Between Worlds by Kevin Crossley-Holland


cover157690-mediumAncient, rich, and strange, these magical and eerie tales from across Britain and Ireland have been passed down from generation to generation.

A handsome, cocky young man is swept up by a dark horseman and cast into a life-or-death adventure. A pair of green children emerge from a remote hollow and struggle to adapt to a strange new land. A dauntless farm girl finds that her fearlessness earns her a surprising reward.

Dark but often funny, lyrical yet earthy, the folktales presented here have influenced our landscape and culture. This definitive collection of forty-eight stories, retold by master storyteller and poet Kevin Crossley-Holland, opens a doorway to a lost world and shows the enduring power of language and imagination.

No one tells folk and fairy tales as well as Kevin Crossley Holland. His knowledge of the folklore, fairytales, and general lore of the U.K. region would probably only be surpassed by Katherine Briggs and she’s been gone for almost 30 years.

Crossley Holland tells some new stories, and puts a shine on old ones, all wrapped up in his trademark lyrical and saucy text. Storytellers will especially love this.

Publication Date: October 8, 2019
Published By: Candlewick Press
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern


cover165880-mediumFrom the Publisher: Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a mysterious book hidden in the stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues–a bee, a key, and a sword–that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to an ancient library hidden far below the surface of the earth.

What Zachary finds in this curious place is more than just a buried home for books and their guardians–it is a place of lost cities and seas, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead. Zachary learns of those who have sacrificed much to protect this realm, relinquishing their sight and their tongues to preserve this archive, and also of those who are intent on its destruction. Together with Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired protector of the place, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances, Zachary travels the twisting tunnels, darkened stairwells, crowded ballrooms, and sweetly soaked shores of this magical world, discovering his purpose–in both the mysterious book and in his own life.

This is a tough one for me. I confess, I did not love this book. I *liked* it well enough, but found the structure disconcerting. I sometimes struggle with focusing on books that alternate stories with each chapter, which is why this did not fully resonate with me. I kept wanting to read the Zachary Ezra Rawlins narrative and got annoyed that it kept being interrupted by the alternating fairytale chapters. Yes, it all comes together in the end, but the format kept me disconnected and made the narrative drag. It didn’t help that I was reading this in e-format. If I’d hard a print copy, I would have totally skipped around the chapters to satisfy my curiosity.

At the same time, this is a book filled with gorgeous language and description, the fairyland of my childhood dreams where one can get lost for centuries among all the stories in the world. Could there be a better place? I think not. I did enjoy the DungeonMaster/RPG approach to telling Zachary’s story, which at times made me feel as those I was inside the story, and I really enjoyed the characters.

I am 100% certain that fans of The Night Circus will eat this up. Morgenstern’s writing gets ALL the adjectives – lovely, luminous, lyrical, etc. and I predict this will appear on all the “Best of 2019” lists.

Publication Date: November 5, 2019
Published By: Doubleday
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Little Grey Girl by Celine Kiernan


cover159644-mediumFrom the Publisher: In the second book of the Wild Magic trilogy, courageous young Mup and her family are trying to heal and restore the kingdom when they uncover an ancient and powerful anger. The old queen and her raggedy witches have fled Witches Borough, and Mup’s family has moved into the cold, newly empty castle. But the queen’s legacy lingers in the fear and mistrust of her former subjects and in the memories that live in the castle’s very walls. When an enchanted snow blankets the castle, Mup’s family is cut off from the rest of the kingdom, and the painful memories of the old queen’s victims begin to take form, thanks to a ghost whose power may be too much for even Mup and Mam to handle. Celine Kiernan weaves a timely and essential truth into the second book of her trilogy: that dismantling oppression means honoring the pains of the past, and perhaps the most potent magic of all is encouraging joy and hope wherever possible.

Kiernan introduced Mup, Mam, Dad, Crow, and Tipper in Begone the Raggedy Witches (Book One of the Wild Magic Trilogy) last year, and now follows that wonderful debut with a continuation of the same story. After having defeated the Raggedy Witches and dethroned the wicked Queen, Mam moves her family into the other world and takes up residence in the old Queen’s castle. Once there, Mam struggles with the need for a Queen expressed by the people, since she wants to do everything different from how her mother, the old Queen, ruled. There’s no question that Mam has the power, but does she have the will to rule?

At the same time, Mup is struggling to understand her place in this new world, and come to terms with her own power, which sparks from her fingertips. Mup can sense that something isn’t right, and Kiernan does an excellent job of communicating not only Mup’s feeling of being out of place but her powerful sense of something bigger being wrong.

