In these stories, Jemisin sharply examines modern society, infusing magic into the mundane, and drawing deft parallels in the fantasy realms of her imagination. Dragons and hateful spirits haunt the flooded city of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In a parallel universe, a utopian society watches our world, trying to learn from our mistakes. A black mother in the Jim Crow south must figure out how to save her daughter from a fey offering impossible promises. And in the Hugo award-nominated short story “The City Born Great,” a young street kid fights to give birth to an old metropolis’s soul.
I loved this collection of short stories but it took me forever to read. I felt like after each one I had to put the book down and let it sink in. I couldn’t just go onto the next. I absolutely love this cover. I remember when this photo series came out. This one makes a perfect book cover.
There are children who get chosen to be a sacrifice based on their good grades. But what happens to them? Is this a punishment for the kids who have to excel despite the risks or a way to set them free?
Fans can freeze their favorite writers by killing them at the time of their greatest talent so they never disappoint.
Can humans who have escaped a dying Earth fix the environmental damage? Should they be allowed to try no matter what humans who have remained behind think?
Making deals (and babies) with dragons might not turn out well for anyone but the dragons. On the other hand, little dragons can help fight off even bigger evil.
There are tales of first contact with alien civilizations and visions of possibly imaginary women dancing in elevators. There are gods that survive the death of humans. How do they entertain themselves?
Wars can be fought or prevented with magic. Maybe, someday, the tenuous connections between people on the internet will be all that there is left. Then again, maybe if you look hard enough there is a train waiting that can take you anywhere you need to go.
There are stories here that I know Foodies Read participants would love.
A chef unlocks her ability to make magic with food.
A restaurant opens that can make the exact meal from any memory.
It's 1863 and dinosaurs roam the streets of New York as the Civil War rages between raptor-mounted armies down South. Magdalys Roca and her friends from the Colored Orphan Asylum are on a field trip when the Draft Riots break out, and a number of their fellow orphans are kidnapped by an evil magistrate, Richard Riker.
Magdalys and her friends flee to Brooklyn and settle in the Dactyl Hill neighborhood, where black and brown New Yorkers have set up an independent community--a safe haven from the threats of Manhattan. Together with the Vigilance Committee, they train to fly on dactylback, discover new friends and amazing dinosaurs, and plot to take down Riker. Can Magdalys and the squad rescue the rest of their friends before it's too late?
Do I really need to tell you anything else besides THIS IS A CIVIL WAR STORY WITH DINOSAURS? Because, honestly, that’s all it took for me. I mean, ok, it is written by Daniel Jose Older whose adult and YA books I’ve loved. Why wouldn’t I love his new middle grade series?
The dinosaurs are both all important and just part of the background in this world. They are used as draft animals. The big ones function as buses and ferries. Triceratops pull carts. The bad guys ride carnivorous dinos.
This fantasy imagery is set along side a plot inspired by real events. There was a ring of white businessmen in New York who kidnapped and sold free colored people into slavery. The colored children’s home did burn in the Draft Riots. This book imagines what would have happened if the survivors of the fire found their way to a resistance cell and learned to fight back — WITH DINOSAURS!
I’d recommend this book to anyone because of the imaginative world building and a look at a part of Civil War history that isn’t often discussed, even without there being dinosaurs. The dinosaur angle would work well to pull in readers who may be reluctant to read a book about the past.
About Daniel José Older
“Daniel José Older is the author of the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series from Penguin’s Roc Books and the Young Adult novel Shadowshaper(Scholastic’s Arthur A. Levine Books, 2015). Publishers Weekly hailed him as a “rising star of the genre” after the publication of his debut ghost noir collection, Salsa Nocturna. He co-edited the anthology Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History. His short stories and essays have appeared in the Guardian, NPR, Tor.com, Salon, BuzzFeed, Fireside Fiction, the New Haven Review, PANK, Apex and Strange Horizons and the anthologies Subversion and Mothership: Tales Of Afrofuturism And Beyond. Daniel’s band Ghost Star gigs around New York and he teaches workshops on storytelling from an anti-oppressive power analysis.” – from his website
From the creator of Dragonbreath comes a tale of witches, minions, and one fantastic castle, just right for fans of Roald Dahl and Tom Angleberger.
When Molly shows up on Castle Hangnail's doorstep to fill the vacancy for a wicked witch, the castle's minions are understandably dubious. After all, she is twelve years old, barely five feet tall, and quite polite. (The minions are used to tall, demanding evil sorceresses with razor-sharp cheekbones.) But the castle desperately needs a master or else the Board of Magic will decommission it, leaving all the minions without the home they love. So when Molly assures them she is quite wicked indeed (So wicked! REALLY wicked!) and begins completing the tasks required by the Board of Magic for approval, everyone feels hopeful. Unfortunately, it turns out that Molly has quite a few secrets, including the biggest one of all: that she isn't who she says she is.
This quirky, richly illustrated novel is filled with humor, magic, and an unforgettable all-star cast of castle characters.
This book has everything I absolutely love about fantasy books. It is chock full of imagination and whimsy. There are also dragons. You must have dragons.
Molly knows that she is going to be a Wicked Witch. She can do some magic. She has an over-the-top Good Twin. So she steals an invitation to apply for the job of Master of Castle Hangnail. Who cares that she is only 12?
The Guardian of the castle cares, for a start. He knows the castle is in danger of being decommissioned if a new master isn’t found who can complete all the tasks assigned. There needs to be proper blighting and smiting and defending of the castle and capturing the hearts of the villagers (probably literally if the new master is an Evil Sorceress or a Vampire). Can a cheery 12 year old manage that?
I love the staff of the castle.
