In Snowball, an upcoming holiday horror/thriller from author Gregory Bastianelli, the ghosts of winters past come out to play when a group of weary travelers find themselves snowbound on Christmas Eve. The only problem is: the road they thought they were traveling has just taken them somewhere very different than they expected, and there are no gifts waiting on the other side of the blizzard for this unlucky caravan.
Bastianelli has assembled an ensemble cast of holiday commuters for his trip to holiday hell—including the quintessential executive, the freshly-engaged college couple, a single mom towing her kids, a trucker, an elderly couple in an RV, and more. Giving unique voices and winter torments to each traveler is something of a specialty for Bastianelli, who manages to create holiday torments that ring true for each passenger—and each reader.
The story’s shtick is in its title, Snowball, a process that starts from something small and builds upon itself, becoming graver through the inertia of its own momentum as it becomes disastrous. It’s a clever pun for the tale’s delicate if unrelenting tension-building arc, which not only connects all the seemingly unrelated travelers, but dooms them to share the same unfortunate fate as the weight of their past indiscretions bears down in an avalanche upon them all. Each of our travelers is on their way to the same frozen end, with some particularly chilling surprises in store for the naughtier on Bastianelli’s list. A word of warning to the reader: don’t get too cozy with any characters you meet on this journey home for the holidays—some don’t last, and most are not what they seem.
At times seeming to borrow heavily from recent holiday horror film Krampus, Snowball brings together contemporary interpretations of some of the darker folktales of the Yuletide, along with modern-day horrors and a sprinkling of Jack the Ripper-esque brutality to tie the festivities together. Whether it's the Scrooge and Marley-like strained (or, I could say, more precisely, chained) business relationship between a twisted toymaker and his former business partner, carnivorous snowmen, a certain birch switch-swishing, children-snatching beasty of legend, or the Iceman, a murderous, ice tong wielding madman, Bastianelli serves up the perfect holiday monster for every reader. (Frankly, there’s a couple travelers that this reader found a mite creepy, too.)
It’s all in good spirit, though, because what would Christmas be without a little bit of fun to brighten revelers’ appreciation of the season? For a holiday that comes only once a year, there’s no time to waste; the game is already afoot.
If you’re looking for something to keep you cozy on cold winter nights, then find something else to read because there are no warm holiday tidings to be found here. But, if you’d prefer to spend the darkest nights of the year shivering as you await the temps to rise and the sun to return, then this is the holiday horror you’ve been waiting for.
Written with the young reader in mind, meticulously researched and brilliantly crafted is Flowers in the Gutter, upcoming from K. R. Gaddy (Dutton Books for Young Readers, Penguin Random House), a story of heroism and resistance that will inspire readers to stand up and fight for what’s right.
Flowers in the Gutter tells the real-life story of Gertrude, Fritz, and Jean, three young people involved in a youth resistance group known as the Edelweiss Pirates, young people who not only resisted, but fought passionately against nationalism and prejudices in time of fascist violence in Nazi Germany. Told from alternating viewpoints, Gaddy takes us from the pre-school years through the war of each of the three persons named, illustrating both in words and in meaningfully curated historical photographs the tense and often horrific accounts of each of the pirates. (Tip: read the footnotes.)
For such heavy subject matter, Flowers in the Gutter (a title which pays homage to the edelweiss flower itself—the namesake of the pirates and a symbol of deep love and devotion due to the flower’s mountaintop location which required daring and potentially fatal climbs to attain, thus a fitting moniker for the young resisters) is a remarkably light read, engaging and eloquently penned. Gaddy displays an adept knowledge of German-language primary sources, including memoirs of the three main characters, as well as an inexpressibly vivid tongue for bringing the included photographs and other historical materials to life.
There is, likewise, an artfully crafted balance to this book; Gaddy deftly juxtaposes accounts of fights with the Hitler Youth, beatings at the hands of the Gestapo, and the horrors of bombed-out Cologne with mountainside merry-making, passion and loyalty, and the steadfast determination of the pirates to carry the torch for justice. Such excellent storytelling elevates Flowers in the Gutter from a narrative recount of the pirates’ history to a tale of their redemption—these young people remained branded as criminals decades after the war ended--and a beacon of inspiration to today’s youth. Flowers in the Gutter is not just a history lesson, but perhaps more aptly it is a mirror collapsed into paper—a powerful tool through which we see once again the import of resisting oppression, of holding tightly to our ideals, and of always, always, fighting for what is right.
