The Night Country by Melissa Albert


cover173062-mediumThe New York Times bestseller! The Night Country is the highly anticipated sequel to Melissa Albert’s beloved debut The Hazel Wood.

In The Night Country, Alice Proserpine dives back into a menacing, mesmerizing world of dark fairy tales and hidden doors of The Hazel Wood. Follow her and Ellery Finch as they learn The Hazel Wood was just the beginning, and that worlds die not with a whimper, but a bang.

With Finch’s help, Alice escaped the Hinterland and her reclusive grandmother’s dark legacy. Now she and the rest of the dregs of the fairy tale world have washed up in New York City, where Alice is trying to make a new, unmagical life. But something is stalking the Hinterland’s survivors—and she suspects their deaths may have a darker purpose. Meanwhile, in the winking out world of the Hinterland, Finch seeks his own adventure, and—if he can find it—a way back home…

I confess I found this sequel to The Hazel Wood hard to read. The grim and bloody violence was wrenching at times, and the story seemed a bit convoluted. However, all of the odd story strands were pulled tight and tied off in a pulse-pounding conclusion that will resonate with fans of The Hazel Wood and the Hinterland.

All that said, I really think I was not in the right frame of mind to read this. It was early days of “New York on PAUSE” due to coronavirus and my nerves were super-taut. I’m recommending it because the writing is awesome and the conclusion to the story begun in The Hazel Wood is highly anticipated by fans.

Publication Date: January 7, 2020
Published By: Flatiron Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Of Salt and Shore by Annet Schaap


cover180004-mediumFor fans of The Hazel Wood, this middle grade novel takes the dark stuff of fairytales and crafts it into a powerful story of friendship and light.

Every evening Lampie, the lighthouse keeper’s daughter, must light a lantern to warn ships away from the rocks, but one stormy night disaster strikes. The lantern is not lit, a ship is wrecked, and someone must pay.

To work off her debt, Lampie is banished to the Admiral’s lonely house, where a monster is rumored to live. The terrors inside the house aren’t quite what she thought they would be–they are even stranger. After Lampie saves the life of the neglected, deformed son of the admiral, a boy she calls Fish, they form a close bond. Soon they are pulled into a fairytale adventure swimming with mermaids, pirates, and misfits. Lampie will discover the courage to fight for friendship, knowledge, and the freedom to be different.

Ready for a weird and harsh twist on The Little Mermaid fairytale?

This twisted tale imagines the life of the offspring of the union between a mermaid and a human, told through the voice of a young, uneducated but fierce girl named Emilia.

Emilia, also known as Lampie, endures a hard life as a lighthouse keeper’s daughter, made more difficult by the loss of her beloved mother and her father’s subsequent drinking and depression. A horrible lapse in memory causes a terrible disaster, which separates Lampie and her father. Sent to live in the “Black House,” Lampie quickly comes to understand that there is something very wrong there. Lampie uncovers the secret of the household, the deformed son of the master who is kept locked in a tower room. Lampie finds that he is a rude little boy, but also much more. The two form an unusual friendship, which grows out of Lampie’s natural inclination to treat Edward, or Fish as she calls him, as any other person. Ultimately, they both find their way “home.”

This is not a sweet fairy story and includes some violence. It examines the darker side of human nature, focusing on the suspicion, fear and intolerance associated with people who are different, but also demonstrates the utter joy and beauty that can be found when human beings connect despite their differences. Beautifully written, with characters that jump off the pages and swim around in your mind long after the book is closed, Of Salt and Shore should be one of the most anticipated books of the year.

Publication Date: September 15, 2020
Published By: Charlesbridge Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel byRuth Hogan


cover180892-mediumFrom the wildly popular bestselling author of The Keeper of Lost Things comes a surprising and uplifting story about the complicated relationships between mothers and daughters, and the magic of chosen family.

Tilly was a bright, outgoing little girl who loved fizzy drinks, naughty words, and liked playing with ghosts and matches. When her beloved father suddenly disappeared, she and her fragile, difficult mother moved into Queenie Malone’s magnificent Paradise Hotel in Brighton, with its endearing and loving family of misfits—including the exuberant and compassionate Queenie herself. But then Tilly was dealt another shattering blow when her mother sent her off to boarding school with little explanation and no warning, and she lost her beloved chosen family.

Now an adult, Tilda has grown into an independent woman still damaged by her mother’s unaccountable cruelty. Wary of people, her only true friend is her dog, Eli. When her estranged mother dies, Tilda returns to Brighton and the home she loved best. With the help of the still-dazzling Queenie, she sets about unraveling the mystery of her exile from The Paradise Hotel, only to discover that her mother was not the woman she thought she knew at all…and that it’s never too late to write your own happy ending.

