I’m thrilled to be an advance reader of Wolf, Willow, Witch, the second book in the Gideon Testaments from Freydís Moon. Wolf picks up shortly after Heart, Haunt, Havoc leaves off, departing from Colin and Bishop’s tale to follow the Norse witch, Tehlor. Tehlor sees opportunity wherever she looks, and when she finds a recently re-murdered body in her friend’s basement, she seizes the chance to create a resurrected guard. But it turns out Lincoln Stone is as thirsty for power as Tehlor’s gods are for sacrifice and makes an unwilling servant. But when a new cult comes to town, Tehlor and Lincoln are forced to decide whether great power is really worth having to work together.
Wolf, Willow, Witch is as sharp and biting as Tehlor’s attitude and Lincoln’s teeth. The two are equally matched in their greed and their lingering fear of the consequences of terrible choices. The pair find each other bonding and at one another’s throats in equal turns. Heart, Haunt, Havoc approached the divine and holy with reverence, but Wolf stalks divinity, magic, and death with all the unrelenting patience of its namesake. Moon’s signature steady, creeping dread is present here as well, balanced with insatiable hunger–and Tehlor’s hunger for power is matched only by Lincoln’s own.
Recommended for fans of modern folk horror who know the price for power, and are willing to pay. 5 out of 5 stars.
I had the immense privilege to read an advance copy of Heart, Haunt, Havoc by the talented Freydis Moon. While I’ve read their work before, each new piece is more intricate than the last. Heart follows exorcist Colin Hart as he’s called to clean a towering house being renovated in Colorado. Whatever stalks this house–and its handsome occupant, the secretive Bishop Martinez–proves to be more complicated than Colin planned, however. The two must wade through piles of secrets, broken promises, and heartbreak or risk being haunted for the rest of their lives, if they survive at all.
Heart, Haunt, Havoc is an atmospheric treat, filled with magic, faith, and longing. As someone who has spent a lot of time in old buildings, Moon captures the uniquely living way that old buildings respond to us as they shift and breathe. The tale spins wholesome and clever one minute, then heart wrenching and deadly the next, all with the steady, unyielding advance of the predator that haunts the house itself. While the setting becomes a character in itself, I’d be remiss in not mentioning how authentic each character’s queerness feels, from the reserved Colin to complex Bishop. The tale leaves us filled with a sensation of hard-won peace, relief, and a spark of hope and I can only cross my fingers that we will see some of these faces again.
Recommended for lovers of the modern gothic romance who know how heartbreak haunts us. 5 out of 5 stars.
A Dark and Starless Forest by Sarah Hollowell was a dark, delicious treat for my winter reading! This witchy, star-soaked YA dark fantasy is set in the isolated fields beside an alpine lake. Derry and her several siblings-by-circumstance learn to hone their unique and varied magical gifts from the stern yet fatherly--and unmagical--Frank. Despite the sun on the lake surface and the wind in the trees, something dark encroaches on the idyllic setting as, one-by-one, Derry's siblings go missing.
I was captivated by the cover of this book when it first crossed my Twitter timeline early in 2021--Derry's full, powerful arms covered in the vines of her budding magic were so beautiful, and the image of this young witch willing to do anything to protect her family did not lead me astray. Hollowell's writing is vivid without being florid. Derry's voice is sure and determined, complete with the anxieties and excitement that come with young adulthood and realizing you've outpaced your teachers. While the world Hollowell weaves is a dark one, it is also achingly familiar, reminding us of the press of the unknown when we've begun to expand beyond the borders of our childhood. I'm excited to see what comes next from Sarah Hollowell.
For fans of woody, witchy friendship and unassuming, badass protagonists!
Aurealis Magazine is back with this glowing review of Nel's second adventure!
"...After the absorbing, dig-based, science-y plot of the first book in the series (Travelers), the story in Drifters departs along different parabolas. Nel adopts survivalist mode as a fugitive from justice, somehow staying alive through freezing conditions, starvation rations, and random injuries. Ex-lovers appear when she needs them, only to put themselves in danger, and it’s hard to distinguish the good pursuers from the evil ones.
It’s also hard to resist the breathless pace of this adventure, even in its unlikeliest moments. I Shouldn’t Be Alive meets the X-Files—strap in for the ride and follow Nel through privation and exhaustion as she seeks the meeting place with her backers. After all, her extraterrestrial lover is out there somewhere, and the thrilling expanse of outer space beckons.
Read this, and get your hands on book three as soon as you can."
A Dowry of Blood, by author and theologian, S. T. Gibson is an atmospheric and brutal revisiting of Dracula. Epistolary, Dowry is relayed in decadent, lyrical prose as Constanta, the first of Dracula’s brides, exhumes her tumultuous relationship with her husband, her immortality, and her faith. Each wife and husband they add to their family brings a new understanding to the already intricate relationship. As Constanta explores her inner and outer worlds, we’re treated to glimpses of history--plague, revolution, and industrialization--as vibrant as they are fleeting. This choice mirrors perfectly how our mortal world is viewed by the immortal predators who walk, not through it, but on its outskirts.