The Guardian has served under many truly evil masters and knows how minions should be properly treated. He isn’t prepared to be given an actual name and thanked for things. It just isn’t right.
Pins is a stuffed doll who can sew anything, including waterproof sweaters for his goldfish
The goldfish is a hypochondriac
Cook is a Minotaur who is very angry about the letter Q
Angus is Cook’s son and general helper
Edward is an enchanted suit of armor with rusty knees
There is a woman made of steam. This happens when a djinn mates with a human woman who didn’t know she had mermaid ancestry.
There are clockwork bees and all kinds of bats including one insomniac bat who stays awake during the day and sleeps at night.
Molly is going to be Wicked but not Evil. Wicked will punish a person to make them think about what they did. Evil will hurt people for fun. So she blights weeds and asks around to see who is being mean and is in need of a good smiting. When she finds someone who is mean to his donkey, she uses a spell to turn the donkey temporarily into a dragon to scare the mean man. After that all the animals want to take a turn being a dragon, of course!
This book was absolutely delightful from beginning to end. I read it in a day. I was hoping that there was going to be a follow up to see what happens next at Castle Hangnail but so far, no luck.
Adèle has only one goal: catch the purple-haired thief who broke into her home and stole her exocore, thus proving herself to her new police team. Little does she know, her thief is also the local baker.
Claire owns the Croissant-toi, but while her days are filled with pastries and customers, her nights are dedicated to stealing exocores. These new red gems are heralded as the energy of the future, but she knows the truth: they are made of witches’ souls.
When her twin—a powerful witch and prime exocore material—disappears, Claire redoubles in her efforts to investigate. She keeps running into Adèle, however, and whether or not she can save her sister might depend on their conflicted, unstable, but deepening relationship.
---------------BAKER THIEF is the first in a fantasy series meant to reframe romance tropes within non-romantic relationship and centering aromantic characters. Those who love enemies-to-lovers and superheroes should enjoy the story!
I picked this up because it combined a baker and a fantasy mystery. There really isn’t as much baking content as I would have liked because Claude the baker is off being a superhero and keeps needing to close the bakery.
What I Liked:
This is a fantasy world based in a French worldview. The author is from Quebec and it shows in the French blended into this story. I don’t know that I’ve seen another book where this is so well combined. Place names, official titles, etc are French.
There are witches in this world but they have been driven underground by persecution in the fairly recent past. Nonmagical people think they are safe now because witches are gone. Witches are not gone.
The main character is Claude/Claire. They are genderfluid. Generally, he is Claude during the day when he is baking and Claire at night when she is a thief. That schedule of genders was working well until recently when Claude is starting to regret not being comfortable working during the day as Claire or spending the night as Claude depending on which gender feels most comfortable at the time.
It tackles issues relating to aromanticism and asexuality. There are several characters at different places on the spectrum of aromanticism and asexuality so you don’t get a single point of view of these topics. It shows how aromantic people have relationships which is important if readers aren’t familiar with this aspect of queerness.
The rest of the cast is also very diverse. Many genders, sexualities, disabilities, and races are represented. It is also very good at body acceptance of various sizes of people.
Things that are slightly off:
This isn’t the author’s fault but there is a major part of the plot that is very similar to part of the plot of Witchmark. I loved that book so much and I read it first, so what should have felt like a surprising plot point felt like, “Oh, this again?” The books came out about just about the same time so it is just a coincidence but it decreased my enjoyment a bit.
Things that I’ll probably get yelled at on the internet for criticizing:
Sometimes the supporting characters were very awkwardly introduced. The author was working hard to include characters from many different backgrounds which is good but it turned every character introduction into a descriptive list. It is a case of telling the reader instead of showing the reader through the character’s actions. For example, you wouldn’t necessarily be told when being introduced to your new boss what her sexual orientation was or that she was polyamorous. Maybe you would see pictures on her desk or it would come up in conversation later.
Sometimes the plot seemed to be set aside in order for a lesson about identity. The worst instance of this was when Claire ran into a burning building, past a female-presenting witch who was setting the place on fire, and into a room where other witches were being held captive, in order to rescue them. The witches inside ask their friend is ok. Claire refers to her as “Fire girl” in her explanation. At that point, she is informed that the witch is agender and not a girl. My thought reading that passage was, “This is why conservatives laugh at us.” You are being rescued from a building that is literally on fire. You were trapped and needed a person with super strength to get you out. Now, while the fire is about to drop the whole ceiling on you, you take the time to admonish your rescuer for misgendering a person they literally saw in passing. Run first – then figure out the proper pronouns of strangers you’ve never spoken to. This book sometimes felt like an educational tome on identity more than a fantasy story. That’s fine if that was the author’s goal but I would have liked to see both aspects blended together more seamlessly.
In an original world reminiscent of Edwardian England in the shadow of a World War, cabals of noble families use their unique magical gifts to control the fates of nations, while one young man seeks only to live a life of his own.
Magic marked Miles Singer for suffering the day he was born, doomed either to be enslaved to his family's interest or to be committed to a witches' asylum. He went to war to escape his destiny and came home a different man, but he couldn’t leave his past behind. The war between Aeland and Laneer leaves men changed, strangers to their friends and family, but even after faking his own death and reinventing himself as a doctor at a cash-strapped veterans' hospital, Miles can’t hide what he truly is.
When a fatally poisoned patient exposes Miles’ healing gift and his witchmark, he must put his anonymity and freedom at risk to investigate his patient’s murder. To find the truth he’ll need to rely on the family he despises, and on the kindness of the most gorgeous man he’s ever seen.
I heard about this book on Twitter and was intrigued by its cover. I didn’t really know what it was about when I picked it up. I laughed when I realized that it is basically about treatment for war-induced PTSD. I was reading this during a week when that was a frequent topic of conversation at my house and now my fantasy books were chiming in too.
