A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hamill


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“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

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