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.

The Brightest Fell: “Magic can be reversed. Trauma isn’t that simple.”

The Brightest Fell by Seanan McGuire

After two “monster of the week” episodes, The Brightest Fell (2017) brings us back to the secrets that were revealed in The Winter Long, surrounding Amandine, Simon, Eira Rosynhwyr — and Toby’s long-lost sister, August. But first, Seanan McGuire draws us in, as she did in Once Broken Faith, with a heartwarming scene of comic relief. This time, it’s Toby’s bachelorette party. The. Luideag. Sings. Karaoke. You don’t want to miss this.

The cozy mood is not to last, though, because Toby’s estranged mother Amandine shows up afterward. She wants Toby to find August. No... Read More

Once Broken Faith: A solid entry

Once Broken Faith by Seanan McGuire

Once Broken Faith (2016) begins with a hilarious scene in which Toby & co. host a slumber party for a horde of fae teenagers, during which the kids devour unholy amounts of junk food and discover the joys of Disney movies. The festivities are then interrupted by Queen Arden Windermere, who wants Toby as a witness as she uses Walther’s elf-shot cure to wake Madden and Nolan. The High King decreed that no further use of the cure should take place until after a conclave of fae royalty can meet and discuss it, so Arden is exploiting a loophole. Madden wakes, but before Nolan can be roused, the High King shows up early.

The conclave will bring together all of the royal courts of the western United States, and Toby is also chosen to attend. Seanan McGuire introduces us to an in... Read More

A Red-Rose Chain: Some pacing issues

A Red-Rose Chain by Seanan McGuire

This is one of my favorite of Chris McGrath’s covers for the OCTOBER DAYE series, and it’s one of my favorite titles too, so it pains me to say that this isn’t one of my favorite books in the series. A Red-Rose Chain (2015) suffers from some pacing issues and didn’t quite knock my socks off like The Winter Long did.

The kingdom of Silences, analogous to mortal Portland, declares war on the Mists. By faerie law, the Mists has three days to try to make peace instead. Toby annoys Queen Windermere at exactly the wrong moment, and her punishment is to travel to Silences as an ambassador.

There’s a good deal of setup for this, followed by several chapters of Toby and her chosen family discussing who should go along on the trip and... Read More

The Winter Long: One of the best books in a very good series

The Winter Long by Seanan McGuire

Seanan McGuire’s OCTOBER DAYE series is one that can be divided into two types of books: ones that develop the larger “metaplot,” and ones that deal with more episodic concerns (though the events of the episodic books tend to have important consequences later in the series).

The Winter Long (2014) is a metaplot book, and it’s a doozy.

Toby is ready to crash after the new Queen’s winter solstice party, when the doorbell rings. It’s Simon Torquill: twin brother of Toby’s liege lord, and the man who turned Toby into a fish way back at the beginning of Rosemary and Rue. And he wants to bury the hatchet. He wasn’t trying to ruin Toby’s li... Read More

The Initiation: Classic YA paranormal romance

Reposting to include Kelly's new review.

The Initiation by L.J. Smith

Cassie Blake is distraught when her mother decides to uproot to the small town of New Salem in order to take care of a grandmother who Cassie had never even met before. But that is only the start of her problems. Starting a new school, trying to make new friends — and discovering that some of the people she would most like to befriend are all part of some secret Club that Cassie is not permitted to join. Then a girl dies and Cassie is finally initiated into the Secret Circle, learning that magic is more than just a folktale.

These days the YA market is flooded with paranormal activity — witches amongst them. But in 1992 when LJ Smith first wrote The Secret Circle trilogy it was something fresh and new — and should be reviewed with that in mind. LJ Smith was producing w... Read More

Kingdoms of Elfin: Brrr!

Kingdoms of Elfin by Sylvia Townsend Warner

I first read Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Kingdoms of Elfin (1977) almost twenty years ago. At the time, I was using the recommendation lists in the back of Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling’s fairy tale books as a to-read list (side note: I highly recommend this; I found lots of amazing books that way). The online used-book market was not what it is today, so I found most of them by haunting the local used bookstores constantly to see if anything on the list had appeared since my last visit. Kingdoms of Elfin was one of the hardest to find. When I finally did, it left me with a lasting impression of sad and unsettling content delivered in beautiful prose.

When I heard tha... Read More

Magpie’s Song: Vivid, well-written prose

Magpie’s Song by Allison Pang

Magpie’s Song (2017) is the beginning of a new series by Allison Pang, and it’s an interesting blend of genres. There’s a dash of steampunk, a dollop of dystopia, and even a pinch of faerie lore. When I started reading, I was skeptical that all of this would work well together, but Pang pulls it off, and creates an interesting world that I want to know more about.

BrightStone is a steampunky, gritty city whose inhabitants are ruled from above — literally — by the Meridians, a technologically advanced society living on an island that floats above BrightStone. The citizens of BrightStone, for the most part, eke out an impoverished existence, and no one is as downtrodden as the Moon Children. The Moon Children, half-breed offspring of a Meridian and a BrightStone dweller, are ... Read More

Chimes at Midnight: We love this series!