The world building in this book is extraordinary. It is vaguely steampunk. Horses and bicycles are the main modes of transportation. The super wealthy have some cars. Just reading about the system of bicycle transportation was fascinating and shows how much the author thought about how the world would work.
In this world some of elite are mages who control the weather. Other mages have different talents but they are bound against their will to weather mages to be used as an auxillary power supply for their magic. Miles has healing magic. He knew he was going to bound to his sister so he ran away and joined the army. Now he is a psychiatrist working in a veteran’s hospital and dealing with his own PTSD and that of his patients. He doesn’t want to use his powers because either:
He would be found by his powerful family and bound – or
People would think he was a low-born witch and he would be incarcerated in an asylum
His carefully planned secret life starts to unravel when a poisoned witch is brought to him by a stranger. The witch knew who he was and now the stranger does too.
There is so much going on in this book.
There is a very sweet m/m romance with fade to black sex scenes. (Thank you very much! I want more romance books without sex scenes please!)
There is the mystery of what the dying witch knew and what he wanted Miles to do about it.
There is the drama with Miles’ family.
There is an usual increase in the number of veterans committing violent acts when they come home. Can Miles figure out the cause of that?
There is hatred from Miles’ colleague who suspects he is a witch and is trying hard to prove it.
This is the start of a series. I’m looking forward to reading future installments. Come for the magic. Stay for the unfortunately-too-realistic treatment of post-war veterans.
Indelbed is a lonely kid living in a crumbling mansion in the super dense, super chaotic third world capital of Bangladesh. When he learns that his dead mother was a djinn — more commonly known as a genie — and that his drunken loutish father is a sitting emissary to the djinns (e.g. a magician), his whole world is turned inside out. Suddenly, and for reasons that totally escape him, his father is found in a supernatural coma, and Indelbed is kidnapped by the djinn and delivered to a subterranean prison. Back in the city, his cousin Rais and his family struggle to make sense of it all, as an impending catastrophe threatens to destroy everything they know. Needless to say, everything is resting on Indelbed’s next move — and he’s got a new partner to help him: the world’s most evil djinn.
This book is long. This book is dense. Try to just breezily rush through this and you will miss things. This book is also smart and sarcastic and snarky and everything else I love.
Indelbed is adorable. He’s from the embarrassing part of a prominent family. He’s pretty much being ignored by his alcoholic father who is in turn ignored by the extended family. He’s just going about his life the best he can hoping that maybe someday one of his aunts will notice that things are really not ok in his life when he gets kidnapped by a djinn.
From here there are three stories taking place.
Indelbed is thrown in a murder pit where he lives with a djinn prisoner for 10 years while they plot an ambitious escape.
Indelbed’s father is in a coma and his spirit is watching the history of an epic battle through the memories of the people who were there.
Indelbed’s aunt Juny and cousin Rais find out that djinn are real and set out to figure out what happened to Indelbed.
I liked storylines 3 and 1 the best. Along the way there are wyrms that the prisoners tame in hopes that one will grow into a dragon to help them escape. There are also djinn airships and submarines and hidden bases in the sky. Djinns don’t physically fight amongst themselves any more. Now they engage in legal wrangling that can go on for decades. Breach of contract is their greatest sin.
It is a very hard book to describe. It is one where the pleasure is in the journey, not the destination. In fact, I’m quite annoyed by the end of this book. Mostly I’m annoyed by the lack of ending of this book. Obviously this is set up to have a sequel because the book just stops. Storyline 3 turns in a whole new direction about to have an adventure in the last pages. It isn’t even a cliffhanger. It is a “Hey, let’s go look at this new thing……” and we’re out of pages. The other two stories are likewise incomplete. I actually kept looking for more pages of book because it was just, “Now we are done.”
I’ve been reading. I’ve been reading a lot. But, I haven’t been writing reviews. Honestly, I got a bit bored with them and I know they aren’t favorites. It is especially hard when the book is entertaining but nothing mind-blowing. How many ways can you can up with to say, “It was good. I enjoyed it enough to read the whole thing. That is all.”
The thing is that I did enjoy these books. Most of them I haven’t heard much about so they need to get some exposure. I should stop slacking and write up some reviews.
So here are some books that I haven’t told you about from August. Seriously, August, people. Slacking.
Meet Greta Helsing, doctor to the undead.
After inheriting a highly specialised, and highly peculiar, medical practice, Dr Helsing spends her days treating London's undead for a host of ills: vocal strain in banshees, arthritis in barrow-wights and entropy in mummies. Although barely making ends meet, this is just the quiet, supernatural-adjacent life Greta's dreamed of since childhood.
But when a sect of murderous monks emerges, killing human undead and alike, Greta must use all her unusual skills to keep her supernatural clients - and the rest of London - safe.
This is a great idea. A lot of the monsters from old horror stories are here. Dr. Helsing is trying to keep a practice afloat while having to keep her patients a secret.
I had a hard time remembering at points that this is a contemporary story. It kept feeling like it was a Victorian to me and then there would be modern technology.
It was well done. There are sequels planned and I will definitely read them.
In 90 A.D., following the Saturninus revolt in Germany, the Emperor Domitian has become more paranoid about traitors and dissenters around him. This leads to several senators and even provincial governors facing charges and being executed for supposed crimes of conspiracy and insulting the emperor. Wanting to root out all the supports of Saturninus from the Senate, one of Domitian’s men offers to hire Flavia Alba to do some intelligence work.
