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

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab


A Life No One Will Remember. A Story You Will Never Forget.

France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever—and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.

Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world. But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name.From the Publisher

So many people have recommended V.E. Schwab to me over the years, but this is the first of her work that I’ve read. Why did I wait so long to read her work???

Put simply, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is one of the most unusual and enchanting books I’ve read in a very long time. Bookshelves overflow with tales of the old gods and retellings of familiar stories, but very few take those old allegorical tales and turn them into something new and fresh like Schwab has done here.

There is so much to unpack in this story – what it means to live and die, what people must do to survive, what it means to be remembered (“It is a lonely thing, to be forgotten.“), what it takes to resist temptation – but at the same time, there is the telling of a captivating story that keeps you turning the pages just to see what happens to Addie, Henry, and the green-eyed man.

I completely understand why Schwab’s work has been so highly recommended to me. Reading this story is making me seek out her earlier work, and I could see this sweeping through book clubs this fall. Highly recommended.

Publication Date: October 6, 2020
Published By: Tor Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Llewellyn’s Little Book of Yule by Jason Mankey


cover192875-mediumThis entertaining and well-written treatise on Yuletide will appeal to adventurous readers who wish to learn more about the roots of Neo-pagan and Christian celebrations. The author is clearly knowledgeable and shares his expertise in thoughtful, sometimes humorous prose. At times, the narrative feels a bit pedantic, but Mankey always brings us back to the merry and bright aspects of the season.

I especially appreciated how he expanded the season to include late November through mid-January and shared fascinating bits of information tied to every aspect of the celebration season – food, clothing, home decor, and spirituality included. The galley lacked photos and formatting, so I have no clue what the print version will resemble, but do know the narrative is canvas for luscious photo illustrations. One can hope!

Publication Date: September 8, 2020
Published By: Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd.
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Peace Talks by Jim Butcher


cover185217-mediumHARRY DRESDEN IS BACK AND READY FOR ACTION, in the new entry in the #1 New York Times bestselling Dresden Files.

When the Supernatural nations of the world meet up to negotiate an end to ongoing hostilities, Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, joins the White Council’s security team to make sure the talks stay civil. But can he succeed, when dark political manipulations threaten the very existence of Chicago—and all he holds dear? – From the Publisher –

Dresden Files fans have waited a long time for Peace Talks and Battle Ground (due in September). Peace Talks will only fan the flames of Dresden fandom. Short in terms of most of Butcher’s books, Peace Talks reunites us with Harry Dresden and his world. The story is fast-paced and somewhat familiar – the dark against the light and Harry’s angsty response to being drawn back into the fight.

Fans will rip through this tasty morsel and be salivating for a resolution in Battle Ground.

Publication Date: July 14, 2020
Published By: Berkley Publishing Group, Ace
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Time of Green Magic by Hilary McKay


8F336876-C457-4438-91E5-BBE856C38066From Netgalley & the Publisher:

From award-winning author Hilary McKay comes a beautiful, enchanting story about a girl adjusting to her new family and their new house—which just might be magical.

When Abi’s father marries Max and Louis’s mom, their families start over together. Abi suddenly finds herself the middle child, expected to share far too much—especially with grubby little Louis. Then they move into an eerie, ivy-covered house, big enough for all of them.

But for the children, strange things start to happen in that house. Abi reads alone, and finds herself tumbling so deep into books, they almost seem real. Louis summons comfort from outdoors, and a startling guest arrives—is it a cat or something else? Max loses his best friend…and falls in love. Meanwhile, Louis’s secret visitor is becoming much too real. Now Abi, Max, and Louis must uncover the secrets of their new home—for there can be danger in even the most beautiful magic.

Moving into a new home can be very traumatic for children. Moving into a new home with a new family can be even harder.

The Time of Green Magic is more about the intricacies of family dynamics than it is about magic. The three children in this blended family all struggle with some serious emotions. Abi feels unwelcome in her new blended family, resenting sharing her Dad with her two new brothers and missing her grandmother terribly. Max and Louis are also struggling to accept Abi and her Dad as parts of their lives with mom Polly. Louis especially has issues with separation and anger.

Moving into a new house, completely covered with ivy, sets in motion a series of events that results in the family being renewed and bonded, but not without some excitement along the way. Truly, this is about the children coming to grips with love, loss, and fear.

McKay does a good job of telling a captivating, exciting story that seamlessly blends fantasy and reality. As a librarian and reader, I especially appreciate that books are the vehicle used to introduce magic to the children’s lives.

Kids exploring fantasy will enjoy this, and I expect it will lead them to other, more complex stories.

Recommended.

Publication Date: July 28, 2020
Published By: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing; Margaret K. McElderry Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Quintessence by Jess Redman


9780374309763_aa1faIn this heartfelt middle-grade novel perfect for fans of Barbara O’Connor, a girl goes on a quest to return a fallen star to the sky, and along the way discovers friendship, magic, and the strength of her own soul.

Three months ago, twelve-year-old Alma moved to the town of Four Points. Her panic attacks started a week later, and they haven’t stopped—even though she’s told her parents that they have. Every day she feels less and less like herself. But one day she finds a telescope in the town’s junk shop, and through its lens, she watches a star—a star that looks like a child—fall from the sky and into her backyard. Alma knows what it’s like to long for home, and decides she’ll return that star home to the sky. With the help of unlikely new friends, she sets out on a quest that will take a little bit of science, a little bit of magic, and her whole self. Quintessence is a stunning story from Jess Redman about friendship, self-discovery, interconnectedness, and the inexplicable elements that make you you.

Quintessence was the first book I read in 2020 and is one of my top 10 books so far this year. The unique plot revolving around a fallen star unfolds into this lovely story about a young girl struggling with identity, loneliness, and self-worth in a new town.

There are so many good things about this book but perhaps the most touching is the message that we all have a light inside – we just need to figure out how to ignite it. Alma remembers that light and is frustrated with trying to find it again. Anyone struggling with depression will recognize that feeling and identify with Alma as she searches for her inner fire.

This is Jess Redman’s second book. Her first, The Miraculous, also featured a child protagonist struggling with a difficult time. I wrote about that book here. The Miraculous was a lovely, heartbreaking book; Quintessence is absolute joy.

So good for kids to know that they are enough.

Well done!

Publication Date: July 28, 2020
Published By: Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Thanks to Edelweiss for the review copy