A sublime tale that makes its alpine setting uncanny, terrifying, and captivating.

IN THIS DELICIOUS GARDEN

OR LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS

In this debut novel, a valley in France where tourists flock possesses a darkly bizarre history, including mysterious disappearances.

During Chamonix’s annual Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, American runner Cody spots several monkeys. As primates don’t typically live in France, he assumes he’s hallucinating. But Swede and fellow runner Harry “Nils” Nilsson has seen monkeys as well, and a local legend claims they were part of a plane crash in the Alps decades ago. When it later appears Cody has gone to verify the monkeys’ existence, Nils undertakes a treacherous climb to find him. Tourists to the alpine town, primarily skiers and climbers, sometimes vanish without much in the way of explanation. Some attribute these disappearances to animals kept by Eloise, an elderly local woman—creatures so frightening the townsfolk insist they wear bells so people can hear them when they’re close. But humans, too, can be menacing. Nicolas, for one, who’s spent many years in Chamonix as a pornographic filmmaker, ultimately develops such a disdain for tourists that he takes drastic measures. While locals are wary of outsiders, they may stand up for a family of Iraqi refugees when a political party is intent on pushing its anti-immigration policies. Divided by season into four parts, this novel assembles a colorful cast of characters. Though the spotlight continually shifts, there’s cohesion, as players consistently appear even when not the narrative focus. Pietras offers a smartly scripted tale that’s rich in historical significance, including a flashback to the World War II era, and discernible but nuanced themes, particularly an environmental message. The story’s surrealism stems predominantly from instances—generally hints—of the animals in the Alps. While some elucidation, like a potential origin for the monkeys, gears the story toward realism, it doesn’t make the creature encounters or periodic deaths any less unsettling.

A sublime tale that makes its alpine setting uncanny, terrifying, and captivating. (collage-style map, collages, author’s note, acknowledgements, list of sources, author bio)

Pub Date: March 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73444-660-9

Page Count: 330

Publisher: Mediastopheles LLC

Review Posted Online: April 28, 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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The World War II Hollywood setting is colorful, but it’s just a B picture.

MERCURY PICTURES PRESENTS

An ambitious young Italian woman makes her way among the émigrés of 1930s and ’40s Hollywood.

Maria Lagana has come to Los Angeles after her father is sentenced to confino—internal exile—for his anti-fascist advocacy in Mussolini’s Italy. Living with her mother in the Italian American neighborhood of Lincoln Heights—also home to a trio of no-nonsense great-aunts forever dressed in black—Maria finds work as a typist at Mercury Pictures International, working in the office of studio head Artie Feldman, a fast-talking showman with a collection of toupées for every occasion. In time, the letters from her father stop, and Maria becomes an associate producer, Artie’s trusted right hand, as well as the secret lover of Eddie Lu, a Chinese American actor relegated to roles as Japanese villains. When a young Italian immigrant turns up at her door introducing himself as Vincent Cortese, Maria’s past—and the mystery of what happened to her father—crashes into her present. Like the author’s earlier novels, the award-winning A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (2013) and The Tsar of Love and Techno (2015), this one builds a discrete world and shows how its denizens are shaped—often warped—by circumstance. But the Hollywood setting feels overfamiliar and the characters curiously uninvolving. While the prose frequently sings, there are also ripely overwritten passages: At a party, the “thunking heels of lindy-hopping couples dimpled the boozy air”; fireworks are described as a “molten asterisk in the heavens to which the body on the ground is a footnote.”

The World War II Hollywood setting is colorful, but it’s just a B picture.

Pub Date: July 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-451-49520-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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