Fairytales, Fantasy, Folktales, Magical, Romance

Emily Wilde’s Encyclopedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett


Description

A curmudgeonly professor journeys to a small town in the far north to study faerie folklore and discovers dark fae magic, friendship, and love in the start of a heartwarming and enchanting new fantasy series.

Cambridge professor Emily Wilde is good at many things: She is the foremost expert on the study of faeries. She is a genius scholar and a meticulous researcher who is writing the world’s first encyclopaedia of faerie lore. But Emily Wilde is not good at people. She could never make small talk at a party—or even get invited to one. And she prefers the company of her books, her dog, Shadow, and the Fair Folk to other people.

So when she arrives in the hardscrabble village of Hrafnsvik, Emily has no intention of befriending the gruff townsfolk. Nor does she care to spend time with another new arrival: her dashing and insufferably handsome academic rival Wendell Bambleby, who manages to charm the townsfolk, get in the middle of Emily’s research, and utterly confound and frustrate her.

But as Emily gets closer and closer to uncovering the secrets of the Hidden Ones—the most elusive of all faeries—lurking in the shadowy forest outside the town, she also finds herself on the trail of another mystery: Who is Wendell Bambleby, and what does he really want? To find the answer, she’ll have to unlock the greatest mystery of all—her own heart.

My Thoughts

This was exactly the book I needed in place of the negativity out in the real world right now. Heather Fawcett has given us a fabulous heroine who inhabits a world many of us fantasy fans only dream of – scholarly study of faeries. I mean, who wouldn’t love that job??? There’s no suspension of disbelief here. These things are REAL!

Fawcett’s writing is peppered with high-level vocabulary that incredibly flows through the text without bogging down the narrative. She tosses out words like “inchoate” like candy left as offerings for the fae. Main character Emily Wilde is delightful. She knows who she is and she definitely knows her value, even if she’s socially awkward. It’s refreshing and comforting to find a character who isn’t perfect and who lives in her skin no matter how odd that feels sometimes.

The only thing that keeps this from being a 5 star read for me is the goofy and IMHO unnecessary romantic entanglement that happens in the last half. However, I expect that will appeal to fans of romance/fantasy of which I am not one.

UPDATE: I’m re-reading this for a book club and I have to admit that my previous statement was off the mark. The relationship between Em and Wendell is, indeed, the very heart of the story. They seem to understand each other in ways others cannot, and I have begun to suspect that Emily may indeed be more than she seems.

Otherwise, this is a supremely fun read. I look forward to more of Fawcett’s stories.

Publication Date: January 10, 2023
Published By: Random House Publishing Group; Ballantine, Del Rey
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

General, Magical, Women

Other Birds by Sarah Addison Allen


Description

From the acclaimed author of Garden Spells comes an enchanting tale of lost souls, lonely strangers, secrets that shape us, and how the right flock can guide you home.

Down a narrow alley in the small coastal town of Mallow Island, South Carolina, lies a stunning cobblestone building comprised of five apartments. It’s called The Dellawisp and it is named after the tiny turquoise birds who, alongside its human tenants, inhabit an air of magical secrecy.

When Zoey Hennessey comes to claim her deceased mother’s apartment at The Dellawisp, she meets her quirky, enigmatic neighbors including a girl on the run, a grieving chef whose comfort food does not comfort him, two estranged middle-aged sisters, and three ghosts. Each with their own story. Each with their own longings. Each whose ending isn’t yet written.

When one of her new neighbors dies under odd circumstances the night Zoey arrives, she is thrust into the mystery of The Dellawisp, which involves missing pages from a legendary writer whose work might be hidden there. She soon discovers that many unfinished stories permeate the place, and the people around her are in as much need of healing from wrongs of the past as she is. To find their way they have to learn how to trust each other, confront their deepest fears, and let go of what haunts them.

Delightful and atmospheric, Other Birds is filled with magical realism and moments of pure love that won’t let you go. Sarah Addison Allen shows us that between the real and the imaginary, there are stories that take flight in the most extraordinary ways.