With Ruth Hogan’s trademark quirky, clever, and life-affirming characters, Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel will dazzle readers and mesmerize them until they reach the surprising twist at the end.

I adored Ruth Hogan’s Keeper of Lost Things so was excited to crack open this new story. The description promised colorful, unconventional characters and plenty of past heartbreak and adult angst. I was not disappointed.

Hogan does a masterful job of communicating how differently people perceive the same actions and situations. The different memories of the past experienced by Tilly and her mother paint a picture of two people so far apart in how they perceive things that they essentially ruin each others lives. The reconciliation that Tilly experiences through her mother’s diaries after her death is heartbreaking, real, and ultimately beautiful.

Tilly’s relationships with the real and the unreal can be confusing at times, but ultimately come together to form a unique and special narrative.

And there has never been a better ending sentence. Read this book.

Publication Date: April 14, 2020
Published By: William Morrow
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White


B538682A-3D64-4E2C-9058-8E587CE17E39A new fantasy series set in the world of Camelot that bestselling author Christina Lauren calls “brilliant,” reimagining the Arthurian legend . . . where nothing is as magical and terrifying as a girl.

Princess Guinevere has come to Camelot to wed a stranger: the charismatic King Arthur. With magic clawing at the kingdom’s borders, the great wizard Merlin conjured a solution–send in Guinevere to be Arthur’s wife . . . and his protector from those who want to see the young king’s idyllic city fail. The catch? Guinevere’s real name–and her true identity–is a secret. She is a changeling, a girl who has given up everything to protect Camelot.

To keep Arthur safe, Guinevere must navigate a court in which the old–including Arthur’s own family–demand things continue as they have been, and the new–those drawn by the dream of Camelot–fight for a better way to live. And always, in the green hearts of forests and the black depths of lakes, magic lies in wait to reclaim the land.

Deadly jousts, duplicitous knights, and forbidden romances are nothing compared to the greatest threat of all: the girl with the long black hair, riding on horseback through the dark woods toward Arthur. Because when your whole existence is a lie, how can you trust even yourself?

*THE FIRST BOOK IN THE CAMELOT RISING TRILOGY*

Retelling or re-interpreting beloved stories has been a trend in publishing, and the glorious stories of King Arthur and Camelot have long been fodder for this kind of storytelling. One part of this trend that I have enjoyed is the re-telling of stories through the female characters, and here Kiersten White has produced a remarkable tale of Camelot featuring a new and powerful Guinevere.

White writes of a Camelot carved from a mountain, bereft of magic, but enjoying the peace and prosperity of Arthur’s reign. Into that bucolic kingdom comes Queen Guinevere, but not the Queen they all expected. This Guinevere is a changeling, a child of Merlin substituted for a dead princess from the south, sent to Camelot to protect Arthur from unknown dark magic.

White takes the old Arthurian tales of Thomas Mallory and T.H. White and blends them with other old English folklore – sentient trees, a “dark queen,” and the Green Knight – while adding some welcome and decidedly 21st century feminism to the mix. Guinevere is written as a character who has been used by men (primarily Merlin) for the benefit of men (Arthur) who tempers the traditional with her own magic, even as she learns the extent of her power.

There are plenty of unanswered questions here, such as who is Guinevere, really, why does she have so few memories of her past life, and why does she fear water? This is the first book in a planned trilogy and I look forward to the next two. Joining recent Arthurian retellings such as Cursed, The Guinevere Deception will appeal to fantasy fans and will quickly earn space on many bookshelves.

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

A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hamill


cover162337-medium

“If John Irving ever wrote a horror novel, it would be something like this. I loved it.” —Stephen King

Noah Turner sees monsters.

His father saw them—and built a shrine to them with The Wandering Dark, an immersive horror experience that the whole family operates.

His practical mother has caught glimpses of terrors but refuses to believe—too focused on keeping the family from falling apart.

And his eldest sister, the dramatic and vulnerable Sydney, won’t admit to seeing anything but the beckoning glow of the spotlight . . . until it swallows her up.

Noah Turner sees monsters. But, unlike his family, Noah chooses to let them in . . .

Yes, this book is as creepy and shivery as the description above implies and this will appeal to fans of psychological as well as anthropomorphic horror.

I confess. I am an end-reader. If I get halfway or more through a story and am a) getting bored with it, or b) *have* to know what happens to a certain character, etc. I will flip to the end and read the last chapter. What happens to Sydney about 1/3 of the way through is what made me flip to the end; what I found there sent me back for more.

The mark of an exceptional book is if, after reading the end, if I go back and finish the book.

Cosmology of Monsters is an *exceptional* book.

