Magic Lessons: The Prequel to Practical Magic – Alice Hoffman

There is a curse in the Owens family that has existed since the 1600s. If you have read Practical Magic you know about it. And it all began with an abandoned baby girl, found in the snow by Hannah Owens. Hannah was skilled in the “Unnamed Arts” and taught the girl, Maria, all she knows. Maria has a gift and mostly uses it wisely, but she has forgotten an important lesson: Always love someone who will love you back.

Alice Hoffman’s books are always wonderful. In this one she takes Maria from England to New York and Salem Massachusetts, and tells a tale of the mistreatment of single women in the 17th century, especially self-reliant, independent women. I greatly enjoyed this book and found it hard to put down.

eGalley review                                   Publication date 10.6.2020

Posted in adult, fantasy, historical fiction

The Inheritance Games – Jennifer Lynn Barnes

From the publisher, “Avery Grambs has a plan for a better future: survive high school, win a scholarship, and get out. But her fortunes change in an instant when billionaire Tobias Hawthorne dies and leaves Avery virtually his entire fortune. The catch? Avery has no idea why — or even who Tobias Hawthorne is.

To receive her inheritance, Avery must move into sprawling, secret passage-filled Hawthorne House, where every room bears the old man’s touch — and his love of puzzles, riddles, and codes. Unfortunately for Avery, Hawthorne House is also occupied by the family that Tobias Hawthorne just dispossessed. This includes the four Hawthorne grandsons: dangerous, magnetic, brilliant boys who grew up with every expectation that one day, they would inherit billions. Heir apparent Grayson Hawthorne is convinced that Avery must be a conwoman, and he’s determined to take her down. His brother, Jameson, views her as their grandfather’s last hurrah: a twisted riddle, a puzzle to be solved. Caught in a world of wealth and privilege, with danger around every turn, Avery will have to play the game herself just to survive.”

Avery is a determined, honest, big-hearted heroine and is the perfect person to have all this wealth bestowed.  Each of the Hawthorne brothers are also kind, considerate but very competitive.  They didn’t seem terribly bothered that Avery is getting the bulk of their grandfather’s vast fortune.  That seemed a bit odd.  The puzzles, the games – all very clever.  One thing though that my little brain is struggling with is that they are in Texas and decide to go cliff jumping into the Gulf.  Gulf of Mexico?  Cliffs on the Texas Gulf Coast are not a landform that I have encountered.  However, this is a fun, engaging read and wrapped up nicely.

eGalley review                                                                Publication date 9.01.2020

Posted in fiction, mystery

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

France, 1714 – Addie LaRue DID NOT want to be married, not to anyone, but especially not to Roger, a widower with three small children. So on her wedding day she runs away into the forest and falls asleep with a prayer for salvation on her lips, and a dark god answers her prayer. She tells him that she wants to be free and to have more time to live, and they agree on a pact. She will live as long as she pleases and will give him her soul when she is done with it. But she soon finds that she is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets. And so, for 300 years she wanders the world, alone and friendless. Her life is her own for as long as she wishes, but it will never be remembered.

I loved this book. It was thought provoking, tragic, funny. I have never read anything like it, and I don’t know how to review it. Is it a tale of a woman in love with the devil, or a tale about punishment, or is it about living well in spite of difficulties, or is it about something else entirely?  I just know that you must read this book.  Highly recommend.

eGalley review                                                Publication date 10.6.2020

Posted in adult, fiction, folklore, highly recommend | Tagged ,

The Midnight Circus – Jane Yolen

This is a three ring circus like no other. It is the dark side of The Emerald Circus. I loved those stories and thought I might not like Yolen’s dark side. I should not have worried, for these stories chilled me to the bone, and I loved every minute! This is a collection of previously published works dating from 1974 to 2013. A few were repeats for me, but most I had not read, or were stories I had mostly forgotten. You will find a Little Red Riding Hood, quite unlike the one you have known, and several Holocaust stories, dark and haunting. There is a bit of terror, but no blood. And of course, there are witches and wolves. Almost all of the poems are new, and all are wonderful.

eGalley review                                                Publication date 10.1.2020

Posted in adult, fantasy, folklore, highly recommend | Tagged

Fable – Adrienne Young

From the publisher, “Welcome to a world made dangerous by the sea and by those who wish to profit from it. Where a young girl must find her place and her family while trying to survive in a world built for men.