My Thoughts

I rarely re-read books in ARC form (I wait until I have the final copy in hand), but I re-read this one. I’ve been waiting for a new story from Sarah Addison Allen for a long time. I found her earlier books beautiful, evocative, and soothing. Other Birds is all that and more.

The thread of mothers and daughters that winds through this tale is what hooked me, I think. Allen gives us a flawed protagonist striking out on her own for the first time and trying to learn more about the mother she doesn’t remember. She begins her new life in a place her mother loved, where she encounters other sorts of mothers and daughters and sons, all with complicated maternal relationships.

Allen weaves a rich and gentle story about ordinary people living seemingly ordinary lives, who are touched by magic for just a little while. The stories and their many pathways circle around, duck under, and weave back in to create a bubble of a world that is full of love, regret, and hope.

One of the best of the year.

Cozy, Magical

Dead and Gondola by Ann Claire


Description

In this series debut, a mysterious bookshop visitor dies under murderous circumstances, compelling the Christie sisters and their cat, Agatha, to call on all they’ve learned about solving mysteries from their favorite novelist.

Ellie Christie is thrilled to begin a new chapter. She’s recently returned to her tiny Colorado hometown to run her family’s historic bookshop with her elder sister, Meg, and their beloved cat, Agatha. Perched in a Swiss-style hamlet accessible by ski gondola and a twisty mountain road, the Book Chalet is a famed bibliophile destination known for its maze of shelves and relaxing reading lounge. At least, until trouble blows in with a wintry whiteout. A man is found dead on the gondola, and a rockslide throws the town into lockdown—no one in, no one out.

The victim was a mysterious stranger who’d visited the bookshop. At the time, his only blunders had been disrupting a book club and leaving behind a first-edition Agatha Christie novel, written under a pseudonym. However, once revealed, the man’s identity shocks the town. Motives and secrets swirl like the snow, but when the police narrow in on the sisters’ close friends, the Christies have to act.

Although the only Agatha in their family tree is their cat, Ellie and Meg know a lot about mysteries and realize they must summon their inner Miss Marple to trek through a blizzard of clues before the killer turns the page to their final chapter.

My Thoughts

This is a fun, light mystery centered around a bookshop in Colorado, with a general theme of vintage crime novels. There are the usual quirky villagers, the plucky heroine and her sidekicks, and the requisite kitty cat.

All the cozy boxes are ticked, but what gets a recommendation from me are the capable writing, decent plotting, generally witty dialog (I especially loved Gram!) and the first round of character development in this series debut. This is one to watch.

Publication Date: November 1, 2022
Published By: Random House Publishing: Bantam & Ballantine
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Fantasy, Folktales, Horror, Magical, Women

Thistlefoot by GennaRose Nethercott


Description

In the tradition of modern fairy tales like Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver comes a sweeping epic rich in Eastern European folklore—a debut novel about the ancestral hauntings that stalk us, and the uncanny power of story.

The Yaga siblings—Bellatine, a young woodworker, and Isaac, a wayfaring street performer and con artist—have been estranged since childhood, separated both by resentment and by wide miles of American highway. But when they learn that they are to receive a mysterious inheritance, the siblings are reunited—only to discover that their bequest isn’t land or money, but something far stranger: a sentient house on chicken legs. 

Thistlefoot, as the house is called, has arrived from the Yagas’ ancestral home in Russia—but not alone. A sinister figure known only as the Longshadow Man has tracked it to American shores, bearing with him violent secrets from the past: fiery memories that have hidden in Isaac and Bellatine’s blood for generations. As the Yaga siblings embark with Thistlefoot on a final cross-country tour of their family’s traveling theater show, the Longshadow Man follows in relentless pursuit, seeding destruction in his wake. Ultimately, time, magic, and legacy must collide—erupting in a powerful conflagration to determine who gets to remember the past and craft a new future.  

An enchanted adventure illuminated by Jewish myth and adorned with lyrical prose as tantalizing and sweet as briar berries, Thistlefoot is an immersive modern fantasy saga by a bold new talent.

