A teenage love triangle is the catalyst for murder in this mystery set against the backdrop of the Adirondack wilderness.
Freed makes his stunning debut with a novel that is grand in scope but intimate in its execution. The story follows a trio of teenagers who meet in the tiny fictional community of Henoga Valley, deep within New York’s Adirondack Mountains. The two boys, John David and Jack, who have been friends since childhood, are both legendary local athletes. Their personalities, however, couldn’t be more different. John David is quiet and inclined to spend his free time hunting, hiking and exploring the vast wilderness. Jack, on the other hand, is gregarious and known equally for his intelligence and charm. Into their lives enters Emily, a precocious girl with few friends who captivates both boys. At the end of their senior year, Jack is found stabbed to death, and John David is identified as the chief suspect after he flees into the woods, setting in motion a course of events that will not be completely resolved for another 15 years. The setup may sound familiar, but Freed proves himself to be both a subtle observer of his characters and a deft manipulator of plot. In this compelling novel, readers will need to hang on until the last few pages to fully understand what has happened. But what really sets this debut apart is the way its rich setting entwines with the lives of its characters. Readers will feel like they’re walking through the dense, damp, impossibly lush Adirondack wilderness, as Freed joins a proud tradition of writers who have found an aspect of the American character reflected in the local landscape. Dialogue is occasionally a challenge for Freed, but the other elements are handled so carefully that readers likely won’t care if these teenage voices sometimes feel inauthentic.
A powerful, quintessentially American work from a debut writer whose skills extend far beyond his experience.
In Lee’s debut World War II thriller, a young agent infiltrates the Japanese atomic bomb program.
Mina Sakamoto, code-named Coral Hare, is no ordinary teenage girl. Born and raised in Honolulu, she learns medicine from her father, a doctor, and also becomes proficient in several languages. Her life is changed forever on Dec. 7, 1941, when Japan bombs Pearl Harbor and Mina’s beloved father is killed. As a skilled Japanese-American linguist, she’s uniquely suited to join the U.S. government’s Office of Strategic Services—first as a translator and later as a spy posing as a young nurse. After three years of fieldwork in Asia, Mina is already battle-hardened at the age of 17, but her greatest test is yet to come. Japan is making dangerous progress in its atomic bomb program, so Mina must travel behind enemy lines to Tokyo and mark an atomic facility for destruction. In the process, she encounters Col. Tetsuo Matsui of the Imperial Japanese Army, the man in charge of the program who’s also known as the Butcher of Bataan; she gains his eternal enmity by causing the firebombing of Tokyo. From Japan to northern Korea to Borneo, Mina witnesses horrifying violence and leaves a trail of bloody destruction as she races to stop Japan from building an A-bomb and dropping it on the United States. With her Japanese schoolgirl uniform, arsenal of weapons and exclamations such as “Aloha, bitches!,” Mina seems more suited to the graphic-novel or comic-book format; so do the secondary characters, as the good guys are all good, and the bad guys are all bad. However, even if this thriller seems a little too enamored of its own protagonist, it moves at a whirlwind pace. Every time it seems that Mina is about to catch a break and wrap up her adventures, another crisis sends her back out in the field, regardless of her life-threatening injuries. The story also delivers a submarine chase, a Tommy-gun–wielding priest and even a shark attack.
Four teens must cling to each other for survival when they find that their remote wilderness boarding school is actually a school for vampires who are all too eager to feast on their new classmates.
Jung Soo, Hector Campos, Kathy Campion-Swink and Lionel Worthington each have different reasons for accepting scholarships to the Sawtooth Wilderness Academy: Soo loves the mountains and hopes to improve her English; Hector is offered the school as an alternative to juvie; Kathy has run away from a slew of boarding schools, and her parents were reassured to hear the academy has never had a successful runaway; and Lionel, who dreams of joining the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, has been promised private violin instruction at the academy after cuts to arts funding and rejectionfrom the Chicago High School for the Arts left him without other routes to pursue his dreams. Little do they know that the academy is actually a school for vampires; it has recently become a public charter school in order to accept state funding. To keep its funding, however, the school must pass an inspection by the school board, demonstrating a certain level of diversity, which the student body is severely lacking—that’s where the scholarship students come in. While the faculty has taken measures to protect the new students during the weeks leading up to the inspection, that hardly makes them feel safe: The Satanic Legion’s strong presence in the school is dying to find a way around the rules, and the moody, unpredictable teenage vampires constantly drool over them as a convenient source of nutrition. While they quickly find allies among the students and faculty, the main characters know they must escape. But how? And who will get hurt in the process? Schechter (Murder in Millbrook, 2012) manages to explore complex questions about ethics, diversity and culture without proselytizing to readers or detracting from an absolutely riveting storyline that few YA authors beyond Neal Shusterman have pulled off. The slow, sophisticated narrative structure reflects Shusterman’s, using multiple points of view and a lot of patience to allow readers to form their own opinions about richly developed characters as the story unfolds. While fans of teen vampires will be delighted to find something different, teen dystopia and horror fans who turn their noses up at the genre should certainly make an exception for this smart, fun read from an up-and-coming YA author.
