The Inheritance of Orquidea Divina by Zoraida Cordova


Description

The Montoyas are used to a life without explanations. They know better than to ask why the pantry never seems to run low, or why their matriarch won’t ever leave their home in Four Rivers—not for graduations, weddings, or baptisms. But when Orquídea Divina invites them to her funeral and to collect their inheritance, they hope to learn the secrets that she has held onto so tightly their whole lives. Instead, Orquídea is transformed into a ceiba tree, leaving them with more questions than answers.

Seven years later, her gifts have manifested in different ways for Marimar, Rey, and Rhiannon, granting them unexpected blessings and powers. But soon, a hidden figure begins to tear through their family tree, picking them off one by one as it seeks to destroy Orquídea’s line. Determined to save what’s left of their family and uncover the truth behind their inheritance, her descendants travel to Ecuador—to the place where Orquídea buried her secrets and broken promises and never looked back.

Alternating between Orquídea’s past and her descendants’ present, The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina is a “spellbinding tale, both timeless and fresh, that will stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page. Prepare to fall in love” (Kim Liggett, New York Times bestselling author).

My Thoughts

I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher in August and was immediately drawn to the cover art, which is simply beautiful. I discovered that beauty was carried through to the text as soon as I began reading.

This is the story of a woman who began life as an unwanted child, a burden to her mother and an embarrassment to her stepfather, but beloved among the downtrodden in her village, who became the matriarch of a remarkable family. As a child, Orquidea wanted nothing more than to please her mother and take care of the people who needed help. She is portrayed as a resilient, clever child with a strong will who sees more to the world than most people. Cordova begins building the layers of Orquidea from the beginning, slowly moving towards the action that defines Orquidea’s adult life and the lives of her descendants.

Cordova has mastered the art of magical realism, blending magic with everyday life as naturally as a tree grows and gives life. The tree imagery runs through the story, beginning with Orquidea’s transformation into a ceiba tree, sacred to her people. It is believed that the souls of the dead ascend to the top of the trees to go to heaven. It was also a connection between all three worlds, the underworld, earth and heaven. Here, it is Orquidea, the matriarch, creating links between the past, the present, and the future.

The introduction of the fallen star reminded me of one of my very favorite books of 2020 – Quintessence by Jess Redman, a children’s book that used the fallen star imagery to remind us that we all have a light inside us and we just have to figure out how to ignite it. Orquidea understands that and does her best to help her descendants find their light. She uses the fallen star to wish her way into freedom.

This is also a story about obsession and possession. It’s a familiar trope – a woman running from a man who wants to consume and control her. Here, Orquidea finds the power and courage to escape but not without consequences. She lives with those consequences for 40 years before finally confronting her fear and anger and breaking free of him and it forever.

There are so many things to love about this book, but what brings it all together is Cordova’s gorgeous prose. She has mastered description and dialog and every word and phrase is exactly as it should be to create magic. She is a writer to watch and I look forward to more of her work.

This is my “Best of 2021” pick, for sure. I’ll be recommending this for a long time to come.

Publication Date: September 7, 2021
Published by: Simon & Schuster, Atria Books
Thanks to the publisher for an advanced reading copy

Luminous by Mara Rutherford


Description

“Wonderfully lush and enthralling.” —Erin A. Craig, New York Times bestselling author of House of Salt and Sorrows

From the author of Crown of Coral and Pearl comes an immersive new fantasy about a witch who must learn to harness her power—or risk losing her loved ones forever.

Liora has spent her life in hiding, knowing discovery could mean falling prey to the king’s warlock, Darius, who uses mages’ magic to grow his own power. But when her worst nightmare comes to pass, Darius doesn’t take her. Instead, he demands that her younger sister return to the capital with him. To make matters worse, Evran, Liora’s childhood friend and the only one who knows her secret, goes missing following Darius’s visit, leaving her without anyone to turn to.

To find Evran and to save her sister, Liora must embrace the power she has always feared. But the greatest danger she’ll face is yet to come, for Darius has plans in motion that will cause the world to fall into chaos—and Liora and Evran may be the only ones who can stop him.

