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It’s Friday and we are over at Kirkus! Today, Ana reads this delightful space opera by Megan E. O’Keefe:

It is soooooo good. Go over to Kirkus to read all about it!

The post Over at Kirkus: Velocity Weapon by Megan E. O’Keefe appeared first on The Book Smugglers.

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Title: An Absolutely Remarkable Thing

Author: Hank Green

Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Dutton
Publication date: September 2018
Hardcover: 352 pages

The Carls just appeared.

Roaming through New York City at three a.m., twenty-three-year-old April May stumbles across a giant sculpture. Delighted by its appearance and craftsmanship—like a ten-foot-tall Transformer wearing a suit of samurai armor—April and her friend, Andy, make a video with it, which Andy uploads to YouTube. The next day, April wakes up to a viral video and a new life. News quickly spreads that there are Carls in dozens of cities around the world—from Beijing to Buenos Aires—and April, as their first documentarian, finds herself at the center of an intense international media spotlight.

Seizing the opportunity to make her mark on the world, April now has to deal with the consequences her new particular brand of fame has on her relationships, her safety, and her own identity. And all eyes are on April to figure out not just what the Carls are, but what they want from us. 

Stand alone or series: Stand alone

How did I get this book: Borrowed

Format (e- or p-): audiobook

Review

It is (absolutely) remarkable how Hank Green’s debut flew under my radar last year. I wrongly assumed this novel was contemporary YA of the same type his brother John writes – and I never saw any reviews in my usual hangouts from my usual SFF people so, yeah. Then Renay read it and recommend it to me (we are going to discuss it for Fangirl Happy Hour soon) but it wasn’t until I effectively started listening to the audiobook that I realised that this was adult science fiction about alien robots featuring a bi woman protagonist.

Mea culpa, and all that.

All the more so because I (absolutely) adored it.

Bi artist April May her early twenties, working for a start-up doing a job she doesn’t really care about, in a relationship with Maya whom she just calls “her roommate” instead of her girlfriend.  One night April is on her way home from work when she stumbles upon something that will change her life forever: an enormous robot standing in the middle of Manhattan. She is immediately smitten by the sheer beauty of what she considers to be a work of artistry. Co-opting the help of her youtuber friend Andy, they make a video introducing “Carl” to the world – and the video goes viral after other “Carls” appear all over the world.

Things really change when it becomes clear that the Carls are aliens, that April is ground zero of First Contact and she suddenly becomes the voice of a movement that believes the Carls are a good thing for the world. The Carls are trying to communicate via puzzling messages that are sent through shared dreams – codes that need to be cracked but only if the entire world comes together to share the pieces of the puzzle.

And April is at the centre of it all.  

This book is a cool mixture of puzzle-solving, personal story and world-changing events.

What strikes me the most about it though is the choice of having this particular type of protagonist because April? Not exactly a super great person. She is kinda of a jerk, she is flawed, full of contradictions, she well and truly fucks up on numerous occasions. She loves AND hates all the attention and fame she receives – especially in a world that mirrors our own in terms of how social media shapes the lives of people. There is good in it, but there is also bad and there is certainly the ugly too and at different times April embodies all of these possibilities.  

Despite all that there is something about April that is so earnest and just so human that makes her somehow relatable. She is someone who walks a fine line and who often even crosses the line. She lacks a sense of self-awareness at times but the other characters all call her out on her mistakes and bullshitting and because of that I was left with the impression that, rather than simply giving up on her, we are supposed to root for her to make her way into being a better person. It is just really a novel about having faith in humanity I guess – in believing the best in people. Or at least in those who are redeemable (no nazis allowed). It’s a book full of hope even as it’s showing some of the worst of humankind.  

And there is something absolutely cool – and remarkable – about that.       

Rating: 8 – Excellent

The post Book Review: An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green appeared first on The Book Smugglers.

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The Book Smugglers by The Book Smugglers - 1w ago

On The Smugglers’ Radar” is a feature for books that have caught our eye: books we have heard of via other bloggers, directly from publishers, and/or from our regular incursions into the Amazon jungle. Thus, the Smugglers’ Radar was born. Because we want far more books than we can possibly buy or review (what else is new?), we thought we would make the Smugglers’ Radar into a weekly feature – so YOU can tell us which books you have on your radar as well!

