January Micro-Reviews

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devouringThe Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman – This creepy, eerie, and imaginative story grabbed me by the back of the neck and held on from first to last page. The plot is a refreshing take on the “monster in the woods” trope and features some sassy, kick-ass characters. The premise of four founding families (shades of Hogwarts, anyone?) isn’t new, but the relationship of the families to the monster and to the town they protect is pretty darn original. The author does a good job of making teens sound like teens, although the adults are portrayed as bullies or dopes. The plot flowed easily and kept my attention. It looks like this will be the beginning of a series, which makes me happy. It would also make a helluva TV series in the vein of Riverdale and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Recommended.

Publication Date: April 2, 2019
Published By: Disney-Hyperion
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

prosperThe Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding by Alexandra Bracken – How did I miss this book when it first came out? It has everything I love about middle grade fantasy – hip and likable characters, clever humor, a multi-faceted villain, a surprise twist at the end, and a superb story. Here, the likable characters are Prosper and Nell and the villain (one of them!) is Alastor, a fiend who has waited hundreds of years for revenge on the family that bound him. The competing themes of revenge & betrayal and friendship & love can lead to some interesting discussions about relationships. The nods to some of my favorite classic stories (The Crucible and Doctor Faustus) only made this more enjoyable. Bracken successfully delivers what appears to be a prologue to some serious world-building, as she prepares to publish the sequel to this in February. The twist at the end was one of the best I can remember and set up the sequel beautifully.

lastThe Last by Hanna Jameson – This title has been sitting in my To Be Read queue for months and I finally opened it last night out of guilt. Holy smokes! I read it in one sitting, resulting in a foggy day spent at work today! I am not, as a rule, a fan of dystopian fiction which is probably why it took me so long to open this one. However, when dystopian fiction is blended with a tautly plotted, inventive mystery it becomes a book I cannot put down. The author has done everything right here – good dialog, evocative description, memorable characters, and an unusual plot. I’ll be recommending this a lot in the coming months.
Publication Date: April 9, 2019
Published By: Atria Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

arloArlo Finch in the Lake of the Moon by John August – I am late to the Arlo Finch party, having missed the first in the series. However, this second-in-the-series stands pretty sturdily on its own. August explains enough about the Long Woods and the Rangers so a reader new to the series can follow along, although the characters are cool enough that I will definitely go back and read the first in the series. Here, Arlo and his fellow Rangers Wu and Indra, along with other Rangers, find themselves facing some really weird experiences as they head into their two weeks of camp. There are the usual suspects – the trio of friends who overcome great evil, the obligatory bully, the hip adults, and the scary monsters – all stirred up into a stew of steady action and hair-raising adventures. Kids who enjoy imaginative adventures will thoroughly enjoy Arlo Finch, in all his books. Recommended for middle grade readers.

Publication Date: February 5, 2019
Published By: Macmillan/Roaring Brook Press
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

Circe by Madeline Miller

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CE60DF93-14E4-472B-9DBA-F9CA6948A502My introduction to Greek history and mythology happened in 4th grade, and I was immediately hooked on the stories of gods and heroes. I clearly remember borrowing D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths from the library over and over, reading about Ariadne, Theseus, Hercules, Jason, and Athena. Then I discovered The Odyssey a few years later and was entranced by Polyphemus the Cyclops, the Sirens, Calypso, and Circe, Witch of Aiaia.

While I can’t say Circe was a favorite character in my adolescent myth reading, she has been mentioned in some books I’ve read over the years as the “source of power” in lines of women who practice the healing arts, so I was intrigued when I heard about this book.

Miller presents Circe as a complicated character here, a lesser god by birth – daughter of the Titan Helios and the nymph Perse – but the object of ridicule and subject to what can only be described as low self-esteem. She lives in hope of being noticed and praised by her father and craves basic kindness and love, but at the same time refuses to be cowed by the cruelty shown by her brothers and sister.

