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THE PRIVILEGE OF THE HAPPY ENDING

S/M/L STORIES

A strange and glimmering jewel for any genre fiction collection.

Johnson plumbs great depths in her third short story collection, full of bittersweet tales of the fantastic.

This pleasingly varied anthology of fantasy and homage collects 14 works, many of which were previously published elsewhere, including the Nebula and Hugo Award finalist and World Fantasy Award–winning “The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe.” Johnson plays expansively with form, style, and subject matter, moving seamlessly from the dreamy second-person “Butterflies of Eastern Texas,” about a ticket-taker aboard an ever-shifting, never-ceasing train, to a charming and pitch-perfect addition to The Wind in the Willows canon, “The Ghastly Spectre of Toad Hall,” and the strange and informative “The Apartment Dweller’s Bestiary,” which uses a series of vignettes to catalogue over 20 fantastical pets and pests that renters may come across. Throughout, she addresses the reader directly about perception, mortality, and storytelling. (After the protagonist of “The Privilege of the Happy Ending” tells someone that her chicken can talk: “Did you think that Ada had lied to the boy to save Blanche? She is a very honest girl. Because no chicken has spoken within your hearing, do you assume none ever has?”) While the entries are uniformly excellent in pacing and prose, the standouts may be the collection’s opener and closer. “Tool-Using Mimics” spins out a half-dozen explanations for a vintage photo of a young girl with tentacles that lead to piercing questions about how much we can know about the past, other species, and each other. The titular novella, which also won a World Fantasy Award, is a compelling fairy tale about a little orphan girl and her talking hen that poignantly interrogates the ways we determine which stories take center stage.

A strange and glimmering jewel for any genre fiction collection.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2023

ISBN: 9781618732118

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Small Beer Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 25, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2023

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DEVOLUTION

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z(2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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FOURTH WING

From the Empyrean series , Vol. 1

Read this for the action-packed plot, not character development or worldbuilding.

On the orders of her mother, a woman goes to dragon-riding school.

Even though her mother is a general in Navarre’s army, 20-year-old Violet Sorrengail was raised by her father to follow his path as a scribe. After his death, though, Violet's mother shocks her by forcing her to enter the elite and deadly dragon rider academy at Basgiath War College. Most students die at the War College: during training sessions, at the hands of their classmates, or by the very dragons they hope to one day be paired with. From Day One, Violet is targeted by her classmates, some because they hate her mother, others because they think she’s too physically frail to succeed. She must survive a daily gauntlet of physical challenges and the deadly attacks of classmates, which she does with the help of secret knowledge handed down by her two older siblings, who'd been students there before her. Violet is at the mercy of the plot rather than being in charge of it, hurtling through one obstacle after another. As a result, the story is action-packed and fast-paced, but Violet is a strange mix of pure competence and total passivity, always managing to come out on the winning side. The book is categorized as romantasy, with Violet pulled between the comforting love she feels from her childhood best friend, Dain Aetos, and the incendiary attraction she feels for family enemy Xaden Riorson. However, the way Dain constantly undermines Violet's abilities and his lack of character development make this an unconvincing storyline. The plots and subplots aren’t well-integrated, with the first half purely focused on Violet’s training, followed by a brief detour for romance, and then a final focus on outside threats.

Read this for the action-packed plot, not character development or worldbuilding.

Pub Date: May 2, 2023

ISBN: 9781649374042

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Red Tower

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2024

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