An engaging and thoughtfully conceived finale to an impressive series.

TOTEM

STRONG HEART

In this gripping conclusion to Sheldon’s Strong Heart series, uncanny events occur after a mining operation is planned in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest.

In Strong Heart (2017), surly teen Sarah Cooley arrived on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula with a steadfast loathing of the “boonies” but gained a near-mystical connection with the wilderness. In this final book in the trilogy, Sarah, who’s now 14, is intent on returning to the peninsula at the very moment that Buckhorn Industries are about to begin extracting erbium, a trace mineral which the company claims can detoxify coal emissions. The mining operation will affect the lives of everyone on the peninsula, including William Williams, a Haida merchant sailor, who took center stage in Adrift (2018), the second book of the series, and his daughter Myra, a tribal archaeologist. The narrative also follows Victoria Oldsea, an environmental project manager at Buckhorn, and Carl Larsen, who, accompanied by his niece Laurie, is investigating the appearance of grisly elk kills in the vicinity. Sarah and her friends are intent on boycotting the mining operation, but when Victoria spots what appears to be a black saber-toothed tiger, it becomes clear that other, strange events are afoot. A terrible windstorm brings additional chaos, and as those on the peninsula begin to experience unnerving visions, the veil among reality, history, and the spirit world seems to grow gossamer thin. The series accelerates toward an exhilarating conclusion as Sarah strives to protect the beguiling landscape.

Readers who are familiar with Sheldon’s writing will already know that descriptions of backwoods hiking often form the backbone of his Strong Heart narratives. In this latest offering, he again succeeds in evoking a clear sense of walking in nature: “The trail was easy. We were on an old road, rising steadily, following the river. We crossed a bridge high over a creek, the water boiling from the snowmelt.” The complexity of the novel springs from the author’s deft handling of a broad range of psychologically distinct characters and the skillful synthesis of key thematic elements, such as environmentalism, spirituality, and elements of Indigenous history. The latter’s intersection inspires stirringly poetic passages that add welcome texture to Sheldon’s minimalist prose, which otherwise remains direct and unadorned in style: “The meadows were a rich red from the summer’s dying, flowers burning their spirit. We walked through fields of blood, passing groups of trees, ledges of rock, pockets of snow.” Newcomers to the series may struggle to get a fix on the various characters at first, but this book can still be effectively read as a stand-alone work. Those who have been impatiently awaiting a denouement to the series will enjoy the gratifyingly intricate route that the author follows as he employs new and familiar characters. Overall, Sheldon has written an undeniable page-turner that’s full of intrigue and peril, as well as an emotive love letter to the natural wonder of the Pacific Northwest and its people.

An engaging and thoughtfully conceived finale to an impressive series.

Pub Date: Oct. 29, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-99-848082-4

Page Count: 550

Publisher: Iron Twine Press

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2021

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A breezy and fun contemporary fantasy.

THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA

A tightly wound caseworker is pushed out of his comfort zone when he’s sent to observe a remote orphanage for magical children.

Linus Baker loves rules, which makes him perfectly suited for his job as a midlevel bureaucrat working for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, where he investigates orphanages for children who can do things like make objects float, who have tails or feathers, and even those who are young witches. Linus clings to the notion that his job is about saving children from cruel or dangerous homes, but really he’s a cog in a government machine that treats magical children as second-class citizens. When Extremely Upper Management sends for Linus, he learns that his next assignment is a mission to an island orphanage for especially dangerous kids. He is to stay on the island for a month and write reports for Extremely Upper Management, which warns him to be especially meticulous in his observations. When he reaches the island, he meets extraordinary kids like Talia the gnome, Theodore the wyvern, and Chauncey, an amorphous blob whose parentage is unknown. The proprietor of the orphanage is a strange but charming man named Arthur, who makes it clear to Linus that he will do anything in his power to give his charges a loving home on the island. As Linus spends more time with Arthur and the kids, he starts to question a world that would shun them for being different, and he even develops romantic feelings for Arthur. Lambda Literary Award–winning author Klune (The Art of Breathing, 2019, etc.) has a knack for creating endearing characters, and readers will grow to love Arthur and the orphans alongside Linus. Linus himself is a lovable protagonist despite his prickliness, and Klune aptly handles his evolving feelings and morals. The prose is a touch wooden in places, but fans of quirky fantasy will eat it up.

A breezy and fun contemporary fantasy.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21728-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

THE SWALLOWED MAN

A retelling of Pinocchio from Geppetto's point of view.

The novel purports to be the memoirs of Geppetto, a carpenter from the town of Collodi, written in the belly of a vast fish that has swallowed him. Fortunately for Geppetto, the fish has also engulfed a ship, and its supplies—fresh water, candles, hardtack, captain’s logbook, ink—are what keep the Swallowed Man going. (Collodi is, of course, the name of the author of the original Pinocchio.) A misfit whose loneliness is equaled only by his drive to make art, Geppetto scours his surroundings for supplies, crafting sculptures out of pieces of the ship’s wood, softened hardtack, mussel shells, and his own hair, half hoping and half fearing to create a companion once again that will come to life. He befriends a crab that lives all too briefly in his beard, then mourns when “she” dies. Alone in the dark, he broods over his past, reflecting on his strained relationship with his father and his harsh treatment of his own “son”—Pinocchio, the wooden puppet that somehow came to life. In true Carey fashion, the author illustrates the novel with his own images of his protagonist’s art: sketches of Pinocchio, of woodworking tools, of the women Geppetto loved; photos of driftwood, of tintypes, of a sculpted self-portrait with seaweed hair. For all its humor, the novel is dark and claustrophobic, and its true subject is the responsibilities of creators. Remembering the first time he heard of the sea monster that was to swallow him, Geppetto wonders if the monster is somehow connected to Pinocchio: “The unnatural child had so thrown the world off-balance that it must be righted at any cost, and perhaps the only thing with the power to right it was a gigantic sea monster, born—I began to suppose this—just after I cracked the world by making a wooden person.” Later, contemplating his self-portrait bust, Geppetto asks, “Monster of the deep. Am I, then, the monster? Do I nightmare myself?”

A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18887-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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