Kelly Lasiter

KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

Briar Rose: Fairy tales and trauma

Briar Rose by Jane Yolen

In the 1980s, Terri Windling created the FAIRY TALE SERIES, a collection of stand-alone retellings for adults, featuring some of the best writers in the field. The series continued into the early 2000s and spans a wide variety of styles, tones, and interpretations of the tales. Jane Yolen’s Briar Rose (1992) was the sixth in the series and combines its fairy tale with an all-too-real historical horror. It won the Mythopoeic Award in 1992, and was nominated for the Nebula.

Becca, the heroine, is a young Jewish woman who grew up being told fairy tales by her grandmother, Gemma. Becca’s favorite was Sleeping Beauty, though Gemma didn’t tell it in the standard way. Now Gemma is dying, and on her de... Read More

Midnight Riot: A blast from start to finish

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Midnight Riot (aka Rivers of London in the UK) by Ben Aaronovitch

Peter Grant is a constable-in-training in London’s police force. At the end of his probation period, it looks like he’s in line for a long career of boring desk work in the Case Progression Unit, but that all changes when he draws the luckless duty of guarding a crime scene overnight where, earlier that day, a headless body was found lying on the street. While Peter is freezing his heels off in the cold London night, he is approached by possibly the crime’s only witness — who also happens to be a ghost…

Peter is swiftly recruited into a secret department that focuses on the supernatural and magical, and apprenticed to the mysterious Thomas Nightingale, the leader and only other active member in this centuries-old department. Peter begins the long process of learning... Read More

Winterwood: Atmospheric but glitchy winter tale

Winterwood by Shea Ernshaw

Nora Walker is all alone in the world. Her whole family are rumored to be witches, which sets her apart from other kids her age. Her grandmother is dead, and her mother is something of an absentee parent. And now that winter has set in at Jackjaw Lake, all the tourists are gone, leaving behind only Nora in her cottage and the residents of the nearby camp for delinquent boys. Nora’s isolation increases still further when a storm drops four feet of snow on the area, cutting off the roads and knocking out the phone lines.

Everything changes when Nora ventures into the oldest, spookiest part of the woods on the full moon and finds Oliver Huntsman, a boy who went missing two weeks ago from the camp. She helps him recover from hypothermia and takes him back to the camp, but in the process learns that there is more to the story than just one boy getting lost in the woods. Another boy died the same night, and ... Read More

Naondel: Pushes the boundaries of YA

Naondel by Maria Turtschaninoff

Naondel (2016) is the second book in Maria Turtschaninoff’s RED ABBEY CHRONICLES series, but it’s not a sequel; it’s a prequel. Set many years before the events of Maresi, Naondel tells the story of the women who, fleeing their own oppression, founded the Red Abbey as a sanctuary for themselves and others. It is set in what seems to be an amalgam of several Asian cultures, and we see glimpses of other parts of Turtschaninoff’s world as well.

If I didn’t know anything about Naondel before I started it — if I didn’t know it was the follow-up to a young adult novel that won a prize for youth literature — I w... Read More

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places

Reposting to include Kelly's new review.

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey

If ghosts exist, we don’t know why, but ghost stories exist because the living make them up; and the living make them up because we need them. Colin Dickey’s book Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places (2016) explores the US’s social conflicts and hidden histories as they play out in places that are publicly advertised as “haunted.” In the first chapter, Dickey says, “If you want to understand a place, ignore the boastful monuments and landmarks, and go straight to the haunted houses. Look for the darkened graveyards, the derelict hotels, the empty and decaying old hospitals.”

That passage is also something of a roadmap to the book, which comprises a collection of Dickey’s essays. The chapters are divided by category: haunted houses; h... Read More

In the Woods: Chilling mystery with evocative writing

In the Woods by Tana French

When Rob Ryan was twelve, he and his two best friends went off to play in the woods and disappeared. Rob’s friends were never seen again. Only Rob came home, and without any memory of what had happened to the three of them while he was missing. Twenty years later, Rob is a detective with the Dublin Murder Squad. When he is called upon to investigate the killing of a twelve-year-old girl in the same forest, Rob is confronted again with his old trauma.

In the Woods (2007) is the first in Tana French’s DUBLIN MURDER SQUAD series. This is a mystery series, but fantasy readers will find a lot to like here. This installment and a few of the others (Broken Harbor, The Secret Place) include ambiguous touches of the supernatural. The beautiful writing is also a plus. This is probably weirdly specif... Read More

The Wand that Rocks the Cradle: An enjoyable collection

Reposting to include Bill's new review.