For once, the henchman gets to tell his origin story in this beautifully rendered graphic novel.
In comic books, every costumed villain bent on elaborate schemes, whether a jewelry heist or world domination, needs a few henchmen. It’s these bit players who drive the getaway cars and provide the muscle. Mike Fulton is an ordinary guy whose college football career was shattered along with his knee after a rough game. Trying to buckle down to a normal life, he marries, has a child and works a low-paying job, but he never stops missing the excitement of competition, cheering crowds and team spirit. Football was the only thing he was ever good at. As a linebacker whose mentality is “Just tell me what to do, and turn me loose,” Mike doesn’t know how to make things better. Then he meets Randy, another ex-athlete whose career was ended by injury, who asks him: “Have you ever considered henching?” Former football players are in demand: They have size, speed and can follow orders. And despite the huge risks, Mike has no better offers. After a successful heist, Mike is nabbed on another job and sent to prison. He promises his wife he’ll go straight, but when their son, Cory, needs expensive medical treatment, he gets back into the life. This choice will have tragic consequences that Mike eventually must face. Beechen (Batman Beyond: Batgirl Beyond, 2014, etc.), Bello (Dugout, 2008) and Beavers (Bad Weather!, 2014, etc.) have created an entertaining, thoughtful spin on the superhero comic, cleverly focusing on the kind of character always left in the background: “This is me,” read several helpful arrows pointing Mike out among a crowd. (This technique is used to excellent, increasingly poignant effect throughout.) Mike’s character is interestingly, realistically developed. Touches of humor and a well-informed understanding of the genre (several panels are hat tips to comic-book greats) help bolster the story. The artwork is strong, bold and dynamic while still providing fine details that help set the scene.
Gets beneath the mask and tights to humanize the henching life.
In Tate’s debut romantic thriller, the way out for a woman being obsessively pursued by dangerous men may lie in uncovering her mother’s mysterious past.
Now that Drulietta Van Hamilton has inherited her late father’s vast estate, she’s getting noticed by a number of men. That’s not a problem when the attention’s coming from Chad, a doctor just hired at the nearby hospital who falls for the young woman. But most of the men are either aggressive or outright menaces: Her cousin, Justin, believes he’s entitled to the estate, where he also resides; Chad’s father, Beckley, chases Dru when she refuses his advances; and marijuana traffickers kidnap her for ransom. Dru realizes that they’re enchanted by her since she’s the spitting image of her mother, Caroline, who died after giving birth to Dru and her now-dead twin sister, Drucilla. Dru delves into Caroline’s history to reveal why the infatuated men refer to both mother and daughter by a word she’s unfamiliar with—“Willoweens”—and why Dru’s son, Delamar, is in the same amount of jeopardy as his mom. Tate spins a wickedly fun web in establishing her plot, with gleefully intricate links among the characters; upon hearing that his mother knew Caroline, an already-smitten Chad hilariously expresses a fear that he and Dru are related. There are indelible and often spooky settings, including Dru’s estate, which is so huge that she’s unaware of men growing marijuana on her property. Instant romance arrives too, when Chad, who has only just declared his love for Dru, asks her uncle Mercurio about “making her pregnant.” The introduction of an enigmatic group called Friends in High Places adds intrigue—both its membership and its reasons for being invested in Dru are hazy—as does an apparent clairvoyance shared by Dru and Delamar; each knows when the other is in peril. The story suffers when it hits a lull in the book’s second act, almost as if it’s hovering over the same plot devices: multiple trips to the hospital due to threats or attacks; more than one kidnapping; and interminable discussions about Chad and Dru’s potential marriage and its inexorable consummation. But the third act puts the story back on track with suspense and plenty of chances for Dru to display her self-defense training, though her signature move seems to be kneeing men in “the delicate anatomy.”