Dowry was the perfect taste of darkness in a year that could not be sugar-coated. We are treated to a story of vengeance and despair as much as romance and lust, and Gibson crafts each facet with precision. It was an achingly honest depiction of the altered state living with an abuser becomes, and the myriad threads one uses to manipulate and control their victims. This was my first bite of Gibson’s writing and I can safely say I can’t wait to devour the rest of her work and all its blood, faith, and passion.
Recommended to readers who don’t run from the darkness, but welcome it with open arms. 5 out of 5 stars!
The First to Lie, by author and reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan, is an engaging and twisting domestic thriller. Initially, we follow Ellie, an investigative journalist (like the author herself!) newly relocated to Boston for a job at the brand-new Channel 11 News. Her first big story aims to take on a massive pharmaceutical company for misleading patients about its new miracle drug. Not only is Pharminex pushing it for off-label use as a fertility treatment, but the medication may be causing permanent infertility. As the story hurtles forward, we’re introduced to an all-woman cast of characters, each with their own secrets--and some whose identities just might be one and the same.
My taste in thrillers usually trends toward medical and science subgenres, but Ryan’s strong, decisive voice and familiarity with my own Boston hooked me from the beginning. I enjoyed each new twist as we moved from Ellie and Nora (a cunning pharmaceutical rep) to the ruthless and privileged women on the arms of Pharminex’s men. Every piece of this seemingly chaotic puzzle clicked into place, including a few I hadn’t predicted. Ryan did a wonderful job weaving a tale of the lengths women will go to secure their futures--or avenge them--in a world run by masculine power and wealth. Through the characters’ heartaches and regrets, we learn that the only thing money can’t buy is a miracle.
The Line Between by Tosca Lee is a meticulously crafted and incredibly timely science thriller. It follows the journey of Wynter Roth, a young woman raised in an apocalyptic extremist Christian cult. Upon her expulsion from the New Earth community and compound, she must navigate the overwhelming world of the modern United States. As the days wear on, however, North America is gripped with a strange illness that presents as rapid, early-onset dementia. To Wynter, the epidemic and increasing natural disasters look eerily similar to the events New Earth’s prophet foretold as signs of the impending Doomsday--a Doomsday from which she no longer has salvation.
Lee handles this terrifying story with deadly accuracy, from the creeping dread that sets in with the first scene’s thawing permafrost to Wynter’s heart-pounding flight as the country crumbles around her. My background is in biology and pre-med and I was impressed with the scientific plausibility that many science thrillers lack. Having survived a pandemic and family succumbing to the same illness that inspired Lee’s fictional disease, I can say her worldbuilding in The Line Between is nothing short of prophetic. Both the overarching plot of the epidemic and Wynter’s own tale were gripping from the very first line.
The Oppenheimer Alternative by Hugo and Nebula winner, Robert J. Sawyer, is a science fiction take on classic wry political thrillers. Like its titular character, Alternative is melancholy and driven in turns. It follows the historic scientific events of what we know as the Manhatten Project, but like World War II, they serve as a backdrop for exploring Oppie’s faceted and often discontent character. The modern reader in me would have loved to see more of the minds and lives left in Oppenheimer’s wake--Kitty and most notably Jean. I was struck by the care Sawyer took to be as accurate as possible, without relinquishing any of the moments’ excitement. The transition from the historic events to his speculation on alternative history was seamless.
Sawyer’s prose dissects each new character with an honest curiosity devoid, for the most part, of judgment. His exploration of both these personalities and the events they influenced--or in the case of the latter, speculative half of the book, could have precipitated--was almost tender. Sawyer’s dedication to accuracy and craft make The Oppenheimer Alternative a wonderful book, not only for fans of classic speculative fiction, but also any historic fiction reader.
Thoroughly recommended, 4 out of 5 stars! Read now!
"The Gold Award is bestowed on books that we found to be perfect in their delivery of original content, meticulous development of unique characters in an organic and striking setting, innovative plot that supports a fresh theme, and elegant prose that transforms words into beautifully written books." Check out their their thoughts on Smoke and Rain!
Lucas, by Elna Holst, is a delightful re-imagining of Jane Austen's world, following the story of Charlotte Collins, Elizabeth Bennet's childhood friend. While Charlotte writes to the Lizzy we all know and love, this story is told in a second, secret set of correspondence Charlotte can never send to her friend, detailing her affection for women and her unexpected fall into infatuation and love--not with her husband, the rector of Rosings Park in Kent, but her physician's cousin, the delightfully unorthodox Miss Ailsa Reid. Ms. Holst paints a wonderful historic picture from the gardens and simplicity of Kent to the finery and excitement of a winter vacation Bath. Despite the fun and adrenaline of new, forbidden love, the more serious aspects of womanhood in Regency England were dealt with honestly and with respect.
Throughout the tale, Charlotte becomes increasingly akin to her imagined penpal, torn into two versions of herself: one, the demure, sensible Mrs Collins, rector's wife, the other swooning, secretive Charly Lucas, lover to the beguiling Ailsa. While the epistolary nature of the book made for a bit less world-building and richness than I would have liked, everything I love about Austen's world is here, from the longing and drama, to the exquisite clothes and races across the countryside for someone's honor and safety. I was hooked as Charlotte had to choose between her family's reputation and her own happiness. 4 out of 5 stars!