Dream-like and lyrical, Creatures by debut author Crissy Van Meter is a story that ebbs and flows like the tide--delicate, inevitable, and mesmerizing.
On the eve of Evie’s wedding, a storm has washed a dead whale into the harbor of Winter Island, a fictional and feral island off the Southern Californian coast. While her fiancé may be lost at sea, the storm has brought home Evie’s long-wandering mother. This pivotal moment serves as the starting point for a story that weaves through past, present, and future, pulling the reader along effortlessly as we traverse Evie’s lifeline. We learn that she was raised a child of the island, a creature perhaps of circumstance rather than upbringing while her father peddled drugs to tourists on the island, and we watch as Evie struggles at every turn to reconcile the lush wildness of the island that is her home—and in all its glorious complexities—the lush wildness that is herself. In the end, the journey of the tale is as wholly beautiful and provocative as any single moment, making Van Meter’s debut a powerful exploration of the complexities of human emotion and the lengths a heart will go to in order to love.
Written to mimic the tidal charts she studies, Evie’s story is told through alternating timelines that some readers may find confusing, but is not without merit; this disorientation is a requisite component of the story and skillfully and intentionally written. Reading Creatures is sort of like floating underwater, where we lose sense of what is now and real and find ourselves immersed in a world that is boundless and fluid, but no less deadly. This intersection of fact and fiction is rather like life itself, where boundaries blur and we must craft our own version of the truth from cobbled together information and experience.
A debut that is anything but ordinary, Creatures is subtle yet intentional in its symbolic connection to elements of the natural world. Still, it’s just as deliberately a story of the uniquely human condition. The cyclical nature of Evie’s journey—from child to adult, and in various degrees of wholeness between—is profound. At times heart wrenching and still darkly funny, there is poignancy even in Evie’s exposure to childhood traumas, from a neglectful mother to a toxic if well-meaning father, a best friend that is equal loyal and betraying. Like Evie, we are given the opportunity to explore concepts of grief and forgiveness, as much as for the self as for those who have wronged us.
And that’s what this reader thinks sets Creatures apart: it’s a reminder that, like Evie, we are all lush and wild creatures, beholden as much to the world around us and all its lovely juxtapositions as we are doomed to the same inevitability as the whale that washed up in the harbor of Winter Island on the eve of her wedding.
We have all known a woman like Evie’s mother. We have all known a man like Evie’s father. We’ve all had a friend like Rook. We’ve all loved someone like Liam. They are all water, moving in and out of our lives, sometimes coming, sometimes going, but always leaving their mark on our hearts.
In the end, though we may not yet realize it, we’ve all been Evie and her whale. We have all been ravaged by the water. We tumble, we float, we drown, and we resurface.
On the eve of Evangeline’s wedding, a dead whale is trapped in the harbor of Winter Island, the groom may be lost at sea, and Evie’s mostly absent mother has shown up out of the blue. From there, in this mesmerizing, provocative debut, Evie remembers and reckons with her complicated upbringing in this lush, wild land off the coast of Southern California.
Evie grew up with her well-meaning but negligent father, surviving on the money he made dealing the island’s world-famous strain of marijuana, Winter Wonderland. Although he raised her with a deep respect for the elements, the sea, and the creatures living within it, he also left her to parent herself. With wit, love, and bracing ashes of anger, Creatures probes the complexities of love and abandonment, guilt and forgiveness, betrayal and grief—and the ways in which our ability to love can be threatened if we are not brave enough to conquer the past.
Lyrical, darkly funny, and ultimately cathartic, Creatures exerts a pull as strong as the tides.
The Havenwood Falls universe is expanding, this time with a whole new type of supernatural creatures: college students.
This semester launches the introduction of Sun & Moon Academy, a College of Supernatural Guardians that acts as an elite training program for a covert army charged with protecting the world’s supernatural community. Students are offered acceptance by invitation only, and after passing a series of grueling trials to test their worthiness, the top tier are admitted to the hidden college under the mountain. This semester ten students will find themselves “marked” in a series of personalized trials that require them to defeat monsters and mayhem that threaten to destroy campus before time runs out. This is not your typical classroom exercise either. The longer each marked student takes to succeed, the higher the body count grows.