“A beautiful, enchanting tale of a young woman coming into her own powers. Luminous shines as brightly as its heroine.” —Joan He, New York Times bestselling author of The Ones We’re Meant to Find

“Shining prose, radiant characters, and a love story that burns bright.” —Elly Blake, New York Times bestselling author of the Frostblood Saga

My Thoughts

This captivating tale of a young girl discovering her own power falls somewhere between A Court of Thorn & Roses and MarcyKate Connolly’s Shadow Weaver, meaning it will appeal to advanced middle grade readers as well as to teens and adults who enjoy fantasy.

The story is familiar – a young girl must hide her powers to keep herself and her family safe, but in Rutherford’s hands readers are treated to some first class world-building and character development. Rutherford draws inspiration from multiple places – e.g. the use of three sisters, the weaving of fate from Greek mythology, even The Nothing from Neverending Story which is how I interpreted Darius – but the story she creates in wholly hers and it’s one of the best things I’ve read lately. While the main character Liora was charming and brave, I was utterly captivated by the character of Margana and thought her fate, while unexpected, was well-done.

Highly Recommended.

Publication Date: October 5, 2021
Published by: Inkyard Press
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Beatryce Prophecy by Kate DiCamillo


Description

A 2021 People Magazine Best Books of Fall Winner!

From two-time Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo and two-time Caldecott Medalist Sophie Blackall comes a fantastical meditation on fate, love, and the power of words to spell the world.

We shall all, in the end, be led to where we belong. We shall all, in the end, find our way home.

In a time of war, a mysterious child appears at the monastery of the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing. Gentle Brother Edik finds the girl, Beatryce, curled in a stall, wracked with fever, coated in dirt and blood, and holding fast to the ear of Answelica the goat. As the monk nurses Beatryce to health, he uncovers her dangerous secret, one that imperils them all—for the king of the land seeks just such a girl, and Brother Edik, who penned the prophecy himself, knows why.

And so it is that a girl with a head full of stories—powerful tales-within-the-tale of queens and kings, mermaids and wolves—ventures into a dark wood in search of the castle of one who wishes her dead. But Beatryce knows that, should she lose her way, those who love her—a wild-eyed monk, a man who had once been king, a boy with a terrible sword, and a goat with a head as hard as stone—will never give up searching for her, and to know this is to know everything. With its timeless themes, unforgettable cast, and magical medieval setting, Kate DiCamillo’s lyrical tale, paired with resonant black-and-white illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Sophie Blackall, is a true collaboration between masters.

My Thoughts

Kate DiCamillo just keeps on writing perfect books. The Beatryce Prophecy is storytelling at it finest, with endearing characters and a compelling, folktale-like story led by a remarkable and memorable trio of characters. However, if you count the goat, it’s really a group of four!

All the elements of a story are here – characters that leap off the page; a well-constructed plot that keeps the reader turning pages; a setting defined by vivid description; and a tension that grips you by the hands and pulls you along to the very satisfying conclusion.

This would make a lovely classroom read-aloud that could be used to spark discussion on a number of topics, including equity in education.

Highly recommended.

Publication Date: September 28, 2021
Published By: Candlewick Press
Thanks to Edelweiss+ for the review copy

Be My Ghost by Carol J. Perry


Description

Maureen Doherty and her golden retriever Finn have taken possession of a charming old inn—only to discover that it’s already possessed by tenants whose lease on life already ran out. Maureen’s career as a sportswear buyer hits a snag just before Halloween, when the department store declares bankruptcy. Meanwhile, Finn’s lost his way as a guide dog after flunking his test for being too friendly and easily distracted. Sadly, only one of them can earn unemployment, so Maureen’s facing a winter of discontent in Boston–when she realizes she can’t afford her apartment.

Salvation comes when she receives a mysterious inheritance: an inn in Haven, Florida. A quaint, scenic town on the Gulf of Mexico hidden away from the theme parks, Maureen believes it’s a good place to make a fresh start with a new business venture. But she gets more than she bargained for when she finds a dead body on her property–and meets some of the inn’s everlasting tenants in the form of ghosts who offer their otherworldly talents in order to help her solve the mystery.