As the daughter of the most powerful trader in the Narrows, the sea is the only home seventeen-year-old Fable has ever known. It’s been four years since the night she watched her mother drown during an unforgiving storm. The next day her father abandoned her on a legendary island filled with thieves and little food. To survive she must keep to herself, learn to trust no one and rely on the unique skills her mother taught her. The only thing that keeps her going is the goal of getting off the island, finding her father and demanding her rightful place beside him and his crew. To do so Fable enlists the help of a young trader named West to get her off the island and across the Narrows to her father. But her father’s rivalries and the dangers of his trading enterprise have only multiplied since she last saw him and Fable soon finds that West isn’t who he seems. Together, they will have to survive more than the treacherous storms that haunt the Narrows if they’re going to stay alive.”

Excellent!  I gobbled up the author’s previous books and this one is even better.  I am drawn to seafaring books and adventure, cunning, grit, etc.  The author quickly creates the setting, outlines the characters, and pulls the reader into the story.  The reader gains insight into the character without the author droning on and on about the thoughts and feelings.  The story never drags and West, ahh quite charismatic: stoic, hardworking, sacrifice, heart yet tasked with dark deeds.  I delayed reading this until I obtained the sequel, Namesake, so I can read them back to back.  Highly recommend.

eGalley review                                                      Publication date 9.1.2020

Posted in adventure, fantasy, highly recommend | Tagged

The Evening and the Morning – Ken Follett

Edgar’s life is upended when a Viking raid leaves his father dead and the family boat building business destroyed. Looking for a new start, the family moves to the village of Dreng’s Ferry. There his life becomes entwined with Ragna, a Norman noblewoman, and Brother Aldred who hopes to turn his abbey into a center for learning. The year is 997, and England is in turmoil, with Vikings attacking from the east and Welsh from the west. The king has little power, so the nobility mostly do as they please.

As usual, Ken Follett transports the reader to another time with wonderful descriptions of place and characters. I was totally immersed in the book and was sorry to see it end. This is a prequel to The Pillars of the Earth. The village of Dreng’s Ferry will one day be Kingsbridge and Brother Aldred’s little abbey is destined to be the magnificent cathedral.

eGalley review                                            Publication date 9.15.2020

Posted in adult, historical fiction | Tagged ,

The Year’s Best Science Fiction Vol.l: The Saga Anthology of Science Fiction 2020 – Jonathan Strahan, Ed.

This is a great assortment of very fine authors, Ken Liu, Rebecca Roanhorse, Kim Stanley Robinson, Ted Chiang, just to name a few, but my favorite story was from an author unfamiliar to me: Charlie Jane Anders. I loved her funny, The Bookstore at the End of America. Of the other stories, some I loved, some I hated, some I didn’t understand. And I am sure that your list will be quite different from mine.

eGalley review                       Publication date 9.8.2020

Posted in adult, science fiction | Tagged

Rebel Spy – Veronica Rossi

From the publisher, “A reimagining of the story behind Agent 355—a New York society girl and spy for George Washington during the Revolutionary War.  Rebellious Frannie Tasker knows little about the war between England and its thirteen colonies in 1776, until a shipwreck off her home in Grand Bahama Island presents an unthinkable opportunity. The body of a young woman body floating in the sea gives Frannie the chance to escape her brutal stepfather—and she takes it.