On Ana’s Radar:

It’s been such a long time since a book by Neesha Meminger came out and then I heard there is one in the works. I was delighted to hear the news:

Anji is holding on to big secrets. When she begins to spiral into a scary depression, she realizes she will need to do something drastic to bring herself out of it. With the help of a guidance counselor at school, Anji starts working through what, exactly, led her to the desperate feelings she’s now drowning in. She joins a group of other girls who’ve been through experiences of sexual assault and violence, and learns to face her secrets with the help of the girls and a caring group leader. Together, they help one another heal old wounds through art, creativity, mobilizing for social justice, and learning to trust again.

I never got around to reading Rebel Seoul and now there is a companion novel coming soon that looks just as awesome:

Warcross meets Final Fantasy in this companion novel to Rebel Seoul, in which a young telepath joins a rebel group on a secret mission to end a decades-long world war.

Neo Beijing, 2201.
To escape the ghosts of her past, eighteen-year-old telepath Ama works by day in a bakery and cafe, and moonlights as a lounge singer in a smoky bar at night. She’s anonymous, she’s safe from the never-ending world war, and that’s how she’d like to stay. But then a resistance group called PHNX recruits her to help save young girls from a government experiment exactly like the one she fled. Soon, Ama is traveling with the resistance on a series of dangerous missions, using her telepathic and telekinetic powers to infiltrate authoritarian Alliance operations and gain intelligence for the democratic resistance.
As they move closer and closer to the warfront, Ama hears about a brilliant new commander rising in the ranks of the Alliance, a young man rumored to have no fear of death. Her unit is assigned to dismantle his operation from the inside. But when Ama sees the commander for the first time, she discovers his identity: Alex Kim, the boy who once broke her heart.
The plan is for Ama to use her telepathic abilities to fool everyone and pose as an officer in Alex’s elite guard. But as the final battle approaches, she struggles with her mission and her feelings for Alex. Will she be able to carry out her task? Or will she give up everything for Alex again–only to be betrayed once more?
Part heist novel, part love story, Rogue Heart will appeal to fans of Marie Lu’s Warcross and Marissa Meyer’s Renegades.

Alternating between past and present, Phoebe struggles to unravel the mystery of the Rust Maidens—and her own unwitting role in the transformations—before she loses everything she’s held dear: her home, her best friend, and even perhaps her own body.

The new book from Sarah Lotz sounds fantastic too:

Reclusive bookseller Shaun Ryan has always believed that his uncle Teddy died in a car accident twenty years ago. Then he learns the truth: Teddy fled his home in Catholic, deeply conservative County Wicklow, Ireland, for New York and hasn’t been heard from since. None of Shaun’s relatives will reveal why they lied about his uncle’s death or why they want Shaun to leave the whole affair alone.

But Shaun has a burning need to find out the truth. His search is unsuccessful until he’s contacted by Chris Guzman, a woman who runs a website dedicated to matching missing-persons cases with unidentified bodies. Chris and her team of cold-case obsessives suspect that Shaun is looking for the “Boy in the Dress,” one victim in a series of gay men murdered by the same killer.

But who are these internet fanatics really, and how do they know so much about a case that has stumped police for decades? Soon armchair sleuths and professional investigators are on a collision course with a sadistic serial killer who’s gotten away with his crimes for far too long—and now they’re in his sights.

This book, about characters escaping from books into the real world sounds like a hoot:

For his entire life, Charley Sutherland has concealed a magical ability he can’t quite control: he can bring characters from books into the real world. His older brother, Rob — a young lawyer with a normal house, a normal fiancee, and an utterly normal life — hopes that this strange family secret will disappear with disuse, and he will be discharged from his life’s duty of protecting Charley and the real world from each other. But then, literary characters start causing trouble in their city, making threats about destroying the world… and for once, it isn’t Charley’s doing.

There’s someone else who shares his powers. It’s up to Charley and a reluctant Rob to stop them, before these characters tear apart the fabric of reality.

On Thea’s Radar:

Let’s talk about awesome ARCs in the mail, shall we? First up on the list:

In the early 1900s, a young woman embarks on a fantastical journey of self-discovery after finding a mysterious book in this captivating and lyrical debut.

In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.

Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.