I discovered Carol Perry’s Witch City series last year and really enjoyed her style of writing. That style is carried over into this new series featuring a former department store buyer who suddenly finds herself the owner of a vintage inn located in Haven, Florida.

Witch City focuses on, you guessed it, witches. This new series is all about ghosts. The inn our heroine Maureen inherits is haunted you see, as is the entire town of Haven. Perry spins an engaging yarn involving ghost hunters, a pissed off inn manager, a mysterious bequest to our intrepid heroine, and at least one fun ghost haunting Maureen’s penthouse suite.

While this isn’t anything new in terms of cozy mysteries, Perry successfully begins building the foundation of what I hope will become a lengthy series featuring Maureen Doherty, her golden retriever Finn, and a host of quirky, colorful characters inhabiting the picturesque town of Haven, Florida. Some cozies are super ridiculous with just about every genre cliche thrown in for good measure; others take themselves too seriously, resulting in a boring story. Be My Ghost is just right – great characters, great writing, great setting. A winner all the way.

Publication Date: August 31, 2021
Published By: Kensington
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Undertakers by Nicole Glover


Description

Nicole Glover delivers the second book in her exciting Murder & Magic series of historical fantasy novels featuring Hetty Rhodes and her husband, Benjy, magic practitioners and detectives living in post–Civil War Philadelphia.

Nothing bothers Hetty and Benjy Rhodes more than a case where the answers, motives, and the murder itself feel a bit too neat. Raimond Duval, a victim of one of the many fires that have erupted recently in Philadelphia, is officially declared dead after the accident, but Hetty and Benjy’s investigation points to a powerful Fire Company known to let homes in the Black community burn to the ground. Before long, another death breathes new life into the Duval investigation: Raimond’s son, Valentine, is also found dead.

Finding themselves with the dubious honor of taking on Valentine Duval as their first major funeral, it becomes clear that his passing was intentional. Valentine and his father’s deaths are connected, and the recent fires plaguing the city might be more linked to recent community events than Hetty and Benji originally thought.

The Undertakers continues the adventures of murder and magic, where even the most powerful enchantments can’t always protect you from the ghosts of the past . . .

Review

Nicole Glover’s series debut, The Conductors, is one of the most fascinating and unique stories I’ve read in a long time, and the stars of the series, Benjamin and Henrietta Rhodes, are two of the most engaging characters put to page. Glover’s second in the series, The Undertakers, drops the reader back into the Rhodes’ Philadelphia just a few months after the conclusion of The Conductors.

Ben and Hetty are trying to get their funeral home business off the ground when a new mystery is dropped in their laps. Mysterious fires and the even more mysterious deaths of a prominent businessman and his son set Hetty and Ben on a new case. An old enemy from the past re-surfaces and raises complicated feelings and memories for Hetty, who manages to tie them all back up into a neat conclusion.

Glover does a remarkable job of interweaving stories and experiences from the past into the current lives of the Rhodes and their circle of friends. She also introduces the reader to bits of African-American history that add a depth and dimension to the plot. Here, I was prompted to research the role of early fire companies in Philadelphia and other early American cities. Fire departments today are noble organizations committed to public safety, but they weren’t always so egalitarian. Glover uses that history to depict a slice of African-American life, post-enslavement.

The magical aspect of this story continues to engage me. Celestial magic versus sorcery is such an unusual view of how different cultures approach magic. Glover creates an intricate and deep relationship between African-Americans and the elements of earth, air, fire, and water and spins that into a captivating narrative sure to appeal to fans of fantasy and magic.

If you haven’t read The Conductors, go do that between now and November when this one comes out. I am definitely looking forward to the next installment in this series!

