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THE ANTIQUE

A gripping, if sometimes turgid, work of sinister speculative fiction.

A pair of sisters gets caught up in the centuries-old machinations of a Chinese witch in this debut horror fantasy.

Almost 2,000 years ago in China, a witch named Zi-Ling is wrongfully accused of the murder of a warlord’s son. Before she is burned, she curses the warlord and the onlookers in the crowd—as well as all of their descendants. Her ashes are divided into six magic boxes and spread throughout the various Chinese kingdoms. But the witch’s spirit remains and requests that her sister reunite the boxes of ashes so that she may be reincarnated. Over the course of the centuries, Zi-Ling—or the queen, as she styles herself—uses her influence from beyond the grave to track down all but two of the boxes, increasing her power and bringing her closer to a new life. The tale resumes in modern America, where Elise and Maria Wang are growing up in Seattle under their parents’ abusive discipline. The girls realize at a young age that they can read each other’s minds, but after a bizarre and traumatic incident that leads to the deaths of their parents, the two are separated and raised apart. Their unusual powers grow through their adolescence—perhaps because they are Blood Children, descendants of Zi-Ling’s family who are pure enough that she can possess them and force them to hunt for her ashes. Unfortunately for Elise and Maria, the queen—who often takes the form of a creepy old sewing machine—has decided that only one Blood Child can be allowed to live. Fang’s prose is textured and often unsettling, particularly when describing the necromantic powers wielded by the queen and her servants. Here, a homeless girl is targeted: “Something in her pushed her forward; that something inside of her skull was gnawing her at the root of her neck. Strange and unfamiliar voices pounded her head, and panic swelled inside. She pulled her hair, hoping the pain would stop the voices.” The novel takes a long time to get started, and there are a number of scenes and sections that could have been left on the cutting-room floor. That said, the author’s blend of Chinese folklore with modern horror makes for a compelling combination, and those looking for a high-stakes tale of magic and mayhem will likely walk away pleased.

A gripping, if sometimes turgid, work of sinister speculative fiction.

Pub Date: Oct. 29, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-69504-508-8

Page Count: 500

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Feb. 28, 2020

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HIDDEN PICTURES

It's almost enough to make a person believe in ghosts.

A disturbing household secret has far-reaching consequences in this dark, unusual ghost story.

Mallory Quinn, fresh out of rehab and recovering from a recent tragedy, has taken a job as a nanny for an affluent couple living in the upscale suburb of Spring Brook, New Jersey, when a series of strange events start to make her (and her employers) question her own sanity. Teddy, the precocious and shy 5-year-old boy she's charged with watching, seems to be haunted by a ghost who channels his body to draw pictures that are far too complex and well formed for such a young child. At first, these drawings are rather typical: rabbits, hot air balloons, trees. But then the illustrations take a dark turn, showcasing the details of a gruesome murder; the inclusion of the drawings, which start out as stick figures and grow increasingly more disturbing and sophisticated, brings the reader right into the story. With the help of an attractive young gardener and a psychic neighbor and using only the drawings as clues, Mallory must solve the mystery of the house's grizzly past before it's too late. Rekulak does a great job with character development: Mallory, who narrates in the first person, has an engaging voice; the Maxwells' slightly overbearing parenting style and passive-aggressive quips feel very familiar; and Teddy is so three-dimensional that he sometimes feels like a real child.

It's almost enough to make a person believe in ghosts.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-81934-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2022

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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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