Fiction, March 2020

salt slow by Julia Armfield

salt slow by Julia Armfield. October 8, 2019.Flatiron Books, 195 p. ISBN: 9781250224774.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

In her electrifying debut, Julia Armfield explores women’s experiences in contemporary society, mapped through their bodies. As urban dwellers’ sleeps become disassociated from them, like Peter Pan’s shadow, a city turns insomniac. A teenager entering puberty finds her body transforming in ways very different than her classmates’. As a popular band gathers momentum, the fangirls following their tour turn into something monstrous. After their parents remarry, two step-sisters, one a girl and one a wolf, develop a dangerously close bond. And in an apocalyptic landscape, a pregnant woman begins to realize that the creature in her belly is not what she expected.

Blending elements of horror, science fiction, mythology, and feminism, salt slow is an utterly original collection of short stories that are sure to dazzle and shock, heralding the arrival of a daring new voice.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Strong sexual themes; Violence

 

Reviews

Booklist (September 1, 2019 (Vol. 116, No. 1))
Armfield, winner of the White Review Short Story Prize, debuts a short-story collection that is both provocative and thrilling. A city is plagued with insomnia as Sleep disassociates itself and becomes its own ethereal entity. A teenager going through puberty finds her body changing in very unusual ways. A PhD student scavenges beautiful body parts of men to create the perfect male specimen for herself. A teenage girl gains a wolf as her new stepsister, and their bond grows dangerously close after the wolf-sister defends her from a persistent boy. As a woman in her thirties falls in love, her beloved becomes increasingly stiff and statuesque. A pregnant woman living during the time of the apocalypse realizes that the creature in her womb is not the child she expected. Armfield’s collection is exemplary as she pushes the limits of reality into beautifully eerie and unsettling worlds. She blends elements of horror, science fiction, mythology, and feminism in a way that is sure to shock and amaze readers of short fiction.

Kirkus Reviews (August 1, 2019)
Between man-eating insects, a fashionably dressed sister-wolf, and a hypnotic feminist girl band, Armfield leaves no supernatural stone unturned in this dazzling debut. Writing with an elegant and often poetic style, British author Armfield conjures nine uncanny worlds in her first short story collection. And while her tales are notable for their concepts, they don’t lack in substance, either. Behind each of her stories lie undercurrents of loss, metamorphosis, and the ever shifting nature of human relationships. The horror of her work comes not only from the eerie occurrences on each page, but also in the relatability of her characters and the connections a reader can draw between their situations and the absurdity of everyday life. In “Formerly Feral,” for example, an adolescent girl copes with her parents’ divorce, her father’s remarriage, and her own shifting identity as she faces school bullies and bonds with the newest member of her family—a wolf. “Smack” also deals with divorce but depicts the breakup of a marriage through the eyes of a wife holding on to her disintegrating relationship by locking herself—sans nutrition or power —in the beach house she and her husband once shared. Perhaps most extraordinary is “The Great Awake,” which captures the sleeplessness of city life and the bitter, competitive spirit that accompanies it. In this strange world, plagued by the “removal of the sleep-state from the body,” shadelike “Sleeps” step out of their human hosts while the tired people left behind reshape society to take advantage of the mass insomnia. The title story, meanwhile, follows a couple navigating both the salt waters that have flooded the Earth and their unspoken feelings about their future. While a story or two ends abruptly or doesn’t delve quite as deeply as the most spectacular in the collection, each piece is filled with magic, insight, and a rare level of creativity that mark Armfield as a fresh new voice of magical realism. Artistic and perceptive, Armfield’s debut explores the ebbs and flows of human connection in lives touched by the bizarre.

About the Author

Julia Armfield is a fiction writer and occasional playwright with a Masters in Victorian Art and Literature from Royal Holloway University. Her work has been published in The White Review, Lighthouse, Analog Magazine, Neon Magazine and The Stockholm Review. She was commended in the Moth Short Story Prize 2017 and won the White Review Short Story Prize with two of the stories in this collection. She lives in London, where she is at work on her debut novel.

Her website is https://www.juliaarmfield.co.uk/

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Fiction, January 2020

The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher

The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher. October 1, 2019. Saga Press, 399 p. ISBN: 9781534429574.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

When a young woman clears out her deceased grandmother’s home in rural North Carolina, she finds long-hidden secrets about a strange colony of beings in the woods in this chilling novel that reads like The Blair Witch Project meets The Andy Griffith Show.

When Mouse’s dad asks her to clean out her dead grandmother’s house, she says yes. After all, how bad could it be?