Initially, I read the story through the lens of mental illness, considering the action happening to the family as part of a struggle with serious illness and not flesh & blood “monsters.” As I progressed and the story “got real” I was so taken with the complex relationships built between Noah and his family, friends, and the monster that the mental illness aspect drifted to the background. This book is pure imagination. It takes the horror of Lovecraft and the psychological terror of King and blends them into this gorgeous, creepy, frightening slurry of human (and non-human) emotion. All the elements of a good story are here – primarily the hero with a quest – and Shaun Hamill steps confidently into the circle of horror masters. Highly recommended.

Publication Date: September 17, 2019
Published By: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Doorways to the Deadeye by Eric Guignard


cover170618-mediumFrom the Publisher: Luke Thacker is a drifting hobo in Depression-era America, riding the rails of the nation and surviving by crumbs and hope. Along the way he learns the iconography of transients—the Hobo Code—better than anyone else and deciphers a secret that thrusts him into Athanasia, the middle ground of memories. He learns that Athanasia exists around us, a realm in which the deceased persevere by how they are remembered, and the memories Luke meets will do anything to not ever be forgotten, whether by trickery, violence, or daring.

Luke learns, too, that what’s remembered yesterday is not always the same as what will be remembered tomorrow, and he sets off to keep alive the memories of those he loves in the way a ’bo does best: telling tales of old legends, and making up new ones alike. Fifty years later, the tall crossbucks of Luke Thacker are repeated by homeless King Shaw, who’s struggling to keep Luke’s own legend alive and with it, perhaps, his own.

’Cause it don’t matter if you rob banks with a dead John Dillinger, are hunted over the years by vengeful Earp brothers, or go against the monstrous railroad guard, Smith McCain: When a story is told, all who are part of it become a little stronger.

It’s been awhile since I read a book that has stayed with me as long as this one. I picked this one up mostly because I’ve been fascinated by the Hobo Code since reading about something similar in The Adventure of the Dancing Men by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The idea that it is a secret code that leads to an alternate reality is fascinating, and the alternate reality, Athanasia, is utterly remarkable.

There is so much to unpack with this story, which, really, is about stories and how they are used to keep memories alive. Storytelling goes back to the earliest days of humans, where people used stories as a way to remember and to teach. Guignard uses that in a cautionary way when describing the inhabitants of Athanasia and how their actions cross over from memory to real life in very unexpected ways. I was particularly fascinated with the American Revolutionary characters included here, and Guignard’s presentation of how the memories of one particular Founding Father persist was rather frightening.

The commentary on truth and how storytelling is designed to take “truth” and make it bigger is something the reader will think about for a long time. The desire to be remembered is something we all experience, but some need more. In many ways, this story is an allegory for our current rabid social media culture, where people so crave attention that they make up personas and lifestyles just to be noticed and remembered.

This would make an excellent choice for book discussions. Highly recommended.

Publication Date: July 26, 2019
Published By: JournalStone
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates


cover165563-mediumFrom the National Book Award–winning author of Between the World and Me, a boldly conjured debut novel about a magical gift, a devastating loss, and an underground war for freedom.

From the Publisher: Young Hiram Walker was born into bondage. When his mother was sold away, Hiram was robbed of all memory of her—but was gifted with a mysterious power. Years later, when Hiram almost drowns in a river, that same power saves his life. This brush with death births an urgency in Hiram and a daring scheme: to escape from the only home he’s ever known.

So begins an unexpected journey that takes Hiram from the corrupt grandeur of Virginia’s proud plantations to desperate guerrilla cells in the wilderness, from the coffin of the Deep South to dangerously idealistic movements in the North. Even as he’s enlisted in the underground war between slavers and the enslaved, Hiram’s resolve to rescue the family he left behind endures.

This is the dramatic story of an atrocity inflicted on generations of women, men, and children—the violent and capricious separation of families—and the war they waged to simply make lives with the people they loved. Written by one of today’s most exciting thinkers and writers, The Water Dancer is a propulsive, transcendent work that restores the humanity of those from whom everything was stolen.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a remarkable and important writer, perhaps one of the most important to emerge in the last few years. His first foray into fiction writing is a heartbreaking, uplifting, lyrical masterpiece. Family is the one thing that can keep people going, even through the hardest of times. Family today can mean many things, and people find family where they can. Coates gives us an intimate view of what family meant to slaves living on plantations in the South in the 19th century, where a child or a parent could be sold and sent away at any time. Try to imagine living under a condition like that. I cannot fathom it, and that makes me more aware of the science and research around post-traumatic slave syndrome.

Here, Hiram loses all memory of his mother when she is sold away, and he spends his life trying to recover from that loss. Along the way, he comes to understand that his people, the Taskers, have a unique relationship to the earth, the sky, the water, and to each other. Coates tells a story imbued with the magic of creation and re-building as we follow Hiram from South to North and back again, driven and guided by his own gifts and spirit.

This is not to be missed. Highly recommended.