Lush and richly imagined, a tale of impossible journeys, unforgettable love, and the enduring power of stories awaits in Alix E. Harrow’s spellbinding debut–step inside and discover its magic.

Early praise for The Ten Thousand Doors of January:

“Many worlds, vanishing doors, mind-cracking magic: I clung to each page, searching for answers. This is one of the most unique works of fiction I’ve ever read!” –Tamora Pierce, New York Times bestselling author

“A gorgeous, aching love letter to stories, storytellers and the doors they lead us through…absolutely enchanting.” — Christina Henry, national bestselling author of Lost Boys and Alice

“With lush writing and a sense of wonder, The Ten Thousand Doors of January examines power, progress, and identity. It is an adventure in the best and grandest sense.” –Erika Swyler, national bestselling author of The Book of Speculation

I also just received a final copy of this book, that is being compared to The Stand (which, ok, big comparison but I’m excited):

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Title: With the Fire on High

Author: Elizabeth Acevedo

Genre: Contemporary YA

Publisher: Harper Teen
Publication date: May 7 2019
Hardcover: 400 pages

With her daughter to care for and her abuela to help support, high school senior Emoni Santiago has to make the tough decisions, and do what must be done. The one place she can let her responsibilities go is in the kitchen, where she adds a little something magical to everything she cooks, turning her food into straight-up goodness. Still, she knows she doesn’t have enough time for her school’s new culinary arts class, doesn’t have the money for the class’s trip to Spain — and shouldn’t still be dreaming of someday working in a real kitchen. But even with all the rules she has for her life — and all the rules everyone expects her to play by — once Emoni starts cooking, her only real choice is to let her talent break free.

Stand alone or series: Stand alone

How did I get this book: Borrowed

Format (e- or p-): audiobook

Review

The whole of me is whole.

With the Fire on High was not on my radar at all until a video interview with Elizabeth Acevedo showed up in my timeline on Twitter. In it, the author talks about the book, about addressing the stigma of Latinx teen pregnancy and what happens after a teen has decided to keep a baby. I started reading the book that same day. And I loved it.   

Emoni Santiago is the teen mom of two year old Emma – a child she brings up with the help of her abuela, who brought Emoni up after her mom died in childbirth and her dad moved back to Puerto Rico. Emma’s father is in the picture taking Emma away during weekend visitations but mostly it’s Emoni, Emma and abuela struggling to make ends meet. Emoni is also a high school senior with a decision to make about her future.  Should she go to college in order to become a chef, with all the financial implications this means?     

Emoni loves food and the description of her cooking, of her pleasure and delight when cooking, of her knowledge about food are nearly as magical as her food is described to be. Her love for cooking, for creating dishes shine through.

And sometimes focusing on what you can control is the only way to lessen the pang in your chest when you think about the things you can’t.

It’s not all roses though – Emoni and abuela do struggle for money and when an opportunity at culinary arts class arise for Emoni to travel to Sevilla for a week with the course, she has to do everything she can to raise the money to go. But there is Emoni’s acumen and the support of her community to account for and this is another thing I loved about the book: the sense of community, of caring adults and teens working together. In her own age group, Emoni has a delightful best friend and a budding romantic relationship with new boy in town. Speaking of boys, it’s so great to read about Black teens boys who are depicted as caring, responsible, nurturing. Even Emoni’s father, someone who left her behind as a baby, is shown as a complex character with his own difficult choices made. This character has a strong sense of community, of social responsibility and of history which often clashes with his personal responsibilities as a son, as a father and as a grandfather and those clashes are given the importance they deserve within the story, in the relationship with is daughter and how it has morphed over the years. The chapters are  short, to be point and sometimes the point is a dagger to the heart in the best possible way.      

With the Fire on High gives us an Afro Puerto Rican teen who gets to be a foodie and a chef, who gets to travel, who gets to be lucky. It shows a hopeful scenario for everything life can, should be: not without struggles but with enough support, structure and nurture that anything can be accomplished. I loved it for what it is: a beautiful, poetic, remarkably drama-free portrayal of a teen mother growing into her own.

Rating: 9 – Damn Near Perfect

Two asides:

I listed to the audiobook, narrated by the author herself and it was brilliant. Highly, highly recommended.