The juxtaposition between Mup’s happy family and the residual sadness, anger, and fear left in the old Queen’s castle is made more powerful by the cursed moon and snow the old Queen sends to disrupt the land. Throw in an unhappy ghost, a confused Raggedy Witch, and a friend who feels betrayed and you have a story that will keep you reading well into the night.

Publication Date: September 3, 2019
Published By: Candlewick Press
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Book Charmer by Karen Hawkins


book charmerI have a fondness for books about books, so the description of The Book Charmer drew me in. Every once in awhile a book comes along that is a just a gentle affirmation on the goodness of neighbors, and this is one of them. The concept of a town librarian hearing books talk and giving the right book to the right person at the right time is the stuff of magic for people who love books. Pair that with a small town full of down to earth people who love each other despite their differences, and a set of main characters so appealing that it’s impossible not to like this book.

Comparisons will inevitably be drawn to Sarah Addison Allen’s Waverley novels and I’d be lying if I said the similarities didn’t occur to me. Like Allen’s stories, Karen Hawkins has imbued her characters and the town of Dove Pond with a certain kind of magic, which creates a modern day fairy tale for people who are searching for the right place to be in life, despite often rough beginnings. In Book Charmer, Hawkins offers a wrenching but hopeful looks into the foster system, but also into the decline of a loved one with Alzheimer’s. Mama G’s illness is handled with sensitivity and honesty, while Grace’s experiences as a foster child inform her adult life in ways she never expected.

Dove Pond is one of those places that you dream of, and you are left wanting to know these people in real life. That is the mark of a good story, and Hawkins fully succeeds here. Recommended.

Publication Date: July 30, 2019
Published By: Gallery/Pocket Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

House of Salt & Sorrow by Erin Craig


cover157025-mediumHouse of Salt & Sorrow by Erin Craig

Folktales have been told and retold for centuries, and I am always up for reading something new. Often, the retellings are interesting but not very original. Erin Craig, though, has produced an imaginative, lovely, wholly original retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses which takes the kernel of the old story and builds a whole new world peopled by fascinating characters and customs.

The “Thaumas Dozen” is as interesting a group as I can remember from my reading. Twelve sisters, all different in their own ways with very different wishes for their futures. Tragedy strikes the family again and again as first their mother then sisters begin to die tragically. The family, it is whispered, is cursed, with the girls being described by hoped-for suitors as “lovely as a bouquet of belladonna.”

Two sisters, Annaleigh and Verity, know something is very wrong and each works towards solving the riddle of their “curse.” Throw in the wicked (is she or isn’t she?) stepmother, an enchanted father, and all the glorious wickedness of Faeryland and you have a tale that will delight and capture your senses.

This will appeal to teens and adults alike, and Erin Craig is on track to take a place next to Marissa Meyer, Naomi Novik, and Sarah Maas.

Publication Date: August 6, 2019
Publisher: Random House/Delacorte
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden


winter of the witchAround the beginning of December, I finally managed to get my hands on an advanced reading copy of Arden’s Winter of the Witch and had hoped to spend the weekend reading this end to the gorgeous Winternight Trilogy. Alas, that didn’t happen….because I finished it in a day.

I’ve written before that Arden’s writing is lyrical, lush, and full of magic and mystery; it will keep you reading well into the night, not only because she skillfully blends fairytale and history, but because she has created complex and fascinating original characters. Truthfully, I haven’t loved a series as much since I first read Harry Potter.

I will honestly say that the Potter series, which I have adored for more than 20 years, has been replaced by Arden’s Winternight Trilogy as my favorite in the fantasy genre. The story takes the fairy tales of my childhood and makes them flesh in a way that left me breathless. With this final entry, Arden has brought the stories begun in The Bear and the Nightingale full circle and created a tale for the ages.

When we left Vasya, Sasha, Olga & Dmitri, Moscow was burning due to Vasya releasing the firebird, a mythical creature contained within a golden horse that had been bridled and controlled by Kaschei the Deathless. Vasya, burned and exhausted, finds brief refuge within the terem of sister Olga, Princess of Serpukhov but is almost immediately confronted with a mob demanding her blood. Led by Brother Konstantin, the mob drags Vasya to the river and attempts to burn her as a witch. She escapes and makes her way into the realm of Midnight, where she recovers and learns more about her family and herself.