Flavia Alba, daughter and chip off the old block of Marcus Didius Falco, would rather avoid any and all court intrigue, thank you very much. But she’s in a bit of a bind. Her wedding is fast approaching, her fiancé is still recovering―slowly―from being hit by a lightning bolt, and she’s the sole support of their household. So with more than a few reservations, she agrees to “investigate.”
I’ve loved everything I’ve read by this author, which is over 20 books now. This one seemed to have a lot of historical backstory that needed to be explained in order to understand the significance of The Third (Fake) Nero. It wasn’t as well woven into the story as she usually does. It felt like a bit of slog to get through all that in order to get to the story.
That said, I continue to love this series and its take on everyday life in Ancient Rome.
“Top notch crime fiction.”
—Boston Globe American readers first met Icelandic lawyer and investigator Thóra Gudmundsdóttir in Last Rituals. In My Soul to Take, internationally acclaimed author Yrsa Sigurdardóttir plunges her intrepid heroine into even graver peril, in a riveting thriller set against the harsh landscape of Smila’s Sense of Snow territory. A darkly witty and continually surprising suspense tale that places Yrsa Sigurdardóttir firmly in the ranks of Sue Grafton, Tess Gerritsen, Faye Kellerman and other top mystery writers, My Soul to Take is ingenious Scandinavian noir on a par with the works of Henning Mankell and Arnaldur Indridason. Stieg Larsson (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) fans should also take note.
The heroine of this book is a lawyer who did a land purchase deal for a client who wanted to build a spa. Now he is claiming that the place is haunted and wants to sue the sellers. The lawyer heads to the spa for a weekend to try to calm him down and gets mixed up in the mystery of what happened on the land years before.
This book was good. It was the first Icelandic noir book I’ve read. I read it for Women in Translation month. I enjoyed the historical aspects of the story more than the present. The lawyer was a bit too much of the pushy, “let’s hide things from the police” kind of mystery heroine for my liking.
Dana attends a school of magic with only one other student. She has a great love only she can see. And only she can unravel these mysteries and become mistress of the Valley of the Wolves.
Ever since Dana was a little girl, Kai has been her best friend and constant companion--even though she's the only one who can see him. Then the mysterious Maestro comes to her farm and offers her the opportunity of a lifetime: the chance to study sorcery in the Valley of the Wolves. And Dana knows she must go, for the Maestro can see Kai too....
This was another Women in Translation month read for me. This book reads like a fairy tale. There is a boy that only the girl can see. Is he real or not?
A magician comes and takes her away because he says that she will be a great magic user someday. He trains her in his castle that is surrounded by vicious wolves who come out at night. After years of training she realizes that she may not be able to leave if she doesn’t figure out the secrets of the castle and the valley.
This book is all about growing up and seeing your life and the people in it for what they really are. It is a quick read with lots of fun fantasy and magical elements.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
Tea, Love ... and Revolution!
The Rebel Mechanics aren’t the only group plotting revolution against the magical British Empire. There are rebel magisters, as well, and Verity Newton and her magister employer, Lord Henry, know that the only way for the revolution to succeed is if both groups work together. A diplomatic mission seems like the perfect opportunity for them to meet with rebels in other colonies and gather support—right under the governor’s nose.
The premise of this series is that the Americans lost the Revolution because upper class British people have magic. Now it is the 1880s and steampunk technology has advanced enough to level the battlefield.
Verity is a governess for a British family in New York. She was recruited to spy for the rebels. It turns out that her employer wants a revolution also. He is working towards it covertly with his British peers. Now it is time to bring both camps together.
I love the multiple levels of espionage in this book. Trying to get various rebel groups to work together without one or the other trying to get all the credit was a bit like herding cats. Some of the children Verity watches are maturing from spoiled brats to budding activists too.
There is a slow romance through this series and a potential new romance in this book. This ends in upheaval so I hope the next book in the series comes out soon.
About Shanna Swendson
Shanna Swendson is the author of the Enchanted, Inc. series, the Fairy Tale series, and Rebel Mechanics.
In the tenth court of hell, spirits wealthy enough to bribe the bureaucrats of the underworld can avoid both the torments of hell and the irreversible change of reincarnation.
It's a comfortable undeath … even for Siew Tsin. She didn't choose to be married to the richest man in hell, but she's reconciled. Until her husband brings home a new bride.
I loved Zen Cho’s novel Sorcerer to the Crown so I was excited to read some of her shorter fiction.
This story takes place in Hell. In the Chinese version you can advance through levels. If you have descendants who burn paper offerings for you regularly, you can make a pretty nice life for yourself in the Tenth Court of Hell. If you don’t have the money to live well or bribe the officials, you will have to reincarnate and start all over.
In this story a girl is taken as a second wife of a well off man. The first wife is estranged. Everything is going fine until he brings home a third wife. This wife is made of animated terra cotta. These terra cotta people are designed to be perfect servants but it doesn’t go the way he planned.
“Happy birthday, child. Careful not to shoot any grundwirgen.”
Ever since she was a small girl, she has learned to be careful on the hunt, to recognize the signs that separate regular animals from human-cursed grundwirgen. To harm a grundwirgen is a crime punishable by death by the King's decree - a fatal mistake that her Auntie Rosa and mother have carefully prepared her to avoid.
On her fifteenth birthday, when her mother is arrested and made to stand trial for grundwirgen murder, everything she thought she knew about her family and her past comes crashing down.
Auntie Rosa has always warned her about monsters. Now, she must find and confront them to save her mother, no matter the cost.
I didn’t realize that this was a fairy tale retelling or a short story when I started reading it. A girl has been trained to hunt since she was small. There are people who turn into animals and animals with higher consciousness around so you have to be careful not to hunt them. Her mother is arrested for a long ago murder of someone and all the secrets of her mother and her mother’s lover come out.