The first collection in the new Sun & Moon Academy spinoff features ten paranormal tales from some of the Collective’s award-winning and bestselling authors, including Kristie Cook, Tish Thawer, Belinda Boring, Rose Garcia, Victoria Flynn, EJ Fechenda, Amy Richie, Victoria Escobar, and Justine Winter. In addition to the collection’s variety of authors, the diversity of supernatural creatures you can expect to find in attendance at SMA runs from vampires to shifters, to angels, and even Valkyries. The students themselves, when they're not practicing magic, include a host of new faces, familiar family names, and an inclusive student body that takes care to represent the diverse voices of a true university campus. SMA, with its Norse mythology flair and an under-mountain campus that makes Hogwarts Castle look plain by comparison, is truly a home for all furred, fanged, and feathery.
As with any collection, some stories are stronger than others, but all remain true to the unique voice of Havenwood Falls, proving again publisher and Universe-creator Kristie Cook’s unquestionable talent for collaborative world-building and visionary storytelling. Personal favorites in Sun & Moon Academy Book 1 include EJ Fechenda’s “Time to Live”, a story about a time-spinning witch who finds herself torn between the ghost of a boy she visits in a netherworld and her love interest in real time, and Rose Garcia’s “Chasing Time”, wherein Infiniti Clausman (a recent addition to Havenwood Falls High, the universe’s YA fantasy line) finds the power within herself to overcome her challenge.
Whether it’s a supernatural love-triangle you’re interested in or something a little darker, it’s impossible not to fall in love with these characters and their world. As for this reviewer, I’m still holding out for my Hogwarts letter, but if a wooden puzzle box with a star and moon etched on top shows up on my doorstep, I might trade in my wand and head to Havenwood Falls and Sun & Moon Academy instead.
Ten paranormal tales and one page-turning supernatural academy story in this spinoff from the award-winning Havenwood Falls universe.
The brand new Sun & Moon Academy College of Supernatural Guardians is an elite training program for a covert army that protects the supernatural community around the world. After a series of grueling trials to test their worthiness, only the top tier of applicants are admitted to the hidden college under the mountain.
We are ten of those students.
We’re a powerful mix of shifters, witches, vampires, demigods, angels, and more, making SMA no ordinary university. Throw in classes about healing potions, inter-dimensional exploration, and combat training, and college life here is a bit . . . well, unusual. But we still must juggle studying, obnoxious roommates, and killer parties. And, of course, we always make room for romance. How can we not? No other place in the world teems with such a sexy fusion of brains and badassery.
But classes haven’t even begun when our campus is terrorized, and the dangers continue throughout the semester—a hacker who threatens to publicly expose our school, a string of vampire attacks, invisible beasts with deadly bites, cursed classrooms that devour those who dare enter . . . What the hell kind of place is this, anyway?
For some reason that not even the Board of Regents has been able to figure out, it’s up to the ten of us to defeat these monsters and mayhem—before the sands in the big courtyard hourglass run out. Yep, we’re being timed, and the bodies are dropping almost as fast as the crystals. If any of us fail, this first semester of SMA just might be the last one ever.
In this unique anthology of over 750 pages, you not only get ten paranormal fantasy novellas, but one sweeping story that will have you flipping pages until the end. Learn more at http://havenwoodfalls.com/.
Today is release day for one of my favorite new YA novels by Liana Gardner: Speak No Evil. (If you missed my review, read it here.) To help celebrate the release of the book, I invited Liana to do a guest interview and tell us more about a story that reminds us all that silence does not equal consent, and that the truth, even (and perhaps especially) when it hurts, must be spoken. Speak No Evil is a powerful reminder to today's young women to speak up, speak out, and never lose their voice.
Dark, delicate, and masterfully written, Speak No Evil will make you cringe and cry in equal measure as it pulls your heart through the muck of humanity’s worst evils in every page before depositing you at the end feeling uplifted, empowered, and—most of all—grateful." - Seven Jane
Most authors would avoid such serious subject matter (such as abuse, abandonment, and sexual assault), but you've brought them front and center. What made you want to convey this story for a younger audience?
This is such a HUGE question. To be honest, my gut reaction is, “How can we not?”
So, I’m going to start by answering with some facts. Every 92 seconds another American experiences sexual assault. Every 9 minutes that person is a child. Over 60,000 cases of sexual child abuse are documented each year—and those are only the cases that have been reported. Of those cases, 67% of the victims are aged 12-18 and 34% under the age of 12. One in nine girls and one in 53 boys have experienced sexual assault. For every 1,000 cases reported, only 5 perpetrators will be incarcerated.