A spirited, diverting thriller that’s marred only by some narrative repetition.
In this exquisitely stripped-down novel from Massachusetts attorney Behar (Hoops, 2002), a group of six over-the-hill lawyers swaps case stories over breakfast at the titular greasy spoon.
Every Sunday, Carpenter (the reader never learns his first name) meets fellow attorneys Delaney, Fish, Morton, Steinberg and Weiskoff for coffee, eggs and a sizable helping of good conversation at the same two tables pushed together near the front window of Ed’s Breakfast Emporium. Prickly proprietor Ed has dubbed the group of regulars the “Barristers,” while the men have affectionately adopted the name for their end-of-the-week ritual. Told through a series of vignettes, the novel limns a handful of these breakfasts over the course of five summers as the group discusses politics, the Red Sox and cases on which they have recently toiled—with names judiciously changed, of course. The cases discussed range from heartbreaking ones of broken families without happy endings to more unusual fare, including one involving two Wiccans, a love spell and a restraining order. While the cases may differ, the breakfasts play out with a careful repetitiveness that deliciously captures the routine of everyday life. Weiskoff is always good for an out-of-the-blue comment. Delaney hardly ever fails at steering the conversation back on track. Ed can be relied upon to drop in on the middle of a story, orders in hand, and inject a stinging dose of blue-collar criticism into the white-collar chitchat. It’s not hard to imagine running into these aging, overweight and admittedly unextraordinary characters in real life, yet they remain completely absorbing. Between the witty zingers and moments of lightheartedness, the Barristers each struggle with bouts of dissatisfaction, uncertain about their present lots in life, and readers can’t help but relate.
A poignant, delightful take on morality, friendship, growing older and the legal profession.
An uncommonly clearsighted collection of short fiction.
Though journalist Anderson is a first-time author, her sensitive and startlingly perceptive debut proves she’s on her way to being a master. With the grace of an adept eavesdropper, these 17 short stories slip quietly into the heartbreaks, disappointments and hopes of people living in Maine’s western valleys. Haunted by their choices and responsibilities, Anderson’s characters are working people—bartenders and welders, bakers and jewelry makers, hunters and taxidermists—all in search of meaning. In plainspoken but richly detailed prose, she captures the claustrophobia of small-town life, and in each story, her protagonists seem caught in the moment just before epiphany, looking through windows into what else might be possible. By rooting herself in objects and description, Anderson manages to navigate this interior landscape without veering too far into the sentimental. Of a character visiting a former home where her ex-husband still lives with his new wife, Anderson writes: “When Jeanine sits the groan of the springs is familiar. On one of the pillows is a long brown hair, Diane’s. Jeanine picks the strand up and studies it—no split end—then drops it.” In these small moments, Anderson’s gifts of attention and emotional precision are on shining display. Though the stories here all share a particular world and mood, Anderson also reveals impressive range: Her characters—of different genders, ages and dispositions—each have a distinct voice, and she writes confidently in first-, second- and third-person points of view. Though a few of her flash fiction pieces, such as “Dance Recital for the Men of the American Legion in April,” stand out, some of the shortest stories in the collection can feel anemic, if evocative. Still, Anderson excels at first lines—“Until Nina met Luke, it never occurred to her that people would have sex on a painting”—and there’s not a single story readers will be tempted to skip.
A triumphant, probing debut that promises both literary and mass appeal.
Kemp’s debut fantasy-thriller takes place in a world ruled by supernatural beings threatened by a looming horde of lost souls in the heart of Atlanta.
Seven years after the “supernaturals”took the world from the humans, Mutt, a half-breed—his mother’s a witch, his father's a werewolf—seems to prefer solitude. But he finds himself party to an imminent war between the surviving humans, many hiding behind the walls of Fort Buckhead, and the vampires, led by the queen, who’s upset that Mutt refused an offer to join her clan. Everyone, however, is menaced by Dead Town, an ever-expanding region of black magic from which most don’t return. The devastated lands—half the human population is gone—feel dystopian, and Kemp meticulously establishes this new world with searing details: a precarious truce between the supernaturals and humans; frequent orgies, for both indulgence and procreation; and complex villainy featuring Mutt’s vamp friend Darryl, who’s seemingly reluctant to partake in violence against humans, and a powerful wizard who holds no allegiances. Mutt may not be the most sympathetic protagonist (he’s isolated himself even from his family), but he’s certainly unique: He’s the only werepanther, at least in this book, and for guidance, he has a rare earth spirit: Ed, a talking cat. Mutt can also communicate with the ghosts that populate Dead Town. His exceptionality is why the vampires want to turn him and why he’s enlisted by the queen to find a way through Fort Buckhead’s hefty defenses and trace the wizard or witch who’s likely responsible forcreatingDead Town. Kemp fills his book with intense scenes, like the gripping battle with Mutt and his pseudo-girlfriend Celeste, and plenty of mystery, including the ominous and recurring phrase “The Black Phoenix shall rise again.” There’s humor too; it’s easy to forget that Ed’s a cat, until he laps up his vodka. Some questions in the story are left unanswered, though a sequel should resolve those issues.
