Historical, Magical Realism, Mystery, Women

Weyward by Emilia Hart


Description

“A brave and original debut, Weyward is a spellbinding story about what may transpire when the natural world collides with a legacy of witchcraft.” ––Sarah Penner, New York Times bestselling author of The Lost Apothecary

I am a Weyward, and wild inside.

2019: Under cover of darkness, Kate flees London for ramshackle Weyward Cottage, inherited from a great aunt she barely remembers. With its tumbling ivy and overgrown garden, the cottage is worlds away from the abusive partner who tormented Kate. But she begins to suspect that her great aunt had a secret. One that lurks in the bones of the cottage, hidden ever since the witch-hunts of the 17th century.

1619: Altha is awaiting trial for the murder of a local farmer who was stampeded to death by his herd. As a girl, Altha’s mother taught her their magic, a kind not rooted in spell casting but in a deep knowledge of the natural world. But unusual women have always been deemed dangerous, and as the evidence for witchcraft is set out against Altha, she knows it will take all of her powers to maintain her freedom.

1942: As World War II rages, Violet is trapped in her family’s grand, crumbling estate. Straitjacketed by societal convention, she longs for the robust education her brother receives––and for her mother, long deceased, who was rumored to have gone mad before her death. The only traces Violet has of her are a locket bearing the initial W and the word weyward scratched into the baseboard of her bedroom.

Weaving together the stories of three extraordinary women across five centuries, Emilia Hart’s Weyward is an enthralling novel of female resilience and the transformative power of the natural world.

My Thoughts

Reminsicent of Louisa Morgan and M.J. Rose’s work, Weyward is a wrenching story of three special women bound together by blood and unique ability over centuries. It’s a familiar story about how women with “magical” abilities (read that as healing abilities or exceptional intelligence) were feared and often attacked and murdered, or committed to asylums, then descendants become victims of abuse in the present time.

The three women here – Altha, Violet, and Kate – share a bond with nature unlike other people. Their individual stories are very different but also entwined with the same bigotry and fear that spans centuries. Well-written with relatively short chapters that alternate from woman to woman, Weyward is a quick, captivating read full of magical realism that reveals the indignity and dangers faced by unusual women from the 1600s to the present day.

Publication Date: March 7, 2023
Published By: St. Martin’s Press
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Historical, Mystery, Women

Jeweler of Stolen Dreams by MJ Rose


Description

A captivating tale of two passionate women separated by decades but united by a shared vision. One, the famous jeweler Suzanne Belperron, fighting to protect her company and rescue the man she loves. The other, a young auctioneer whose exceptional gifts reveal a secret that endangers her very life.

My Thoughts

I am never, ever disappointed in an M.J. Rose book! She writes the perfect blend of mystery, romance, and supernatural and creates spellbinding stories that I often binge-read.

The Jeweler of Stolen Dreams continues the La Lune series which chronicles the tales of the descendants of LaLune, a 16th century French courtesan and rumored witch. There are references to earlier stories, so it helps to be familiar with the series, but this can be read as a stand-alone novel.

Often, Rose incorporates gemstones in her work, which fascinates me. Here, a cache of mysterious and spectacular jewels found in an old Louis Vuitton truck starts a rollicking and emotional tale of intrigue spanning the years from World War II France to present day New York and Paris. Rose has also incorporated the story of real-life jewelry artist Suzanne Belperron, whose work stills resonates with collectors today. Look her up. She’s fascinating!

This is the perfect book for a dreary winter weekend, because it will wrap you up in a world of warmth, light, danger, and intrigue. Recommended.

Publication Date: February 7, 2023
Published By: Blue Box Press
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Mystery, Women

Play the Fool by Lina Chern


Description

A cynical tarot card reader seeks to uncover the truth about her friend’s mysterious death in this delightfully clever whodunit, “a delicious blend of suspense and madcap humor” (Library Journal, starred review).

For Katie True, a keen gut and quick wit are just tools of the trade. After a failed attempt at adulting in Chicago, she’s back in the suburbs living a bit too close to her overbearing parents, jumping from one dead-end job to the next, and flipping through her tarot deck for guidance. Then along comes Marley.

