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

The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman


cover161184-mediumFrom the Publisher: In 1941, during humanity’s darkest hour, three unforgettable young women must act with courage and love to survive. In Berlin, at the time when the world changed, Hanni Kohn knows she must send her twelve-year-old daughter away to save her from the Nazi regime. She finds her way to a renowned rabbi, but it’s his daughter, Ettie, who offers hope of salvation when she creates a mystical Jewish creature, a rare and unusual golem, who is sworn to protect Lea. Once Ava is brought to life, she and Lea and Ettie become eternally entwined, their paths fated to cross, their fortunes linked.

Lea and Ava travel to Paris, where Lea meets her soulmate, then to a convent in western France known for its silver roses, then to a school in a mountaintop village where three thousand Jews were saved. Meanwhile, Ettie is in hiding, waiting to become the fighter she’s destined to be, waiting to avenge her little sister.

What does it mean to lose your mother? How much can one person sacrifice for love? In a world where evil can be found at every turn, we meet remarkable characters that take us on a stunning journey of loss and resistance, the fantastical and the mortal, in a place where all roads lead past the Angel of Death and love is never ending.

I have started to write this review about 10 times and simply cannot express the blend of tragedy and joy you will find in this book. Hoffman has taken the horrifying historical context of the Holocaust and distilled it into the stories of four women: Lea, Ettie, Marianne, and the golem-woman Ava. It’s about survival when everything you know is ripped away; disbelief that your neighbors, friends, and country can suddenly turn on you because of your beliefs; love when the world seems consumed by hate; courage when faced with unimaginable loss, and humanity when it’s needed most. It takes a writer as skilled as Hoffman to take these heart-wrenching stories and tell them with such grace and beauty.

The story begins and ends with love – the undying, monumental love of a mother for her child, and of the child for her mother. Hoffman’s trademark magical realism is here in the form of Ava, the golem created to keep Lea safe who performs her job to perfection. In the face of unimaginable horror, ordinary people find strength, courage, and yes, love.

The best of the year for me.

“Oh, what a book this is! Hoffman’s exploration of the world of good and evil, and the constant contest between them, is unflinching; and the humanity she brings to us—it is a glorious experience. The book builds and builds, as she weaves together, seamlessly, the stories of people in the most desperate of circumstances—and then it delivers with a tremendous punch. It opens up the world, the universe, in a way that it absolutely unique. By the end you may be weeping.” —Elizabeth Strout, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Olive Kitteridge

“Alice Hoffman’s new novel will break your heart, and then stitch it back together piece by piece. It’s about love and loss, about history and the world today, about what happens when man goes against the laws of nature for good and for evil. It’s my new favorite Hoffman book—and if you know how much I adore her writing, that’s truly saying something.” —Jodi Picoult, New York Times bestselling author of Small Great Things and A Spark of Light

“An exceptionally voiced tale of deepest love and loss…one of [Hoffman’s] finest. WWII fiction has glutted the market, but Hoffman’s unique brand of magical realism and the beautiful, tender yet devastating way she explores her subject make this a standout.” —Booklist (starred review)

Publication Date: September 24, 2019
Published By: Simon & Schuster
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

Midnight at the Tuscany Hotel by James Markert


cover153987-mediumFrom the Publisher: For years, guests of the Tuscany Hotel could leave their pasts behind and live among fellow artists. Now guests of a different sort fill the rooms, searching for their memories—no matter the cost.

Run by renowned sculptor Robert Gandy and his wife and muse, Magdalena, the Tuscany Hotel hosted guests of a certain kind—artists, actors, scientists, and engineers who left their worries behind so that they could create their latest masterpieces. Surrounded by lore, the hotel was rumored to free the mind and inspire artists’ gifts. But tragic circumstances force Robert and his family to move.

After thirteen months at war, Vittorio Gandy is haunted by memories, and his former life is unrecognizable. Once a gifted painter, now he can’t bear the vivid, bleeding colors on a canvas. His young son doesn’t remember him, and his wife, Valerie, is scared of him. But the most disconcerting change is in Vitto’s father, Robert Gandy, who has fallen from being a larger-than-life sculptor to a man whose mind has been taken by Alzheimer’s.
When Robert steals away in the night, Valerie, Vitto, and his new acquaintance and fellow veteran John go to the only place Robert might remember—the now-abandoned Tuscany Hotel. When they find him there, Robert’s mind is sound and his memories are intact.

Before long, word gets out that drinking from the fountain at the hotel can restore the memories of those suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia. The rooms once again fill up with guests—not artists this time, but people seeking control over their memories and lives. Vitto desperately wants to clear his own mind, but as he learns more about his mother’s life and her tragic death, he begins to wonder whether drinking the water comes at a price.

A story of father and son, memories lost and found, artists and their muses, Midnight at the Tuscany Hotel explores the mysteries of the mind, the truth behind lore, and the miracle of inspiration.

This gorgeous book joins my “Best of 2019” list, pretty darn close to the top. This is storytelling at its best, with characters who twine themselves around your heart and pull tight until you think you’ll explode. The blend of Greek myth with a wholly original story about muses, memory, art, and love creates a narrative that leaves you emotionally spent. Markert explores relationships here – between fathers and sons, mothers and sons, husbands and wives, and between friends – with special emphasis on aging and memory. There are beautiful love stories here – Magdalena and Robert, and Vitto and Valerie – that explore trust, passion, friendship, and deep love that transcends the ordinary world.