An exquisitely detailed, fantastic realm of wizards, witches, vampires and werecreatures that’s begging for a series.
Miller, a Mexico-based American journalist, celebrates Africa in this compelling travel memoir.
While awaiting her flight to Nairobi, Miller found herself in close proximity to an explosion at Charles de Gaulle Airport. Shaken but remaining levelheaded, she later boarded a plane to begin her African adventure. The tempo of the memoir is thereby set: fast-paced, occasionally bordering on the urgent, yet always coolly informative. Miller writes that during her time spent away from Africa, she missed it as she might “a close friend or beloved relative”—a sentiment palpable throughout the memoir, as the continent and its diverse array of people are described in tender detail. The author’s journey takes her to Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The Nairobi men are “lean and long, with chiseled features,” whereas the Masai men, have “[d]eep-set eyes, [and a] penetrating gaze, yet soft and soulful.” This form of earnest portraiture captures the manner in which, as with the landscape, human physical characteristics change as the miles pass. The political landscape is also carefully considered, with a specific focus on the impact of colonialism and subsequent waves of tourism. The book’s true power lies in its ability to communicate the freedom and wonder of traversing through Africa’s wide-open spaces. Readers share in the amazement of seeing wild animals in their natural habitats and traveling under a “canopy of moon and stars.” The author describes spiritual aspects of the continent—for example, the legend of Nyami-Nymai, the river god of the Zambezi—yet this travelogue is also an intimate account of a deeply moving inner journey. Although Africa’s dangers are present, not central, the memoir has its thrills and spills, most notably a shipwreck in Zimbabwe. Focus is placed upon the positive impact the continent can have on the individual, which is helpful in debunking Western perceptions of Africa as merely perilous and politically unstable. Carefully researched and written with passion, the narrative buzzes with an energy drawn from the land itself.
Gille grabs a second chance at life by buying a home in San Miguel de Allende.
Gille had always fondly remembered San Miguel de Allende from a visit when she was 20. Fed up with her life in Seattle, where she had lost her retail business, she impulsively bought a second home in the idyllic Mexican hill town 28 years later, renewing a love affair with Mexico that she chronicles here with considerable literary flair. “[A]fter battling endless questions, depression, and guilt, San Miguel seemed like a second chance in life,” she recalls. Casa Chepitos—the name the author’s family gives to their “fairy-tale castle” with “breathtaking views”—sits on an alleyway in one of San Miguel’s less chic neighborhoods. Gille worried initially that she and her husband “might never really fit in. That we’d end up traversing the alley, barely acknowledged by the people we lived among. Like temporary guests on some exotic island.” But during her extended visits to San Miguel, she gradually befriended her neighbors and became part of their lives, hunting for bargains with them at the town’s huge open-air market or celebrating Mexican holidays such as the Day of the Dead and Independence Day. One elderly neighbor reminded her “of Mexico itself—ravaged yet beautiful, riddled with disease, bullied by a man with an oversized ego.” Gille takes a leaf out of such traveler-abroad books as A Year in Provence (1989) and Under the Tuscan Sun (1996), but her contribution to the genre comes alive with her sharply observed re-creations of local events, such as a baseball game in which her teenage son plays, and in her eye for detail: San Miguel’s walls are “drenched in the colors of exotic spices—nutmeg, turmeric, saffron.” To her credit, she also delves beneath the surface of Mexican life, exploring the gentrification of San Miguel and the flight of young Mexicans to the U.S. in search of an economic future. As a result of this exodus, the author observes, “a new subculture has emerged in Mexico: the hundreds of thousands of wives, mothers, and children who are left behind. They live in a state of limbo.”
A travelogue that comes alive with colorful detail.