The majority of child sexual assault cases involve someone known to the victim; parents, siblings, other relatives, friends, teachers, etc. Most are authority figures. There are some commonalities to the occurrence:
By not talking about weighty topics such as abuse, abandonment, and sexual assault, we are perpetuating the isolation the perpetrators have created. We need books like Speak No Evil so those who have experienced or are experiencing these things know they are not alone. So they realize it is not their fault. And hopefully it gives them an opportunity to find their voice and speak out.
We need those who have not experienced the issues to know that they exist and can happen. And hopefully, they can be a better friend to those who have experienced, to be patient and listen to what the survivor has to say and to say those words the survivor most needs to hear--I believe you.
Because, bearing in mind the statistics, in a classroom of 30 students three or four have experienced or are experiencing sexual abuse. If we don’t provide a safe ground for talking about these matters, then who will?
There are those who will argue that the topics in this book will strip away some of the kids’ innocence. I’d rather provide a kid with the framework for awareness and a platform for discussing such heavy topics than have them find out their reality first hand. And please, let’s stop denying such things exist, negating the experience of so many, demeaning their self-worth.
Like Melody’s voice that could calm snakes, Gardner’s storytelling displays the same sort of sinister charm as she unravels Melody’s past to tell the story of her present. Speak No Evil is at once hypnotic, vaguely sinister, and decidedly beautiful, with sharp, poignant prose that handles the heaviest of issues with grace and delicacy." - Seven Jane
What gave you the idea to frame the story around a protagonist who won't speak?
Some stories come a little at a time, slowly building up the framework, while others burst into being almost fully formed. Speak No Evil was the latter kind. I didn’t decide to frame a story around a protagonist who doesn’t speak, it hit me like a lightning bolt.
On my way to work one morning, I had the radio on and an emotional song came on, and I had the idle thought, as I had many times before, that sometimes songs conveyed feelings better than we are able to say them. Then BAM! the story hit … I nearly had to pull over and probably would have if I had been able to. In the same moment, I felt very strongly the urge to speak, but knowing if I opened my mouth, nothing would come out. And more than anything, I knew I had to write this story and give Melody a voice.
How does the book's title relate to the deeper message?
The title immediately brings to mind the three wise monkeys and the message they convey of turning away from evil. But the underlying meaning is how society silences survivors. Do not speak of the evil that befell you because you will be blamed for allowing it to happen. We are so good at turning our heads away from evil, at pretending it doesn’t exist, that the automatic response is to wonder what the victim did to bring their fate crashing down around them.
We don’t want to face the truth; we don’t want to believe evil exists because if it does, and the victim did nothing wrong, then it could happen to me. Facing the truth means we all lose a little of our security—our feeling of safety.
What do you hope readers take away from your work?
Understanding. Empathy. Hope.
In many ways it depends on the reader. If the reader has not experienced the types of situations Melody has, then what I’d like them to take away is understanding and empathy for those who have. A recognition that it is not the fault of the victim, but that of the perpetrator.
For those who have experienced the abuse, I’d like them to recognize they are not to blame, it isn’t their fault, and they did nothing wrong. And if they have been rendered silent, my hope is that they can find a safe haven where they can find their voice and with it peace.
What was your biggest challenge when writing this piece?
Framing the story from the point of view of a main character who doesn’t speak. :) It would have been much easier to change point of views and give other characters a chance to share the story. But I wanted the reader to share in Melody’s experience right from the beginning, where the wall of silence is palpable. And if the character was non communicative, then I wanted to show that on the page, so felt that going into her thoughts was taking a liberty I shouldn’t. Of course, as she became comfortable and started opening up, I was able to go deeper into the skin of the character.
The other challenge I had to overcome is my deep and abiding fear of snakes. With her background of having been raised in a snake-handling church, the snakes were there throughout the story. So, I had to do my research and have watched more video than I’d care to say about snake-handling churches. One of the scenes deals with Melody caring for and nursing back to health a sick snake. It created an odd place in my head because I’m one of The only good snake is a dead snake. crowd, and the sympathetic feeling for the book snake was a weird thing.
Connect with Liana
Author Website: www.LianaGardner.com
Book Site: www.SpeakNoEvilNovel.com
Dark, delicate, and masterfully written, Speak No Evil will make you cringe and cry in equal measure as it pulls your heart through the muck of humanity’s worst evils in every page before depositing you at the end feeling uplifted, empowered, and—most of all—grateful.
