Cover of Other Words For Smoke by Sarah Maria Griffin. A tiny house made out of book pages sits on on a open book. Smoke curls from the chimney and the face of an owl decorates a wall.

About the Book

Title: Other Words For Smoke
Published: 2019

Cover Story: Paper Houses
Drinking Buddy: Temperence
Testosterone/Estrogen Level: Summer Lovin’
Talky Talk: The House With an Owl in Its Walls
Bonus Factors: Dimensional Door, Second Person
Bromance Status: Forever and Ever and Ever

Cover Story: Paper Houses

I hate generalized covers that could work for any of a dozen books. This one, with the strange house, the artifacts, and the otherworldly owl, could only be used for this title. Well done.

The Deal:

Twins Mae and Rossa (Rossa is a boy) spend the summer with their great-aunt Rita to avoid an unpleasant home situation. Rita is a ‘witch’ who has an adorable cat named Bobby, and who makes a little extra money doing tarot readings for the village. She also has a young–assistant? roommate? apprentice? foster daughter? named Bevan, an older teenage girl who gives Rossa his first taste of crush. And Rita lives in this great old house in the English countryside, full of neat old antiques, books, and hidden rooms. This could be a summer full of adventures the kids will never forget.

Except it’s not. Bobby the cat can talk. Which is exciting, but a little unnerving, especially when you get the impression that he merely appears to be a cat. He might actually be something else. Rossa is crushing on Bevan, but so is Mae. And Bevan kind of plays the kids off each other. Rita is haunted by the memory of a girl named Audrey, who vanished in this house decades ago. And Bevan communicates with someone named ‘Sweet James.’ He’s just that owl we see sometimes, right? But James offers power in exchange for human sacrifice. Not the sacrifice of a life, goodness no. Just…parts. Blood here, a lock of hair there, nothing anyone is going to miss. Yet.

Drinking Buddy: Temperance

Two pints of beer cheersing

Despite the characters’ flaws, I liked them all. Mae and Rossa compete for Bevan’s attention, but deep down they miss how close they used to be with their twin. Rita doesn’t share the secrets of the house with anyone, but it’s more for everyone’s protection…and maybe a sense of guilt. And Bevan, while she manipulates everyone, is in the thrall of a powerful being, one she doesn’t fully comprehend.

Hopefully these four will survive with their lives and sanity intact…and maybe have fun in the meantime!

Testosterone/Estrogen Level: Summer Lovin’

Rossa is delighted when older Bevan suddenly gives him a lot of attention, making him feel mature and handsome. And it’ll only cost him a small part of his body. Mae is confused about her budding attraction to Bevan, but not so confused that she’s going to let her brother steal her. And Bevan just wants to please James, an otherworldly creature who comes to her in the guise of an owl and promises her untold power and knowledge if she just unquestioningly obeys him.

Ah, teenage drama.

Talky Talk: The House With an Owl in Its Walls

This was a nice little thriller with a lot of mystery and things in the shadows. We’ve all had that summer we remember all our lives, with adventure, travel, and first loves. It’s just that in this case, there are also inter-dimensional creatures, disappearances, and a smouldering pile of ashes where a house once stood. There are also flashbacks to Rita’s younger days, and how she never meant for Audrey to come to harm.

Oh, and footnotes. I like footnotes. They’re like little clues for the reader that the characters are unaware of.

Bonus Factor: Dimensional Door


Why is Bevan so willing to do James’s bidding? Because he has the key to the door. The door to the chambers. A series of interconnected rooms, each one different. Each one amazing. A room filled with neon. With moths. With bathtubs. If Bevan can please James, she can have access to this realm. It’s not like that’s where Audrey vanished, all those years ago. It’s not like there are things in there that the human mind is not equipped to see.

Bonus Factor: Second Person

Jacob, Bella, and Edward from Twilight

Most of this book is in first person. But when it’s about Bevan, it switches to the rarely-used second person. Nice gimmick, if you can pull it off.

Bromance Status: Forever and Ever and Ever

I could read this book again…and again…and again…

Literary Matchmaking

The House

For another book about a creepy, sentient house, try The House by Christina Lauren.

The Blood Keeper (The Blood Journals #2)

The Blood Keeper by Tessa Gratton, also features a witch in training trying to defeat an ancient evil.


Paul Blackwell’s Undercurrent has a neat parallel universe vibe you might dig.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received no money or tarot readings for writing this review, though the publisher sent me a free copy.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.