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FINCHES

A surprising and insightful horror tale.

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A woman attempts to reclaim a haunted Malaysian house in this debut novella.

Grandmother Jah has returned to her former residence in a small village at the edge of Kuala Lumpur. It is the house she shared with her husband, Ghani, before she left him for taking a second, younger wife. She has returned only now that Ghani and the second wife are dead and the building stands empty. Jah is sure she can feel their continued presence—footsteps, breathing, even the sensation of being grabbed—but she merely curses them and demands that they leave the house to her. With the help of her granddaughter Khatijah and the girl’s boyfriend, Loong, Jah brings in a Buddhist nun and a Malay shaman to purify the house, but the spirits persist. Jah’s family wants her to forget the house and move on, but she insists on salvaging what she believes to be hers. As the story is told and retold from the perspectives of several characters—including Khatijah; her mother, Fatimah; her uncle Rahim; and Ghani himself—the haunting slowly comes into focus, along with the causes of Jah’s obstinacy. Can a broken home ever be cleared of its ghosts, or will the events of the past continue to haunt a place long after the participants have gone? Muffaz writes claustrophobic prose that draws attention to the story’s creepy details, as here where Rahim observes the trees outside the house that Jah has ordered him to chop down: “Rahim looked up at his father’s mango trees, each approaching twenty years old. The tallest trees soared above the house, with the smallest among them double his height and triple his girth. Fire ants blanketed the overripe fruit, so the mangoes appeared to bleed without spilling a drop.” The shifts in time and perspective add to the story’s unease, which is less interested in spooking readers than analyzing the deeper fault lines of the family’s drama. The author explains in her (mostly unnecessary) introduction that her goal was to explore the grief caused by Malaysia’s tolerance of polygamy, and the result is a captivating tale that should please fans of American gothic while introducing rich new elements.

A surprising and insightful horror tale.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-952283-16-1

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Vernacular Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

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FILTHY RICH FAE

A lush, sensual page-turner for fans of urban fantasy, folklore, and dark romance.

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In Lee’s paranormal romantic thriller, a young woman in New Orleans is plunged into a terrifying but intriguing underworld after striking a bargain for her brother’s life.

Twenty-four-year-old trauma nurse Cate Holloway’s life takes a dramatic turn when her 19-year-old brother, Channing, is rushed to the ER with a gunshot wound while she’s on duty.Even more shocking for Cate is the discovery that Channing is in debt to the notorious Gage crime family, who practically rule New Orleans. They distribute the street drug “clover,” pay off all the right people, and even own the hospital where Cate works. She resolves to keep Channing safe, and directly confronts crime boss Lachlan Gage at the lavish Avalon Hotel. Lachlan presents Cate with a bargain: trade her soul in exchange for her sibling’s. Cate accepts, even though she thinks the idea is ridiculous, and seals the deal by taking a bite of an apple Lachlan gives her. She’s then transported to a realm called the Otherworld, where she finds out that the Gages are fae royalty, and that getting out of a fae bargain is almost impossible. Now tethered to Lachlan, she has to figure out how to free herself; along the way, she must navigate fae politics between royal families, a blossoming friendship with Lachlan’s sister Ciara, and her own undeniable attraction to Lachlan himself, who just might be more than the monster she thinks he is. Lee’s skillfully written dark urban fantasy novel is infused with classic fae lore, humor (“So, you claim that you aren’t pixies or garden gnomes,” Cate muses), and meticulous worldbuilding. All the major characters, and especially the fiercely independent and capable Cate and the rakish yet family-oriented antagonist/love interest Lachlan, are well developed and compelling. The book’s richly detailed descriptions of clothing, architecture, and fae customs will immerse readers in the Otherworld and cause them to linger long after the final page. Readers may particularly enjoy the steady buildup of romantic tension and appreciate that the relationship resists problematic tropes, instead emphasizing consent and mutual respect.

A lush, sensual page-turner for fans of urban fantasy, folklore, and dark romance.

Pub Date: June 25, 2024

ISBN: 9781649375773

Page Count: 364

Publisher: Entangled: Amara

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2024

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LAYLA

A unique story of transcendent love.

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. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2020

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