My Thoughts

This is a remarkable story. Loosely based on the old Russian tale of Baba Yaga and full of symbolism, this tale will haunt you. Nethercott’s protagonists – brother & sister Isaac and Bellatine – are challenged to resolve trauma through generational memory as they inherit the infamous Baba’s house on chicken legs along with an age-old enemy out to destroy the house and those connected to it.

There are so many layers to unfold here – lots of references to Jewish history, family trauma across generations, magic and mayhem, and ultimately the power of story and the bond between family members.

Lately, I find my attention often wanders when I read, and there are few books that I’m unable to put down. This is one. The story is so intricate and beautifully rendered. IMHO, Nethercott immediately joins the ranks of Naomi Novik and Katherine Arden with her glorious and deadly prose and an absolutely stunning story.

Publication Date: September 13, 2022
Published By: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group: Anchor
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Fantasy, Horror, Magical

Ballad of Perilous Graves by Alex Jennings


Description

“A wild and wonderful debut, teeming with music, family and art…This book is gorgeously written, with prose I wanted to eat off the page.” New York Times

Music is magic in this vibrant and imaginative debut novel set in a fantastical version of New Orleans where a battle for the city’s soul brews between two young mages, a vengeful wraith, and one powerful song. Nola is a city full of wonders. A place of sky trolleys and dead cabs, where haints dance the night away and Wise Women help keep the order. To those from Away, Nola might seem strange. To Perilous Graves, it’s simply home.

In a world of everyday miracles, Perry might not have a talent for magic, but he does know Nola’s rhythm as intimately as his own heartbeat. So when the city’s Great Magician starts appearing in odd places and essential songs are forgotten, Perry realizes trouble is afoot.

Nine songs of power have escaped from the piano that maintains the city’s beat, and without them, Nola will fail. Unwilling to watch his home be destroyed, Perry will sacrifice everything to save it. But a storm is brewing, and the Haint of All Haints is awake. Nola’s time might be coming to an end.

Put on your dancing shoes and enjoythis song for New Orleans, the city of music, magic, and dreams.

My Thoughts

This is one weird and wonderful book! I was reminded of Terry Pratchett‘s work – audacious characters and a multi-level plot that is pretty much impossible to follow so you just have to enjoy the ride. I admit it took me some time to accept this was not going to be a linear plot, but once I let go of that rigid expectation the prose just swept me away. The characters are poppin’ with siblings Perry and Brendy, each with their own special talents, but especially with Peaches, the totally badass girl who saves the day. I am hope, hope, hoping for a sequel where Peaches, Perry, and Brendy go after Peaches’ Daddy and free him from his chains.

“A hallucinatory wonder of a debut. Brimming with language and music, this phantasmagoric novel taps the deep root of multi-cultural, multi-racial life in, and beyond, New Orleans.” ―Walter Mosley

“Funny, wild, witty, and profound. The Ballad of Perilous Graves is the debut of a cosmic storm of talent.”―Victor LaValle

Children's, Fantasy, Folktales, Ghosties, Horror, Magical, Young Adult

The Clackity by Lora Senf


Description

Reminiscent of Doll Bones, this deliciously eerie middle grade novel tells the story of a girl who must enter a world of ghosts, witches, and monsters to play a game with deadly consequences and rescue her aunt.

Evie Von Rathe lives in Blight Harbor—the seventh-most haunted town in America—with her Aunt Desdemona, the local paranormal expert. Des doesn’t have many rules except one: Stay out of the abandoned slaughterhouse at the edge of town. But when her aunt disappears into the building, Evie goes searching for her.

There she meets The Clackity, a creature who lives in the shadows and seams of the slaughterhouse. The Clackity makes a deal with Evie to help get Des back in exchange for the ghost of John Jeffrey Pope, a serial killer who stalked Blight Harbor a hundred years earlier. Evie must embark on a journey into a strange otherworld filled with hungry witches, penny-eyed ghosts, and a memory-thief, all while being pursued by a dead man whose only goal is to add Evie to his collection of lost souls.