Answer: pretty bad. Grandma was a hoarder, and her house is stuffed with useless rubbish. That would be horrific enough, but there’s more—Mouse stumbles across her step-grandfather’s journal, which at first seems to be filled with nonsensical rants…until Mouse encounters some of the terrifying things he described for herself.

Alone in the woods with her dog, Mouse finds herself face to face with a series of impossible terrors—because sometimes the things that go bump in the night are real, and they’re looking for you. And if she doesn’t face them head on, she might not survive to tell the tale.

From Hugo Award–winning author Ursula Vernon, writing as T. Kingfisher, The Twisted Ones is a gripping, terrifying tale bound to keep you up all night—from both fear and anticipation of what happens next.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Cruelty to animals, Strong language, Violence

 

Video Review

Reviews

Booklist (September 15, 2019 (Vol. 116, No. 2))
Mouse goes to rural North Carolina to clean out her dead grandmother’s house, finding an unsettling, hoarder mess. Amidst the garbage, she finds her step-grandfather’s journal, which describes horrors in terrifying detail, and which Mouse and her dog also begin to experience. Told with a “found book” frame and an intense first person narration, this folk horror novel begins with the unease of Mouse telling readers how her life was forever tainted by the experience she is about to recount. The tale is as tightly twisted and menacing as the carvings she finds in the woods. Readers will stand back in awe as it all unravels, slowly at first, and then with great and terrifying speed. This is a modern retelling of Arthur Machen’s seminal weird fiction tale, “The White People,” a story that greatly influenced H.P. Lovecraft, but readers won’t need that context to enjoy The Twisted Ones. Kingfisher brings this brand of horror to a new generation, and the book will appeal to readers of Lovecraftian adaptations by Caitlin Keirnan, Matt Ruff, and Paul La Farge.

Kirkus Reviews (August 1, 2019)
A woman realizes she’s not alone while cleaning out her late grandmother’s remote North Carolina home. Freelance book editor Melissa, aka “Mouse,” can’t say no to her father when he asks her to clear out her grandmother’s house. Unfortunately, the house, which has been locked up for two years, is a hoarder’s paradise, but Mouse digs in with her beloved coonhound, Bongo, at her side. One day bleeds into another as she hauls junk to the nearby dump and makes friends with her kind and quirky neighbors, Foxy, Tomas, and Skip. When she finds a journal belonging to her stepgrandfather Frederick Cotgrave, things get creepy. The prose sounds like the ravings of a man unhappy in his marriage to a woman who wasn’t a very nice person, but the mention of something called the Green Book is intriguing, and the line “I twisted myself about like the twisted ones” gives Mouse the chills. While walking Bongo in the woods, Mouse stumbles on a strange gathering of stones on top of a hill that shouldn’t exist. After discovering a gruesome deer effigy hanging in the woods, Mouse confides in Foxy, who tells a few strange tales of her own. Something is lurking just outside Mouse’s house, and that effigy isn’t of this world, but just when she’s ready to leave, Bongo disappears. And Mouse isn’t going anywhere without Bongo. Kingfisher effortlessly entwines an atmospheric and spooky “deep dark woods” tale with ancient folklore and pulls off more than a few very effective scares. Mouse is a highly relatable and frequently funny narrator who is also refreshingly willing to believe her own eyes. The charming supporting cast is a bonus, especially the glamorous, 60-something Foxy, who goes above and beyond the call of duty to help Mouse when she needs it most. Read this one with the lights on.

About the Author

T. Kingfisher, also known as Ursula Vernon, is the author and illustrator of many projects, including the webcomic “Digger,” which won the Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story and the Mythopoeic Award. Her novelette “The Tomato Thief” won the Hugo Award for Best Novelette, and her short story “Jackalope Wives” won the Nebula Award for Best Story. She is also the author of the bestselling Dragonbreath, and the Hamster Princess series of books for children.

Her website is ursulavernon.com

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December 2019, Fiction

Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall

Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall. September 24, 2019. Viking, 402 p. ISBN: 9781984837011.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

In the faux-documentary style of The Blair Witch Project comes the campfire story of a missing girl, a vengeful ghost, and the girl who is determined to find her sister–at all costs.

Once a year, a road appears in the forest. And at the end of it, the ghost of Lucy Gallows beckons. Lucy’s game isn’t for the faint of heart. If you win, you escape with your life. But if you lose….