Also recommended: another book, similar in topic, about a teen who gets pregnant: Belly Up by Eva Darrows.

Refreshingly free of drama and pretty much all characters are laid back, awesome queer teens. There is a strong sense of found family on this one as well as a core super-supportive family of women – the main character’s mother and grandmother. This one follows the main character as she gets pregnant, decides to keep the baby and throughout her pregnancy.

The post Book Review: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo appeared first on The Book Smugglers.

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The Book Smugglers by The Book Smugglers - 2w ago

On The Smugglers’ Radar” is a feature for books that have caught our eye: books we have heard of via other bloggers, directly from publishers, and/or from our regular incursions into the Amazon jungle. Thus, the Smugglers’ Radar was born. Because we want far more books than we can possibly buy or review (what else is new?), we thought we would make the Smugglers’ Radar into a weekly feature – so YOU can tell us which books you have on your radar as well!

On Ana’s Radar:

I loved The Epic Crush of Genie Lo which I read earlier this year and can’t wait for the sequel, The Iron Will of Genie Lo

Genie Lo thought she was busy last year, juggling her academic career with protecting the Bay Area from demons. But now, as the Heaven-appointed Guardian of California, she’s responsible for the well-being of all yaoguai and spirits on Earth. Even the ones who interrupt her long-weekend visit to a prestigious college, bearing terrible news about a cosmos-threatening force of destruction in a nearby alternate dimension.

The goddess Guanyin and Genie’s boyfriend, Quentin Sun Wukong, do their best to help, but it’s really the Jade Emperor who’s supposed to handle crises of this magnitude. Unfortunately for Genie and the rest of existence, he’s gone AWOL. Fed up with the Jade Emperor’s negligence, Genie spots an opportunity to change the system for the better by undertaking a quest that spans multiple planes of reality along with an adventuring party of quarrelsome Chinese gods. But when faced with true danger, Genie and her friends realize that what will save the universe this time isn’t strength, but sacrifice.

I can’t remember who was talking about this book on Twitter but the moment I saw it, I bought it. This cover! The premise! The author!

Something’s happening to the girls on Denton Street.

It’s the summer of 1980 in Cleveland, Ohio, and Phoebe Shaw and her best friend Jacqueline have just graduated high school, only to confront an ugly, uncertain future. Across the city, abandoned factories populate the skyline; meanwhile at the shore, one strong spark, and the Cuyahoga River might catch fire. But none of that compares to what’s happening in their own west side neighborhood. The girls Phoebe and Jacqueline have grown up with are changing. It starts with footprints of dark water on the sidewalk. Then, one by one, the girls’ bodies wither away, their fingernails turning to broken glass, and their bones exposed like corroded metal beneath their flesh.

As rumors spread about the grotesque transformations, soon everyone from nosy tourists to clinic doctors and government men start arriving on Denton Street, eager to catch sight of “the Rust Maidens” in metamorphosis. But even with all the onlookers, nobody can explain what’s happening or why—except perhaps the Rust Maidens themselves. Whispering in secret, they know more than they’re telling, and Phoebe realizes her former friends are quietly preparing for something that will tear their neighborhood apart.

Alternating between past and present, Phoebe struggles to unravel the mystery of the Rust Maidens—and her own unwitting role in the transformations—before she loses everything she’s held dear: her home, her best friend, and even perhaps her own body.

I also saw this one on Twitter and everything about it screams READ ME

Pet is here to hunt a monster. Are you brave enough to look?  


There are no monsters anymore, or so the children in the city of Lucille are taught. Jam and her best friend, Redemption, have grown up with this lesson all their life. But when Jam meets Pet, a creature made of horns and colors and claws, who emerges from one of her mother’s paintings and a drop of Jam’s blood, she must reconsider what she’s been told. Pet has come to hunt a monster—and the shadow of something grim lurks in Redemption’s house. Jam must fight not only to protect her best friend, but also uncover the truth, and the answer to the question—How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist? 

In their riveting and timely young adult debut, acclaimed novelist Akwaeke Emezi asks difficult questions about what choices you can make when the society around you is in denial.