My Thoughts

A new nightmare has arrived and it’s name is Clackity. This wholly original story blends elements of horror with a solid dose of folktales. The main element of a folk/fairy tale is here – a hero takes on a seemingly impossible quest to save a loved one and must prevail over a multitude of horrifying challenges. Readers of folktales will recognize some familiar motifs – 3’s and 7’s abound, the hero is gifted with an animal familiar, and salt saves the day. All of that folded into a beautifully scary story.

Senf’s writing is vivid and evocative, with the reader feeling every tendril of fog or greasy bit of iron. The bad folk here are B.A.D. and the good folk are flawed but awesome. With nods to Coraline and even The Frighteners, this one is a solid read for upper middle grades, teens, and adults who enjoy Neil Gaiman and early Stephen King.

Publication Date: June 28, 2022
Published By: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing; Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy

Children's, Magical, Mystery

Wretched Waterpark by Kiersten White


Description

A brand-new middle-grade mystery series that’s spooky, creepy, and filled with gothic twists! Meet the Sinister-Winterbottom twins, who solve mysteries at increasingly bizarre summer vacation destinations in the hopes of being reunited with their parents—or at the very least finally finding a good churro.
Brave Theo, her timid twin Alexander, and their older sister, Wil are the Sinister-Winterbottoms. They’re stuck for the summer with their Aunt Saffronia, who doesn’t know how often children need to eat and can’t use a smartphone, and whose feet never quite seem to touch the floor when she glides—er—walks. When Aunt Saffronia suggests a week pass to the Fathoms of Fun Waterpark, they hastily agree. But the park is even stranger than Aunt Saffronia. The waterslides look like gray gargoyle tongues. The employees wear creepy black dresses and deliver ominous messages. An impossible figure is at the top of the slide tower, people are disappearing, and suspicious goo is seeping into the wave pool. Something mysterious is happening at Fathoms of Fun, and it’s up to the twins to get to the bottom of it. The mystery, that is. NOT the wave pool. Definitely NOT the wave pool. But are Theo and Alexander out of their depth?

My Thoughts

Kids who enjoy a little snark with their scary stories will appreciate this ridiculous romp through the most imaginative water park ever created. Everything about this book works – the well-matched and very capable group of 3 siblings, the kooky and mysterious aunt, the even more mysterious week at the water park and the deliciously odd but appealing mystery to be solved.

I was reminded a little of Lemony Snicket but the tone, plot, and characterizations are unique enough to keep you reading.

Recommended.

Praise from the Field

“Like a big waterslide that you scream all the way down, only to laugh in relief and get right back on, this book is gothically hilarious and an absolute delight. If I have to die in a waterpark, I want to die in this one.”—Holly Black, #1 NYT bestselling author of The Folk of the Air series

“Packed with wordplay and mock-gothic mystery, this first title in the Sinister Summer series is perfect for fans of Lemony Snicket, Edward Gorey and Roald Dahl.”—Shelf Awareness

Publication Date: June 7, 2022
Published By: Random House Children’s: Delacorte Press
Thanks t NetGalley for the review copy

Magical, Women

When We Were Birds by Ayanna Lloyd Banwo


Description

In the old house on a hill, where the city meets the rainforest, Yejide’s mother is dying. She leaves behind a legacy that now passes to Yejide: one St. Bernard woman in every generation has the power to shepherd the city’s souls into the afterlife. But after years of suffering her mother’s neglect and bitterness, Yejide is looking for a way out.

Raised in the countryside by a devout Rastafarian mother, Darwin has always abided by the religious commandment not to interact with death. He has never been to a funeral, much less seen a dead body. But when the only job he can find is grave digging, he must betray the life his mother built for him in order to provide for them both. Newly shorn of his dreadlocks and his past, and determined to prove himself, Darwin finds himself adrift in a city electric with possibility and danger.

Yejide and Darwin will meet inside the gates of Fidelis, an ancient and sprawling cemetery, where the dead lie uneasy in their graves and a reckoning with fate beckons them both. A masterwork of lush imagination and exuberant storytelling, When We Were Birds is a spellbinding and hopeful novel about inheritance, loss, and love’s seismic power to heal.