Sara’s sister disappeared one year ago–and only Sara knows where she is. Becca went to find the ghost of Lucy Gallows and is trapped on the road that leads to her. In the sleepy town of Briar Glen, Lucy’s road is nothing more than local lore. But Sara knows it’s real, and she’s going to find it.

When Sara and her skeptical friends meet in the forest to search for Becca, the mysterious road unfurls before them. All they have to do is walk down it. But the path to Lucy is not of this world, and it has its own rules. Every mistake summons new horrors. Vengeful spirits and broken, angry creatures are waiting for them to slip, and no one is guaranteed safe passage. The only certainty is this: the road has a toll and it will be paid.

Sara knows that if she steps onto the road, she might not come back. But Becca needs her.

And Lucy is waiting.

Potentially Sensitive Areas:Strong language, Violence, Mention of underage drinking, Mention of suicide, Domestic abuse

 

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (July 15, 2019)
What happened to Becca Donoghue? Sara Donoghue never believed the rumors that her sister, Becca, simply ran away from home with her boyfriend. Becca had been obsessed with Lucy Gallows, the ghost from the 1950s who allegedly haunts their town, and the mysterious road that Lucy traveled on before she disappeared. Before Becca vanished too, the last thing Sara overheard her say was “We know where the road is. We’ve got the keys. That’s all we need to find her. I’m not backing down now. Not after everything we’ve done to get this close.” As the one-year anniversary of Becca’s disappearance approaches, Sara becomes desperate to discover what happened and how it may be related to the real Lucy. The setup is slow and complicated, with many diverse characters, relationships, and supernatural rules. While normally something to be celebrated, this diverse cast feels forced and inauthentic, like moons orbiting the main white protagonist, Sara (Becca is Asian—her ethnicity is never specified—and adopted). When the plot eventually picks up its pace, the story becomes quite engrossing and cleverly moves between its many narrators, characters, and plot twists. If readers can move past the long-winded and complicated setup, they will enjoy this mashup of The X-Files and the The Blair Witch Project, but those seeking a handy conclusion will likely be disappointed. A mixed bag for patient older teens. (Mystery. 15-18)

Publishers Weekly (September 16, 2019)
Local legend holds that the nearby woods are home to the ghost of Lucy Gallows, who vanished decades ago outside Briar Glen, Mass. While searching for Lucy, Sara Donoghue’s sister, Becca, disappeared a year earlier. Now, mysterious texts point Sara and her friends on the same harrowing journey in hopes of finding Becca. Traveling a supernatural road through a deadly darkness, they enter a world filled with myriad terrors and dangers, where breaking the rules leads to a horrible fate. In this chilling tale, Marshall (I Am Still Alive) ties together regional folklore, urban legends, and ghost stories to craft an exquisitely unsettling dark fantasy. Framed as a series of post-incident interviews and supplemented with found camera footage, videos, and texts, this multilayered, unpredictable nail-biter reveals the truth one fragment at a time. The characters, including queer, racially diverse, and variously abled teens, are well-developed, amplifying readers’ engagement in the high stakes. The nightmarish setting, frequent surprises, and inherent ambiguity will appeal to fans of Seanan McGuire’s books. Ages 12-up.

About the Author

Kate Alice Marshall started writing before she could hold a pen properly, and never stopped. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with a chaotic menagerie of pets and family members, and ventures out in the summer to kayak and camp along Puget Sound. I Am Still Alive was her YA debut, followed by Rules for Vanishing.

Her website is katemarshallbooks.com.

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December 2019, Fiction

The Institute by Stephen King

The Institute by Stephen King. September 10, 2019. Scribner, 561 p. ISBN: 9781982110567.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

In the middle of the night, in a house on a quiet street in suburban Minneapolis, intruders silently murder Luke Ellis’s parents and load him into a black SUV. The operation takes less than two minutes. Luke will wake up at The Institute, in a room that looks just like his own, except there’s no window. And outside his door are other doors, behind which are other kids with special talents—telekinesis and telepathy—who got to this place the same way Luke did: Kalisha, Nick, George, Iris, and ten-year-old Avery Dixon. They are all in Front Half. Others, Luke learns, graduated to Back Half, “like the roach motel,” Kalisha says. “You check in, but you don’t check out.”

In this most sinister of institutions, the director, Mrs. Sigsby, and her staff are ruthlessly dedicated to extracting from these children the force of their extranormal gifts. There are no scruples here. If you go along, you get tokens for the vending machines. If you don’t, punishment is brutal. As each new victim disappears to Back Half, Luke becomes more and more desperate to get out and get help. But no one has ever escaped from the Institute.