I am here for this retelling of the myth of Orpheus with two girls:

Abandoned by a single mother she never knew, 16-year-old Raya—obsessed with ancient myths—lives with her grandmother in a small conservative Texas town. For years Raya has hidden her feelings for her best friend and true love, Sarah. When the two are caught in an intimate moment, they are sent to Friendly Saviors: a re-education camp meant to “fix” them and make them heterosexual. Upon arrival Raya vows to assume the mythic role of Orpheus to save them both and to return them to the world of the living, at any cost. 

In a haunting voice reminiscent of Sylvia Plath, with the contemporary lyricism of David Levithan, Orpheus Girl is a mythic story of dysfunctional families, first love, heartbreak—and the fierce adolescent resilience that has the power to triumph over darkness and ignorance.

I saw a video with the author of With the Fire on High about changing the perceptions on teen pregnancies and I got intrigued. And the cover looks great too:

With her daughter to care for and her abuela to help support, high school senior Emoni Santiago has to make the tough decisions, and do what must be done. The one place she can let her responsibilities go is in the kitchen, where she adds a little something magical to everything she cooks, turning her food into straight-up goodness. Still, she knows she doesn’t have enough time for her school’s new culinary arts class, doesn’t have the money for the class’s trip to Spain — and shouldn’t still be dreaming of someday working in a real kitchen. But even with all the rules she has for her life — and all the rules everyone expects her to play by — once Emoni starts cooking, her only real choice is to let her talent break free. 

On Thea’s Radar:

First up, a courtesan turned sorcerer story:

A ragtag crew with forbidden magic must pull off an elaborate heist and stop a civil war..

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It’s Friday and we are over at Kirkus with a review of Sarah Gailey’s novel Magic for Liars

Go over to Kirkus for the full scoop.

The post Over at Kirkus: Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey appeared first on The Book Smugglers.

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We are over at Kirkus today for our regular column! It’s Thea’s turn today, getting into the spirit of BookExpo and BookCon with a list of most coveted science fiction and fantasy titles at the show. (OK, so the shows are over, but it doesn’t change the awesomeness of theses books!)

Head over to Kirkus to get the full list.

The post Over at Kirkus: SFF Titles from BookExpo/BookCon 2019 appeared first on The Book Smugglers.

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Title: Unraveling

Author: Karen Lord

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Daw Books
Publication date: June 4 2019
Hardcover: 304 pages

Dr. Miranda Ecouvo, forensic therapist of the City, just helped put a serial killer behind bars. But she soon discovers that her investigation into seven unusual murders is not yet complete. A near-death experience throws her out of time and into a realm of labyrinths and spirits. There, she encounters brothers Chance and the Trickster, who have an otherworldly interest in the seemingly mundane crimes from her files.

It appears the true mastermind behind the murders is still on the loose, chasing a myth to achieve immortality. Together, Miranda, Chance, and the Trickster must travel through conjured mazes, following threads of memory to locate the shadowy killer. As they journey deeper, they discover even more questions that will take pain and patience to answer. What is the price of power? Where is the path to redemption? And how can they stop the man–or monster–who would kill the innocent to live forever? 

Stand alone or series: Stand alone

How did I get this book: Review copy from publisher

Format (e- or p-): ebook

Review

As she walks back home from work one night, forensic therapist Miranda Ecouvo is startled by her own doppelganger walking beside her just as a bus is about to hit her (them?). Plucked out of this near-fatal accident, Miranda is thrust into a dream-like outworld of mazes of time and memory where she needs to confront some truths about a serial case murder she thought had been wrapped up. Under the tutelage of immortal-turned-mortal brothers Chance and the Trickster, Miranda learns the person who has been arrested was not working alone and there is a mastermind behind it all, someone whose goal is to achieve immortality. When she wakes up into her own world again, Miranda is in hospital, recovering from an accident she doesn’t remember, ailing from lingering wounds that will be with her forever, and with only a faint memory of the dream-like experience she just had.      

But impossibly, a spider talks to her, there is the deep knowledge of the truth behind the murders nag at her and so, the maze continues. There is nothing else to do but to solve the case, consequences be damned.

A fantastical  stand-alone murder mystery with a time travelling element, the latest – and highly anticipated – novel from award-winning author Karen Lord is an intricate maze-like narrative that mirrors the mazes of memory and time that exist in the novel. The authorial choice of allowing the reader be – just like Miranda herself – disoriented by being thrust into a story that feels like it’s half way its own unraveling is a bold one. And even if at times, this reader did feel confused and bewildered, the disentanglement of the narrative ultimately pays off.

