1022-top10

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Secrets of the Nile

At the turn of the 20th century, English gentlewomen were meant to be seen and not heard, arm candy for their titled husbands. They were certainly not meant to be amateur sleuths. But Lady Emily Hargreaves becomes embroiled in a murder investigation (again) within hours of arriving in Luxor, Egypt, in Tasha Alexander’s 16th mystery starring the aristocrat, Secrets of the Nile. Lord Bertram Deeley, an antiquities collector of note and the Hargreaves’ host, is found dead on the dining room floor, the aroma of bitter almonds indicating that he was poisoned with cyanide. The Egyptian police identify a suspect in short order, but the suspect bolts, and truth be told, he didn’t fit the profile especially well anyway. As Lady Emily’s private investigation proceeds, it becomes apparent that many of the guests had reason to loathe their host; surprisingly, even her mother-in-law has a motive. In alternating chapters, Alexander tells the story of Meryt, a young female sculptor in ancient Egypt, whose work will play a prominent role in Lady Emily’s case some three millennia hence. Secrets of the Nile has it all: a glamorous locale, plucky heroine and supporting cast worthy of a Kenneth Branagh film.

The Furies

John Connolly’s latest mystery featuring private investigator Charlie Parker offers an intriguing change of pace for his legions of readers. The Furies is two masterfully crafted novels in one book, with each novel covering a separate but interconnected case. The first novel, The Sisters Strange, tells the story of sisters Dolors and Ambar Strange and their unusual relationship with Svengali-esque ex-convict Raum Buker. Raum is always on the lookout for an easy mark, and it seems as if he may have found it in Edwin Ellercamp, a collector of rare ancient coins. Edwin is soon found murdered, choked to death by a portion of his vast coin collection. Raum has no history as a killer, however, making the mystery of who murdered the collector one that will test Parker’s mettle like very few cases have. The second novel, The Furies, finds Parker in the employ of two women. The first is Sarah Abelli, a mob widow suspected of knowing where her husband hid a fortune in dirty money before he was killed in prison. Extortionists have stolen mementos of her deceased daughter and will not return them until she coughs up the cash, which she maintains to anyone who will listen that she does not have. The other is Marjorie Thombs, whose daughter is trapped in an abusive relationship—a situation exponentially exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown. Of course, as is the case with all of the Charlie Parker mysteries, there is an element or two of the supernatural to factor in—nothing to the degree of books by Stephen King or Anne Rice, but certainly enough to occasion some vague uneasiness if you are reading late at night.

Fall Guy

Archer Mayor’s Fall Guy, the latest in his long-running series featuring Joe Gunther, field force commander of the Vermont Bureau of Investigation, opens with a dead body in the trunk of a stolen car. The details of the car’s theft are suspect, however, as its GPS data mark it as being outside a strip club at the time that it was purportedly stolen from the owner’s driveway. Along with the dead body, the car contains a cell phone with evidence of the sexual abuse of a child. An interjurisdictional task force is formed to investigate, which allows Gunther and his subordinates to cross state lines—in this case, into nearby New Hampshire—to follow the clues. Gunther’s team, based in Brattleboro, Vermont, is more like a family than a collection of co-workers. Thirty-plus books into the series, the evolving relationships among the characters never detract from the police procedural structure. In fact, the web of connections enhances the story, showing how the various members of Gunther’s team deploy their strengths and shore up one another’s weaknesses to function as a well-oiled crime-solving machine. If you’re new to Joe Gunther, don’t be surprised if upon finishing Fall Guy you immediately seek out the previous books in the series.