Raised in a snake-handling church where indigenous belief systems mix with modern Christianity, Melody Fisher is a half Native American, quarter Scottish, and quarter black orphan. Before her parents’ deaths—one by accident and the other, arguably, by grief—her daddy caught and handled rattlers and other venomous serpents for the church where Melody sang with her parents. Melody’s voice is God’s gift and music is in her soul; she can even charm the snakes her father catches through her songs—a curious and seemingly divine feat considering snakes have no ears (at least not in the traditional sense). But Melody's voice is also her greatest burden, because when she asks her mama about the strange man she saw walking with her along the river, her mama is almost immediately struck down by one of her father's rattlers. From there, tragedy follows in the wake of Melody’s voice until, eventually, she stops speaking altogether.
After years in the system and a series of foster homes that have gone from bad to worse, Melody Fisher has lost her voice. At sixteen, she’s survived more trauma and tragedy that many people experience in a lifetime, and now she’s on trial for stabbing a classmate. But, even faced with losing her freedom, she cannot find the strength to speak after being silent for nearly two years. She can’t speak, because every time she has told the truth something terrible has happened. Now, Melody won't even use her voice to clear her name—or tell the truth about why she stuck a pair of scissors in Troy Alexander. Even so, music still lives in Melody’s soul, and with the help of her court-ordered therapist, she learns to communicate through a massive song library on a portable music player. Through the restorative power of song, Melody eventually finds her voice and speaks the truth that has weighed heavy in her heart.
Like Melody’s voice that could calm snakes, Gardner’s storytelling displays the same sort of sinister charm as she unravels Melody’s past to tell the story of her present. Speak No Evil is at once hypnotic, vaguely sinister, and decidedly beautiful, with sharp, poignant prose that handles the heaviest of issues with grace and delicacy.
The terrible tragedies and stifling trauma that Melody has experienced are enough to make the reader want to reach through the pages and gather the poor girl up in our collective arms. And, while younger readers should certainly be forewarned of weighty topics like grief, abuse, and rape that rear their rattles in this story, all are tactfully and mindfully done, proving Gardner’s ability to convey emotion and complexity without catering to shock and surprise. Likewise, Gardner’s technical execution is flawless as she alternates between multiple timelines to piece together Melody’s story, giving just enough information to keep the story moving without bogging itself down in exposition.
In fact, you might say that, like the music that lives in Melody, Speak No Evil is itself something of a song bound within the pages of a story. With powerful lyrics, perfectly paced prose, and artful cadence, Gardner gives voice to a character that has become disconnected from her own, while reminding us all that silence does not equal consent, and that the truth, even (and perhaps especially) when it hurts, must be spoken.
TRUTH IS THE HARBINGER OF HELL
What if every time you told the truth, evil followed?
My name is Melody Fisher. My daddy was a snake handler in Appalachia until Mama died. Though years have passed, I can still hear the rattle before the strike that took her from me.
And it’s all my fault.
Since then, I’ve been passed around from foster home to foster home. I didn’t think anything could be as bad as losing Mama.
I was wrong.
But I will not speak of things people have done to me. Every time I do, worse evil follows. Now, the only thing I trust is what saved me years ago. Back when I would sing the snakes calm ...
Inspired in part by true events, Death by the River by Alexandrea Weis and Lucas Astor [Vesuvian Books, October 2018] is the kind of skin-crawling, queasy-feeling-in-the-pit-of-your-stomach story that needs to be told and demands to be read.
Twin sisters Leslie and Dawn might share the same dirty blonde hair and blue eyes, but that’s where their similarities end. Leslie is sharp-tongued and quick-witted, dating a sweet boy named Derek from the other side of the tracks that her mother doesn’t approve of. Meanwhile, Dawn is living every small town, Southern girl’s dream: she’s head of the cheer squad and the girlfriend of the high school’s star quarterback—who also happens to be rich, handsome, and with a pedigree that has the whole town eating out of its palm. Unfortunately, all of Dawn’s dreams are about to come crashing down, because Beau Deveraux is not the catch of the generation. He’s a misogynistic, sadistic psychopath with some serious anger issues and a deep hatred of women—but that’s just the sort of thing his father has spent a lot of good money on keeping quiet.