Mysterious, worldly, and comfortable in her own skin, Marley takes a job at the mall where Katie peddles Russian tchotchkes. The two just get each other. Marley doesn’t try to fix Katie’s life or pretend to be someone she’s not, and Katie thinks that with Marley’s friendship, she just might make it through this rough patch after all. Until the day when Katie, having been encouraged by Marley to practice soothsaying, reads the cards for someone who stumbles into her shop. But when she sneaks a glance at his phone, she finds more than intel to improve her clairvoyance. She finds a photo. Of Marley. With a gunshot wound to the head.

The bottom falls out of Katie’s world. Her best friend is dead? Who killed her? She quickly realizes there are some things her tarot cards can’t foresee, and she must put her razor-sharp instincts to the ultimate test. But Katie’s recklessness lands her in the crossfire of a threat she never saw coming. Now she must use her street smarts and her inner Strength card to solve Marley’s murder—or risk losing everything.

My Thoughts

This was a refreshing change from the vintage mysteries I’ve been reading. I adored the main character, Katie True, who is written with such realness that I finished the book feeling like I know her. Katie isn’t good at everything, in fact she’s kind of a fuck-up, and she’s wasting her life away working in a dismal little mall shop when the story begins. One thing that Katie IS is a true friend. She doesn’t have many, so she values the ones she’s got. That leads her smack into the middle of a murder mystery and the life of her friend Marley. The story escalates from there as Katie, who is a skilled tarot-reader, truly learns that things are not always how they appear.

Katie is a relatable character who will appeal to teens and adults who like their mysteries with a little extra “mystery.” I’m hoping there will be other Katie True books in the future.

Published By: Random House Publishing; Bantam, Ballantine
Publication Date: March 28, 2023
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Cozy, Mystery, Women

Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers by Jesse Q Sutanto


Description

A lonely shopkeeper takes it upon herself to solve a murder in the most peculiar way in this captivating mystery by Jesse Q. Sutanto, bestselling author of Dial A for Aunties.

Vera Wong is a lonely little old lady—ah, lady of a certain age—who lives above her forgotten tea shop in the middle of San Francisco’s Chinatown. Despite living alone, Vera is not needy, oh no. She likes nothing more than sipping on a good cup of Wulong and doing some healthy detective work on the Internet about what her Gen-Z son is up to.

Then one morning, Vera trudges downstairs to find a curious thing—a dead man in the middle of her tea shop. In his outstretched hand, a flash drive. Vera doesn’t know what comes over her, but after calling the cops like any good citizen would, she sort of . . . swipes the flash drive from the body and tucks it safely into the pocket of her apron. Why? Because Vera is sure she would do a better job than the police possibly could, because nobody sniffs out a wrongdoing quite like a suspicious Chinese mother with time on her hands. Vera knows the killer will be back for the flash drive; all she has to do is watch the increasing number of customers at her shop and figure out which one among them is the killer.

What Vera does not expect is to form friendships with her customers and start to care for each and every one of them. As a protective mother hen, will she end up having to give one of her newfound chicks to the police?

My Thoughts

What a romp! Fans of cozy mystery will adore Vera Wang (or Wong!?!) and her uncanny ability to smother her son, judge everyone around on based on her very specific scales of proper behavior, and solve tricky murders.

Vera is such a delightful character – sort of a cross between Eleanor Oliphant and Monk with a dash of Molly the Maid thrown in for good measure. Jesse Sutanto has created one of the most interesting and endearing sleuths around. This will appeal to cozy mystery fans. Recommended.

Published By: Berkley Publishing Group
Publication Date: March 14, 2023
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Fantasy, Magical, Mystery, Women

God of Endings by Jacqueline Holland


Description

By turns suspenseful and enchanting, this breathtaking first novel weaves a story of love, family, history, and myth as seen through the eyes of one immortal woman.

Collette LeSange is a lonely artist who heads an elite fine arts school for children in upstate New York. Her youthful beauty masks the dark truth of her life: she has endured centuries of turmoil and heartache in the wake of her grandfather’s long-ago decision to make her immortal like himself. Now in 1984, Collette finds her life upended by the arrival of a gifted child from a troubled home, the return of a stalking presence from her past, and her own mysteriously growing hunger.

Combining brilliant prose with breathtaking suspense, Jacqueline Holland’s The God of Endings serves as a larger exploration of the human condition in all its complexity, asking us the most fundamental question: is life in this world a gift or a curse?