Sometimes People Die

Simon Stephenson’s darkly hilarious mystery, Sometimes People Die, harks back to classic English satire a la Kingsley Amis or Evelyn Waugh, perfectly updating their sarcastic yet somehow still endearing tone for modern-day readers. Stephenson’s unnamed narrator is a third-rate Scottish doctor in a third-rate London hospital, on probation for stealing opioids and still dealing with his addiction on the q.t. He has little use for anyone else and typically thinks he is the smartest person in the room—but he usually isn”t. Nonetheless, he is pretty funny and occasionally displays a redeeming quality or two despite himself. Then patients in his ward start inexplicably dying, and he finds himself at the epicenter of the police inquiry into these suspicious deaths. When a suspect is finally arrested, our protagonist has his doubts and launches his own clandestine investigation. His sleuthing skills turn out to be little better than his medical skills, however, and things rapidly go wildly off course. With ten months of 2022 behind us, I am confident this will be a (or perhaps the) best book of the year for me.

When his patients start mysteriously dying, a third-rate doctor has a chance to become a first-rate sleuth in Simon Stephenson's darkly hilarious Sometimes People Die, this month's top pick in mystery.
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Erin Sterling’s witchy new rom-com, The Kiss Curse, is the much anticipated sequel to last year’s equally charming The Ex Hex

When Vivi Jones broke the hex she put on her now-husband, Rhys Penhallow, she affected his family’s ancestral power—power that just happens to infuse her hometown of Graves Glen, Georgia. Ever since, things have been out of whack, and Vivi’s cousin, Gwyn, has noticed her own powers are waning. Rhys’ brother Wells has spent years diligently bearing the enormous responsibility of being part of their illustrious family. When he learns of the weakening magic in Graves Glen, he steps up to solve the problem.

As one of the top witches in town, Gwyn takes it upon herself to figure out what’s going on. Wells and Gwyn are opposites in culture and personality—Wells puts duty above all else, whereas Gwyn thinks of rules as suggestions for other people—so when they share a surprising kiss early on in the novel, they insist it must have something to do with the town’s fluctuating magic. These witches should know better. 

The Kiss Curse is sexy and fun, fast paced and joyful. In Sterling’s supernatural realm, down-to-earth magic is as common as grand feats of wizardry. She peppers in smart, clever world building details, and every sentence is packed with substantive description and imagination. This kiss is definitely worth the curse, a sexy rom-com with just the right amount of sorcery.

Erin Sterling's much anticipated sequel to The Ex Hex is a sexy rom-com with just the right amount of sorcery.
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Stay True is a memoir born of trauma. In the summer of 1998, Hua Hsu’s friend and classmate Ken Ishida was murdered in a carjacking just before the start of their senior year at the University of California, Berkeley. However, this is not an account of that event. Instead, Stay True examines the reverberations of a friendship frozen in time by death.

Hua Hsu shares how he tried to capture the aura of the 1990s, AOL and all.

In the immediate aftermath of Ken’s death, Hsu obsessively collected the detritus of their friendship—a cigarette pack, receipts, paper napkin jottings—and stuffed them in a padded envelope that he’s carried with him for years. Since then, Hsu has gone to Harvard, become a professor (first at Vassar College, and now at Bard College), started a family and taken on a parallel career as a staff writer for The New Yorker. In all that time, he’s struggled to find and express the essence of his friendship with Ken. How close were they really? What did their friendship mean? In Stay True, he seeks to recapture the look and feel of the moments they spent together smoking cigarettes on a dorm balcony, talking about girls and sexual inexperience. Moments in the car on a food run in Berkeley. Moments together planning projects inspired by the movie The Last Dragon.

Although Hsu was older than Ken, Ken feels like the older brother here. Ken was Japanese American, and his family has lived in California for generations, long enough that his grandparents were imprisoned in an internment camp during World War II. Hsu, on the other hand, is a first-generation American, the beloved son of recent immigrants from Taiwan. Ken had a conventional style, and plenty of self-confidence. Hsu sought to distinguish himself with his assertive taste in music and his offbeat clothing choices, and he had little of Ken’s social and cultural comfort. In moments like these, Stay True becomes a remarkable examination of the experience of immigration and assimilation.

But overall, Stay True is a questing exploration of the elusive nature of friendship as it shifts and reshapes with the passage of time.

Hua Hsu’s remarkable memoir examines the reverberations of a friendship frozen in time by untimely death.
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In her third novel, Our Missing Hearts, the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere delivers a timely dystopian tale about Bird Gardner, a 12-year-old boy who is desperately trying to hold on to memories of his mother from before she left their family.