In Midnight, Vasya is considered an alternative to The Bear and The Winter King, two gods who control the chaos in the world. The chyerti of Midnight are tired of the feuding between the two and hope Vasya will break the cycle of chaos and cold controlled by these two brothers. Vasya begins to recognize her own power and understands that she can affect the outcome of war in the real world and chaos in the other realm.

There are so many themes to unpack here – the position and power of women (Vasya is different and therefore dangerous); the strength of family; the weakness of men and women when faced with unimaginable temptation; and the power afforded beauty and charisma and the danger when it goes awry. While this trilogy grew out of Russian fairy & folk tales, it is at its heart a story about family and loyalty.

What makes this a stand-out is Arden’s writing. In less imaginative and skillful hands, the story could be just another niche fantasy series; here it becomes history and romance and war as well as magic. I’ve read Arden’s other work (give Small Spaces a try next Halloween!) and found it just as beautifully written. She is a young author to watch. I don’t buy a lot of print books these days, but I have purchased a set of these books and will keep and re-read them for years to come.

Someone please make this a Netflix series!

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield


E115714F-DA04-4765-B6FD-6B4265B78092There are few authors who can take a common archetype like water and use it to deliver a fresh, wholly original tale that ensnares the reader from start to finish. Diane Setterfield does that in Once Upon a River. She uses the River to create the spine upon which she builds multiple stories that eventually meet to join the main narrative, just as tributaries meet the river.

Setterfield’s debut, The Thirteenth Tale, was as brilliant a novel as I’ve ever read and has become one that I re-read occasionally and recommend constantly. Her sophomore effort, Bellman & Black, didn’t appeal to me in the same way, but this one…oh, this one…is a story that I will remember for a long time. The characters are engaging and cleverly written, and the stories are joyful and heartbreaking…at the same time. I especially admire how sensitively Setterfield writes about differences. Jonathan, son of the innkeepers and born with Down Syndrome, is portrayed as a valuable and much-loved member of the family and contributor to the community. Armstrong, the bastard son of an Earl and a Black servant, is portrayed as a powerful, just, and loving man in the English countryside of long ago. And finally there is my favorite character Rita, the village “wise woman” who is really just a woman with common sense who loves to read and learn and who is trusted and loved by the villagers.

These are just three of the characters who people the pages of Once Upon a River, but there are more who will undoubtedly appeal to other readers. Part of Setterfield’s appeal for me is her attention to detail and character-building. Every single character could step out of this book and be a real person.

The multiple stories built throughout this book could stand alone, but here, Setterfield ties them all to the story of a small, mute girl rescued from the river. Who is she and where did she come from? That’s the question that drives all the action forward and leaves you guessing to the very end.

Looked at in a larger context, Once Upon a River is a story about stories and the importance (and danger) of telling tales. Setterfield masterfully shows how stories spread and grow into new things, just as small streams eventually become big rivers. Highly recommended.

Publication Date: December 4, 2018
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

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silverThere are dozens of books out there that re-work traditional fairy and folk tales, but few take the kernel of the story and pop it into something completely different. Novik has done that here and produced what will surely be the hit of the summer with fans of fantasy and fairytales.

She has taken the bones from multiple folk and fairy tales and built them into a wholly original and compelling story that is told from several perspectives. Typically in a story with so many protagonists, a couple of them suffer from poor characterization and neglect. No so here. Every character has a role to play, whether it’s our “Queens” Mirayem and Irina, or little Stepon or old Magreta, they all provide the threads that Novik weaves into a luscious, fascinating tapestry of a story.

The base story of Rumpelstiltskin where a maiden must turn straw (in this case, silver) to gold is the foundation of the tale, but Novik weaves in elements of European folktales all over the place: the mountain of glass, the never-ending battle between fire and ice/summer and winter, even the “moneylender” from Shakespeare has a role. Oddly enough, the archetype that kept coming to mind towards the end was of the holiday cartoon characters Heat Miser and Cold Miser, but Novik’s characters are definitely *not* cartoony! The last few chapters could have been that cartoon reworked as an action/adventure movie.

It is the women in this story, though, that you will remember. Mirayem. Irina. Wanda. Magreta. You will cheer them on and take comfort in their strength and cleverness, and you will remember them long after you have finished the book.

While the story is remarkable, this is a loooonnngggg book.  Around 80% through, I admit I started skimming through to the end. Some of the build up to Mirayem’s turning the massive amounts of silver to gold could be trimmed, as could some parts of the early and later chapters. The real action happens in the last quarter, which is where I started to get impatient with the pace of the story. However, story always wins, so this is sure to be on all the “Best of” lists for 2018. Very well done and recommended.