I don’t want to say a lot more about it because I think seeing it unfold without preconceived ideas of what would happen was part of the fun. Read this one if you like updated fairy tales with twists.
Both of these are excellent short fiction pieces that can introduce you to these authors. They each feature lesbian characters and Asian or multiracial leads. Pick them up.
About S.L. Huang
SL Huang justifies her MIT degree by using it to write eccentric mathematical superhero fiction. She is the author of the Amazon-bestselling Russell’s Attic series, and her short fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction, and The Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy 2016. She is also a Hollywood stuntwoman and firearms expert, where she’s appeared on shows such as “Battlestar Galactica” and “Raising Hope” and worked with actors such as Sean Patrick Flanery, Jason Momoa, and Danny Glover. She currently lives in Tokyo. Online, she is cheerfully opinionated at www.slhuang.com and on Twitter as @sl_huang.
About Zen Cho
“I’m a London-based Malaysian author of speculative fiction and romance. My debut novel, Sorcerer to the Crown, is the first in a historical fantasy trilogy published by Ace/Roc (US) and Pan Macmillan (UK and Commonwealth). ” from her website
Leah Frothen has returned home. But she can scarcely catch her breath before she is summoned by regent Darien Serlast, the man who made her a spy. Leah is reluctant to take on a new assignment, but Darien has dangled the perfect lure to draw her in…
Leah finds she enjoys the challenges of opening a shop catering to foreign visitors, especially since it affords her the opportunity to get to know Mally, the child she abandoned five years ago.
But when the regent asks her to spy on ambassadors from a visiting nation, Leah soon learns that everyone—her regent, her lover, and even her daughter—have secrets that could save the nation, but might very well break her heart.
Years ago Leah left Welce under mysterious circumstances. She fled to a neighboring country where she was recruited to spy for Welce. In this series we first meet her in book three. Now, because of the events in that book she is going home, but she isn’t able to escape spying as easily as she thought.
Each of the countries in this world have specific religions and magical systems. I love the Welce system. It is based on elemental affiliation. If I had to pick one magical land from any book I’ve ever read to live in, it would be Welce. It is fairly calm and peaceful and I love the magical system.
The Karkans are on a diplomatic mission to try to find an ally in Welce. They have a very strict system of morality. They believe that they need to atone for any wrongdoing. However, they believe that if they atone properly and even in advance, there are no consequences to any behavior. This leads to huge acts of charity that they feel allows them to do anything evil they want. The ruler of Welce thinks that they are up to no good when huge anonymous donations start to show up in temples. Leah is in charge of finding out what they are doing to do.
If you are interested in the series don’t start with this book. This is a series that you should read in order from the beginning in order to properly understand the world and all the people in it.
If you could pick any magical place to live, where would it be?
About Sharon Shinn
“I mostly write my fiction in the evenings and on weekends. It requires a pretty obsessive-compulsive personality to be as prolific as I’ve been in the past ten years and hold down a full-time job. But I do manage to tear myself away from the computer now and then to do something fun. I read as often as I can, across all genres, though I’m most often holding a book that’s fantasy or romance, with the occasional western thrown in.” from her website
Magic is powerful, dangerous and addictive - and after passage of the 18th Amendment, it is finally illegal.
Joan Kendrick, a young sorcerer from Norfolk County, Virginia accepts an offer to work for DC's most notorious crime syndicate, the Shaw Gang, when her family's home is repossessed. Alex Danfrey, a first-year Federal Prohibition Unit trainee with a complicated past and talents of his own, becomes tapped to go undercover and infiltrate the Shaws.
Through different paths, Joan and Alex tread deep into the violent, dangerous world of criminal magic.
Prohibition in the 1920s recast as a ban on magic instead of alcohol? Yes, please.
Magic has been driven underground. After a person does magic they are able to focus their energy into liquid to make a magical brew called shine. The more complicated the magic, the stronger the shine. Speakeasies pop up where people can watch an illegal magic show and then buy the shine that the sorcerers make after the performance. Shine can’t be bottled. It doesn’t keep past a few hours. The person who learns how to bottle it stands to make a fortune.
A group of powerful sorcerers are brought together to compete for the chance to be part of a high end speakeasy. As the profits and the magic soars, the sorcerers find themselves kept captive by the criminal bosses that own the club.
This book had so much promise that I don’t feel like it fully lived up to. It was good but at the end there was a vague feeling that it should have been more. It might be The Night Circus effect. Every book that involves setting up magical venues is going to pale a bit in my mind when compared to that book.
Read this book if you are more into 1920s stories with gangsters than urban fantasy. It much more of a criminal story than a magic-first story. Magic is the illegal substance that fuels the crime, not an end unto itself.
There are times of great imagination and other times the grand spectacles that the sorcerers are supposed to be making fell a little flat for me. I mean, I’m sure making a sunset out of thin air would be cool in person but this is fantasy so I’d expect something grander for the highest-end club in Washington, D.C.
About Lee Kelly
“Lee Kelly has wanted to write since she was old enough to hold a pencil, but it wasn’t until she began studying for the California Bar Exam that she conveniently started putting pen to paper.
An entertainment lawyer by trade, Lee has practiced law in Los Angeles and New York.
She lives with her husband and son in Millburn, New Jersey, though after a decade in Manhattan, she can’t help but still call herself a New Yorker.” from Goodreads
Seventeen-year-old Ciardis Vane grew up in a small village on the edge of the realm. Beautiful, destitute, and desperate she is looking to get out anyway she can. She has worked her whole live as a laundress with no hope of escaping her fate anytime soon.
But then her life changes when a strange woman appears with the key to Ciardis' escape. With an offer to take her to the capital and a life she'd never dreamed of, it's hard to resist. There's only one catch.
