Family secrets bloom into nightmares in these skillful, chilling stories.

CARDIFF, BY THE SEA

Creeping dread and dark violence haunt parents and children in four novellas of suspense.

In her latest collection, the indefatigable Oates returns to the theme of parents and what they will—or won’t—do to protect their children. The title novella is the story of Clare Seidel, an art historian in her 30s. Adopted as a toddler, she’s never been curious about her birth family until, out of the blue, she receives a call from a lawyer in the (fictional) Maine town of Cardiff, informing her that a grandmother she’s never heard of has died and left her a bequest. Soon she has discovered an eccentric trio of living relatives as well as the terrifying story of her long-dead immediate family. But every answer she gets about her past only raises new questions, and dangers. In Miao Dao, 12-year-old Mia is having a rough year. After her parents divorce, her mother finds a new man who makes the girl uneasy. Mia is also disturbed by the physical changes that adolescence brings. Her only solace is a nearby colony of feral cats, from which she rescues a tiny white kitten with strange black eyes that might or might not be her savior. Phantomwise: 1972 is the story of Alyce, a bright but naïve college student. She becomes involved with both her ambitious young philosophy professor and her kindly, older writing professor, a famous poet who tells her she reminds him of the girl in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. When she becomes pregnant, she goes down a very bad rabbit hole. The literary allusion that haunts The Surviving Child is the life and death of poet Sylvia Plath. In Oates’ fictional take, the poet is N.K., a brilliant, successful, but troubled woman. The story takes place several years after the murder-suicide that killed N.K. and her toddler daughter but left her young son alive. Told from the point of view of Elisabeth, who becomes the second wife of N.K.’s formidable husband, it’s a twisted tale of toxic patriarchy.

Family secrets bloom into nightmares in these skillful, chilling stories.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8021-5799-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Mysterious Press

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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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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Enjoyable storytelling by two masters of the craft.

22 SECONDS

Lindsay Boxer faces a ton of trouble in the latest entry in Patterson and Paetro’s Women’s Murder Club series.

Senior crime reporter Cindy Thomas is writing a biography of Evan Burke, a notorious serial killer who sits in solitary confinement in San Quentin. She’s kidnapped by thugs wanting her to talk about her best friend, Lindsay Boxer, who’s an SFPD homicide detective and the story’s main character. San Francisco has a restrictive new gun law, and gun-totin’ folks everywhere have their boxer shorts in a twist. A national resistance movement has formed—Defenders of the Second—whose motto is “We will not comply.” They find it outrageous that the new law makes it illegal to own a gun that can kill 50 people with a single clip. Meanwhile, lots of bodies show up: A young girl disappears and is later found dead in a ditch, and ex-cops are found dead with their lips stapled shut and “You talk, you die” written on their foreheads. An inmate is found hanged in prison. And “a massive but unspecified load of military-style weaponry was en route from Mexico to the City by the Bay.” In a “frustrating, multipronged case,” there’s a harrowing shootout memorialized in a video showing “twenty-two of the scariest seconds” of Boxer’s life. She’s an appealing series hero with loving family and friends, but she may arrive at a crossroads where she has “to choose between my work and [my] baby girl.” The formulaic story has unmemorable writing, but it’s entertaining and well told. You probably won’t have to worry about the main characters, who have thus far survived 21 adventures. Except for the little girl, you can expect people to get what they deserve. It's relatively mild as crime novels go, but the women characters are serious, strong, and admirable.

Enjoyable storytelling by two masters of the craft.

Pub Date: May 2, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-49937-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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