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YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT

A book to keep you up at night.

A beautifully crafted exercise in terror from one of Germany’s most celebrated contemporary authors.

The unnamed narrator of this novella is a screenwriter trying to complete a sequel to his hit, Besties. In order to help him work, he and his wife retreat to a rental house in the mountains, taking their 4-year-old daughter with them. This is, of course, hardly a distraction-free environment. The notebook that is supposed to be devoted to his script is filled with more personal matter—good-natured grumbling about raising a small child, descriptions of the tensions within his marriage, and complaints about the difficulties he’s having figuring out what happens next for his characters. The parenting vignettes are funny: “Meanwhile Esther was telling us about a friend from preschool who is named either Lisi or Ilse or Else and either took a toy away from her or gave her one...; little kids are not good storytellers.” The conflicts between the narrator and his wife, Susanna, are less innocent, and they threaten to darken what should be an innocuous chick flick. Then the bad dreams begin, and it’s not long before the line between these night terrors and everyday reality begins to blur. This novel is, in many ways, a classic haunted-house tale. There are warnings about the house from the people in the village below. There’s a creeping sense of horror. There are frightening phenomena that the narrator cannot explain. And there are specters. Kehlmann (F, 2014, etc.) uses all these familiar tropes beautifully. But he also creates a sense of existential dread that transcends the typical ghost story. The relationship between the narrator and his daughter adds a level of anxiety; he has to protect her not just from the house, but also from knowledge of what’s happening. And Kehlmann deserves special notice for recognizing just how uncanny a baby monitor can be.

A book to keep you up at night.

Pub Date: June 13, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-101-87192-8

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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NINTH HOUSE

With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally...

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Yale’s secret societies hide a supernatural secret in this fantasy/murder mystery/school story.

Most Yale students get admitted through some combination of impressive academics, athletics, extracurriculars, family connections, and donations, or perhaps bribing the right coach. Not Galaxy “Alex” Stern. The protagonist of Bardugo’s (King of Scars, 2019, etc.) first novel for adults, a high school dropout and low-level drug dealer, Alex got in because she can see dead people. A Yale dean who's a member of Lethe, one of the college’s famously mysterious secret societies, offers Alex a free ride if she will use her spook-spotting abilities to help Lethe with its mission: overseeing the other secret societies’ occult rituals. In Bardugo’s universe, the “Ancient Eight” secret societies (Lethe is the eponymous Ninth House) are not just old boys’ breeding grounds for the CIA, CEOs, Supreme Court justices, and so on, as they are in ours; they’re wielders of actual magic. Skull and Bones performs prognostications by borrowing patients from the local hospital, cutting them open, and examining their entrails. St. Elmo’s specializes in weather magic, useful for commodities traders; Aurelian, in unbreakable contracts; Manuscript goes in for glamours, or “illusions and lies,” helpful to politicians and movie stars alike. And all these rituals attract ghosts. It’s Alex’s job to keep the supernatural forces from embarrassing the magical elite by releasing chaos into the community (all while trying desperately to keep her grades up). “Dealing with ghosts was like riding the subway: Do not make eye contact. Do not smile. Do not engage. Otherwise, you never know what might follow you home.” A townie’s murder sets in motion a taut plot full of drug deals, drunken assaults, corruption, and cover-ups. Loyalties stretch and snap. Under it all runs the deep, dark river of ambition and anxiety that at once powers and undermines the Yale experience. Alex may have more reason than most to feel like an imposter, but anyone who’s spent time around the golden children of the Ivy League will likely recognize her self-doubt.

With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally dazzling sequels.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-31307-2

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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A BLIGHT OF BLACKWINGS

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

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. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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