The Wand that Rocks the Cradle edited by Oren Litwin

The Wand that Rocks the Cradle: Magical Stories of Family (2019) is a new anthology, edited by Oren Litwin, that’s just what it says on the tin: a collection of short stories about magic and family. As our reviewer Marion Deeds is one of the featured authors, I’m going to follow Skye, Jana, and Bill’s lead by eschewing the star rating, as they did when reviewing Marion’s Aluminum Leaves. This is an enjoyable collection, though, and worth checking out.

Marion’s story, “Bellwethers Know Best,” is the first in the book. The Bellwethers are a family of witches who, yea... Read More

Small Spaces: A delicious autumn read

Reposting to include Tadiana's new review:

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

I fell in love with Small Spaces (2018) from the first paragraph. Before I even realized this was the same Katherine Arden whose adult fiction I’ve been meaning to read for years, and before I got caught up in the richly drawn characters and the spooky plot, I was smitten by this:
October in East Evansburg, and the last warm sun of the year slanted red through the sugar maples. Olivia Adler sat nearest the big window in Mr. Easton’s math class, trying, catlike, to fit her entire body into a patch of light. She wished she were on the other side of the glass. You don’t waste October sunshine. Soon the old autumn sun would bed down in cloud blankets, and there would be weeks of gray rain before it finally decided to sno... Read More

Maresi: A beautifully written coming-of-age tale

Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff

THE RED ABBEY CHRONICLES by Maria Turtschaninoff is a young adult trilogy originally published in Finland. This first installment, Maresi (2014), won the Finlandia Junior Prize for children’s and young adult literature. It was translated into English by A.A. Prime.

The Red Abbey is an isolated island convent where a Mother Goddess is worshipped and a trove of secret knowledge maintained. No man is allowed to set foot on its shores. Some of its sisters were sent there because they were surplus mouths to feed, some were sent to learn skills that will make them more marriageable, and some were fleeing from abuse.

Maresi is a young novice, and while she has not yet found her calling within the Abbey, she loves it there. She feels at home among the natural beauties of the island. There’s the impressive library, too — and perh... Read More

SHORTS: Carroll, Newitz, Clark, Andrews, VanderMeer

SHORTS is a column exploring some of the free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we've read that we wanted you to know about.

“For He Can Creep” by Siobhan Carroll (2019, free at Tor.com, 99c on Kindle)

This short story, told entirely from a cat’s point of view, is a must-read for feline fans! Jeoffry the cat belongs to a mad poet who is confined to an insane asylum in 18th century Great Britain. Jeoffry regularly battles the imps and demons who torment the inmates at the asylum. But when Satan himself enters the picture, planning to use the poet’s abilities to bring about the end of the world, Jeoffry just might be overmatched.

Siobhan Carroll drew me in with this whimsical and insightful tale. She tells this story from Jeoffry’s point of view, capturing the ... Read More

All the Bad Apples: The power of storytelling

All the Bad Apples by Moïra Fowley-Doyle

On her seventeenth birthday, Dublin teenager Deena Rys accidentally comes out as gay to her father; he doesn’t react well. Later that day, she confides in her older sister, Mandy, who is also appalled — not because she’s gay, per se, but because she’s been researching the family history and has come to a frightening conclusion. Mandy believes there’s a curse on all the Rys women who don’t fit in, and that something terrible happens to all of these “bad apples” at the age of seventeen.

The next morning Mandy is seen jumping from a cliff on the far side of the country.

No body is found, but the note Mandy left for Deena sure looks like a suicide note, and the family presumes her dead. Everyone except Deena, that is, who steadfastly believes her sister is still alive, a belief that is bolstered when she finds another note from Mandy. In the envelope wit... Read More

Enchantée: An addictive tale of addiction

Enchantée by Gita Trelease

Enchantée (2019) is a young adult historical fantasy set in Paris, just before the French Revolution. Camille is a teenage girl whose family was ravaged by smallpox a few months past. Both of Camille’s parents died, her younger sister Sophie is still frail, and their brother Alain has descended into drink and gambling. Camille has one trick up her sleeve — her late mother taught her the art of turning scrap metal into coins by magic — but lately the magic hasn’t been working properly. The coins are changing back into scrap metal too quickly, so that no one trusts Camille anymore, and Alain steals all the real money to pay his debts.

Desperate to keep herself and Sophie from becoming beggars or worse, Camille opens her mother’s forbidden trunk and finds the tools that will allow her to pass as a noblewoman using glamoire, the magic of changing oneself. This, ... Read More

The River South: Beautiful and challenging

The River South by Marta Randall

Iset, nicknamed Shrug, is the daughter of Kieve Rider, the heroine of Marta Randall’s Mapping Winter. Please note that this review contains some spoilers for Mapping Winter.

