The Family Plot, by Cherie Priest

Dahlia Dutton approaches every salvage job like a transplant doctor determined to give sick people a second chance—with reverence for the gifts each decrepit house has to offer, each beautiful piece for which she finds a new home.  Dahlia knows each old house she has to take apart has a soul, a living presence. She just never expected the kind of presence she encounters in the old Withrow property, planted at the foot of the mountains just outside of Chattanooga.

Family secrets are always the worst kind, and on top of dealing with a creepy old house that alternately seems to want to kill her and protect her, Dahlia has to deal with her own family history and try to get as much salvage as she can in three days in order to save the family business from irretrievable debt.  Priest gets the interpersonal and supernatural tensions just right, strewing clues and false trails aplenty to keep the reader in suspense for the whole ride.

The setting is gorgeous and evocative, the premise one that can’t help but appeal to readers in an age of endlessly looping DIY and fixer-upper media.   Priest juxtaposes modern technology and family nostalgia in layer after layer that keeps the reader wondering what is the greater horror—a hundred year old secret or the ones that keep festering right below the surface of this seemingly easy-going family business in the here and now.

Anyone looking for a supernatural thriller should pick up The Family Plot immediately. The old house and family secrets elements are sure to appeal to anyone who loves gothic settings.  Readers who enjoy multiple levels of mystery and suspense will find much to love in this novel.

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A Stranger in Olondria, by Sofia Samatar

Growing
up the younger son of a rich family, made rich from the pepper trade on the
mainland, Jevick has learned that there is a price for everything.   Living in the Tea Islands to the
south of the great empire of Olondria, Jevick’s life is simple, fed on stories
of such wonder that when he has the opportunity to go, he can’t help but take
it.  He believes he is
prepared.  He has read the great
books, been tutored in the language. 
But there are some things you can’t learn simply from books.

A
coincidental meeting with a young woman, ill of a wasting sickness, going to
Olondria with her mother to seek a cure, reminds Jevick of his home, of and all
he is leaving behind, but it is not enough to stop him from fully immersing
himself in Olondrian culture, buying books wherever he can, and succumbing to
the magic of a place he has dreamed about nearly all his life.  The magic of Olondria has always been
in the books, in their ability to call up stories and people long dead, but in
giving himself over to Olondria, Jevick finds himself drawn into a struggle not
of his making. 

A Stranger in Olondria is, structurally,
a descendant of Tolkien’s works. 
Samatar plants the seeds for her world’s cultures through the stories
they tell, the stories Jevick hears and reads during his travels.  But where Tolkien was hampered by his
pastoralism, Samatar’s novel is a triumph of both storytelling and wonder.  The novel’s use of Jevick as
first-person narrator allows it to position its atmosphere of awe and nostalgia
against the regret and injustice elicited by its plot structure without
becoming too grandiose to be affective. 
The story that Jevick tells is relatively short, but juxtaposed against
the huge history of the world he traverses, the novel has a grand scope that
will make readers feel they are reading a much longer tale.

Those
who enjoy the storytelling devices used by writers like Tolkien will enjoy
Samatar’s mythologizing and the epic scale of A Stranger in Olondria. 
Those who are captivated by “stranger in a strange land” stories will
enjoy following Jevick as he is immersed in a culture he has grown up loving second-hand.  Readers looking for a novel they can
slow down and savour need look now further than A Stranger in Olondria.

Falling in Love with Hominids, by Nalo Hopkinson

Falling
In Love With Hominids
is a collection of short stories
published during an eight to ten-year span, and published in various journals
and anthologies.  The stories are
of disparate themes, but unified by a general fascination with humans and
humanity, and take many forms. 
Some stories are quite short meditations on a singular event or topic,
while others show a longer character arc. 
Hopkinson’s stories are never written in a vacuum, however, and all
feature vividly realized worlds, often with a range of flora and fauna—some
even using them as characters.