Assuming the identity of the drowned Emmeline Coates, Frannie is rescued by a British merchant ship and sails with the crew to New York. For the next three years, Frannie lives a lie as Miss Coates, swept up in a courtship by a dashing British lieutenant. But after witnessing the darker side of the war, she realizes that her position gives her power. Soon she’s eavesdropping on British officers, risking everything to pass information on to George Washington’s Culper spy ring as agent 355. Frannie believes in the fight for American liberty—but what will it cost her? Inspired by the true “355” and rich in historical detail and intrigue, this is the story of an unlikely New York society girl turned an even unlikelier spy.”

The writing excels in this important story of how the actions of individuals, ordinary people, helped turn the tide of the American Revolution.  The author deftly crafts Frannie, drawing the reader to her plight showing her grit and determination. Action abounds as she manages to get herself off the island and into her new life.  How she was draw into the spy ring is also quite believable.  A cause so great, that a person was willing to risk their life, a life of security and comfort, to bring about the needed change is a story that needs to be told and never forgotten.  This book could be paired with George Washington, Spymaster: How the Americans Outspied the British and Won the Revolutionary War by Thomas B. Allen.  Highly recommend.

eGalley review                                                     Publication date 6.23.2020

Posted in historical fiction | Tagged ,

How to Raise An Elephant: No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (21) – Alexander McCall Smith

how to raise an elepphantMma Ramotswe can find a way to solve any problem, so she doesn’t think this one can be too hard. Surely taking care of a baby elephant is something she can manage . . . or is it? And she has a relative needing money and a new neighbor who needs a bit of advice. Quite a lot on her plate, but of course she can handle it all.

I love to be transported to Botswana, to feel the slower pace of life and to hear the conversations of Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi and Charlie, to watch them solve minor mysteries happily. This a book that makes me smile, makes me feel that everything will always be ok, eventually. Although this is book 21 in the series, it can be read as a stand-alone. But be warned, if you read one book in the series, you will feel compelled to go back and read another, and another, and another . . .

eGalley review                                                                Publication date 11.24.2020

Posted in adult, fiction, gentle reader, Uncategorized | Tagged

Migrations – Charlotte McConaghy

MigrationsFranny has an irresistible urge to wander. She just cannot stay in one place for very long. She also has an irresistible urge to swim in the ocean, the very cold ocean. And she has a great love for birds. She knows she is searching for something, but can’t quite understand what it is. Driven by a need to follow the Arctic terns on what might be their final migration to Antarctica, she convinces the captain of the Shanghai that to follow the terns she has banded will lead him to great schools of fish. Set in the near future when all animals are facing extinction, and told by an unreliable narrator, this is a haunting, disturbing novel. But it is at the same time beautiful and poetic. It is a novel I will remember for a very long time.

eGalley review                                   Publication date 8.25.2020

Posted in adult, fiction, gentle reader, highly recommend, Uncategorized | Tagged

The Burning Kingdoms – Sally Green

The Burning KingdomsFrom the publisher, “In this conclusion to the epic Smoke Thieves trilogy, the world has erupted into all-out war. King Aloysius is mining powerful demon smoke and using it to fuel an unstoppable army of children. March, now banished for treason, has joined up with this boy army. Forbidden from ever seeing Edyon again, and overwhelmed by his own betrayal, March no longer cares if he lives or dies.

Catherine—now queen of Pitoria—must find a way to defeat the boy army, while also grappling with her own troubles: her secret demon smoke addiction, and unresolved tension with her former lover, Ambrose. Catherine seeks military support from Calidor by reaching out to her illegitimate cousin Edyon, who has been proclaimed heir to the Calidorian throne. But Edyon has almost no power as he’s entangled in the unfamiliar machinations and manipulations of the royal court, finding that being the claimed son of a prince may be no easier than being a bastard.

With Catherine, his love, now married off and moving on, and his brother and sister tortured and executed before him, Ambrose doesn’t know what his role in this world is any more. He leads an expedition into the demon world, hoping to destroy the boy army’s stores of demon smoke. In this underground world, he runs into Tash, whom everyone had believed dead. She has survived in this new world using magical abilities that, prior to now, only demons had.