The River South (2019), the second RIDERS GUILD book, picks up Iset’s story starting when she is thirteen. This isn’t a warm and fuzzy mother-daughter relationship. Kieve left Iset with the Guild as an infant, and now has been missing for many years. The novel opens with a kidnapping or assassination attempt on Iset as she’s holed up in one of her favorite hiding places.

This attack draws the attention of the Lord of Kyst and his lover, Daenet, who ar... Read More

Frostfire: A good MG adventure with lots of derring-do

Frostfire by Jamie Smith

Frostfire (2019), by Jamie Smith, is a middle-grade fantasy set in the mountainous land of Adranna. Adranna lies in the shadow of the great peak of Aderast, and all of its magic comes from the shimmering glacier that flows from it. A handful of young people are chosen each year to climb to the glacier and claim a small piece of it, a frostsliver, which gives them special abilities and marks them as people of importance in Adranna’s society.

Sabira is a fourteen-year-old girl who has been chosen to receive a frostsliver. The novel opens as she is making her climb. The narrative then flashes back to the previous year, when Sabira’s brother Kyran was chosen. Tensions have been growing with the neighboring nation of Ignata, and after an Ignatian raiding party attacked Sabira’s family, everything started going wrong for Kyran. Now he is missing, and Sabira is det... Read More

Mapping Winter: A character and a world that will stick with me

Mapping Winter by Marta Randall

Mapping Winter (2019) is Marta Randall’s reworking of her 1983 novel, The Sword of Winter. (Randall talks more about the story behind the book here.) Its release as Mapping Winter was followed shortly by the all-new sequel The River South, with the two novels making up the RIDERS GUILD series. It’s a secondary-world fantasy, but without magic; I was about two-thirds of the way through the book when I realized, “Huh, I don’t think there’s been any magic!” What it does have is a nation poised between feudalism and industrialization.

The Riders are a venerable organization of messengers who travel around the country of Cherek. They bring the news, spread proclamations, and are responsible for... Read More

Dead Voices: I’m hooked on this series

Dead Voices by Katherine Arden

I loved Small Spaces, Katherine Arden’s first foray into children’s horror, and so I jumped right into its sequel, Dead Voices (2019). A few months have passed since Ollie, Coco, and Brian outsmarted the Smiling Man who wanted to turn them, and all their classmates, into scarecrows. The ordeal left them with recurring nightmares, but also made them best friends. It’s December now, and Ollie’s dad has won a stay at Mount Hemlock, the new ski lodge a few hours outside of town. He’s taking all three kids, along with Coco’s mom.

I didn’t fall in love as immediately this time, and I think I’ve distilled that down to two reasons. One is that, from an adult perspective, it seemed... Read More

The Porcelain Dove: A gothic fairy tale

The Porcelain Dove by Delia Sherman

Years ago, I got into “fantasies of manners” at about the same time as I was going through a big Revolutionary France phase. When I heard about Delia Sherman’s The Porcelain Dove (1993) — a fantasy set in that time period, and which won the Mythopoeic Award for 1994 — it sounded like the perfect book for me. I could never find it in the used bookstores, though. (I did, before I successfully committed the title to memory, buy two different other books thinking they might be it.) The rise of e-books has fortunately made it possible for us to track down some of our elusive great white whales, or in this case, our porcelain doves.

I don’t know what gave me the idea The Porcelain Dove would be a light, frothy novel. It is not. It is also... Read More

Esbae: Where’s Hermione Granger when you need her?

Esbae by Linda Haldeman

I love fantasies set at colleges, so when I heard about Linda Haldeman’s Esbae: A Winter’s Tale (1981), I had to track it down and read it. The titular Esbae is a spirit who is found wanting by some greater power, and cast down to earth. It attaches itself to an awkward college student, Sophie, and is caught up in a magical battle between good and evil.

The three main human characters are all to be found in Dr. Leo Ernst’s history class. (We know that this is fantasy, because even after an ice storm, everybody goes t... Read More

Gods of Jade and Shadow: Romantic fantasy set in 1920s Mexico

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Casiopeia Tun is the poor relation of the Leyva family, put to work as a servant to her grandfather, aunts, uncles, and cousins. It’s established early, though, that she’s not one to take easily to subservience. Sure, she’ll probably do what she’s told — eventually — but it won’t be with a smile. She cherishes a few modest dreams of the things she’d see and do if she could only escape the family home and the dusty little town of Uukumil. When the family leaves her out of an outing as punishment, she sees her chance and opens the forbidden chest in her grandfather’s room. She’s hoping for a few coins to fund her escape to Mérida. Instead, she awakens Hun-Kamé, a Mayan death god.