My Thoughts

Every once in awhile, a book comes along that truly leaves me speechless. This is one of those books. The writing, much in the rich dialect of Trinidad, is unlike anything I’ve experienced. I found myself reading aloud just to hear the beautiful sound of the words.

While the expected meeting of Yejide and Darwin doesn’t happen until halfway through the book, the chapters leading to this event build a world inhabited by both families that is as real as the fluttery moths surrounding Yejide’s mother as she passes. As real as Darwin’s shorn locs and as bitter as his mother’s disappointment. Once the two meet, prepare yourself for a whirlwind. You will not be able to put this book down until you read the final word.

I was reminded of one of my favorite books, A Gracious Plenty by Sheri Reynolds, which also tells the story of a young woman who can commune with the dead and the man who helps restore her faith. That book is one I recommend constantly; When We Were Birds will be added to that list.

Highly recommended.

Praise

Named a Most Anticipated Book by Time, Harper’s Bazaar, The Observer, Real Simple, Buzzfeed, Essence, Nylon, Good Housekeeping, Apartment Therapy Business Insider, NBC, Bustle, LitHub, BookRiot, Ms. Magazine, and more…
 
“Mythic and captivating… Banwo roots the reader in [Trinidad’s] traditions and rituals, in the sights and sounds and colors and smells of fruit vendors, fish vendors, street preachers and schoolchildren. In the glorious matriarchy by which lineage is upheld. The result is a depiction of ordinary life that’s full and breathtaking.”New York Times Book Review

“[A] masterly debut novel. It announces an important new voice in fiction, at once grounded and mythic in its scope and carried by an incantatory prose style that recalls Arundhati Roy. . . Lloyd Banwo’s literary gift lies in her capacity to transfigure [grief] – to conjure a cosmic landscape where the living coexist among the dead.”—The Observer (Top 10 Debut Novel of 2022)

“A thoroughly original and emotionally rich examination of love, grief and inheritance… When We Were Birds is full of life .  . .The scenes it hosts are packed with drama, colour and tension, particularly in her gripping finale . . Her novel takes flight and soars.”—The Economist

When We Were Birds is an ode to the idea that broken traditions can lead to beautiful new beginnings.”—Time Magazine

“[A] spellbinding novel . . The poetic prose in Ayanna Lloyd Banwo’s debut novel captivates from the start . . .When We Were Birds is a unique love story whose magical setting in Trinidad takes center stage.”Real Simple

“Lloyd Banwo conjures an aching sexual energy, places the lovers in deliciously paced jeopardy and takes the tale to an agreeably thundery climax . . .Lloyd Banwo has written a love letter for Trinidad, to remind all of us that yes, love is still very, very nice indeed.”—The Guardian

Magical, Makes You Think, Suspense

The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd


Description

From the critically acclaimed author of The Book of M, a highly imaginative thriller about a young woman who discovers that a strange map in her deceased father’s belongings holds an incredible, deadly secret—one that will lead her on an extraordinary adventure and to the truth about her family’s dark history. 

What is the purpose of a map? 

Nell Young’s whole life and greatest passion is cartography. Her father, Dr. Daniel Young, is a legend in the field, and Nell’s personal hero. But she hasn’t seen or spoken to him ever since he cruelly fired her and destroyed her reputation after an argument over an old, cheap gas station highway map.

But when Dr. Young is found dead in his office at the New York Public Library, with the very same seemingly worthless map hidden in his desk, Nell can’t resist investigating. To her surprise, she soon discovers that the map is incredibly valuable, and also exceedingly rare. In fact, she may now have the only copy left in existence… because a mysterious collector has been hunting down and destroying every last one—along with anyone who gets in the way.

But why?

To answer that question, Nell embarks on a dangerous journey to reveal a dark family secret, and discover the true power that lies in maps…

Perfect for fans of Joe Hill and V.E. Schwab, The Cartographers is an ode to art and science, history and magic—a spectacularly imaginative, modern story about an ancient craft and places still undiscovered.

