Fans of the Mercy Watson easy chapter series will delight in this charming origin tale about how a wee piglet fell into the very ordinary lives of Mr. and Mrs. Watson, completing their family in an extraordinary way. Sunny illustrations showcase a rosy-cheeked Mercy alongside her new family and friends. It is perfect for inspiring emergent readers and a must-have for those who have been enjoying the escapades of Mercy and the Watsons all along.
PALLAS GATES MCCORQUODALE (February 27, 2019)
Audrey J. Whitson’s haunting The Death of Annie the Water Witcher by Lightning is set in western Canada’s Majestic, Alberta—a town plagued by drought and a bleak economy, hardly able to live up to its imposing name. Elderly Annie Gallagher is a longtime resident of Majestic, known for her compassion, quirkiness, and a mystical ability to divine the presence of water in parched land.
The novel begins with a windswept tempest, as Annie is struck by lightning while searching—or “witching”—for water during a thunderstorm. The frail yet feisty Annie is rushed to the local hospital, but she is cannot be saved. Word of her passing spreads through Majestic, and Annie’s friends and lovers gather to prepare for her funeral.
Through a shifting narrative, Annie’s life is reflected upon by those who knew her, with her own eloquent spirit-voice joining the others as her story is told. Annie’s childhood was shadowed by her mother’s absence and her father’s alcoholism, and she was also unusually beautiful—a gift that attracted more trouble than opportunity. These same voices offer a portrait of Majestic, including the previous power of the Catholic Church there to twist the minds and fates of the innocent.
Despite its unfortunate past and present, Majestic is depicted with poetic complexity. Annie’s friends have a salt-of-the-earth goodness, and Annie herself is a faceted, compelling woman who emerges from personal darkness to find her own peace. Her passing brings closure to a shameful chapter in the town’s history, and there is a sense that as long as the people of Majestic continue to reach out and care for each other, the future has promise, and “Saint Annie’s” miracles will continue.
MEG NOLA (February 27, 2019)
Jonathan Janz’s The Dark Game is an unsettling, fascinating horror drama about morality and fame.
Legendary writer Roderick Wells hosts a retreat at his secluded estate for ten up-and-coming authors that offers huge monetary rewards and the possibility of a prestigious literary career. The participants range from a debut powerhouse who’s afraid of burning out to a more experienced but struggling writer. All have one surprising bond.
As Wells’s dark nature reveals itself, so too do the sinister secrets hidden in each writer’s past. Before long, it becomes apparent that madness and evil permeate both Wells and his estate. Subconscious fears and nightmares made real prowl the grounds as Wells seeks to break the authors down for his own purposes.
All of the characters are flawed, with unusual traumas in their pasts: one left a man to die in an abandoned house when they were a child; another routinely abused a mentally challenged Amish girl. Each seems to deserve their fate.
Janz writes with a deft and unnerving hand. Every scene features unsettling elements, from subtle foreshadowing to overt gore and mutilation. Chapters are short and entrancing as they quickly rotate through the authors’ points of view. Snippets from their works in progress layer in additional suspense. Reveals are frequent and shocking. The story becomes less about who will win than about seeing which author can stave off the horror long enough to escape.
Early foreshadowing feels forced, but as the novel progresses, the unsettling elements unspool with drama and flair. Character reveals and the true nature of the estate come to feel organic, and the climax wraps everything up in a gory bow without compromising the reigning dark tone.
Dark, violent, and twisted, The Dark Game blends horror with a character study to disturbing effect.
JOHN M. MURRAY (February 27, 2019)
There are two kinds of people in the moody, magical world of Apprentice Needed: those who are opposed to imagination, and those who understand what a powerful force it can be. The second novel in the Wizard for Hire series revisits the adventures of Ozzy Toffy, the wizard Rin, and a mechanical bird named Clark as they try to uncover the origins of a mysterious mind-control serum. They’re joined by Rin’s daughter, Sigi, and a few villains, too. Obert Skye, who also wrote the bestselling book Leven Thumps, has created a believable, lively world of magic and make-believe.
Ozzy, the child of two kidnapped scientists, was the final test case for their mind-control drug. The “discipline serum” they invented has Ozzy by the neck: one night, without realizing it, he walks straight into the ocean. Seeking help for his condition, Ozzy reaches out to Rin, the plaid pants-wearing wizard who helped him find his parents. Rin’s actual magical skills seem limited: he’s more likely to launch into mansplaining or sententious suppositions than to produce functional enchantment. However, he’s the best Ozzy’s got, and together they set out to find an antidote for the serum.
Whatever Rin’s shortcomings, he has one great strength: he believes in Ozzy and magic, and is willing to power through whatever wild goose chase lies ahead. Sigi, Rin’s daughter, is especially well-drawn, and her droll adolescent attitude is a nice foil for her dad’s aggressive optimism.
This main plot would be sufficient to support the entire novel, but a second story is Turduckened inside it: Rin wants Ozzy to become his apprentice so that he can move on to the next level of wizardry. Both of these plots are well-developed, if they crowd one another throughout the novel.
Apprentice Needed is an ambitious second book that is full of wonderful, transporting exposition and realistic characters who pursue better-than-realistic adventures.
CLAIRE FOSTER (February 27, 2019)
Someday, Todd Milstead is going to be a great writer. Never mind that he’s in his forties with nothing to indicate this, save the flattery of a local bookseller and the regular gatherings he hosts with other self-proclaimed writers. In this obsequious and jealous company, Todd goes heavy on the booze and affects great sophistication, holding forth on subjects greater, he thinks, than most small Midwestern minds can fathom.
In short, Todd Milstead—bloviator, poser, and womanizer, too—is an asshole. He is declared so from the raucous opening lines of David Quantick’s sardonic, self-referential, and hilarious-then-horrifying supernatural thriller, All My Colors, in which the sudden fruits of your neglected aspirations should not be trusted.
Todd’s vices perfectly poise him to accept his most dangerous label yet: he will become a mimic. His perfect recall of a brilliant novel that, as far as he can tell, exists to no one else compels him to publish the mysterious work himself, resulting in overnight fame. But the specter of the writer to whom his memory credits the novel haunts him, undermining the thrills of his ill-gotten renown.
Bumbling with Todd up to the point of his folly is great, voyeuristic fun. His speech is barbed. He subdues viciousness and barrels home from bars, playing at romances he knows he’s incapable of. When the remembered novel—also titled All My Colors, but make nothing of it—takes him over, it leads to a fair amount of physical comeuppance. But even the cringeworthy particulars of those discomforts can’t prepare you for the nightmares that follow: teeth strewn across floors, mouths ripped out, and the revelation of other mimics who met terrible ends.
All My Colors is by turns a supernatural revenge fantasy, a black comedy, and a self-abnegating parody. It is hysterical, shocking, and propulsive—leave the lights on for its end.
MICHELLE ANNE SCHINGLER (February 27, 2019)