Beyond the brilliant construction of narrative, the storyline is one that takes upon itself to address multiple topics. One of them is the power inequality both between mortals and immortals but also within the mortal world. A privileged Miranda eventually allows herself to notice the societal problems within the City she lives in (those who live there as a Freeman and those who live outside looking in) and working to address these issues becomes a life-long mission – something that could not happen without learning the past of the people murdered. There is also the matter of second chances, of change and the ever-evolving nature of the world affecting its main characters.   

Although this new novel can be read as a stand-alone, the world is the same as the author’s Redemption in Indigo as are some of its fantastical elements. In addition, Chance and the Trickster’s actions in that first novel have lingering effects that kick-off the plot of Unraveling. All of this to say: you don’t necessarily need to read Redemption in Indigo to understand and appreciate Unraveling but 1) it would help and also 2) you should totally read Redemption in Indigo because it is a brilliant piece or art.          

It was hard not to hold great expectations for Unraveling after loving its predecessor Redemption in Indigo so much. Even though those expectations were not entirely met, I was swiftly swept away into a world and plot that beautifully unraveled before my eyes.     

Rating: 8 – Excellent

The post Book Review: Unraveling by Karen Lord appeared first on The Book Smugglers.

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Title: The Invited

Author: Jennifer McMahon

Genre: Horror

Publisher: Doubleday
Publication Date: May 2019
Hardcover: 353 pages

A chilling ghost story with a twist: the New York Times bestselling author of The Winter People returns to the woods of Vermont to tell the story of a husband and wife who don’t simply move into a haunted house, they start building one from scratch, without knowing it, until it’s too late . . . 

In a quest for a simpler life, Helen and Nate abandon the comforts of suburbia and their teaching jobs to take up residence on forty-four acres of rural land where they will begin the ultimate, aspirational do-it-yourself project: building the house of their dreams. When they discover that this charming property has a dark and violent past, Helen, a former history teacher, becomes consumed by the legend of Hattie Breckenridge, a woman who lived and died there a century ago. As Helen starts carefully sourcing decorative building materials for her home–wooden beams, mantles, historic bricks–she starts to unearth, and literally conjure, the tragic lives of Hattie’s descendants, three generations of “Breckenridge women,” each of whom died amidst suspicion, and who seem to still be seeking something precious and elusive in the present day.

Stand alone or series: Standalone novel

How did I get this book: Bought

Format (e- or p-): Print

Review

Helen and Nate have had a safe, cookie-cutter kind of life. The young, married couple have sensible teaching jobs at a cushy private school in Connecticut, share a nice apartment, and enjoy the company of other stable, sensible friends. When Helen’s father dies, though, she reexamines her life and discovers a simple truth: she is not happy. When Nate asks her–earnestly, without a shred of irony or judgment–what would make her happy, she ponders the question carefully and decides that she wants to return to her roots. Having grown up on a farm with her dad, a return to the land, restoring a house, leaving the city and its trappings and schedules behind, sounds like just the ticket. After many failed house hunts, the couple discovers a 10 acre plot of land being sold at an incredible rate in rural Vermont. Even better, the land comes with a local legend–supposedly, it is haunted by the ghost of Hattie Breckenridge, a bog witch who was hanged by the local villagers in the early 1900s. For history teacher Helen, the property is irresistible–she’s always loved a good story, and Nate has always loved a good project.

The couple decides to quit their jobs and using the money inherited from Helen’s father’s passing, will build the house of their dreams together, from scratch.

At first, everything seems to be going smoothly. The foundation is poured smoothly without incident, and the pair turn to building the frame for their home. But then things start to go awry. Things start disappearing–money, tools, cell phones, trivial but infuriating things. Then there are the screams in the night–visceral, terrifying sounds of a creature being flayed alive–and apparitions of a white doe, a shrouded woman, that appear to Nate and to Helen around their land and in their home. Helen becomes obsessed with the history of Hattie Breckenridge and the town that killed her, and in the course of her research learns that it isn’t just Hattie but all of the Breckenridge women who share a grim and violent birthright. The more Helen learns about Hattie, the more questions she has–so when she comes across a beam of wood that came from Hattie’s hanging tree, or some bricks that were part of a factory fire claiming the lives of several women, Helen decides to use them in the construction of her home.