In her quest for love, she concocts a potion using flowers born from the blood of gods to turn a human into his true, godly self. Unfortunately, once he becomes a god, he does not choose Circe for his mate. Consumed with jealousy, she brews more of the potion and succeeds in turning the object of his affection into the monstrous Scylla.

As punishment for this act, Circe is banished to the island of Aiaia for all eternity. Her use of a potion to create a monster is feared by the gods, who foresee that “witchcraft” can harm them. On the island, Circe makes a home for herself among the wild animals, teaching herself about herbs and witchcraft. Centuries pass, and Circe learns more and more about mortals and gods, until she meets Odysseus who transfixes her with his stories and adventures. Circe’s relationship with Odysseus comes full circle when his wife and son, Penelope and Telemachus, arrive on Aiaia, forcing Circe to examine her own life and consider her future.

The most striking thing about this story is the humanness of Circe and how the self-centered ways of the gods are misguided, dangerous, and hurtful. She is let down again and again by her father, her uncles and grandmothers, her brother, her sister, Odysseus, and, finally, by her son but she still is willing to offer second (and third and fourth) chances for people to be good to her.

Admittedly, her willingness to let people take advantage of her or treat her badly can wear on the reader, but her final confrontation with her father makes it all worthwhile. Circe’s weakness, in the eyes of the gods, is that she loves too much and she wants to be loved in return. By the end of the book, she has stopped apologizing for that and embraced that as a strength.

Miller’s writing is engaging and lyrical. She is true to the Greek myths and epics, and sprinkles heroes and gods like salt throughout the story. It’s refreshing to examine the Greek myths from a woman’s point of view, and Miller is not always kind to our male heroes. Theseus and Jason fare particularly badly at her hands.

This would make a really interesting “buddy read” with The Odyssey. It would certainly spark some lively discussion about the roles and situations of women in history. I can’t decide if it’s empowering or infuriating to read about a female “god” who is treated badly because she’s not beautiful or clever. At its core, Circe is about a woman finding her own power and taking control of her own life, which is what makes this such a satisfying read.

Highly recommended.

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.

Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan

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7542C48B-735E-49B8-BEF2-24F9A58B1216Oh, my lovelies! If you read just one book this month, make it this one. I laughed out loud. I sobbed. I had ALL the feels. The writing is gorgeous, the characters are, by turns, gentle, salty, and mischievous, and the story so clever.

Anthony Peardew, who lives in a beautiful house called Padua, collects lost things, catalogs them, and carefully stores them in his study. (St. Anthony of Padua, Patron Saint of Lost Things…get it?) His collecting began, as many unusual habits do, in response to a tragedy that took his one true love from him. Eventually, Anthony recovers from his loss and begins to live again, becoming an accomplished author and friend to his housekeeper, Laura. When Anthony dies, he leaves Padua and his entire estate to Laura, with the caveat that she must begin returning the lost things to their owners. She must also complete a near impossible task – find the one thing that Anthony himself lost the day his beloved Therese died. Aided by gardener Freddy and neighbor Sunshine, Laura begins to recover from her own tragedy and learns about true love and friendship.

There are so many things to love about this book. The characters are good people with flaws, people who care about each other despite their differences. Witnessing Laura’s journey from a wounded, frightened, menopausal mess to a vibrant, caring woman in charge of her own self is gratifying. The relationship she develops with Sunshine, the neighbor who decides that Laura needs a friend, is especially poignant and powerful, given that Sunshine has Down Syndrome. Her character is written with warmth, respect, strength, and intuition. She sees and understands things long before Laura and Freddy, and she is 100% part of their work in returning the lost items.

Told alternately with the secondary story of Eunice and Bomber, two people whose lives were unknowingly caught up with Anthony and Therese for decades, and interspersed with micro-stories about the lost objects themselves, Keeper of Lost Things reveals the often invisible connections between people, places, and things in a way that will stay with you for a long time. Highly recommended.

