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.

The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book by Kate Milford


Nothing is what it seems and there’s always more than one side to the story as a group of strangers trapped in an inn slowly reveal their secrets in this new standalone mystery set in the world of the best-selling Greenglass House, from a National Book Award nominee and Edgar Award–winning author.

The rain hasn’t stopped for a week, and the twelve guests of the Blue Vein Tavern are trapped by flooded roads and the rising Skidwrack River. Among them are a ship’s captain, tattooed twins, a musician, and a young girl traveling on her own. To pass the time, they begin to tell stories—each a different type of folklore—that eventually reveal more about their own secrets than they intended.

As the rain continues to pour down—an uncanny, unnatural amount of rain—the guests begin to realize that the entire city is in danger, and not just from the flood. But they have only their stories, and one another, to save them. Will it be enough?

Kate Milford’s Nagspeake series has been one of my favorites for the last few years. She has built a vibrant, mysterious, and wholly unique world in which her characters move in seemingly disconnected paths and times.

The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book is the string that winds it all together.

Readers of the Nagspeake books first encounter the Raconteur’s book in Green Glass House as a book being read by the protagonist, Milo. Here, we actually get to know the people in the book – their secrets, their talents, their imaginations, their deceptions, and their hearts.

Essentially a book a short stories, fables even, glued together with an overarching people-stuck-in-a-house-by-impending-disaster trope, Raconteur pulls threads from each of the earlier Nagspeake books, giving the reader pleasant memories of past reading experiences.

As a fan of Milford’s books, I enjoyed this immensely; however, if this is your first entry into Nagspeake, stop and go right to your library and get Green Glass House, then read all the books. I can’t recommend an order (even Milford can’t do that and she tries here https://clockworkfoundry.com/faq/in-what-order-should-i-read/), but read them all, then pick up Raconteur and enjoy the ride, or better yet – share it with the middle grade reader in your life!

Publication Date: February 23, 2021
Published By: Clarion Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Conductors by Nicole Glover


cover195487-mediumA compelling debut by a new voice in fantasy fiction, The Conductors features the magic and mystery of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series written with the sensibility and historical setting of Octavia Butler’s Kindred. 

Meet Hetty Rhodes, a magic-user and former conductor on the Underground Railroad who now solves crimes in post–Civil War Philadelphia.

As a conductor on the Underground Railroad, Hetty Rhodes helped usher dozens of people north with her wits and magic. Now that the Civil War is over, Hetty and her husband, Benjy have settled in Philadelphia, solving murders and mysteries that the white authorities won’t touch. When they find one of their friends slain in an alley, Hetty and Benjy bury the body and set off to find answers. But the secrets and intricate lies of the elites of Black Philadelphia only serve to dredge up more questions. To solve this mystery, they will have to face ugly truths all around them, including the ones about each other.

In this vibrant and original novel, Nicole Glover joins a roster of contemporary fantasy writers, such as Victor LaValle and Zen Cho, who use speculative fiction to delve into important historical and cultural threads. 

Nicole Glover is being lauded as the next Octavia Butler, and the comparison isn’t far off the mark. While Butler is recognized as a giant in the fantasy & science fiction worlds and forged the way for socially conscious Black fantasy (Kindred is probably the most perfect story I’ve ever read), Glover brings a freshness to the genre. A member of the Harry Potter generation, Glover clearly has been influenced by the flood of magic and mystery that erupted in the wake of the HP mania of the 1990s and early 2000s. However, her use of fantasy and magic to reimagine the lives and abilities of Africans both during and after enslavement is new to me and absolutely fascinating.

Riffing off the use of the night sky by enslaved Africans escaping the American South, Glover creates a new magical infrastructure wholly separate from the HP universe. Here, Africans practice Celestial magic, drawing on the power of nature and the universe. Whites, on the other hand, rely on sorcery enabled by wands. The Celestial magic is considered “simple” but the reader learns quickly that simple does not mean weak.

Glovers main characters, Hetty and Benjamin Rhodes, are the titular Conductors – those who guided enslaved people to freedom along the Underground Railroad. Now, post emancipation, they function as detectives. They solve problems, they find people and things, and they right wrongs. They also navigate a multi-segregated society – white and black, rich and poor, men and women – where old wrongs are never forgotten and hatred runs deep. Below the surface of magic, however, is a story about people building new lives after living through unimaginable trauma. There is courage and bravery in this story, but also sheer determination from unforgettable characters.

This should be one of the hottest books of 2021, and I really, really hope it gets picked up for television or the big screen. I can see this sitting in teen sections of libraries and bookstores, but I really hope adult fantasy readers give this a chance.