Advance praise for The Water Dancer

“In prose that sings and imagination that soars, Coates further cements himself as one of this generation’s most important writers, tackling one of America’s oldest and darkest periods with grace and inventiveness. This is bold, dazzling, and not to be missed.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Coates brings his considerable talent for racial and social analysis to his debut novel, which captures the brutality of slavery and explores the underlying truth that slaveholders could not dehumanize the enslaved without also dehumanizing themselves. Beautifully written, this is a deeply and soulfully imagined look at slavery and human aspirations.”—Booklist (starred review)

Publication Date: September 24, 2019
Published By: Random House
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Harp of Kings by Juliet Marillier


cover162862-mediumFrom the Publisher: A young woman is both a bard and a warrior in this thrilling historical fantasy from the author of the Sevenwaters novels.

Eighteen-year-old Liobhan is a powerful singer and an expert whistle player. Her brother has a voice to melt the hardest heart, and is a rare talent on the harp. But Liobhan’s burning ambition is to join the elite warrior band on Swan Island. She and her brother train there to compete for places, and find themselves joining a mission while still candidates. Their unusual blend of skills makes them ideal for this particular job, which requires going undercover as traveling minstrels, for Swan Island trains both warriors and spies.

Their mission: to find and retrieve a precious harp, an ancient symbol of kingship, which has gone missing. If the instrument is not played at the upcoming coronation, the candidate will not be accepted and the kingdom will be thrown into disarray. Faced with plotting courtiers and tight-lipped druids, an insightful storyteller, and a boorish Crown Prince, Liobhan soon realizes an Otherworld power may be meddling in the affairs of the kingdom. When ambition clashes with conscience, Liobhan must make a bold decision—and the consequences may break her heart.

I thought there would never be another author or series to equal Douglas Nicholas’ Something Red series, but I found it in this haunting and lovely tale by Juliet Marillier. There’s a little bit of everything here but mostly a quest featuring a feisty young female warrior, a prickly male counterpart, an otherworldly bard, an island of warriors, a pain-in-the-ass king-to-be, lots of faery folk, and druids.

Liobhan, Dau & Brocc are the focus of this quest story, where each is selected to be part of a top-secret mission to recover the stolen Harp of Kings. However, as you progress through the story, it becomes clear that the real quests are for each of our young heroes. Liobhan will learn that she can control her temper, Dau will learn to trust, and Brocc will learn to follow his own path.

The story is tightly woven and beautifully told. The characters fairly leap off the pages, and their stories will envelop you. Highly recommended for fantasy fans.

Publication Date: September 3, 2019
Published By: Berkley Publishing Group; Ace Sci Fi & Fantasy
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Cursed by Thomas Wheeler


cover159074-mediumWhosoever wields the Sword of Power shall be the one true King.

But what if the Sword has chosen a Queen?

Nimue grew up an outcast. Her connection to dark magic made her something to be feared in her Druid village, and that made her desperate to leave. That is, until her entire village is slaughtered by Red Paladins, and Nimue’s fate is forever altered. Charged by her dying mother to reunite an ancient sword with a legendary sorcerer, Nimue is now her people’s only hope. Her mission leaves little room for revenge, but the growing power within her can think of little else.

Nimue teams up with a charming mercenary named Arthur and refugee Fey Folk from across England. She wields a sword meant for the one true king, battling paladins and the armies of a corrupt king. She struggles to unite her people, avenge her family, and discover the truth about her destiny.

But perhaps the one thing that can change Destiny itself is found at the edge of a blade.

The Lady of the Lake is the true hero in this cinematic twist on the tale of King Arthur created by Thomas Wheeler and legendary artist, producer, and director Frank Miller (300, Batman: The Dark Night Returns, Sin City).

Look out for the original Netflix series starring Katherine Langford streaming everywhere Spring 2020!

I don’t think I’ve been as excited about an Arthurian book since Mists of Avalon!

Cursed gives a whole new take on the old legends of King Arthur and focuses on Nimue, the Lady of the Lake or, in some versions, Merlin’s lover. We first see Nimue as a child, living in a nurturing environment still following the old ways of the Druid. The first chapter is a violent introduction to the unconscionable acts of cleansing and conversion carried out by Christian priests and monks in the Dark Ages. The violence is startling, made especially so by the immediate change in tone in the second chapter as the storyline fills itself in, then pushes forward with Nimue as warrior and defender of the old ways.

All the expected characters appear, but in clever and fascinating new ways. The narrative itself moves fast and holds you tightly as you read page after page, oblivious to time because you just have to know what happens next. Complemented by magnificent illustrations, the story wraps around you until you can’t think of anything else. Arthur fans will devour this, but so will Game of Thrones fans missing that world. Highly recommended.

Publication Date: October 1, 2019
Published by: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
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