Hattie Breckenridge has a story–and Helen will stop at nothing to hear it.

I love a good haunted house novel, and The Invited unfolds in a very familiar, traditional haunted house fashion. There’s an eager young couple who buys some property for a steal, eager to build a new life together… only to discover the source of the “bargain” is a violent, belligerent haunting. Where The Invited deviates from the standard archetype, however, is in its twisted premise: in the words of Shirley Jackson, some houses are born bad. Helen, the protagonist of this particular ghost story, makes sure of that.

There are two things necessary to make a good haunted house novel, in my completely biased, wholeheartedly subjective opinion:

  1. A solid reason for the haunt, and
  2. At least one character you care about enough to root for in said haunt.

The Invited does a good job with both of these tenets. For the first, we have a piece of land on which a supposed witch was hanged because she warned the town of a vision of a fire in the schoolhouse–which no one took seriously, but when the schoolhouse burned down with a bunch of kids inside of course they blamed the woman who warned them in the first place. There are haunted artifacts that Helen collects as she learns more about Hattie and her past, and then builds them into her house, which is just about as solid as reasons go for hauntings.

For the second, see main character Helen. I don’t think I’ve read a horror novel that has its hero character willingly create a haunted house, and the exercise in The Invited is brilliant and irresistible, adding a whole new layer of “WHAT ARE YOU DOING DEFINITELY DON’T DO THAT!” mental expletives to the experience. There are more twists to this little horror novel, though, that make Helen’s choices integral to the overall mystery (instead of seeming monumentally stupid). This, coupled with the manifestation of her grief/existential uncertainty following her father’s death, make her actions if not excusable at least understandable. (Though when her husband Nate discovers the lengths that Helen has gone to in order to imbue the macabre into their home, his WTF reaction was pretty aligned with my own internalized thoughts while reading this book.)

Now, beyond the delightful twist of a haunted house being consciously built from the ground up, so far as ghost stories go, The Invited doesn’t really break any new ground–but it doesn’t really have to. This is the story of a line of women who have faced violent ends and tragic circumstances–not because of a curse, or because of witchcraft, but because the society that each of these Breckenridge women has lived in is patriarchal and shitty and fearful of these different, defiant women. And here is where McMahon’s work truly has its heart: in the story of women who will stop at nothing to speak the truth, to warn their family of danger, to protect their descendants in any way that they can. Sure, there are loose ends and things that don’t quite add up–the doe leading men and women to their boggy deaths, for example–but all in all, The Invited delivers as a spooky, self-contained, traditional horror story with an irresistible twist.

Recommended spooky summer reading.

Rating: 6 – Good

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The post Book Review: THE INVITED by Jennifer McMahon appeared first on The Book Smugglers.

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We are huge fans of Sarah Kuhn’s, especially her Heroine Complex series, and were thrilled when we learned she was writing a Japan-set romantic comedy novel. Today, we’re delighted to have her as our guest to discuss I Love You So Mochi, and the inspirations and influences behind the book.

Whenever I take a trip, I plan at least half my itinerary around food. Or maybe it’s more like seventy five percent. Ninety percent. Okay, fine, it’s most of my itinerary and sometimes there’s a spreadsheet with little googly-eyed food stickers.

I love how certain flavors transport me immediately to certain places and conjure the most vivid memories. Spicy, garlicky shrimp might take me back to a windy strip of beach in Maui, questing for a sought after food truck that serves spicy, garlicky shrimp alongside fluffy rice and that perfect mayonnaise-y dollop of mac salad. Hearty meat sauce of any kind sends me to a tiny, always-packed Vietnamese place in San Francisco, where the Aunties ladle scrumptious meat sauce with a welcome heavy hand—and where I happily inhaled multiple helpings after road-tripping through the pouring rain with one of my BFFs. That, in turn, sends me back to childhood, my mother crafting her own Japanese curry-esque spin on meaty gravy over rice.

When I write about food in fiction, I’m hoping to give the reader a similar feeling, as if they’re taking a trip into the pages of the book. I want them to feel transported. Journeying to that character’s specific setting and memory and emotions. Maybe dotting the pages with their own googly-eyed food stickers. And if I’ve really done my job, said reader will be inspired to seek out their own new food memories right after closing the book.