Published by: Mariner Books
Publication Date: November 9, 2021
Thanks to Edelweiss.Plus for the review copy

The Promise Witch by Celine Kiernan


Description*

Third in a darkly enchanting trilogy after Begone the Raggedy Witches and The Little Grey Girl, The Promise Witch opens in a time of heat and thirst. The deposed old tyrant of a queen sent a cursed winter to bury Witches Borough in snow. Months later, the clouds have vanished, but an equally cursed drought has settled over the castle and its river, now bone-dry. Witches Borough is dying, and though Mup is the pathfinder, the stitcher of worlds, is she strong enough to mend a scorched landscape and bring the water home? Enter a raggedy witch trailing a storm of ashes: Magda, Crow’s mother. She wants Mup to fulfill a promise. She wants Mup to help her. And woe betide any who stand in her way. Irish storyteller Celine Kiernan’s breathtaking tale of family, loyalty, and risk caps a timeless trilogy brimming with drama and danger—and heartbreaking resonance to the struggles of today.

I discovered Celine Kiernan’s series quite by accident while browsing online. I was thoroughly captivated by Begone the Raggedy Witches and eagerly read the follow-up Little Grey Girl. In The Promise Witch, Kiernan brings the family through the hardest of times, guiding Mup and Mam and the people through terrible thirst and vengeance from a power in decline.

As in the two previous stories, Mup is the center, the “stitcher of worlds” who provides the path for the new through the terrible landscape of the old.

Kiernan’s characterization is outstanding. Mup, wise beyond her years and powerful beyond belief, is still a little girl who needs her Mam. And Mam is a little girl all grown up finally understanding her role in this magical world.

This can be read as a straightforward fantasy for middle graders, but also as an allegory for climate change. Kiernan layers magic, friendship, and loyalty over top of environmental changes similar to what’s happening in our world. Her story implies that good change can happen when people come together, trust one another, and make decisions that may involve sacrifice for the benefit of others.

This is storytelling at its best. Highly recommended.

Published By: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: June 15, 2021
Thanks to *Edelweiss.Plus for the review copy

The Hidden Palace by Helene Wecker


Description

In this enthralling historical epic, set in New York City and the Middle East in the years leading to World War I— the long-awaited follow-up to the acclaimed New York Times bestseller The Golem and the Jinni—Helene Wecker revisits her beloved characters Chava and Ahmad as they confront unexpected new challenges in a rapidly changing human world.

Chava is a golem, a woman made of clay, who can hear the thoughts and longings of those around her and feels compelled by her nature to help them. Ahmad is a jinni, a restless creature of fire, once free to roam the desert but now imprisoned in the shape of a man. Fearing they’ll be exposed as monsters, these magical beings hide their true selves and try to pass as human—just two more immigrants in the bustling world of 1900s Manhattan. Brought together under calamitous circumstances, their lives are now entwined—but they’re not yet certain of what they mean to each other.

The Golem and the Jinni was one of my top reads in 2013 and I still recommend it to readers in my library. I was excited to discover this sequel and dove in right away.

That was a couple months ago.

As with Golem, Wecker takes her time introducing characters and floats the various storylines along a gently running river. Normally, I would find this a lovely and welcome difference to the suspense stories I usually read; in March 2021, I found it impossible to keep my attention on the story and had to put it down. This had nothing to do with the book – it was everything going on in both the world at large and my own little corner of it.

Fast forward to May and a slightly calmer environment. I picked this up again and spent a wonderful weekend immersed in the world of Chava and Ahmad. It was my time to read this.

I thoroughly enjoyed the stories of Chava, Ahmad, and all the people who touch their lives, as well as the way Wecker ties in the significant historic events of the times, To be sure, there are lots of stories here, but Wecker keeps them all bound together, much in the way that people interact in real life. She presents a view of community and caring among people who are very different and shows that human decency can transcend differences – a message we all need right now.

Recommended.

Publication Date: June 8, 2021
Published By: Harper
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Meet Me in Another Life by Catriona Silvey


Description

Two people. Infinite lifetimes. One impossible choice.

Thora and Santi are strangers in a foreign city when a chance encounter intertwines their fates. At once, they recognize in each other a kindred spirit—someone who shares their insatiable curiosity, who is longing for more in life than the cards they’ve been dealt. Only days later, though, a tragic accident cuts their story short.