This would make a fabulous selection for a book club, and is one I’ll be recommending for a long time.

Publication Date: April 9, 2019
Published by: Thomas Nelson Publishing
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Metropolitan Stories by Christine Coulson

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MetSynopsis: From a writer who worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for more than twenty-five years, an enchanting novel that shows us the Met that the public doesn’t see.

Hidden behind the Picassos and Vermeers, the Temple of Dendur and the American Wing, exists another world: the hallways and offices, conservation studios, storerooms, and cafeteria that are home to the museum’s devoted and peculiar staff of 2,200 people—along with a few ghosts.

A surreal love letter to this private side of the Met, Metropolitan Stories unfolds in a series of amusing and poignant vignettes in which we discover larger-than-life characters, the downside of survival, and the powerful voices of the art itself. The result is a novel bursting with magic, humor, and energetic detail, but also a beautiful book about introspection, an ode to lives lived for art, ultimately building a powerful collage of human experience and the world of the imagination.

These stories are magnificently odd, very much like some of the things in the Met. Part whimsy, part time-travel, part fantasy, part history – I could go on, but there really isn’t a good way to classify this delicious book. Every story is a gem, beginning with the evaluation of the Muses. I think we all should bring a Muse to every meeting. Do not speak to The Muse. The Muse will not speak.

This will be devoured by fans of the Met, or of art museums in general. Guaranteed you will lose yourself in the lovely prose and the fantastical stories.

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

Bewitched & Betrothed by Juliet Blackwell

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betwitchedSynopsis: A supernatural force on the loose in San Francisco and a family reunion keeps witch and vintage storeowner Lily Ivory on her toes as she prepares to walk down the aisle…

When Lily stumbles on the uniform of a former prisoner from Alcatraz and SFPD inspector Carlos Romero’s cousin is kidnapped, Lily suspects something dangerous has been unleashed on the ghost-ridden island of Alcatraz. She’ll have to sleuth out the culprit—when she’s not busy entertaining her visiting relatives and resolving romantic conflicts as her wedding date approaches. Could recent omens be pointing to the magical threat in her adopted city? If so, she’ll have to line up her allies to change the fate of the Bay Area. Because no matter what, Lily’s determined to celebrate her marriage with her friends by her side—even if it means battling a demonic foe before she can make it to the altar.

When a series hits double digit numbers, I often lose interest. That is not the case with Blackwell’s Lily Ivory series, and this latest is one of her best. This is really a series about the characters rather than the story, and the characters Blackwell has developed are people you want to know in real life. From Lily’s mischievous grandmother and her saucy coven, to Lily’s mentor Aidan and his mysterious past, to Patience Blix and her belled ankles, to San Francisco cop Carlos, to Lily’s closest friends Bronwyn, Maya, and Conrad, to her fiance Sailor, and finally to her familiar Oscar – every character has an important role to play.

One of the things I have enjoyed most about this series is how Blackwell grows and develops the characters. Each book has brought the characters farther along their path; for example, Conrad has gone from the stoned “gutter punk” to a guy trying to get sober and reconnect with his family. Lily herself has grown from a suspicious, solitary witch to someone who values friendship and love, which is a theme that appears again and again in this book and which she ultimately embraces in the thrilling climax where she does, indeed, save San Francisco.

While Blackwell often writes with tongue firmly in cheek, she consistently produces enjoyable, light mysteries that will give you a couple enjoyable hours of reading time. Well done, Juliet Blackwell! Looking forward to more Lily Ivory!

Publication Date: June 25, 2019
Published By: Berkley Publishing Group
Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy

Silent Lee & the Adventure of the Side Door Key by Alex Hiam


silent leeA student of the Girls’ Academy of Latin and Alchemy, Silent Lee travels between modern day Boston and the brimming-with-alchemy Boston of 100 years ago as she goes about her school day. How does she do that, you ask? Why, through a magical secret door on the side of her house where she lives with her Great Aunt Generous. Front of the house = modern day Boston; side of the house = old Boston.

Sie goes about her business undisturbed until the day she’s told Aunt Gen has died and she’s going to move in with some cousins. Picked up by her mysterious mother, who may or may not be a spy, Sie is perplexed by her mother’s interest in the side door key and makes the decision to keep it hidden. As Sie settles in at the cousins’ house, mysterious things start to happen which lead her to believe that Aunt Gen may not be dead after all. What follows is a fast-paced adventure as Sie rushes to find her Aunt Gen and return to her studies.

Alex Hiam has begun a fascinating, fun, and original new series for middle grade readers featuring a smart and sassy 15 year old protagonist who is sure to appeal. The time travel and school of magic concepts aren’t new, but Hiam breathes fresh life into them here with the Girls’ Academy. Sie’s relationship with her mother adds needed tension to the story, and her relationship with Aunt Gen is one we all wish for. I look forward to sharing more adventures with Silent Lee and the Girls’ Academy students.

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