Beau might be Dawn’s boyfriend, but it’s Leslie that is the object of his infatuation. When his plan to woo Leslie by keeping her sister close doesn’t go according to plan, Beau’s frustration finds temporarily—and increasingly violent—reprieve in punishing other women as stand-ins for the one girl “crazy enough” to not be interested (eye roll). Beau’s progression from manipulator, to rapist, to murderer is a journey through psychosis that begins with terrorizing his own mother and ends with more than one dead body floating in the Bogue Falaya River near the ruins of the abandoned St. Francis Seminary where high school students like to party on the weekends and where wild dogs—and a spectral lady in white—are said to only appear when death is near.
This story is, admittedly, not for the faint of heart. It's violent and comes with a trigger warning on sexual assault with scenes in the book that range from subtle verbal abuse to full-on rape. Nevertheless, Weis and Astor capture Deveraux’s deplorable misogyny and psychotic tendencies with a delicate grace that makes the story captivating while still coating you in that icky feeling that doesn’t wash off in the shower. The guy doesn’t have a single redeemable bone in his body, but that doesn’t make him an unrealistic antagonist. In fact, it might be just what makes him feel so damn familiar. Every woman has known a man like Beau Devereaux, and if you haven’t…well, it’s probably because you didn’t know you did. This reviewer certainly has, and everything from Beau’s subtle exploitations to his overt sexism ring painfully true.
Readers may not appreciate Beau’s increasingly erratic descent into madness or the fickleness of teenage fidelity—and there’s nothing about this story that makes it a heartwarming read—but that doesn’t stop Death by the River from being a book that every teenage girl should read. As Weis states in her endnote: Beau’s victims keep quiet for the same reason many young women do today—fear of reprisals, humiliation, peer pressure, and lack of trust in a system that largely ignores or blames them. While this truth doesn’t make Death By the River a pleasant read, it does make it an important one--the type of cautionary tale that keeps you alive by reminding you that sometimes the biggest horrors aren’t the monsters hiding under the bed or the ones that exist somewhere else in the world, but the ones hiding in plain sight. And the best way to beat them? Bring them out in the light and expose them.
Note: Death by the River contains extreme sexual violence and may be triggering. Read with caution.
Some truths are better kept secret.
Some secrets are better off dead.
Along the banks of the Bogue Falaya River, sits the abandoned St. Francis Seminary. Beneath a canopy of oaks, blocked from prying eyes, the teens of St. Benedict High gather here on Fridays. The rest of the week belongs to school and family—but weekends belong to the river.
And the river belongs to Beau Devereaux.
The only child of a powerful family, Beau can do no wrong. Handsome. Charming. Intelligent. The star quarterback of the football team. The “prince” of St. Benedict is the ultimate catch.
He is also a psychopath.
A dirty family secret buried for years, Beau’s evil grows unchecked. In the shadows of the ruined St. Francis Abbey, he commits unspeakable acts on his victims and ensures their silence with threats and intimidation. Senior year, Beau sets his sights on his girlfriend’s headstrong twin sister, Leslie, who hates him. Everything he wants but cannot have, she will be his ultimate prize.
As the victim toll mounts, it becomes crystal clear that someone has to stop Beau Devereaux.
And that someone will pay with their life.
For Sam Geisler, the titular character in Cassondra Windwalker’s new murder-mystery series, Sam Geisler: Murder Whisperer, the path to redemption is one forged through darkness. Preacher Sam, the first installment of Windwalker’s latest experiment in the beautiful, sometimes redeemable depravity of the human experience arrives from Black Spot Books in September 2019, and at one-part cozy murder mystery and one-part psychological thriller, well, the Preacher is ready to hear your confessions.
Sam Geisler used to be an upstanding member of his community—the town pastor, doting husband, supportive brother and uncle, and in possession of an ear you can’t help but whisper secrets into. But despite his good deeds, Sam was crippled by a seedy addiction that ultimately cost him the things he loved most, namely all the previous. Now, he’s starting over—jobless, on the verge of divorce from his estranged wife, and living an intentionally technology-free life as penance while he eeks out the days working in his sister Dan’s café/bookshop, being a stand-in for a father for his young nephew, and toiling away his--er—tensions in late-night gym sessions. But, out of all the punishments Sam is experiencing, perhaps the worst is that which he has imposed upon himself: a hefty dosing of guilt, both about what he cannot change and that which he failed to.