As psychically terrifying as Firestarter, and with the spectacular kid power of ItThe Institute is Stephen King’s gut-wrenchingly dramatic story of good vs. evil in a world where the good guys don’t always win.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild sexual themes, Strong language, Suicide, Underage drinking, Underage smoking, Violence

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (August 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 22))
Over a prolific 40-year writing career most authors only dream about, King has turned almost every one of his novels into a bestseller on the strength of his ability to create sympathetic protagonists facing life-threatening and often otherworldly challenges. Following the tender and mysterious fable, Elevation (2018), King’s latest supernatural yarn stays true to his signature focus by featuring a 12-year-old genius named Luke Ellis who’s kidnapped and transported to a secret facility known simply as the Institute. As the shock of capture wears off, Luke discovers his fellow inmates are all other adolescents like himself with latent psychic powers—powers that are exploited and enhanced by a team of abusive researchers. When Luke befriends a disenchanted housekeeper, he quickly seizes the opportunity to escape and reveal the Institute’s undertakings to the outside world. King devotees will, of course, devour this latest suspenseful page-turner, but any reader looking for a smart thriller about an unusual black ops organization will find this compelling and rewarding. With his usual blend of plot twists and vividly drawn characters, King remains at the top of his game. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Abducted psychic teens, a black ops mission, and narrative magnetism ensure the usual King fever. Be prepared.

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2019)
The master of modern horror returns with a loose-knit parapsychological thriller that touches on territory previously explored in Firestarter and Carrie. Tim Jamieson is a man emphatically not in a hurry. As King’s (The Outsider, 2018, etc.) latest opens, he’s bargaining with a flight attendant to sell his seat on an overbooked run from Tampa to New York. His pockets full, he sticks out his thumb and winds up in the backwater South Carolina town of DuPray (should we hear echoes of “pray”? Or “depraved”?). Turns out he’s a decorated cop, good at his job and at reading others (“You ought to go see Doc Roper,” he tells a local. “There are pills that will brighten your attitude”). Shift the scene to Minneapolis, where young Luke Ellis, precociously brilliant, has been kidnapped by a crack extraction team, his parents brutally murdered so that it looks as if he did it. Luke is spirited off to Maine—this is King, so it’s got to be Maine—and a secret shadow-government lab where similarly conscripted paranormally blessed kids, psychokinetic and telepathic, are made to endure the Skinnerian pain-and-reward methods of the evil Mrs. Sigsby. How to bring the stories of Tim and Luke together? King has never minded detours into the unlikely, but for this one, disbelief must be extra-willingly suspended. In the end, their forces joined, the two and their redneck allies battle the sophisticated secret agents of The Institute in a bloodbath of flying bullets and beams of mental energy (“You’re in the south now, Annie had told these gunned-up interlopers. She had an idea they were about to find out just how true that was”). It’s not King at his best, but he plays on current themes of conspiracy theory, child abuse, the occult, and Deep State malevolence while getting in digs at the current occupant of the White House, to say nothing of shadowy evil masterminds with lisps. King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

About the Author

Stephen King is the author of more than sixty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. His recent work includes The InstituteElevationThe OutsiderSleeping Beauties (cowritten with his son Owen King), and the Bill Hodges trilogy: End of WatchFinders Keepers, and Mr. Mercedes (an Edgar Award winner for Best Novel and an AT&T Audience Network original television series). His novel 11/22/63 was named a top ten book of 2011 by The New York Times Book Review and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller. His epic works The Dark Tower and It are the basis for major motion pictures, with It now the highest grossing horror film of all time. He is the recipient of the 2018 PEN America Literary Service Award, the 2014 National Medal of Arts, and the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

He lives in Bangor, Maine, with his wife, novelist Tabitha King.  His website is www.stephenking.com.

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Fiction, November 2019

His Hideous Heart edited by Dahlia Adler

His Hideous Heart: 13 of Edgar Allan Poe’s Most Unsettling Tales Re-imagined edited by Dahlia Adler. September 10, 2019. Flatiron Books, 470 p. ISBN: 9781250302779.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Thirteen of YA’s most celebrated names reimagine Edgar Allan Poe’s most surprising, unsettling, and popular tales for a new generation.

Edgar Allan Poe may be a hundred and fifty years beyond this world, but the themes of his beloved works have much in common with modern young adult fiction. Whether the stories are familiar to readers or discovered for the first time, readers will revel in Edgar Allan Poe’s classic tales, and how they’ve been brought to life in 13 unique and unforgettable ways.

