An impressive, complex horror tale—two (rotting) thumbs up.

FACE THE NIGHT

In this debut novel that fuses horror and supernatural mystery, a woman struggles to understand a recurring nightmare that has haunted her since childhood.

Set in the fictional town of Cellar, Ohio, in 1987, the story begins as Adriana Krause—an unemployed, single mother trying to make ends meet—is embroiled in a custody battle over her 3-year-old son, Dylan, with her estranged father, Bradley Krause. Bradley is the longtime mayor of the town. After a court judge decides that in order for Adriana to keep custody of her son, she needs to secure gainful employment in the next 30 days, her life goes from bad to worse. Dylan’s biological father, Eric—a drug addict who has had nothing to do with Adriana and her son for years—overdoses and dies on her couch while babysitting the boy as she attempts to get hired as a sketch artist for the local police department. Because of her uncanny ability to bring subjects to life on the sketch pad, she gets the job—barely—and befriends a rookie cop named Matthew Hinkley. The two are both outsiders of sorts and find common ground questioning the strange and seemingly unethical decisions coming from the mayor and the police chief. As Adriana fights to keep custody of her son, she becomes increasingly beleaguered with a dream that has haunted her for years. In the dream, she is underwater at the bottom of a lake when a rotting arm explodes from the sediment, grabs her, and begins pulling her down. When she sees the corpse’s face, it’s trying to tell her something. As her father becomes embroiled in a contentious mayoral race, Adriana and Matthew begin to piece together the clues that they’ve uncovered—some from his work with cold-case files and others from her evolving nightmare—and the conclusion they both come to is as shocking as it is gruesome.

This outstanding novel is reminiscent of early works by Stephen King and Peter Straub. Lastufka brilliantly uses subtle imagery and symbolism throughout to create a decidedly dark undertone that is simultaneously creepy and nostalgic. In the very first sequence, for example, Adriana tattoos a laughing, rotting skull onto the arm of her former boyfriend as ’80s tunes blare from the radio. The utilization of music from the era adds another layer to the narrative and creates a memorable soundtrack to Adriana’s story that includes Depeche Mode’s “Strangelove,” Prince’s “Little Red Corvette,” and Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” And, like the aforementioned horror luminaries, the author employs sensory descriptions masterfully, using them to fully immerse readers in the eerie atmospherics: “She listened. The water lapped gently at the shore, hundreds of branches creaked under the weight of the breeze, nearby frogs croaked at the moon, and there was a faint chiming. Adriana didn’t expect to find anything pleasant in this nightmare world, but the distant bell chimed continuously, monotone and somewhat soothing.” But, above all, it’s the surprisingly intricate plotline that powers this narrative. The wide-ranging characters—from Adriana’s neighbor’s deaf teen daughter to the courageous wife of the candidate running against Bradley—are like puzzle pieces, and with each new revelation, the grisly picture becomes clearer.

An impressive, complex horror tale—two (rotting) thumbs up.

Pub Date: March 8, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-73369-192-5

Page Count: 344

Publisher: Shortwave Media

Review Posted Online: Dec. 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2022

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A smart summer escape.

PORTRAIT OF AN UNKNOWN WOMAN

Silva’s latest Gabriel Allon novel is a bit of a throwback—in the best possible way.

One-time assassin and legendary spymaster Gabriel Allon has finally retired. After saying farewell to his friends and colleagues in Israel, he moves with his wife, Chiara, and their two young children to a piano nobile overlooking Venice’s Grand Canal. His plan is to return to the workshop where he learned to restore paintings as an employee—but only after he spends several weeks recovering from the bullet wound that left him dead for several minutes in The Cellist (2021). Of course, no one expects Gabriel to entirely withdraw from the field, and, sure enough, a call from his friend and occasional asset Julian Isherwood sends him racing around the globe on the trail of art forgers who are willing to kill to protect their extremely lucrative enterprise. Silva provides plenty of thrills and, as usual, offers a glimpse into the lifestyles of the outrageously wealthy. In the early books in this series, it was Gabriel’s work as an art restorer that set him apart from other action heroes, and his return to that world is the most rewarding part of this installment. It is true that, at this point in his storied career, Gabriel has become a nearly mythic figure. And Silva is counting on a lot of love—and willing suspension of disbelief—when Gabriel whips up four old master canvases that fool the world’s leading art experts as a lure for the syndicate selling fake paintings. That said, as Silva explains in an author’s note, the art market is rife with secrecy, subterfuge, and wishful thinking, in no small part because it is almost entirely unregulated. And, if anyone can crank out a Titian, a Tintoretto, a Gentileschi, and a Veronese in a matter of days, it’s Gabriel Allon. The author’s longtime fans may breathe a sigh of relief that this entry is relatively free of politics and the pandemic is nowhere in sight.

A smart summer escape.

Pub Date: July 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-283485-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Harper

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2022

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A unique story of transcendent love.

LAYLA

An aimless young musician meets the girl of his dreams only to have his newfound happiness threatened by several inexplicable—and possibly supernatural—events.

The story opens as Leeds Gabriel meets with a detective while his girlfriend, Layla, is restrained in a room one flight above them. Through the interview, readers learn that Leeds was wasting both his time and his musical talent playing backup for a small-town wedding troupe called Garrett’s Band when he spied Layla dancing her heart out to their mediocre music at a wedding. When Leeds approaches Layla, their connection is both instant and intense. A blissful courtship follows, but then Leeds makes the mistake of posting a picture of himself with Layla on social media. A former girlfriend–turned-stalker wastes no time in finding and attacking Layla. Layla spends months recovering in a hospital, and it seems the girl Leeds fell for might be forever changed. Gone is her special spark, her quirkiness, and the connection that had entranced Leeds months before. In a last-ditch effort to save their relationship, he brings Layla back to the bed-and-breakfast where they first met. When they get there, though, Leeds meets Willow, another guest, and finds himself drawn to her in spite of himself. As events unfold, it becomes clear that Willow will either be the key to saving Leeds’ relationship with Layla or the catalyst that finally extinguishes the last shreds of their epic romance. Told entirely from Leeds’ point of view, the author’s first foray into paranormal romance does not disappoint. Peppered with elements of mystery, psychological thriller, and contemporary romance, the novel explores questions about how quickly true love can develop, as well as the conflicts that can imperil even the strongest connections. Despite a limited cast of characters and very few setting changes, the narrative manages to remain both fast-paced and engaging. The conclusion leaves a few too many loose ends, but the chemistry between the characters and unexpected twists throughout make for a satisfying read.

A unique story of transcendent love.

Pub Date: Dec. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5420-0017-8

Page Count: 301

Publisher: Montlake Romance

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2020

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