Of
the more interesting aspects of the collection are Hopkinson’s short prefaces
to each story, which tell the reader a little about when the story was written,
and what the inspiration was for it. 
Getting this rare glimpse into an author’s process is fascinating, and
speaks to Hopkinson’s genius as a writer. 
“The Easthound” is a dystopic look at what happens when a mysterious
disease begins taking all the adults. 
Teenagers and children have to look out for themselves, staving off the
loneliness and fear of their situation by playing games and singing songs.  From a simple story idea to its grim
conclusion, “The Easthound” is an eerie look at notions of safety and
civilization.

An
orchid becomes the protagonist in “A Raggy Dog, a Shaggy Dog,” where the teller
is an underground horticulturalist and her favorite orchid takes on a life of
its own, with motivations and survival strategies far beyond the capabilities
of your average flower.  And in
“Shift,” the tale of Caliban made famous by William Shakespeare in The Tempest moves through time and
becomes a protagonist in his own right, joined by his mother and sister as he
tries to find his identity through falling in love with women in the modern
world. 

Hopkinson
thrives on subverting traditional texts and re-centering cultural focus from
traditional protagonists and traditional Western settings.  Even stories set in North America have
a foreign feel, as though the ghosts of many different people are seeping
through.  Readers not afraid to
confront, or be confronted by, uncomfortable characters or situations will
enjoy the immense imagination and wonder that Hopkinson puts into each
story.  She writes with a easy
style that keeps engaged and wondering until the end.  Readers who enjoy a bit of horror in their fantasy will be
intrigued by the way that Hopkinson doesn’t shy away from the darker side of
human nature.  And of course,
anyone who has read any of Hopkinson’s novels will love this collection.  If not, get a taste of her talent, and
then check out some of her novels!

Razorhurst, by Justine Larbalestier

Razorhurst, the place, is not friendly
to children.  In a fast-paced novel
that goes out with a bang, children grow up fast or don’t grow up at all.  Some readers may find themselves
frantically checking the genre-labeling on this one, as Larbalestier doesn’t
skip over the reality of violence—the many forms of it—that made Razorhurst
what it was in the interwar era of Sydney. 

Surry
Hills is more than a setting in this novel.  It sets the tone for everything that happens, and everything
happens quickly.  Kelpie, a street
urchin, and Dymphna Campbell meet almost by chance yet are drawn to each other
for a reason neither feels comfortable speaking about.  Dymphna is a prostitute, Gloriana
Nelson’s “best girl,” who has escaped a horrific past.  Kelpie doesn’t know who her parents
are, only that living on the street is better than going to an orphanage. 

Surry
Hills, apart from being a well-known part of Sydney ruled by crime
bosses—particularly Gloriana Nelson and Mr. Davidson—is a wonderful metaphor
for the up-and-down nature of life in this era, when the rich lived in their
big houses, far away from the poor and the injured war veterans forced to
scratch a living where even the houses themselves are rotting apart and
subsiding into the earth. 
Razorhurst is both a place to lose yourself, and a place where
people—everything they know about themselves—can get lost and forgotten.  Larbalestier emphasizes this by giving
the reader tiny bits of history—flashbacks—that weave together with the story
just like the lives of Kelpie and Dymphna do, getting tighter and tighter until
the story’s end.  She allows the
reader to solve the mysteries of the novel at their own pace, without slowing
down the flow of the story.

Razorhurst pulls no
punches and readers should expect plenty of authentic dialog and realistic
situations that may not be palatable for younger teen readers.  Larbalestier is an author who doesn’t
pander to or patronize her young adult readers, providing two strong but
different main characters with which to identify, who provide different levels
of entry into the same story. 
Readers who enjoy historical novels with plenty of research will love
the way Razorhurst combines a strong
sense of place with period dialog, dress, and urban life.  Readers looking for something out of
the ordinary run of American settings will enjoy getting to know Sydney and the
novel’s overall Australian feel.