Bird, who is called Noah by everyone except his mom, lives alone with his father in a small dormitory. Their world is a pristine society, having recovered from a period of time known as “the Crisis.” But an uneasy, gnawing feeling grows within the boy, especially regarding the lessons he’s taught in school. As Bird begins to awaken to reality, he also becomes aware of the ties between his mother’s poetry and the increasingly absurd protests that are happening around the country (thousands of pingpong balls released in the Mississippi River, graffitied red hearts appearing everywhere). When a mysterious package arrives for Bird, a poignant adventure follows, in which he searches for both his mother and the answers to the suppressed questions surrounding her disappearance.

Celeste Ng is undoubtedly at the top of her game. The American society she depicts in Our Missing Hearts is overcome by fear, serving as a poignant critique of our own increasingly fraught and oppressive political landscape. In the novel, the Preserving American Culture and Traditions Act (PACT) is the overwhelming governing force, a Big Brother-esque law that “outlaws promotion of un-American values and behavior. Encourages all citizens to report potential threats to our society. And . . . protects children from environments espousing harmful views.” Bird’s mother is labeled a “Person of Asian Origin,” even though the president insists that “PACT is not about race.” And in a guidebook for “Young Patriots,” readers learn that “for people who weaken our country with un-American ideas, there will be consequences.”

However, Ng’s focus on the unbreakable bond between mother and son elevates the story to more than a cautionary dystopian tale. As Bird searches for his mother, he racks his memories for pieces of her—such as the folktales she told him growing up—and from these fragments, he begins to create a new path for himself. His journey is through both history and language, and as he travels across the country, he finds help from an underground network of librarians and learns to root out the ideas that have infected his mind and the nation as a whole. 

Ng’s prose highlights the fateful and sometimes absurd connections between our world and the realm of ideas, reminding readers that what is in our heads will always reveal itself in our bodies. The result is a novel that will undoubtedly impact how we connect and live in this terrifying, beautiful world.

Celeste Ng is undoubtedly at the top of her game as she portrays an American society overcome by fear. Our Missing Hearts serves as a poignant critique of our own increasingly fraught and oppressive political landscape.
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Founder of the Nap Ministry Tricia Hersey has created a startling, generous new work in Rest Is Resistance. Grounding her debut book in Black liberation theology, abolitionist traditions and Afrofuturism, Hersey provides a blueprint for rejecting the demands of modern capitalism in favor of our collective health and social progress.

Hersey delineates American society as one in crisis. Through research and personal anecdotes, she demonstrates how our culture has systematically prioritized the generation of wealth above our health, happiness and stability—and subsequently romanticized this dysfunction as “grind culture” or “hustle culture.” For Hersey, embracing rest is an inherent rebuke of a violent system built on coerced labor and white supremacy. It is an intentional opt-out of an ideology that demands the labor of Black women while deriding us as lazy. She is also quick to denounce the modern wellness industry that has commodified and individualized self-care as something that can be packaged and sold (candles, shakes, crystals, etc.).

As part of this rejection of “shallow wellness work,” Hersey does more than just explain the problems of modern capitalism; she also provides practical methods of resistance through a variety of resting practices. Hersey argues that prayer, daydreams, sleep and intense laughter are not just enjoyable but sacred balms. But at the forefront of this work is the understanding that these spiritual practices go beyond the individual. According to Hersey, cultivating rest honors the labor of our ancestors and promises a better world for our descendants.

Hersey’s prose is exquisitely beautiful, dripping with lyrical grace and wisdom that make her background as a poet and scholar obvious. Audre Lorde, Octavia Butler and bell hooks are named inspirations for her craft, and their work echoes throughout Hersey’s thinking. “I don’t want a seat at the table of the oppressor,” Hersey writes as she dreams of a better future for us all. “I want a blanket and pillow down by the ocean.” Rest Is Resistance is a book to read and reread with a pen in hand and pad beside you; one that you will find yourself wanting to give to friends, co-workers and strangers.