Here are a few of the food items that inspired pieces of my new book—my YA debut!—I Love You So Mochi. These are all foods I grew up with and remain touchstones in my life and I’m so happy to share them with my protagonist, Kimi—and with you.

Mochi: Okay, so of course. It’s in the title! In I Love You So Mochi, Japanese American fashionista Kimi Nakamura journeys to Japan for Spring Break. She reconnects with her estranged grandparents, has a total identity crisis…and ends up finding romance with a cute aspiring med student who moonlights as a costumed mochi mascot. Mochi comes into play at many crucial points for Kimi: her dad makes different varieties for his restaurant back home, her new crush dresses up in that aforementioned costume (and does a choreographed dance) while working at his uncle’s mochi stand, and said crush uses mochi later to express just how much Kimi means to him. There is something about mochi—making it, eating it, gifting it as a way of expressing your innermost feelings—that just says love to me.And I believe the key to great mochi is the texture, which Kimi describes at length:

But of course the real treat is the mochi surrounding it, the wonderful rice cake that is somehow smooth and soft and chewy and ever so slightly gelatinous at the same time. My dad knows how to make it so it has just the right texture, practically melting in your mouth.

Panko: Those light, flaky breadcrumbs used to coat so much Japanese fried food are a beloved staple for Kimi, and lucky for her, she gets to experience panko goodness multiple times throughout the book. They’re part of her dad’s chicken katsu sandwiches, the coating for the potato croquettes she gobbles down upon arriving in Kyoto, and a key component of the Ebi Filet-O—shrimp burger—she falls in love with at a Japanese McDonald’s. Texture is also key for me with panko—it has to have that exact right crunch. That crunch says home to me in about a zillion different ways, and it does for Kimi, too. And like me, she usually eats anything panko-ed or katsu-ed way, way too fast, as she does in one of those first Kyoto scenes:

I cram one of the croquettes directly into my mouth. It’s lava-level hot and I let out a little whimper as it burns my tongue. It’s also so, so good—rich and hearty, the crunch of the panko giving way to that soft, potato-y center. I take another bite, even though I know I’m going to get burned again.

“This. Is. So. Good!” I exclaim, pointing emphatically at my sandwich with every syllable.

Inarizushi: Perhaps nothing sends me back to childhood so immediately as these simple sushi staples, rice stuffed into seasoned tofu pocket. Something about their gentle sweetness is both instantly comforting and energizing, making me feel soothed but also like I can take on any task with gusto—like Popeye eating spinach or something. This is also the case for Kimi—and I gave her one of my specific memories connected to inarizushi, which is the nickname my family had for it:

“My dad called this ‘pocket sushi’ when I was a kid,” I say, holding up a piece of inarizushi. “I guess because he thought that concept would make it extra fun or something? Of course he meant because it’s a little tofu ‘pocket’ stuffed with rice. But I thought he was saying, like, you could put it in your pocket.”

“How many did you stuff in your pocket before he realized?” Akira says, a smile playing over his lips.

“I think six?”

These are just a few of the foods in Kimi’s world, but I better stop there—because I’m starving. I hope you enjoy her eating experiences as much as I enjoyed writing them!

About the Author

Sarah Kuhn is the author of the popular Heroine Complex novels—a series starring Asian American superheroines. The first book is a Locus bestseller, an RT Reviewers’ Choice Award nominee, and one of the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog’s best books of 2016. Upcoming projects include the Japan-set YA romantic comedy I Love You So Mochi and a Batgirl graphic novel for DC Comics. Additionally, Sarah was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer and the CAPE (Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment) New Writers Award. She has also written assorted short fiction, non-fiction, and comics about geeks, aliens, romance, and Barbie. Yes, that Barbie. You can visit her online at heroinecomplex.com.

Giveaway Details

We’ve got one copy of I Love You So Mochi up for grabs (mochi not included, unfortunately)! The giveaway is open to addresses in the US and Canada only, and will run until June 1, 2019. To enter, use the form below–and good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The post I LOVE YOU SO MOCHI: Sarah Kuhn on Inspirations & Influences (and a giveaway) appeared first on The Book Smugglers.

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