May Micro-Reviews


28A02E25-07BA-4CBD-B1E0-6AEE24541D0DThe Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden by Karina Yan Glaser – The Vanderbeeker kids are back in another charming story about generosity, being a good neighbor, and growing up. This is one of those gentle, feel-good stories where nothing much happens, except real life. The kids witness a beloved neighbor having a stroke, they struggle with their own emotions, and they learn that even kids who appear to have it all often don’t. The Vanderbeekers are definitely “free range” kids, and their adventures in their Harlem neighborhood are the stuff of dreams. The kids are all written beautifully and the family dynamics are definitely something to emulate. This is not a particularly special story in that it’s something “new” but it will be enjoyed by early to middle grade readers who just like to read about other kids.

Publication Date: September 25, 2018
Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy

657A0259-7343-412B-A674-DF6D9DD31EA2In the Night Wood by Dale Bailey – Bailey checks all the boxes in this supernatural, psychological thriller of a book: a couple whose marriage is in trouble, a dead child, a mysterious English manor house, a spooky forest, intimidating & creepy manor staff, a past tragedy…and more. Charles, Erin & Lissa are the seemingly perfect family whose life is turned upside down by a truly horrible accident. The psychological strain of that experience coupled with the gothic-horror experience of Hollow House makes for a top-notch, nail-biting, check-under-the-bed thrilling novel. For fans of English folklore, horror, and suspense. Recommended.

Publication Date: October 9, 2018
Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy

994C1041-BFDE-4E07-9D99-917BC0590A95Bluecrowne by Kate Milford – As a diehard Greenglass House fan, I eagerly anticipated this prequel to the series, and I am not disappointed. Kate Milford introduces us to a whole new cast of colorful characters who are every bit as entertaining, clever, and quirky as Milo and company. Lucy Bluecrowne is a character for the ages, and I look forward to following her adventures as she grows up. Liao and Xianming are also so intriguing that they deserve another book as well. Milford is well on her way to creating a world in Nagspeake that is every bit as magical and real as J.K. Rowling’s Hogwarts. Her writing is full of lovely descriptions, clever and thoughtful dialogue, and plenty of mystery, suspense, action, adventure, and magic. Highly recommended.

Publication Date: October 2, 2018
Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Childrens Books Group; Clarion Books
Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy

97EB1610-2008-4809-8637-BEB706E2DBEF Secret History of the Jersey Devil: How Quakers, Hucksters, and Benjamin Franklin Created a Monster by Brian Regan – It seems that creating monsters to distract people from real issues is not something unique to 21st century politics. As a longtime but amateur student of cryptozoology, I am always open to reading new accounts of legends and monsters, so I was eager to learn more about the infamous Jersey Devil. The origin story of Mother Leeds giving birth to an evil, horrifying “monster” that flew up the chimney certainly has its roots in European folklore and fairytales. Those tales were often created to make people do things – e.g. Peg Powler and Jenny Greenteeth were invented to keep children away from rivers and streams, thereby keeping them safe from drowning. In this book, Regal and Esposito take the Jersey Devil out of the New Jersey Pine Barrens and link it to political intrigue and opinion-shaping. What better way to get people to do what you want than to scare the crap out of them? I suppose it’s somewhat comforting to know that such political maneuvering has been going on for hundreds of years without the world ending, which suggests that the current version of the Jersey Devil (immigrants/Muslims) will eventually be replaced with something else. This is not light reading, however, so I will recommend for those who enjoy non-fiction related to politics and history.

Publication Date: March 1, 2018
Published by: Johns Hopkins University Press
Thanks to Edelweiss for the review copy

06FD49B1-679B-46B2-80F7-D50D936D72F1Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson – Leonardo da Vinci has always fascinated me, so this new biography of possibly one of the greatest humans ever to live was something I had to read.  Isaacson delivers a well-crafted look not only into da Vinci’s life but into the culture of the time which certainly shaped his world view and supported his curiosity. It was da Vinci’s insatiable curiosity about everything that first attracted me to him so many years ago, and Isaacson provides a laser view into the mind that envisioned flight, surgery, and so much more. Highly readable, well written, and meticulously researched, this is very much recommended.