My Thoughts

I devoured this book in one night! There’s adventure, mystery, danger, and daring imagination here all spun into one of the best stories I’ve read in ages.

The vibe reminded me a bit of Mr. Penumbras 24 Hour Bookstore, but the story is wholly original. As a librarian, the setting in NYPL added an extra appeal.

While this is a fantastic adventure, there is also an underlying cautionary tale about mapping and the increasingly intrusive role of AI in mapping our locations and movements. The megalomaniac mapmaker in this story is probably out there in real life and that is a bit scary. This would be a fascinating topic for book discussion group debate regarding the value of all the information gathering that occurs without our knowledge today through things like Alexa and Siri, our cell phone location services, our smart cars, our computers, our smart TVs, etc.

I’ll be recommending this a lot in the coming months.

Published By: William Morrow
Publication Date: 3/15/2022
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Magical, Women

The Inheritance of Orquidea Divina by Zoraida Cordova


Description

The Montoyas are used to a life without explanations. They know better than to ask why the pantry never seems to run low, or why their matriarch won’t ever leave their home in Four Rivers—not for graduations, weddings, or baptisms. But when Orquídea Divina invites them to her funeral and to collect their inheritance, they hope to learn the secrets that she has held onto so tightly their whole lives. Instead, Orquídea is transformed into a ceiba tree, leaving them with more questions than answers.

Seven years later, her gifts have manifested in different ways for Marimar, Rey, and Rhiannon, granting them unexpected blessings and powers. But soon, a hidden figure begins to tear through their family tree, picking them off one by one as it seeks to destroy Orquídea’s line. Determined to save what’s left of their family and uncover the truth behind their inheritance, her descendants travel to Ecuador—to the place where Orquídea buried her secrets and broken promises and never looked back.

Alternating between Orquídea’s past and her descendants’ present, The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina is a “spellbinding tale, both timeless and fresh, that will stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page. Prepare to fall in love” (Kim Liggett, New York Times bestselling author).

My Thoughts

I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher in August and was immediately drawn to the cover art, which is simply beautiful. I discovered that beauty was carried through to the text as soon as I began reading.

This is the story of a woman who began life as an unwanted child, a burden to her mother and an embarrassment to her stepfather, but beloved among the downtrodden in her village, who became the matriarch of a remarkable family. As a child, Orquidea wanted nothing more than to please her mother and take care of the people who needed help. She is portrayed as a resilient, clever child with a strong will who sees more to the world than most people. Cordova begins building the layers of Orquidea from the beginning, slowly moving towards the action that defines Orquidea’s adult life and the lives of her descendants.

Cordova has mastered the art of magical realism, blending magic with everyday life as naturally as a tree grows and gives life. The tree imagery runs through the story, beginning with Orquidea’s transformation into a ceiba tree, sacred to her people. It is believed that the souls of the dead ascend to the top of the trees to go to heaven. It was also a connection between all three worlds, the underworld, earth and heaven. Here, it is Orquidea, the matriarch, creating links between the past, the present, and the future.

The introduction of the fallen star reminded me of one of my very favorite books of 2020 – Quintessence by Jess Redman, a children’s book that used the fallen star imagery to remind us that we all have a light inside us and we just have to figure out how to ignite it. Orquidea understands that and does her best to help her descendants find their light. She uses the fallen star to wish her way into freedom.

This is also a story about obsession and possession. It’s a familiar trope – a woman running from a man who wants to consume and control her. Here, Orquidea finds the power and courage to escape but not without consequences. She lives with those consequences for 40 years before finally confronting her fear and anger and breaking free of him and it forever.

There are so many things to love about this book, but what brings it all together is Cordova’s gorgeous prose. She has mastered description and dialog and every word and phrase is exactly as it should be to create magic. She is a writer to watch and I look forward to more of her work.

This is my “Best of 2021” pick, for sure. I’ll be recommending this for a long time to come.

Publication Date: September 7, 2021
Published by: Simon & Schuster, Atria Books
Thanks to the publisher for an advanced reading copy