While Sam’s quest for redemption effectively and voluntarily ostracizes from his community, it nonetheless also pivots him into a critical—and somewhat blissfully removed from his previous obligations with the church—role when one of his former parishioners is suddenly arrested for the murder of another. Amanda has seemingly murdered her best friend, and she’s not interested in speaking to anyone about her role in Amy's death—not even her husband, her defense, her children, or even her new pastor. She is, however, willing to speak with Sam, though she even withholds the whole story from him, seeking not absolution but instead forgiveness for a crime it is obvious to everyone she didn’t commit. The only other person she's talked to from behind prison bars is, ironically, Clay, Amy's widowed husband, something that only fuels speculation about what really happened that night in the small fabric store that the two women had owned together. Amanda’s involvement in Amy’s murder is not the most scandalous part of the crime, though, it’s in the greater evil that she was trying to prevent—a ferreting out of darkness that, hopefully, will perhaps help Sam to find his own way to salvation, both in his eyes and everyone else’s.
If you’re ready for more Sam (and Dani, too) there’s a Geisler story called “Feeding the Dog” published in the Roanoke Review as well as another mention for Sam in Cassondra Windwalker’s contribution to the upcoming winter-themed Black Spot Books Anthology, A Midnight Clear (available November 5, 2019).
No one is more qualified to understand the blackest hearts than a disgraced, porn-addicted former preacher who is still in love with his estranged wife. Floundering for direction and beset by the needs of his well-meaning but aggravating atheist sister and her seven-year-old son, Sam Geisler is trying to put his past behind him when the murder of one of his former parishioners by another drags him back into the world he left behind.
Sam may not be Broadripple’s favorite son, but his peculiar gift for listening has earned him the moniker murderer-whisperer, and the police need his help on what should be an open-and-shut case. Fighting for his marriage, fighting with his sister, and fighting against his own demons, Sam may be the only one who hears what the real murderer is all but shouting—but will it be enough to drive back his own darkness?
When the end of the world is here, turn to a crow.
The Hollow Kingdom tells the story of a zombie apocalypse (think The Walking Dead, or, perhaps more aptly, 28 Days Later) from the perspective of those left behind—this time not of human survivors, but of animals—wild and domesticated alike—who once again have the chance to thrive…if they can survive the wake of what humanity has left behind. Narrated primary by S.T., a domesticated crow who’s simultaneously naïve about humans and in possession of a brutal sense of humor about them, in Kira Jane Buxton’s debut novel it is animals who are left to remind us about the beauty of a world without the (often disastrous) impact of mankind.
Set in Seattle, S.T. and his canine companion—a dosey bloodhound by the name of Dennis—must venture out into the wild unknown when their owner, Big Jim, succumbs to the technology-induced plague that has wiped out humans. Along the way, S.T. must accept and come to know the part of himself that he has long ignored—the fact that he is a wild-thing himself—and shake free the “clipped wings” of his life as a pet to find his place in a very different new world. Along the way, S.T., Dennis, and a series of pawed, clawed, and tentacled companions come to rediscover a much-changed Seattle, one where the natural order of things has broken free of humanity’s shackles: zoo animals bring the wild to pets who’ve escaped alive; the trees speak with renewed voices (“Life is not the same once you’ve learned just how deeply a tree can feel.”); and we witness firsthand both the glorious and the gory of what happens when Mother Nature is free to flourish without interference. “When the spirit of a species leaves us, it doesn’t go easily.” (The story is also speckled with Seattle landmarks, pop culture references, and some really interesting animal biases. Sorry, penguins.)
Buxton's story about the collapse of mankind—a consequence of our ongoing and generally unhealthy love affair with technology—though based around the extinction of man is not your average zombie story. It's less a story about the end of the world as we know it, as it is a call to liberate ourselves from our own domestication, much like that which S.T. and his companions face. It’s a critical look at the impact the human ego has had on the environment and the cost we’ll leave to future inhabitants, human or otherwise, to pay. And, it’s told from the perspective of a life force we’ve caged as wholly as we’ve caged ourselves, making it a poignant portrayal of the beauty we fail to see around us on an everyday basis as well as a stark glimpse of the future we are already carving out for ourselves.
For all its sharp edges and gritty no-punches-pulled humor, Hollow Kingdom is a remarkably tender story that manages to make you feel just a tiny jealous of the resilient cast of characters that have survived humanities apocalypse. It’s a magnum opus on environmental degradation, an expose on the impact of technological dependency, and—above all else—a testament to the bizarre and indelicate beauty of rewilding. (And, I would be remiss without adding, it is the single most beautiful ode to the infallible and unconditional companionship of dog I might have ever read.)