Publication Date: March 2, 2021
Published By: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke


From the Publisher:

From the New York Times bestselling author of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, an intoxicating, hypnotic new novel set in a dreamlike alternative reality.

Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house.

There is one other person in the house—a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.

For readers of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and fans of Madeline Miller’s Circe, Piranesi introduces an astonishing new world, an infinite labyrinth, full of startling images and surreal beauty, haunted by the tides and the clouds.

This highly anticipated new novel from Susanna Clarke is weird. It is the most enticing, deliciously weird story I’ve read in a very long time. If reading books was akin to an acid trip, this would be it. I’m having trouble even describing how I feel about this book because it is so odd and unusual. I suspect that each reader will experience it differently. Some will give up at the beginning as you try to unravel the Third Northern and Western Walls and the Ninth Vestibule; others will succumb to confusion and hopelessness halfway through; but others will make it all the way through and come out on the other side a changed reader.

This takes some time and attention, but it’s well worth the effort.

Advance Praise

“An exquisite puzzle-box far, far bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.” —David Mitchell

Piranesi astonished me. It is a miraculous and luminous feat of storytelling, at once a gripping mystery, an adventure through a brilliant new fantasy world, and a deep meditation on the human condition: feeling lost, and being found. I already want to be back in its haunting and beautiful halls!” —Madeline Miller

“This book is a treasure, washed up upon a forgotten shore, waiting to be discovered.” —Erin Morgenstern

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

The Camelot Betrayal by Kiersten White


cover187341-mediumFrom Netgalley & the Publisher:

EVERYTHING IS AS IT SHOULD BE IN CAMELOT: King Arthur is expanding his kingdom’s influence with Queen Guinevere at his side. Yet every night, dreams of darkness and unknowable power plague her.

Guinevere might have accepted her role, but she still cannot find a place for herself in all of it. The closer she gets to the people around her–Brangien, pining for her lost love Isolde; Lancelot, fighting to prove her worth as Queen’s knight; and Arthur, everything to everyone and thus never quite enough for Guinevere–the more she realizes how empty she is. She has no sense of who she truly was before she was Guinevere. The more she tries to claim herself as queen, the more she wonders if Mordred was right: she doesn’t belong. She never will.

When a rescue goes awry and results in the death of something precious, a devastated Guinevere returns to Camelot to find the greatest threat yet has arrived. Not in the form of the Dark Queen or an invading army, but in the form of the real Guinevere’s younger sister. Is her deception at an end? And who is she really deceiving–Camelot, or herself?

The second in the Camelot Rising series, this continues the story of the changeling Guinevere and her mission to protect King Arthur and Camelot.

In this Camelot, magic is forbidden, so Guinevere must keep her work secret from all but her closest allies. Keeping Arthur safe is even more important now that the Dark Queen has risen. At the conclusion of the first part of the trilogy, Guinevere unwillingly assisted in raising the Dark Queen, and now must redouble her efforts to resist the pull of her magic and keep Arthur and Camelot safe from harm. At the same time, she struggles with her own history and relationship with Merlin, which she understands is a lie.

Like most middle stories in a trilogy, this one fills in the gaps left from part one and sets the stage for a very exciting and revealing part three. I am looking forward to part three!

Publication Date: November 10, 2020
Published By: Delacorte Press
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Silvered Serpents by Roshani Chokshi


cover171047-mediumThey are each other’s fiercest love, greatest danger, and only hope.

Séverin and his team members might have successfully thwarted the Fallen House, but victory came at a terrible cost — one that still haunts all of them. Desperate to make amends, Séverin pursues a dangerous lead to find a long lost artifact rumored to grant its possessor the power of God. Their hunt lures them far from Paris, and into the icy heart of Russia where crystalline ice animals stalk forgotten mansions, broken goddesses carry deadly secrets, and a string of unsolved murders makes the crew question whether an ancient myth is a myth after all.

As hidden secrets come to the light and the ghosts of the past catch up to them, the crew will discover new dimensions of themselves. But what they find out may lead them down paths they never imagined. – From the Publisher –

Roshani Chokshi just gets better and better at building lush, vivid worlds full of complicated, appealing characters, witty dialog, and fanciful landscapes.

Continuing the tale begun in Gilded Wolves, Chokshi spins a tale that wraps around you like a dark, soft blanket that nonetheless contains sharp little frissons of electricity. The story is as imaginative as Gilded Wolves, and the character development skillfully done. While this *could be read on its own, I recommend reading Gilded Wolves first, then savoring every moment of this wonderful story.

Publication Date: September 22, 2020
Published By: St. Martin’s Press
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy