed YA fantasy novels draw from South Asian folklore and traditions.

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