It turns out that he was imprisoned there by his jealous brother, Vucub-Kamé, in order to usurp the throne of the underw... Read More

The White Road: (to Nowhere)

The White Road by Sarah Lotz

I’ll admit it — I’m pretty scared of Mount Everest before you populate it with ghosts. Ever since I read Jon Krakauer’s riveting nonfiction book Into Thin Air, I’ve felt a little shudder at the very thought of climbing it. So when I heard about The White Road (2017), a horror novel set on Everest, I figured it was guaranteed to freak me out in epic fashion.

Simon and his friend Thierry run a website dedicated to creepy things. The White Road begins with Simon teaming up with a sketchy older man, Ed, to explore a Welsh cave system. Some spelunkers died there years ago, and their bodies are still in the cave; Simon hopes to get footage of the corpses for the website. Simon and Ed get into trouble in the cave. Simon nearly dies, an... Read More

The Raven Boys: A challenging urban fantasy with a dash of everything

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Blue is the only non-psychic in a large extended family of psychics in Henrietta, Virginia. Her only unusual ability is that her presence amplifies the psychic powers of others around her, but she herself cannot use these abilities. So it’s a shock when, while sitting vigil in a graveyard with her aunt Neeve, Blue sees the spirit of a boy about her age who is destined to die in the next year. She learns that there are only two possible reasons she was able to see him: either he’s her true love, or she’s going to kill him.

The Raven Boys follows two groups of characters whose stories weave together: Blue and her eccentric family, and a clique of four boys from the posh Aglionby Academy, whose students are nicknamed “raven boys” for the emblem on their uniforms. The leader of this clique is Ganse... Read More

Ink: Unique, gruesome premise

Ink by Alice Broadway

Ink (2018), by Alice Broadway, is the first book in a YA dystopian trilogy with a unique, if gruesome, premise. Everyone in the city of Saintstone has the events of their lives tattooed on their bodies. When a person dies, their skin is removed and made into a book, which is then judged at a ceremony that recalls the Weighing of the Heart in Egyptian mythology. If the person is determined to have lived a good life, the book (and by implication, the person’s soul) is returned to their family to be remembered forever among the ancestors. If the book is found unworthy, however, it is thrown in the fire and the person is officially “forgotten.” People without tattoos, called “blanks,” are hated and have been forced out of Saintstone.

Leora is a teenage girl whose father has just died. His skin book is created, and Leora and her mother look forward to the day they can bring it h... Read More

The Song of Rhiannon: Problems with the source material

The Song of Rhiannon by Evangeline Walton

The Song of Rhiannon (1972), the third volume in Evangeline Walton’s MABINOGION TETRALOGY, begins with Manawyddan, son of the sea god, haunted by grief and feeling directionless after the events of The Children of Llyr. (I haven’t read The Children of Llyr, but I have read “Branwen Daughter of Llyr,” the medieval Welsh tale on which it is based. It features a Red Wedding’s worth of deaths.) His friend Pryderi, prince of Dyfed, gives him new purpose in life by offering him a home at his palace and the chance to court Pryderi’s widowed mother, Rhiannon.

The Song of Rhiannon is based on the... Read More

Strange Toys: An odd, creepy novel

Strange Toys by Patricia Geary

Strange Toys is an odd, creepy novel. It won the Philip K. Dick Award in 1987, though apparently Patricia Geary hadn’t actually intended it as science fiction at all. I found it while exploring the labyrinthine basement of a local used bookstore, but it was reprinted in electronic form in 2018.

The heroine, nicknamed Pet, is the baby of her family. (We never learn her real name.) She is nine years old as the book begins, in the late 1950s. Her twelve-year-old sister, June, bullies her. Her sixteen-year-old sister, Deane, is worse. Deane is in some kind of unspecified trouble with the law (she’s into the occult, too), and the girls’ parents leave home abruptly with Pet and June because they fear retribution from Deane’s criminal friends.

What follo... Read More

A Green and Ancient Light: Beautifully written, gently melancholy

A Green and Ancient Light by Frederic S. Durbin

A war is raging, and a young boy is sent to spend the summer with his grandmother in her small country village. His life changes forever when she decides to rescue a downed enemy pilot and nurse him back to health. While helping her tend to the injured man, the boy also meets Mr. Girandole, a faun, who was once his grandmother’s love and is still her dear friend.

She knows just the place to conceal the pilot while he convalesces: a crooked little tower in an overgrown sculpture garden in the woods. Throughout the summer, the boy explores the garden, which was built long ago by an eccentric Duke who lost his beloved wife. The garden is reputed to contain a riddle that, if answered, will open a door to Faery.

A Green and Ancient Light (2016) is a beautifully written, gently melancholy tale. The pace is perhaps too slow at the start, with a lot... Read More

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