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

Micro-Reviews


Philosophers FlightThe Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller – Imagine a world where the patriarchy is flipped. Where women who have unusual skills (think those traditionally associated with “witches” like flying, healing, and magic) have shaped the world and women have the power. Now imagine that the son of one of the most decorated “Philosophers” wants to join what seems to be the equivalent of the Air Force, but to do so he must graduate from the Philosopher program at Radcliffe, where he one of only 3 men. At the same time, the Philosophers are threatened by the “Trenchers” who believe the skills possessed by the Philosophers are evil.

And that’s only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Miller has built a world that is at once familiar and topsy-turvy, and made that world a whole lot of fun. There’s unbounded humor and imagination here along with plenty of breathtaking excitement. Highly recommended.

Edna LewisEdna Lewis: At the Table with an American Original – If you pick up this book expecting it to be a cookbook, you’ll be disappointed. If you’re looking for a highly readable collection of essays about a remarkable woman, this is your book.

Yes, there are some recipes, but they are superfluous to the story told here. Edna Lewis is the star, and food her supporting actors. This collection of essays and reminiscences about Lewis, who passed away in 2006 after decades of holding court as the Queen of Southern Cooking, is a beautiful testament to a woman who successfully introduced real Southern Cooking to the masses. Cooking in a time when food was “complicated,” Lewis made her mark and built her audience by staying true to simple recipes using the freshest ingredients. Along the way, she influenced countless chefs and cooks. This book collects their stories, each one unique and interesting. Recommended for curious cooks.

Well Timed MurderA Well-Timed Murder by Tracee de Hahn – I stumbled upon de Hahn’s first Agnes Luthi book, Swiss Vendetta, quite by accident while browsing in a book store one day. I took it over to a comfortable chair to read a few pages and was hooked after the first chapter. I’ve waited for this, her second in the series, with much anticipation and I was not disappointed.

Agnes returns with the same quiet, sturdy, wry spirit, despite the injuries she sustained at the end of Swiss Vendetta. We learn more about Agnes and her family here, as well as about Julian Vallotton, as the two investigate the death of a master watchmaker. I have a fondness for mysteries that include well-researched information about unusual topics; in this case, de Hahn delivers some fascinating information about the Swiss and international watch industry.

The author skillfully develops key characters, and crafts a tricky and surprising plot which fully engages the reader. Tracee de Hahn is quickly becoming a new favorite author and Agnes Luthi a favorite character. Highly recommended.

January Micro-Reviews


956CB410-2B16-4E46-A846-46296A0499F1The Black Painting by Neil Olson – Can paintings be possessed? The family at the center of this story thinks so. They’ve been haunted by a Goya painting for years, and blame it for the horrible things that have happened in their lives. Goya’s work *is* startling in its rawness (Saturn Devouring His Son is pictured here) but it’s the evil perpetrated by the living that startles me the most. Good book….

Published by Harlequin/Hanover Square, January 2018. Mysteries & Thrillers. Literary Fiction.

93103035-7177-40E3-B1F7-E4CFC9654173Magical Match by Juliet Blackwell – Juliet Blackwell’s Lily Ivory is back in another delightfully witchy adventure, along with all the colorful characters we have come to expect from this series. Blackwell’s breezy, engaging writing and twisted, intriguing plotting create the atmosphere fans have fallen in love with in previous entries. Here, we learn more about Lily’s past, get to meet her amazing grandmother, and wring our hands over her “will they/won’t they” relationship with Sailor. If you haven’t read the Lily Ivory books, get them all out of the library and binge-read them on a cold, snowy day. It will be the best day of the year, I bet! Highly recommended.

Published by Berkley, May 2018. Mysteries & Thrillers.

90FCB44E-B2B9-47F5-ADF1-5706EF2330E3Curious Affair of the Witch at Wayside Cross by Lisa Tuttle – Tuttle offers a new adventure featuring Jesperson & Lane, the crackerjack investigation team that includes a well-heeled young man and an outspoken young woman. They are dropped headfirst into their new case when a man pounds on their door in the middle of the night, proclaims he is pursued by witches, and drops dead in their front hall. Their investigation takes them from London to the country, where they encounter an unusual collection of “cunning” men and women, pious preachers, curious scholars, and even “little people.”