My Thoughts

I rarely read vampire stories anymore, and truthfully I did not realize God of Endings was such a tale. However, I’m glad I didn’t know because I found this to be a memorable reading experience which I would have missed if I’d known the “immortal” being was a vampire.

Holland skillfully weaves together multiple threads of Colette’s life, from her beginning as Anna through the Anya days and finally to her current life. I enjoy stories that slip back and forth between very different times, but often find a lack of attention to detail and consistency which muddles to story. None of that to be found here! It seems the author is a meticulous plotter and that care and skill form a solid foundation for beautiful descriptive and narrative writing.

The is a book to be savored, perhaps read over a rainy autumn weekend, wrapped in a blanket in front of a fire.

Highly recommended.

Published By: Flatiron Books
Publication Date: March 7, 2023
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Fantasy, Magical, Mythology, Women, Young Adult

Spice Road by Maiya Ibrahim


Description

★THE CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED SERIES FANTASY READERS ARE RAVING ABOUT!★

Raised to protect her nation from the monsters lurking in the sands, sixteen-year-old Imani must fight to find her brother, whose betrayal is now the country’s greatest threat.

In the hidden desert city of Qalia, there is secret spice magic that awakens the affinities of those who drink the misra tea. Sixteen-year-old Imani has the affinity for iron and is able to wield a dagger like no other warrior. She has garnered the reputation as being the next great Shield for battling djinn, ghouls, and other monsters spreading across the sands. 

Her reputation has been overshadowed, however, by her brother, who tarnished the family name after it was revealed that he was stealing his nation’s coveted spice—a telltale sign of magical obsession. Soon after that, he disappeared, believed to have died beyond the Forbidden Wastes. Despite her brother’s betrayal, there isn’t a day that goes by when Imani doesn’t grieve him. 

But when Imani discovers signs that her brother may be alive and spreading the nation’s magic to outsiders, she makes a deal with the Council that she will find him and bring him back to Qalia, where he will face punishment. Accompanied by other Shields, including Taha, a powerful beastseer who can control the minds of falcons, she sets out on her mission. 

Imani will soon find that many secrets lie beyond the Forbidden Wastes—and in her own heart—but will she find her brother?

My Thoughts

It’s been awhile since I gave a 5 star review, but Spice Road 100% deserves it. This is one of the very best fantasy novels I’ve read in a long time. The basic plot isn’t that unusual – one group of people who have magic are threatened by another group that wants the magic – BUT the telling makes this so much more than a conflict between two groups. Brilliant characterization framed by lush description enhanced with the mythology and folklore of the Arabian Peninsula result in an unusual and compelling quest fantasy. It looks like this may be the start of series, and it is one I will eagerly anticipate.

Highly recommended.

Published By: Random House Children’s; Delacorte
Publication Date: January 24, 2023
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Mystery, Psychological, Suspense, Women

Chalice of Darkness by Sarah Rayne


Description

Introducing the Fitzglens and their theatre of thieves in this spellbinding gothic mystery!

London, 1908. The Fitzglens are proud of their reputation as one of London’s leading theatre families.  They are, however, equally proud of another profession which they pursue very discreetly . . . When not on stage, they are thieves.

Jack Fitzglen’s latest plan is to seek out the infamous Talisman Chalice, steal it and create a dazzling piece of theatre around it. He travels to Vallow Hall in Northumberland to find the mysterious Maude – the last known link to the Chalice – but uncovers something far darker. Scandal, secrets and danger lurk in every shady corner. Perhaps the legend of the Chalice has come true: that in the wrong hands, the Chalice drags a person into a darkness from which he or she can never emerge…

As past and present collide, can Jack find the Chalice, the truth and return to his theatre of thieves unscathed?

My Thoughts

I was first introduced to Sarah Rayne through one of her non-series books, The Death Chamber, which remains one of the scariest books I’ve ever read. I’m glad to see her again deviating from her series regulars Phinneas Fox and Nell West in Chalice of Darkness, and possibly introducing a new series family, the Fitzglens!

The storytelling here is as intriguing and well-plotted as usual with Rayne’s work, and is accompanied by a surprisingly tender treatment of a woman horribly wronged. Maude endures unthinkable punishment from her husband, driven by his own inadequacy and his fear and loathing of her. Quite a reminder that the times when women were considered their husband’s property isn’t all that long ago.