She wants Ciardis to become a companion: she'll be required to wear expensive dresses, learn to conduct suitable magic, educate herself oncourt proclivities, and - in the end - chain herself to the highestbidder. A Patron for life.
This is a book that I loved until I didn’t.
The beginning of the story drew me in quickly. I loved the writing and the story of a girl who is discovered in the laundry and trained to be a courtesan.
She is the last of a family of powerful mages. She has the ability to amplify the magic of anyone else. This is very attractive in a companion. Companions are chosen for life. The Patron may go through multiple marriages but companions stay by their side as business partners and sometimes as romantic partners. Ciardis peaks the interest of both men and women interested in her powers.
Then, about halfway through the story, it started to lag. It started slipping into too many tropes for my liking. The Prince is in disguise! Ciardis doesn’t realize how powerful she is! There are evil people advising the King! Any of these could be worked into a good story but this book didn’t seem to go deep enough. It was like it was hitting the highlights of what should be in a fantasy book.
I did like the fact that there was no romance in this book. That is a nice change of pace. I have a feeling that it will change in future books but it was nice for now.
I am still intrigued enough in the overall story to give the next book a try. The reviews on Goodreads suggest that it is better than the first one. So far there are nine books in this series. I can’t imagine where this could be going that requires that many but I’m willing to be surprised.
About Terah Edun
Terah’s work has taken her from communities in Morocco to refugee centers in South Sudan. She is both an international development worker and a New York Times bestselling author of young adult novels. Hailing from Atlanta, GA and currently living in Washington, D.C. her favorite place to be is in front of the computer communicating the stories of underprivileged individuals around the world – both fictional and representative.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
Once there was, and one day there will be. This is the beginning of every story.
Sefia lives her life on the run. After her father is viciously murdered, she flees to the forest with her aunt Nin, the only person left she can trust. They survive in the wilderness together, hunting and stealing what they need, forever looking over their shoulders for new threats. But when Nin is kidnapped, Sefia is suddenly on her own, with no way to know who’s taken Nin or where she is. Her only clue is a strange rectangular object that once belonged to her father, something she comes to realize is a book.
Though reading is unheard of in Sefia’s world, she slowly learns, unearthing the book’s closely guarded secrets, which may be the key to Nin’s disappearance and discovering what really happened the day her father was killed.
Looking at reviews of this book it seems like this is either a book you adore or one that you don’t understand at all. I’m in the don’t understand category.
The premise seems good. A girl’s family is killed and she goes on the run with the thing that they were guarding – a book. No one reads in this time so she doesn’t know why the book is important.
Ok, that seems like a good start. But it starts to break down quickly.
She vaguely remembers her mother playing with blocks with letters on them with her until her father tells them that it is too dangerous. From that vague memory of a few letters, she somehow teaches herself to read. Not buying it. She starts reading a story in the book about pirates. Then she rescues a boy who is being held to fight other boys to the death. They chase after people who captured him and took her aunt away. Eventually, the pirates from the book show up in real life. Yeah. But then she can’t find the story about the pirates in the book anymore. Is the book gigantic or does it change or what? Suddenly, it supposedly contains the stories of everyone but the only story that we see from it is the pirates. Then there are people chasing the girl because she has magic but it isn’t clear whether they want her or the book or what. Then they get captured but they run away. The end.
What we don’t know:
Why is she magic?
Why do some people have magic of various kinds and others don’t?
Why are books outlawed?
What or who made this book so powerful?
Is Archer (the guy she rescued) the embodiment of a prophecy or just some guy?
I kept reading this book because I was certain it had to go somewhere and have everything tie together eventually. I was wrong. It wasted a great premise. This is supposedly the first book in a series so maybe it will all make sense eventually but I don’t want to slog through more books to find out.
About Traci Chee
“Traci Chee is an author of speculative fiction for teens. An all-around word geek, she loves book arts and art books, poetry and paper crafts, though she also dabbles at piano playing, egg painting, and hosting potluck game nights for family and friends. She studied literature and creative writing at UC Santa Cruz and earned a master of arts degree from San Francisco State University. Traci grew up in a small town with more cows than people, and now feels most at home in the mountains, scaling switchbacks and happening upon hidden highland lakes. She lives in California with her fast-fast dog.”
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
“Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives. Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange markings on his skin. The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…”
I heard about this book through the #DSFFBookClub (Diverse Sci Fi/Fantasy) on Twitter a few months ago. From the description somehow I got the impression that this took place in Mexico and perhaps was set in the past. That isn’t true at all.
Alex is part of a family of witches in Brooklyn in the present day. Their numbers are dwindling. Alex has been hiding the fact that her powers have appeared because they are very strong and they scare her. She also thinks that magic has been responsible for a lot of the problems in her family. She doesn’t want anything to do with it.
She accidentally reveals her powers at school while defending her friend Rishi from a bully. Now her family is planning her Death Day, a traditional celebration of a young bruja’s power. Alex doesn’t want anything to do with it. She decides to try to relinquish her powers during the ceremony but her attempt to use a canto goes wrong. Her family (living and dead) is banished to another realm and now Alex has to try to get them back.
I liked the depiction of a family for whom magic is a normal and expected part of everyday life. The next book in the series is going to focus on her sister Lula who is a healer.
This book uses a lot of YA Fantasy tropes but twists them in small ways so they weren’t totally annoying.
There was a love triangle in this book which I absolutely hate but instead of a perfect girl trying to decide between two guys who love her here she is deciding between a girl and a guy. (I’m still waiting for my dream book where the two objects of affection decide they don’t need the perfect one and go off together.)