Founder of the Nap Ministry Tricia Hersey provides an exquisite blueprint for rejecting the demands of modern capitalism in favor of our collective health.
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Comics artist Kate Beaton, creator of the award-winning satirical webcomic “Hark! A Vagrant,” demonstrates her remarkable range and storytelling prowess with her debut graphic memoir, Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands. With strong prose and striking art, she captures the complexities of a place often defined by stark binaries: the Alberta oil sands, one of the world’s largest deposits of crude oil.

In 2005, 21-year-old Beaton’s goal is to pay off the student loans for her arts degree, so she leaves her beloved home on Cape Breton, a small island off the coast of Nova Scotia, for a job in oil mining. Over the next several years, she works as a warehouse attendant in the town of Fort McMurray, as well as at various temporary work camps owned by several oil companies.

Beaton recounts her experiences—often harrowing, sometimes poignant—with dazzling clarity. She’s one of only a few women in an industry dominated by men, and misogyny, sexual harassment and sexual violence occur nearly every day. In scene after scene, she depicts men laughing over sexist jokes and demeaning the women they work with, and bosses dismissing her concerns.

And yet, without once making excuses for any of this behavior, Beaton honors the humanity of the oil workers. She illuminates the larger contexts of work camps, including labor exploitation and corporate greed, toxic masculinity and a lack of mental health resources. She puts everything, good and bad, into the book: moments of connection with men from the eastern provinces, bleak humor, environmental destruction, stark natural beauty, her own feelings of complicity and homesickness, and the oil companies’ blatant disregard for the Indigenous communities in which they operate.

Beaton’s art conveys the inherent strangeness of living and working in such isolated places, giving Ducks a sense of loneliness that words alone can’t express. Her talent for drawing people, and especially facial expressions, adds layers of emotional depth to every scene. She depicts her own face, and the faces of her many co-workers, in moments of fear, pain, anger, exhaustion, despair, pride and laughter. Meanwhile, her illustrations of massive mining machinery make these people seem small and insignificant.

It is no small task to convey the messy truth of a place in words and drawings, to tell a story that is at once intimate and sweeping, and to resist simplification. “You can’t just paint one picture,” Beaton tells a female co-worker during a moving conversation about the impossibility of summing up the oil sands for an online article. In Ducks, she paints a thousand pictures. It’s a powerful account of the ongoing harm of patriarchal violence, and an equally powerful testament to what is possible when we pay attention, seek out each other’s humanity and honor the hard truths alongside the beautiful.

Illustration © 2022 by Kate Beaton. Reproduced by permission of Drawn & Quarterly.

Kate Beaton's graphic memoir is a powerful account of the ongoing harm of patriarchal violence, and an equally powerful testament to what is possible when we pay attention, seek out each other's humanity and honor the hard truths alongside the beautiful.
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American Sirens: The Incredible Story of the Black Men Who Became America’s First Paramedics reveals a hidden slice of history about the emergency services that we all depend on but largely take for granted. Kevin Hazzard (A Thousand Naked Strangers), a print and television writer who worked as a paramedic in Atlanta for nearly a decade, does an excellent job of transforming his exhaustive research into a compelling narrative suitable to its gripping subject.

While the book is replete with white-knuckle medical emergencies, the real story here is the inspiring saga of how the paramedic profession was born. Before the 1970s, emergency services were “slapdash and chaotic,” with ambulance runs “treated like a Frankenstein limb rather than a full-fledged arm of public safety.” Hospital transportation might have been provided by the police, firefighters or a funeral home, with little regulation involved and a shocking absence of training. As Hazzard writes, “On any given day, the patient in an ambulance may have been better qualified to handle their own emergency than the person paid to save them.”