While the plot is interesting, with a variety of twists & turns, it’s bloated. A bit more than halfway through, I found myself losing interest. Jesperson’s annoying habit of assuming Lane knows what he’s thinking, causing her to drag every bit of information out of him got old really fast. They never seemed to click for me as a pair of investigators, or as a couple, or whatever they are supposed to be to each other. I did enjoy Miss Lane’s character, however. She reminded me of a young Amelia Peabody. While this is far from the worst thing I’ve read lately, it’s also not nearly the best. The text needs editing, and I found the whole subplot around the stolen baby to be completely unnecessary. I will probably pick up another in this series when looking for a quick, easy read, just to see if Jesperson & Lane find success in their investigative business.

Published by Random House-Hydra, October 2017. Mysteries & Thrillers; Sci-Fi & Fantasy

6A72661D-37B9-4BB6-B5E5-643A21EBBD59Lady Jayne Disappears by Joanna Davidson Politano – This is a pleasant enough story. The lead character, Aurelie, is likable and plucky, the “leading man” is mysterious but kind-hearted, and the relatives are appropriately boorish. The basic story is familiar – disadvantaged girl gets shipped off to unknown wealthy relatives after father’s death, meets handsome but mysterious man, uncovers devastating family secret – all in a grand manor house in the English countryside. What makes this stand out is the action around Aurelie becoming a writer, which is wonderful. What made this less enjoyable for me was the heavy-handed religious overtones, making this highly reminiscent of 19th century gothic romance pedantic style. All in all, a pleasant enough story but not one that I will remember.

Published by Revell, October 2017. Historical fiction.

F097E807-9118-49E4-9788-ECF16AF22F57Ludlow Lost by Kate Robinson Dunne – What a refreshing change! A book about fairies that isn’t dripping with with wide-eyed sweetness! Ludlow and Harry make a dynamic duo for the ages. Their unexpected (and unwanted) friendship becomes the anchor in this witty tale of kidnapping, betrayal, and revenge. I was reminded a bit of the Artemis Fowl books, but just a bit. This is new, fresh, and just plain fun.

Published by Two Pigeons Press, March 2018. Middle grade fantasy.

3B06A232-5038-4D11-8FF4-E44BB31AE3FABook of Pearl by Timothee de Fombelle – I’m sorry to say, I did not get past the second chapter of this confusing, muddled story. The description intrigued me, but the two opening chapters were so unconnected and rambling that I could not connect. This is a translation of a French book that has received high praise, and Goodreads reviews are mixed.

Published by Candlewick Press, February 2018. YA fantasy.

Thanks to NetGalley for review copies of all these titles.

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor


667421B5-924F-4182-94A9-07CB4F318AE1Sunny, an American girl, finds herself transported to Nigeria when her family decides to move back to their home there. Being American is the least of Sunny’s challenges. Sunny is albino, which means she can’t go out in the sun without an umbrella to protect her skin. Sunny also experiences odd visions which thoroughly frighten her. She becomes friends with a boy in her class who then introduces her to another girl, who puzzles Sunny with her secretive behavior. Eventually, Sunny is revealed as a powerful witch, and she goes on to explore her heritage and powers.

This book was described by multiple sources as a “new Harry Potter” which is what made me request an advanced copy from Netgalley. The premise is similar – a young outcast discovers she has magical powers and must use those powers to defeat a powerful enemy. That’s about the only similarity to HP, and I think it is a mistake to compare these two richly imagined stories because they really are nothing alike.

Akata Witch introduces a whole new world of magic, raw and powerful, and a new cast of characters who (Hallellujah!) are young Africans, two of whom are girls! The language and culture of the story and the characters provided a palate cleansing freshness, and an intriguing, clever plot. There is nothing here not to love and I predict kids will devour this book. Highly recommended.