Alex is, of course, the Chosen One who can fix everything. She’s the most powerful witch in generations. Only she can defeat the bad guy. At the end though she had to accept help from others. She does also acknowledge that part of her wants to take all the power and be a despot too.
There is a point where a person who has hurt Alex tries to explain that it was all ok because this person loves Alex so much. She ultimately rejects that but it teetered on the brink. It was a little too close to “stalking is ok because this person loves you SO MUCH” for my liking.
Overall, I enjoyed this book and am interested to read the rest of the series when it comes out.
About Zoraida Córdova
“Zoraida Córdova was born in Ecuador and raised in Queens, New York. She is the author of The Vicious Deep trilogy, the On the Verge series, and Labyrinth Lost. She loves black coffee, snark, and still believes in magic. Send her a tweet @Zlikeinzorro” – from her website
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
No Guests Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else. But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children. Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world. But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter. No matter the cost.”
What happens to kids who go on adventures to fantasy lands when they return home? Obviously, they tell people what happened to them and then they are treated as mentally ill or as the survivors of such horrific abuse that they made up stories to get themselves through their kidnappings. When they don’t recant the stories they may end up in a boarding school for their own protection.
Eleanor West takes in these children. She was one of them too. She takes the children who are desperately looking for a way to return to their lands.
I loved this book so much I read it twice. The first time I read it myself and the second time I read it out loud to my husband. I thought he’d enjoy it and so to force the issue I declared that it would be story time on the way to and from my parents’ on Christmas. That’s about 4 hours round trip and we were able to finish it. He did take the long way in order to get more reading time in though. Yes, I could have gotten the audio but he gets distracted and wants to chit chat when listening to audio. He pays attention when I’m reading.
I loved the characters. Each had been to a different land with different rules. They have a whole system for categorizing the world that you visited. It reminds me of this cartoon.
How do you come back from that?
As soon as Nancy arrives and starts to get acclimated to the strange people around her, there is a murder. Since she came from the Halls of the Dead, she’s a suspect. When murders keep happening it is up to the students and staff to find out what is going on before the authorities find out and shut down their school.
Read this one for the wonderful language and characters. The students are diverse racially and in their gender expressions. The only thing they have in common is wanting to go back home to the magical worlds they miss.
This is listed as first in a series. I would love to read more in this world.
About Seanan McGuire
“Hi! I’m Seanan McGuire, author of the Toby Daye series (Rosemary and Rue, A Local Habitation, An Artificial Night, Late Eclipses), as well as a lot of other things. I’m also Mira Grant (www.miragrant.com), author of Feed and Deadline.
Born and raised in Northern California, I fear weather and am remarkably laid-back about rattlesnakes. I watch too many horror movies, read too many comic books, and share my house with two monsters in feline form, Lilly and Alice (Siamese and Maine Coon).”
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
“In New York, eating out can be hell. Everyone loves a well-catered event, and the supernatural community is no different, but where do demons go to satisfy their culinary cravings? Welcome to Sin du Jour – where devils on horseback are the clients, not the dish.”
Darren and Lena are chefs who have been blacklisted from working in New York. The rent is due. They suddenly get a call from a former celebrity chef who they heard was dead (He got better) about needing them to work the line at his catering business for a week. It is step down for them but it is work and the rent is still due.
Sin du Jour is housed in a nondescript building with a high tech interior. Something seems off about the whole set up. Darren and Lena notice that before they find out who the clients for the catering business are and what they are expected to serve for dinner.
It’s a foodie urban fantasy book!
You can probably imagine how excited I was to find this series. There was flailing.
Darren and Lena find out that Sin du Jour is catering a banquet to celebrate the brokering of a peace deal between two clans of demons. Then the representatives arrive with the main course. It is an angel that they expect to be butchered and served. The humans are unnerved by the idea of killing an angel so set about trying to figure out how to fake an angel dinner. But can you really double cross demons and live?
This is a short book. I read it in one sitting. It is totally absurd and that is very high praise. I can’t wait to read more.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
“With great power comes great danger… When a freak accident leaves Katie Chandler with magical powers, it seems like a wish come true for the former magical immune. But it also means she’s vulnerable to magic, just when the dangerous Elf Lord is cooking up another scheme in his bid for power. Anyone who gets in his way disappears–including Katie and her wizard boyfriend, Owen Palmer. Now Katie’s under a spell that obscures her true identity, living a life right out of a romantic comedy movie in a Hollywood set version of New York. Will she be able to find her true Mr. Right in time to break the spell with a kiss and warn everyone, or will she be trapped forever, unaware of the doom facing her world?”
This is the seventh and last book in this series from Shanna Swendson. Katie Chandler is from Texas. She decided to move to New York City even though everyone told her things were weird there. So when she got there and started noticing some very odd people, she wasn’t surprised. It turned out that Katie was immune to magic so she saw through the spells that magical people used in New York to keep themselves hidden. Eventually she got a job at a magical company because she could tell if people were trying to use magic to steal trade secrets.
At the end of book six an accident gave her some magical powers. She loves this but it allows her to get caught up in a magical trap when she is investigating some bad guys. People are disappearing and they are all in a fantasy New York in the elven lands. You know the New York. It is the one from the movies were people dance in the rain on rooftops and meet in perfect coffee shops and book stores. As Katie’s magical powers drain she starts to see through the illusion and recognize people from her real life now living in her fantasy world. It up to her to wake them up and get them back to the real world.
This is a really cute series. The descriptions of how magic works (or fails to work) on people are original. There is a slow burn romance through the series. The characters are fun. I’d recommend this for anyone who wants a magical escape from their non-magical day to day life.
About Shanna Swendson
Shanna Swendson is the author of the Enchanted, Inc. series, the Fairy Tale series, and Rebel Mechanics.