Publication Date: October 17, 2017
Published by: Simon & Schuster
Thanks to Edelweiss for the review copy

 

 

 

 

April Micro-Reviews


unforgotten

The Unforgotten by Laura Powell – What a ride! This is a book that forces you to pay attention, which really isn’t a problem because you will want to keep turning those pages. The story begins with Betty Broadbent, a young girl who suddenly finds her quiet life in a small Cornish village turned upside down by a series of grisly murders. The local hotel run by Betty’s mother becomes de facto headquarters for the journalists who descend on the town, and that’s where Betty meets Gallagher. The two fall into an unlikely and unpredictable relationship/friendship as the search for the “Cornish Cleaver” goes on. While I expected a tightly written mystery, I got that plus a really well-crafted story about obsession, madness, and guilt. I found the characters charming at first, then a little irritating, then a little scary and suspicious. The author does a good job of blending past and present, and skillfully demonstrates how the past never really leaves you. I’m not often surprised by endings, but this one had me gobsmacked. Really, really good.

Publication Date: February 6, 2018
Published By: Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

islandIsland of the Mad by Laurie King – I’ve been a fan of Laurie King’s Mary Russell series for years, but the last couple felt a little played out. This one, unfortunately, continued that trend. Here, Mary is contacted by an old, dear friend whose beloved Aunt Vivian has disappeared. Vivian, who has been a resident of an asylum for years, was visiting family when she disappeared along with some jewels and other items from her brother’s safe. Russell is called upon to find the Lady Vivian and recover both the lady and the jewels. This involves an undercover stay in Bedlam (the asylum where Vivian lived for years), fascism in Britain and Italy, and Cole Porter. While the story was entertaining enough, it didn’t spark like previous books. The younger Russell would have twigged on the reason for Lady Vivian’s “madness” long before this Mary Russell figured it out. I found myself shaking my head at her thickness by chapter 4. I think it’s time to move on.

Publication Date: June 12, 2018
Published By: Random House Group/Ballantine/Bantam
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

darkangelDark Angel by Elly Griffiths – I’ve loved Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series from the first, and was eagerly anticipating this next entry in the series. “Was” is the keyword in that last sentence. Griffiths has gone from writing top-notch mysteries focusing primarily on Ruth’s role as a forensic anthropologist to writing sappy relationship novels that focus on Ruth as the “other woman” in a love triangle, successfully reducing her to a cliché. Why do writers do that? Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series suffered from the same issue, but Winspear is finally bringing Maisie back around to detecting. Griffiths needs to do the same. Ruth Galloway is so much more than Nelson and Kate. Bring her back! Please!

Publication Date: May 13, 2018
Published By: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

168987AA-65EE-4C22-828E-3AD4FE97BFE7The Fairies of Sadieville by Alex Bledsoe – Another highly anticipated series entry from Alex Bledsoe that more than lived up to the anticipation. Begun with the Hum & the Shiver and concluded here, Bledsoe’s Tufa series is one of the most creative and well-written modern fairy tales out there. Bledsoe beautifully wraps up the story arc of an exiled tribe of Tuatha de Danaan living in Tennessee, providing closure to a number of stories included in the earlier books. We finally learn the one story that Bledsoe has never told – the origin story of the Tufa – and it’s fascinating, especially the little nugget of info from the King of Fairyland regarding the bet that landed the Tufa in Tennessee.  While I am sad that this is the last in the series, I am very much looking forward to the tales Bledsoe will spin next. I highly recommend the entire series.

Publication Date: April 10, 2018
Published By: MacMillan/Tor-Forge
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

westawayDeath of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware – Ruth Ware has done it again. The Death of Mrs. Westaway is an un-put-downable tale of family turmoil, long-buried secrets, and deception that will keep you up at night, reading just one more chapter…until you’ve devoured the whole thing in one sitting. Harriet “Hal” Westaway is a young woman making her living as a tarot reader on the Brighton Pier. She’s all alone in the world, having lost her mother in an unexpected accident when she was 18. Not only is she alone, but she’s also in debt. So when she receives a letter from an attorney informing her that she is a beneficiary in the will of  her grandmother Hester Westaway, she packs up her few belongings and heads to Cornwall, even though she believes the letter was sent in error. Her arrival sets in motion a chain of events begun decades earlier and brought to a grim conclusion here. Ware gives us an appealing protagonist, shifty characters, a questionable will, and the de rigeur treacherous housekeeper all wrapped up in a brooding Cornish mansion right out of Agatha Christie. One of the best I’ve read this year. Highly recommended.

Publication Date: May 29, 2018
Published By: Simon & Schuster/Gallery/Scout Press
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy