A chilling book about an office’s trapped soul that doubles as a black-comedy horror story and a genuine cautionary tale.

Mentors & Monsters

In this debut novel, a demonic presence haunts—and manipulates—the employees of a California accounting firm.

The Bay Area Financial Firm is only a medium-sized accounting firm but can offer an accountant more experience in a year than any of San Francisco’s Big Four. Despite the poster claiming it was voted one of the “Top Places to Work,” the firm is a high-turnover environment that fosters savage competitiveness and workaholism. One night, the posh and enigmatic Han visits a manager named Dylan, who barks at his subordinates and possesses an unwrapped present for his daughter’s missed birthday. Han reminds Dylan that, because of stiff competition at the firm, it could be two years before he’s up for promotion to senior manager. Dylan slits his wrists. His body is found the next day by Jesus, a respected senior manager, and Nicole, a lowly associate. Dylan’s soul, however, wakes in the office, unable to escape the premises. Han, a demonic, shape-shifting, mostly invisible presence, tells him, “I'll give you two months to get me one soul.” Dylan doesn’t need to guess what Han wants with the soul—because the creature has already started eating him, eyes first. A fresh crop of associates, including Eve, Gloria, and Lucy, must navigate firm cutthroats, like the newly promoted Nicole, and survive the machinations of a dark being that delights in human misery. Alderete’s portrait of the firm reads like a workplace tell-all and all but demands a score card to keep track of the slippery alliances and petty betrayals. As someone tells Eve, “Life isn’t like high school. It’s high school that’s a preview of life.” The characters’ cattiness proves to be Alderete’s great strength, and lengthy conversations run the emotional gamut while detailing office gossip and accounting minutiae. Readers are occasionally treated to the libidinous demon’s antics (“Han brought Dylan closer to his face. He licked Dylan’s neck and nibbled on his chin”). By the end, readers see the very real—and frightening—effects that unchecked greed and ambition have on individuals.

A chilling book about an office’s trapped soul that doubles as a black-comedy horror story and a genuine cautionary tale.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 586

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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

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DEVOLUTION

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. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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