“After a savage attack drives her from her home, sixteen-year-old Mnemba finds a place in her cousin Tumelo’s successful safari business, where she quickly excels as a guide. Surrounding herself with nature and the mystical animals inhabiting the savannah not only allows Mnemba’s tracking skills to shine, it helps her to hide from the terrible memories that haunt her. Mnemba is employed to guide Mr. Harving and his daughter, Kara, through the wilderness as they study unicorns. The young women are drawn to each other, despite that fact that Kara is betrothed. During their research, they discover a conspiracy by a group of poachers to capture the Unicorns and exploit their supernatural strength to build a railway. Together, they must find a way to protect the creatures Kara adores while resisting the love they know they can never indulge.”
I loved the world building in this story!
A safari guide who lives surrounded by mythical creatures including unicorns? Yes, please!
People come to Tumelo’s safari camp to get close to the magical creatures. Mnemba is one of his best guides in addition to being his cousin. She’s been working for Tumelo ever since she left her village. She was raped by a popular solider and many people in the town were hostile to her after her rapist was arrested.
She has to go back to her village in the story. I thought this was well done. She has to confront her father, the leader of the village, who she feels didn’t support her enough in the aftermath of the attack and arrest.
I didn’t buy into the relationship between Mnemba and Kara though. It was too insta-love for my tastes. Kara seemed too predatory in her approaches to Mnemba, almost like she thought sleeping with Mnemba was a perk of the safari. There didn’t seem to be any type of relationship building. They didn’t know each other at all or have any conversations before they decided that they were in love.
Kara was also a poster child for poor decision making. If you have a top safari guide who you also claim to be madly in love with and she is telling you to get out of an area right now because it isn’t safe, you should do that. You shouldn’t stand in place and pout and complain that she is trying to boss you around. Bossing you is her job. I was rooting for Kara to get eaten by the carnivorous mermaids. (Carnivorous mermaids! Seriously great world building.) Over and over again she blows off wiser people’s advice and it always goes poorly for her. I don’t have much tolerance for that personality type.
Just so we are clear – Kara is white. Mnemba is black. Let’s revisit that cover.
Yeah. Totally whitewashed. This is an interracial lesbian love story with unicorns but you wouldn’t guess from the cover.
I loved the world. I loved Mnemba. She could do better than Kara.
“The next person who compares Chloe Cho with famous violinist Abigail Yang is going to HEAR it. Chloe has just about had it with people not knowing the difference between someone who’s Chinese, Japanese, or Korean. She’s had it with people thinking that everything she does well — getting good grades, winning first chair in the orchestra, etCETera — are because she’s ASIAN. Of course, her own parents don’t want to have anything to DO with their Korean background. Any time Chloe asks them a question they change the subject. They seem perfectly happy to be the only Asian family in town. It’s only when Chloe’s with her best friend, Shelly, that she doesn’t feel like a total alien.”
I don’t generally read middle grade fiction but the premise of this story was too cute to pass up. Chloe can’t understand why her parents won’t talk about Korea. It seems like Chloe knows more about Korea than they do and they were born there. Any attempts to ask questions are quickly shut down with the excuse that it is too painful to talk about it.
When Chloe gets a new teacher who happens to be Korean, she is so excited. Her teacher encourages her to look into her family history. There is even an assignment to ask a relative to tell you about an event in their life and report on it. That’s when things start to unravel.
The author shows what it is like to be the only person of a nationality in an otherwise homogeneous community. He shows how books can be a lifeline. There is a great section where Chloe tries to find science fiction books with Asians on the cover and can’t do it. The only problem with having that in the book is this:
Yes, Chloe’s dad owns a fish store. But you’d think with a big part of the story focusing on the lack of Asian representation in sci-fi (and especially on covers), maybe, just maybe, there could be Asians on the cover?
Even if you don’t usually read middle grade, this is a book worth picking up. Chloe is a believable middle schooler in the midst of an identity crisis. Her story is worth the read to understand how microaggressions can add up even if the speaker had the best of intentions.
Speculative fiction, art and graphic stories from African authors, based on African folklore, myths and legends about monsters. African Monsters is the second in a coffee table book series with dark fiction and art about monsters from around the world.
Monsters should be scary
African Monsters is a collection of stories where the monsters aren’t misunderstood or easily turned to the side of good. These are the stories of monsters from sub-Saharan Africa who prey on humans.
The locations of some of the stories in this collection.
Reviewing a collection can be difficult because not every story resonates with every reader. Here are few of my favorites.
On the Road by Nnedi Okorafor – An American policewoman returns to Nigeria and her grandmother but is confronted with a mystery surrounding an injured child.
Severed by Jayne Bauling – A camping trip to a remote lake goes horribly wrong
That Woman by S Lotz – A policeman investigates reports of witches dispensing punishments in the countryside.
After the Rain by Joe Vaz – A man who left South Africa as a child returns and finds himself trapped in a bar in his old neighborhood by werewolves.
Taraab and Terror in Zanzibar by Dave-Brandon de Burgh – A man is brought from South Africa to Zanzibar to clean up a monster problem that he thought he had handled before.
A Whisper in the Reeds by Nerine Dorman – Water spirits tempt a man
Acid Test by Vianne Venter – After Johannesburg is evacuated due to an environmental catastrophe a team returns to monitor the recovery.
Thandiwe’s Tokoloshe by Nick Wood – A girl is put in a fairy tale and refuses to be satisfied with the typical endings.
This is a wonderful chance to familiarize yourself with some African authors. I’m already a huge Nnedi Okorafor fan but I’ve added some of Nerine Dorman’s books to my TBR list too because they sound amazing.