Aloysius will send his demon smoke-powered boy army to kill them all, if he can. But what nobody knows is that there is more to the smoke than meets the eye…”

This has been my favorite trilogy these past several years.  Flawless writing: plot, characters, dialog, setting.   She is the master at changing point of view without losing the thread of the story.  Clever, spunky, Tash is a favorite character.  Edyon’s character is complex and evolving so that I especially enjoy when the story shifts to him.  I greatly appreciate the epilogue.   I’ll happily devour anything the author writes.  Highly recommend.

eGalley review                                                Publication date 8.25.2020

Posted in fantasy, highly recommend, Uncategorized | Tagged

The Time of Green Magic – Hilary McKay

The Time of Green MagicFrom the publisher, “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.”

This is for the gentle reader, the thoughtful reader who doesn’t need swashbuckling action at every turn.  It is more a story about blended families and growing up.  It is a calming read and much appreciated.

eGalley review                                                    Publication date 7.28.2020

Posted in gentle reader, realistic fiction, Uncategorized | Tagged

The Faithless Hawk – Margaret Owen

Faithless HawkFrom the publisher, “Dangerous magic, a tormented romance, and lethal betrayals come to a head in the thrilling sequel to Margaret Owen’s The Merciful Crow.  As the new chieftain of the Crows, Fie knows better than to expect a royal to keep his word. Still she’s hopeful that Prince Jasimir will fulfill his oath to protect her fellow Crows. But then black smoke fills the sky, signaling the death of King Surimir and the beginning of Queen Rhusana’s ruthless bid for the throne.  Queen Rhusana wins popular support by waging a brutal campaign against the Crows, blaming them for the poisonous plague that wracks the nation.  A desperate Fie clings onto a prophecy that a long-forgotten god will return and provide a cure to the plague. Fie must team up with old friends—and an old flame—to track down a dead god and save her people.”

Fie is still trying to get Prince Jasimir on the throne by bringing down the evil Queen Rhusana.  There is more this time about the old gods and gods reborn and some of it got a tad confusing.  I still really like the premise of teeth and bones holding power.  Fie continues to be the heroine to root for.  She’s so blunt.  Even though her life is complicated, she comes across as an uncomplicated person. Tavin is back (!) and also Jasimir, who has sense of humor.  And a scene is always better when Barf, her cat, is present.  Excellent duology.

eGalley review                                             Publication date 8.18.2020

Posted in dystopian, fantasy, highly recommend, Uncategorized | Tagged ,

Anxious People – Fredrik Backman

Anxious PeopleThe eight strangers who were participating in an apartment viewing could not, in their wildest imaginations, have thought this would have been a life-or-death situation. (And really it wasn’t, but they didn’t know that!) You see, a bank robber burst in and took them hostage, a bank robber with a gun! As the police surround the apartment building and TV crews arrive, the tension mounts, they begin talking with one another, about their lives, their anxieties. Thus, the title of this book.

This is a bittersweet comedy that makes you want to laugh and cry at the same time. Fredrik Backman is good at that. I love his books, and this is one of his best. Don’t miss it.

eGalley review                                                      Publication date 9.8.2020

Posted in adult, gentle reader, highly recommend, realistic fiction, Uncategorized

Chasing Chopin: A Musical Journey Across Three Centuries, Four Countries, and a Half-Dozen Revolutions – Annik LaFarge

Chasing ChopinThere have been many, many, biographies of Chopin. Do we really need a new one? Yep . . . we need this one, because it is a biography of Chopin’s music:  how he composed, how he played his music, how he taught his techniques to his students, what pianos he used. LaFarge buried herself in Chopin’s world, visiting monuments, churches, archives. She played on antique pianos, talked to music teachers and pianists.  But the best thing is a companion website WhyChopin.com. It is organized by chapter and has links to performances of the music mentioned in that chapter. How wonderful to be able to listen to music as it is being discussed.

I absolutely loved this book.

eGalley review                                                     Publication date 8.11.2020

Posted in adult, biography, highly recommend, Uncategorized | Tagged ,