Contributors include Dahlia Adler (reimagining “Ligeia), Kendare Blake (“Metzengerstein”), Rin Chupeco (“The Murders in the Rue Morgue”), Lamar Giles (“The Oval Portrait”), Tessa Gratton (“Annabel Lee”), Tiffany D. Jackson (“The Cask of Amontillado”), Stephanie Kuehn (“The Tell-Tale Heart”), Emily Lloyd-Jones (“The Purloined Letter”), Amanda Lovelace (“The Raven”), Hillary Monahan (“The Masque of the Red Death”), Marieke Nijkamp (“Hop-Frog”), Caleb Roehrig (“The Pit and the Pendulum”), and Fran Wilde (“The Fall of the House of Usher”).

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Drugs, Strong language, Strong sexual themes, Underage drinking, Transphobia

 

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews starred (August 1, 2019)
A genre-bending collection of 13 twists on Edgar Allan Poe’s works. Editor Adler (contributor: It’s a Whole Spiel, 2019, etc.) does Poe proud with this creepy and atmospheric set of stories inspired by a handful of his most well-known works. All are well worth reading, but there are quite a few standouts, including Rin Chupeco’s (contributor: Hungry Hearts) ebullient “The Murders in the Rue Apartelle, Boracay,” in which an effervescent Filipina trans woman joins up with her dashing new half-French, half-Filipino boyfriend to solve the baffling murders of two American tourists on the island of Boracay. Lamar Giles’ (The Last Last-Day-of-Summer) unsettling “The Oval Filter” features African American football star Tariq, whose dead girlfriend’s distorted images appear on his phone—and they seem to be trying to tell him something. “The Fall of the Bank of Usher” by Fran Wilde (The Fire Opal Mechanism) is an adrenaline rush of a tale about assumed white orphans Rik and Mad, brother and sister twins, who must hack their way out of an intimidating Scottish bank for a life-changing prize—a challenge many before them have failed. Strong feminist themes appear throughout, and genres run the gamut from futuristic to gothic and lots in between. Diversity in race, gender identity, and sexuality is well represented. As a bonus, all of the original stories and poems are included. Poe’s ghost happily haunts this fresh, delightfully dark collection. (author bios) (Anthology. 14-adult)

Library Journal (September 1, 2019)
Thirteen of Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous works are reimagined by YA authors in this compilation of delightfully shivery tales with strong adult crossover appeal. Tessa Gratton’s “Night-Tide” reworks “Annabel Lee” in a story about family obligations and a lost love between two teen girls. Kendare Blake’s “She Rode a Horse of Fire” recounts an act of dark vengeance enacted by a ghostly woman to a callous young man. “Happy Days, Sweetheart,” by Stephanie Kuehn is a retelling of “The Tell-Tale Heart,” with a jealous high-school student as the guilty killer of her rival. In “The Oval Filter,” by Lamar Giles, a high school football player seeks the answer to who killed his crush, a social media influencer. This collection shines in getting readers to view Poe’s work in a new light, featuring characters from diverse ethnic backgrounds, queer protagonists, and other perspectives not represented in the earlier texts. Packaged in the book are the original stories, making comparisons between the old and the new works easy for readers. VERDICT A solid collection of thoroughly modernized Poe classics, recommended for YA shelves and classrooms or for die-hard Poe scholars.-Jennifer Mills, Shorewood-Troy Lib., IL

About the Editor

Dahlia Adler is an Associate Editor of Mathematics by day, a blogger for B&N Teens and LGBTQReads by night, and a writer of Contemporary YA and NA at every spare moment in between. She’s the author of the Daylight Falls duology, Just Visiting, the Radleigh University series, and Cool for the Summer (Wednesday Books, 2021); a contributor to anthologies All Out, The Radical Element, and It’s a Whole Spiel; the editor of the anthologies His Hideous Heart and That Way Madness Lies (2021).

She lives in New York with her husband, son, and overstuffed bookshelves. Her website is www.dahliaadler.com.

Teacher Resources

Collection of Edgar Allan Poe Lesson Plans

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Infographic

Each State’s Scariest Urban Legend — Infographic

The Creepiest Urban Legends in Each State

Everyone knows one:   The story that just makes you shiver.  The cautionary tale told to keep the kids (and some adults) away from some sketchy areas.  The creepy legend that had just enough reality to it to be totally convincing.  Urban legends are everywhere, and each one is as unique as the areas and communities they spring from.  Collected today are what are considered the scariest (or sometimes more obscure) urban legends from each state.  What are some of your favorites? [VIA]

Click image to enlarge
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