But this is only one of the many connections they share. Like satellites trapped in orbit around each other, Thora and Santi are destined to meet again: as a teacher and prodigy student; a caretaker and dying patient; a cynic and a believer. In numerous lives they become friends, colleagues, lovers, and enemies. But as blurred memories and strange patterns compound, Thora and Santi come to a shocking revelation—they must discover the truth of their mysterious attachment before their many lives come to one, final end.

It’s rare that I give a one word review, but this one warrants it, on repeat:

Brilliant

Brilliant

Brilliant

Brilliant

Publication Date: April 27, 2021
Published By: William Morrow
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Mystical Stitches by Christi Johnson


Description

Hand embroidery can be a joyous respite from busy daily life. It is an exploration of material, an invitation to slow down, and it allows time for contemplation. Mystical Stitches combines this beloved and accessible craft with a spiritual element, introducing nearly 200 original designs for different symbols readers can use to create personal icons to wear or embellish items in the home. Christi Johnson offers patterns inspired by botanicals, animals, numbers, the cosmos, earth elements, and mythological icons for novice or well-practiced crafters to combine into talismans with personal meaning. Johnson’s folk art style is vibrant and unintimidating and provides a framework for bringing spiritual elements into physical form. In addition to basic techniques, an overview of material options, and an illustrated encyclopedia of stitches, the extensive treasury of symbols is lavishly photographed in hand-stitched, full-color spreads that will inspire readers to create personalized designs to stitch on clothes, hang on the wall, place on an altar, carry with them, or display in a place of prominence.

As a new, self-taught and still learning stitcher, I am interested in learning not just the stitches themselves, but the meaning behind them. Johnson delivers that and more in this fascinating look at shapes, colors, and stitches commonly used throughout history in needlework and art.

Johnson connects to the resurgence of the old crafts and provides historical as well as personal information about stitchery, connecting it to nature and the universe. Her writing style is chatty and colloquial, which appealed to me, and the depth of her knowledge is unmatched.

Reviewing books that rely heavily on illustrations is always tricky in a digital copy on a tablet because formatting is usually all messed up. However, the images come through crisp and clear, for both the stitches and full color photos of projects.

This is one I will definitely buy in print form. Recommended.

Publication Date: June 22, 2021
Published By: Storey Publishing LLC
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston


New York Times bestseller! Artemis Fowl meets Men in Black in this exhilarating debut middle grade fantasy, the first in a trilogy filled with #blackgirlmagic. Perfect for fans of Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, the Percy Jackson series, and Nevermoor.

Amari Peters has never stopped believing her missing brother, Quinton, is alive. Not even when the police told her otherwise, or when she got in trouble for standing up to bullies who said he was gone for good.

So when she finds a ticking briefcase in his closet, containing a nomination for a summer tryout at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, she’s certain the secretive organization holds the key to locating Quinton—if only she can wrap her head around the idea of magicians, fairies, aliens, and other supernatural creatures all being real.

Now she must compete for a spot against kids who’ve known about magic their whole lives. No matter how hard she tries, Amari can’t seem to escape their intense doubt and scrutiny—especially once her supernaturally enhanced talent is deemed “illegal.” With an evil magician threatening the supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she’s an enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t stick it out and pass the tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton.

I haven’t been this excited about a debut fantasy book for kids since I read the Sorcerer’s Stone ARC way back in 1997. Amari & the Night Brothers is the first in what I hope will be a long-running series featuring a young Black girl and her brother, who are magical investigators. While Quinton, the brother, is a super-talented investigator, it’s Amari who is the magician and has the most power. What a powerful message to send to girls.

When we first meet Amari, she’s confused, worried, angry, and sad for many reasons. She is targeted and bullied at school, her mother works too hard, and her brother has mysteriously disappeared. Like the boy living in the cupboard under the stairs, Amari discovers a whole new, magical world where she suddenly finds power, acceptance, and friendship – qualities that appear again and again in this story.

The author imbues Amari with integrity and loyalty, two traits that help her adjust to life at “camp” and help her through the trials she experiences there. B.B. Alston has captured the magic of a young girl starting to grow up and grow into herself.

Amari is set to become a new and improved Harry Potter for girls and boys who found a hero on the screen in Black Panther. I’ll be buying copies of this and handing them out liberally.