S.T., a domesticated crow, is a bird of simple pleasures: hanging out with his owner Big Jim, trading insults with Seattle's wild crows (those idiots), and enjoying the finest food humankind has to offer: Cheetos ®.
Then Big Jim's eyeball falls out of his head, and S.T. starts to feel like something isn't quite right. His most tried-and-true remedies--from beak-delivered beer to the slobbering affection of Big Jim's loyal but dim-witted dog, Dennis--fail to cure Big Jim's debilitating malady. S.T. is left with no choice but to abandon his old life and venture out into a wild and frightening new world with his trusty steed Dennis, where he discovers that the neighbors are devouring each other and the local wildlife is abuzz with rumors of dangerous new predators roaming Seattle. Humanity's extinction has seemingly arrived, and the only one determined to save it is a foul-mouthed crow whose knowledge of the world around him comes from his TV-watching education.
Hollow Kingdom is a humorous, big-hearted, and boundlessly beautiful romp through the apocalypse and the world that comes after, where even a cowardly crow can become a hero.
Simultaneously refreshing and deeply unsettling, The Night Weaver weaves together small-town horror with an intricate otherworldly fairytale to deliver a blend of horror and fantasy that captures the essence of young adult terror seasoned with the stuff of grown-up nightmares.
Children in Shadow Grove are going missing—spirited away into the forest by an unknown presence as if lured into the darkness by the Pied Piper himself. But that’s not the worst part. Nobody is looking for them—in fact, nobody seems to even acknowledge they’re missing at all. There’s no missing posters, no search parties, no frantic parents. This isn’t the first time something tragic has happened in Shadow Grove, either. The town's history is peppered with the strange and the horrific, from poisoned school lunches to devastating factory fires—all events that have been glossed over in the town’s history with startlingly bland recall. The only people who seem concerned about the newest calamity are the kids that have not yet been taken.
Rachel Cleary’s family, along with her neighbors the Crenchaws, harbor a clandestine, multigenerational obligation: to guard the perimeter of the forest at the edge of Shadow Grove, maintaining an uneasy peace with the magical beings who live in the forest. It’s not so much a matter about keeping things out of the forest but keeping other naughty nighttime beasties in. And for years, it’s worked—a delicate, if tenuous, balance has been more-or-less kept, even if the occasional shadow does slip through the bounds. But now it seems like something nastier than usual has made its--her-- way through the cracks: “There’s something wrong with the forest. It’s waking up.”
In addition to the recent slew of missing children, the adults of Shadow Grove are acting….very Stepford…but Rachel suspects there’s a deeper link to the strange events in Shadow Grove—and this new darkness is not only far from over, but it may be deep enough to swallow the town whole. With the help of her eccentric, elderly neighbor, a Scottish hottie, a childhood friend turned handsome socialite, and a super hot fae prince, Rachel discovers that the dark presence lurking around the edges of the forest of Shadow Grove belongs to the Night Weaver. Modeled off the Black Annis, a blue-faced, iron-clawed, child-gobbling bogeyman in English folklore, the Night Weaver doesn’t only prey upon the flesh of children, but on grief, fear, and pain—making her both the monster under the bed in a scared child’s bedroom and a fitting personification of the dark shadow that lives in the back of the mind of anyone who has experienced tragedy. If Rachel wants to save the missing children and the adults of her Shadow Grove, she’ll have accept that the small town she’s grown up in is anything other than normal, and that sometimes nothing is as it seems—and that the only way to find your way out of the darkness is to move toward the light.
Though at times the story moves perhaps a little too quickly and is not entirely free of YA tropes, The Night Weaver is nonetheless a well-laid dark fantasy and a clear entrance into a new series that will invite in a new generation of horror readers.
SHADOW GROVE IS A PERFECTLY PLEASANT TOWN...
Shadow Grove isn't a typical town. Bad things happen here. Children disappear, one after the other, and nobody is doing anything about it. Parents don't grieve, missing posters don't line the streets, and the sheriff seems unconcerned.
Seventeen-year-old Rachel Cleary lives on the outskirts of Shadow Grove, next to the creepy forest everyone pretends doesn't exist. Usually the forest is filled with an eerie calm, an unmistakable graveyard solemnity. But the trees have started whispering, forgotten creatures are stirring, and the nights feel darker than ever.
Something is stalking the residents of Shadow Grove, changing them into brain-dead caricatures of themselves. It's up to Rachel to stop the devouring of her hometown before all is destroyed and everyone she loves is forever lost.