A wonderfully odd thriller that should delight anyone who has ever been bullied.

FABLE

In this fantasy, a teen’s attempts to pull his life together become complicated by the return of his supposedly imaginary—and murderous—childhood friend.

Neil Karp is a senior at Hawthorne High in Birch Creek, Michigan. After his father undergoes treatment for lung cancer, Neil decides to quit smoking. This worries his pot-loving friends Matt and Sam, especially the latter, who’s committed to the stoner life of driving a van and all but abandoned school for video games. When Sam buys a round of drugs from a nightclub dealer rather than local bully Russel “Shit Storm” Staubach, life becomes hellish for Neil and his friends. Staubach sells drugs from stock provided by 19-year-old Jason Noakes, whose family runs Birch Creek’s gangs. During a confrontation, Neil defends Sam by pushing Staubach against Noakes’ Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. Neil and company narrowly escape in the van and now must watch their backs for retaliation. The best part of Neil’s life is Lindsey McGuire, a cute violinist he’s finally found the courage to talk to. As he continues the high-wire act of dodging Noakes and courting Lindsey, Neil notices a strange presence on the periphery of his life. At a skate park one evening, he sees a dancing shape on a nearby rooftop. This is Frogmore, a tweed coat–wearing, talking frog whom Neil knew five years ago. Frogmore appeared when bullies attacked Neil at Rawlins Pond. The ostensibly imaginary friend killed the bullies, prompting Neil to take medication to heal from the trauma. Now Frogmore is back, just when Neil and his friends need protection.

James offers a fun, psychedelic thriller that’s steeped in classic rock and teen melodrama and styled after Stephen King’s Christine and Carrie. Fans may be surprised the story is set in the present. Many genuine, grounded moments revolve around 1980s cultural touchstones, as when Lindsey plays Van Halen’s “Ain’t Talking ’Bout Love” for Neil on her violin. The novel’s antagonists toss homophobic slurs around readily—making them retro and repulsive. James rounds out most of the cast well enough for the audience to worry when Frogmore starts killing people. Sam becomes exceptionally real to readers when he admits that he smokes because “I can’t turn my brain off.” Even Noakes garners sympathy as someone with a choice between continuing a violent life and buckling down to become a car mechanic. Frogmore, meanwhile, is a tantalizing plot element from the get-go. His mysterious origin spools out carefully, threading around a subplot involving a drug chemist named Hansen “Doctor Crankenstein” Hurst, who wants to “smash through this rigid bowl of reality” placed over humanity. Frogmore explains, “My kind” are travelers, “visiting different worlds on invisible safari,” which implies hunting. The creature does indeed toy with people, making certain deaths seem accidental while implicating Neil and even growing jealous of the teen’s human friends. The author’s descriptive prose delivers a gory finale, in which more than one victim is murdered by the frog’s “muscular cable-like tongue.” Hurst’s incredible drug, called Fable, burns up and blows across town in the finale, revealing the potential for a sequel.

A wonderfully odd thriller that should delight anyone who has ever been bullied.

Pub Date: Feb. 20, 2021

ISBN: 979-8-71-192925-3

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: March 25, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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A love letter to fans who will forgive (and even revel in) its excesses and indulgences.

MIDNIGHT SUN

From the Twilight series , Vol. 5

A long-awaited Twilight (2005) companion novel told from vampire Edward’s point of view.

Edward Cullen, a 104-year-old vampire (and eternal 17-year-old), finds his world turned upside down when new girl Bella Swan’s addictive scent drives a primal hunger, launching the classic story of vampire-meets-girl, vampire-wants-to-eat-girl, vampire-falls-in-love-with-girl. Edward’s broody inner monologue allows readers to follow every beat of his falling in love. The glacial pace and already familiar plot points mean that instead of surprise twists, characterization reigns. Meyer doesn’t shy away from making Edward far less sympathetic than Bella’s view of him (and his mind reading confirms that Bella’s view of him isn’t universal). Bella benefits from being seen without the curtain of self-deprecation from the original book, as Edward analyzes her every action for clues to her personality. The deeper, richer characterization of the leads comes at the expense of the secondary cast, who (with a few exceptions) alternate primarily along gender lines, between dimwitted buffoons and jealous mean girls. Once the vampiric threat from James’ storyline kicks off, vampire maneuvering and strategizing show off the interplay of the Cullens’ powers in a fresh way. After the action of the climax starts in earnest, though, it leans more into summary and monologue to get to the well-known ending. Aside from the Quileutes and the occasional background character, the cast defaults to White.

A love letter to fans who will forgive (and even revel in) its excesses and indulgences. (Paranormal romance. 12-adult)

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-70704-6

Page Count: 672

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Aug. 8, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

A BLIGHT OF BLACKWINGS

Book 2 of Hearne's latest fantasy trilogy, The Seven Kennings (A Plague of Giants, 2017), set in a multiracial world thrust into turmoil by an invasion of peculiar giants.

In this world, most races have their own particular magical endowment, or “kenning,” though there are downsides to trying to gain the magic (an excellent chance of being killed instead) and using it (rapid aging and death). Most recently discovered is the sixth kenning, whose beneficiaries can talk to and command animals. The story canters along, although with multiple first-person narrators, it's confusing at times. Some characters are familiar, others are new, most of them with their own problems to solve, all somehow caught up in the grand design. To escape her overbearing father and the unreasoning violence his kind represents, fire-giant Olet Kanek leads her followers into the far north, hoping to found a new city where the races and kennings can peacefully coexist. Joining Olet are young Abhinava Khose, discoverer of the sixth kenning, and, later, Koesha Gansu (kenning: air), captain of an all-female crew shipwrecked by deep-sea monsters. Elsewhere, Hanima, who commands hive insects, struggles to free her city from the iron grip of wealthy, callous merchant monarchists. Other threads focus on the Bone Giants, relentless invaders seeking the still-unknown seventh kenning, whose confidence that this can defeat the other six is deeply disturbing. Under Hearne's light touch, these elements mesh perfectly, presenting an inventive, eye-filling panorama; satisfying (and, where appropriate, well-resolved) plotlines; and tensions between the races and their kennings to supply much of the drama.

A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-345-54857-3

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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