In 1966, medical pioneer Peter Safar, known as the father of CPR, lost his 11-year-old daughter to an asthma-induced coma while he and his wife were away at a medical conference. He channeled his grief into designing and implementing an entirely new model of ambulance care, partnering with Freedom House, a grassroots organization in the Black, immigrant neighborhood of Hill District in Pittsburgh, to train ordinary people to administer lifesaving techniques. After intensive training, a group of Black paramedics took their first call on July 15, 1968, and went on to respond to nearly 6,000 calls in the Hill District that year, saving more than 200 lives. Their response abilities got better and better under the direction of Safar and medical director Nancy Caroline, and their curriculum was eventually chosen by the Department of Transportation to serve as the model for standardized EMS training.

Astoundingly, Freedom House’s achievements were met with “the city’s unyielding resistance,” and their groundbreaking program was eventually turned over to Pittsburgh’s local government. A crew of lesser trained white men took over in 1975. Meanwhile, the longtime Freedom House paramedics who knew how to intubate in the field were asked to carry the bags.

American Sirens is a stirring, ultimately heartbreaking story in which jaw-dropping medical innovation meets racial prejudice. After finishing Hazzard’s memorable account, readers will never hear an ambulance siren the same way again.

After finishing Kevin Hazzard’s memorable account of America’s first paramedics, readers will never hear an ambulance siren the same way again.
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Horror takes many forms: from the terror of losing control of one’s mind to another entity, to the fear of things that move around unseen in the night, to the inescapable certainty that one day we all must meet our ends. Each of these stories features a different kind of horror, making for a perfect sampler platter for anyone wanting to dip their toes in the murky depths of dread. 

Leech

In the far reaches of the North, in a chateau abutting a frozen forest and a forbidding mine, a doctor has died. For the powerful Interprovincial Medical Institute, the worrying thing is not the doctor’s death; the Institute’s bodies die all the time. An ancient parasitic life form, the Institute takes over promising young minds and guides them into the field of medicine; all of the unsuspecting human race’s doctors are being controlled by the Institute. What is worrying is that the Institute isn’t sure how the body stationed in the chateau died. To find out exactly what happened, the Institute sends a new body to investigate the chateau and its denizens. That doctor soon discovers another parasite that could upend life as they know it, threatening both the Institute’s supremacy and the humans it seeks to protect.

Hiron Ennes’ debut novel, Leech, is a chilling study in the the loss of bodily autonomy, the terrors of a frigid winter wood and the undeniable creepiness of ancient homes that have long since fallen into disrepair. Set thousands of years after an apocalypse, Leech is decidedly a gothic novel, complete with seemingly cursed family homes, the dark consequences of human progress and unknown dangers lurking in every crevice and icy forest. Tantalizing references to the monsters of humanity’s past, chiefly destructive airships and killer biological agents, feel almost mythic as they fill readers’ imaginations with possible explanations for what exactly went wrong. Full of trepidation and mystery, Leech is perfect for readers who wished that Wuthering Heights had been just a little more like Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation

Hiron Ennes reveals the terrifying scientific theory that keeps them up at night.

Motherthing

Young adult author Ainslie Hogarth’s first novel for adults, Motherthing, opens in the waiting room of an intensive care unit, and it doesn’t get less stressful from there. Ralph and Abby Lamb have moved in with Ralph’s mother, Laura, to help care for her. Plagued by her rocky relationship with her own mother, Abby had hoped to kindle a better relationship with her mother-in-law but was instead met with distrust and cold condescension for being the woman who ‘took” Laura’s son from her. After Laura dies by suicide at the beginning of Motherthing, Abby thinks that her and Ralph’s obligation is over; they will sell the house and move away, free to start the perfect family that they deserve. But when Laura’s spirit begins to haunt the couple, driving Ralph into a pit of depression and tormenting Abby night after night, it is clear that Abby will have to dig deep if she is going to wrest the life of her dreams from the nightmare that her home life has become. 

Deeply dark and often funny, Motherthing explores the contours of what it means to be in a relationship with a mother (or mother-in-law) figure and the porous boundaries among grief, anger and the supernatural. Motherthing can be a difficult book to read on an emotional level, given Abby’s frustratingly optimistic “I can fix him/it/this” attitude, but its scares and surprises are well worth the discomfort it causes—as well as the sleepless nights it will engender. 