In addition to Maude, the Fitzglen family is fascinating. The blend of thespian and thief was fun to read, and the ending was so satisfying. I would welcome additional stories featuring this troupe of performers and con artists!

This will appeal to fans of Simone St. James and of course to Raynes’ fans.

“Superb  . . . Lovers of British historical mysteries with a dash of romance and gothic atmosphere will clamor for more” – Publishers Weekly Starred Review

Publication Date: February 7, 2023
Published By: Severn House
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Historical, Makes You Think, Women, World Literature

River Sing Me Home by Eleanor Shearer


Description

The master of the Providence plantation in Barbados gathers his slaves and announces the king has decreed an end to slavery. As of the following day, the Emancipation Act of 1834 will come into effect. The cries of joy fall silent when he announces that they are no longer his slaves; they are now his apprentices. No one can leave. They must work for him for another six years. Freedom is just another name for the life they have always lived. So Rachel runs.

Away from Providence, she begins a desperate search to find her children—the five who survived birth and were sold. Are any of them still alive? Rachel has to know. The grueling, dangerous journey takes her from Barbados then, by river, deep into the forest of British Guiana and finally across the sea to Trinidad. She is driven on by the certainty that a mother cannot be truly free without knowing what has become of her children, even if the answer is more than she can bear. These are the stories of Mary Grace, Micah, Thomas Augustus, Cherry Jane and Mercy. But above all this is the story of Rachel and the extraordinary lengths to which a mother will go to find her children…and her freedom.

My Thoughts

This stunning novel will take you on an emotional journey that you will not soon forget. The experiences of mothers, fathers, children, and siblings born into slavery and ripped away from each other are just too horrific to fully understand, and Shearer skillfully conveys the raw emotions – rage, heartbreak, despair but also hope, love, and resilience – experienced by Rachel, her children, and her allies. Rachels’ story drives home the capacity for humans to torture each other physically and mentally, and that makes this a difficult book to read. However, it is also ultimately a story of redemption and reunification driven by the incandescent love of a mother for her children. This is a book that will change you.

A GOOD MORNING AMERICA BOOK CLUB PICK • This beautiful, page-turning and redemptive story of a mother’s gripping journey across the Caribbean to find her stolen children in the aftermath of slavery is a “celebration of motherhood and female resilience” (The Observer).

“A powerful novel that explores how freedom and family are truly defined”—Marie Benedict, New York Times bestselling coauthor of The Personal Librarian


Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2023 by Real Simple, Goodreads, AARP, Boston.com, BookBub and BookRiot

Her search begins with an ending.…

Publication Date: January 31, 2023
Published By: Berkley Publishing Group
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Action Adventure, Mystery, Suspense, Women

Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn


Description

Older women often feel invisible, but sometimes that’s their secret weapon.

They’ve spent their lives as the deadliest assassins in a clandestine international organization, but now that they’re sixty years old, four women friends can’t just retire – it’s kill or be killed in this action-packed thriller by New York Times bestselling and Edgar Award-nominated author Deanna Raybourn.

Billie, Mary Alice, Helen, and Natalie have worked for the Museum, an elite network of assassins, for forty years. Now their talents are considered old-school and no one appreciates what they have to offer in an age that relies more on technology than people skills.

When the foursome is sent on an all-expenses paid vacation to mark their retirement, they are targeted by one of their own. Only the Board, the top-level members of the Museum, can order the termination of field agents, and the women realize they’ve been marked for death.

Now to get out alive they have to turn against their own organization, relying on experience and each other to get the job done, knowing that working together is the secret to their survival. They’re about to teach the Board what it really means to be a woman—and a killer—of a certain age.

My Thoughts

Red meets Kill Bill in this delicious romp featuring four of the most entertaining but deadly female characters ever put to page. This is such a different type of story from Raybourn and proves she’s one of her generation’s most accomplished writers.

Fans of her 19th century series may not appreciate the departure, but I sincerely hope they give this a chance. Every character is drawn tautly but with warmth and wit, and the story is flawless.

If you’re looking for a purely entertaining, action-packed adventure, this is your book. I will be astonished if this doesn’t get adapted to film.

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.