Lute

The eponymous island of Lute by Jennifer Thorne stands apart from the modern world. Even as war lingers on their doorstep and climate change and water shortages ravage the lands around them, the islanders are sheltered and seemingly immune to the turmoil. In exchange for these blessings, the island extracts a tithe: Every seven midsummers, exactly seven of the people of Lute die on what is referred to as “The Day.” Nina Treadway, a transplant to Lute and lady of the island by virtue of her marriage to Lord Hugh Treadway, doesn’t believe in the fairy tale, chalking it up to the superstitions of a quaint and isolated island. But as The Day dawns and brings a series of waking nightmares, Nina must accept her duties as the Lady of Lute in order to preserve the stability of the island she has come to love.

Part idyllic fantasy and part Final Destination, Lute asks a question that harks back to works like Ursula K. Le Guin’s ‘the Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”: What is the price of prosperity? While Lute’s citizens have willingly agreed to that price, it is steep and horrific. The novel’s pages are dotted with gore and loss, sure to pull on the heartstrings—and occasionally the stomachs—of even the most stoic of readers. However, despite the bloodshed and tension, Lute is a story of the creation of a haven away from the pressures of the modern world. More cynical readers might balk at the story’s hopeful tone and occasionally predictable plot turns. However, for those looking for a thriller replete with both terror and fantasy, Lute delivers in spades.

Led by Hiron Ennes' chilling debut novel, Leech, these thoughtful, well-crafted frights will scare you on multiple levels.

When the main characters in these two novels return to their hometowns after long absences, mysteries past and present collide.

Jackal

In Jackal, 30-something Black woman Liz Rocher reluctantly returns to her childhood home for the wedding of her longtime friend Melissa Parker. While she’s overjoyed at Mel’s newfound happiness and upcoming marriage, she’s less than enthusiastic about her return to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, a predominantly white town nestled in the Appalachian Mountains that immediately rekindles haunting memories.

Years ago, Keisha Woodson, one of Liz’s only Black friends, disappeared after a party in the woods. She was discovered dead, her heart ripped from her chest. Police were quick to close the book on the case, concluding that Keisha died from exposure and that her body was ravaged by a bear. But Liz has always had doubts. When Mel’s daughter, Caroline, also goes missing, Liz launches an investigation into the other Black children who have disappeared over the years. As suspicion, racial tension and even irrational fears of a legendary creature in the woods grow, Liz desperately tries to discover the truth and save Caroline before it’s too late.

In her debut novel, Erin E. Adams transcends the typical hometown mystery with an effective blend of social and supernatural terrors that build in intensity and mystique throughout. Liz’s first-person narration accentuates the emotional stakes of what’s happening in Johnstown, drawing readers in as they sympathize with her plight.

The Witch in the Well

Norwegian author Camilla Bruce’s The Witch in the Well revolves around popular spirituality influencer Elena Clover, whose return to her hometown (referred to only as F”) ignites a feud with her former childhood friend Cathy over their town’s local legend, the titular witch.

Cathy had been researching and blogging for years about Ilsbeth Clark, who was accused of being a witch, then arrested and tried for the deaths of numerous children in 1862. Ilsbeth was eventually acquitted, but believing the court made a mistake, the townsfolk threw her in the local well and drowned her.

Elena, who believes that each person has a voice in their head that can converse with their soul, is convinced that Ilsbeth is that voice for her. She returns to F” to write her next book about Ilsbeth, which prompts Cathy to exact a series of petty retaliations.

The book begins with an open letter to the community from Cathy, who contends that she has been wrongly implicated in Elena’s death. Bruce, who earned accolades for her previous thriller You Let Me In, expertly unravels the trio’s stories, jumping back and forth in time via Elena’s journal, Cathy’s blogs and Ilsbeth’s own archived accounts. The Witch in the Well is a compelling, creepy story of angst, obsessions and lost friendship.

In Erin E. Adams' Jackal and Camilla Bruce's The Witch in the Well, the places you know best are the ones that pose the greatest threat.
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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.

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