Chimes at Midnight by Seanan McGuire

I have enjoyed Seanan McGuire’s OCTOBER DAYE urban fantasies, but a few of her more recent novels in the series seemed to introduce too many characters and bring too many different magic systems into play. However, the latest two novels, Chimes at Midnight and The Winter Long (which I’ll review soon), have knocked my socks off with tight plotting and memorable characters. Now I once again find myself impatient for the next one to arrive, and annoyed that the September 1 publication date is so far away.

In Chimes at Midnight, Toby is working with her team — her lover, Tybalt, the local King of Cats; May, Toby’s Fetch; Jasmine, May’s shapeshifting lover; Quentin, Toby’s squire; and Raj, Tybalt’s heir — to hunt for goblin fruit. Goblin fruit is no problem for pure-blooded... Read More

A Night in the Lonesome October: An annual October ritual for fans

A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny

During the entire month of October, in the late 1800s, in a year when the full moon falls on Halloween, strange forces gather in a village outside of London. Various iconic characters ― who will be familiar to fans of Victorian literature and classic horror movies ― create shifting alliances, gather herbs, instruments of power and the odd eyeball and femur, and prepare for a mystery-shrouded event that will take place on Halloween night.

A Night in the Lonesome October (1993) is narrated by the aptly-named Snuff, a dog who is the familiar of a man named Jack. Snuff is more than just a dog; at the beginning of the novel he comments cryptically, “I like being a watchdog better than what I was before he summoned me and gave me this job.” Snuff helps Jack gather ingredients for Halloween night, keeps an watchful eye on various cursed Things trapped in ... Read More

The Crowfield Demon: A dark and creepy supernatural read

The Crowfield Demon by Pat Walsh

In The Crowfield Curse (2012), young William and his friends and allies righted a long-ago wrong at Crowfield Abbey and faced down the terrifying Unseelie King. But now another evil is rising at the abbey — one that has even the Unseelie King running scared.

The Crowfield Demon is even better and spookier than The Crowfield Curse. I didn’t realize how familiar the abbey had begun to feel after one relatively short book; when the structure begins to fail, it’s like a shattering of the world, albeit a small, circumscribed world. Pat Walsh builds the suspense well. Creepy, inexplicable art in the church; mysterious artifacts found beneath the stones; foul odors; unsettling dreams; hidden documents from the past — all of these add up to a great mystery. William, Shadlok, Brother Snail, and Brother Wa... Read More

Archangel: A grand sweeping love story

Archangel by Sharon Shinn

Gabriel is about to become Archangel. He is required to lead the annual singing of the Gloria on the Plains of Sharon in just a few months with his wife, the angelica, at his side. There is just one problem: Gabriel isn’t married. Faced with this dilemma, he goes to the oracle to find out who he is supposed to marry, and is given the name of a woman, Rachel, but he has no idea where to find her. With the months slipping away before his voice raised in song is the only thing that can turn away the wrath of the god Jovah, he crisscrosses the land, and finally locates her — an Edori slave girl who has no intention of marrying an angel and spending her life in a different type of servitude. To make matters worse, the current Archangel, Raphael, seems less likely every day to peaceably hand over his position to Gabriel.

Archangel is an amazing book. Sharon Shinn h... Read More

Sealskin: Atmospheric but troubling

Sealskin by Su Bristow

“Do you think, if something starts wrong, it can come right in the end?” Late in Sealskin, the protagonist Donald asks this question, and each reader’s answer to it will likely shape how they feel about the novel as a whole.

So, selkie legends (and similar animal-bride myths; sometimes it’s a swan or a fox instead) are kind of My Thing, and as soon as I heard of Su Bristow’s new release, I wanted to read it. I found it well-written and atmospheric, but I had problems with it as well. At this point I need to drop a spoiler warning; it’s impossible to discuss my qualms without giving some things away. This is an event that happens on page 6 and is central to the plot. I'll let you decide whether or not to read it. If you want to, highlight the following white text:

Sealskin begins (this... Read More

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore

Hard as it may be to fathom, once upon a time (the early 1900s), radium was thought of as a miracle substance, enhancing all it touched. And so companies flooded the market with products like radium makeup, radium water, radium butter, radium toothpaste, and radium paint. The last was used by the young women who painted luminescent numerals on watch dials (a tool that became all-important to the war effort), though they also snuck some paint now and then to paint their nails, their dresses, even sometimes in sillier moments their teeth and faces. They had no idea, of course, that they were poisoning themselves, and the story of the devastation that poison wreaked on their bodies, and their subsequent fight for compensation from the companies who knew of the substance’s danger makes for compelling, infuriating, heartbreaking reading in Kate Moore’s meticulously resear... Read More

Lost Souls: A novella for CAINSVILLE completists

Lost Souls by Kelley Armstrong

Kelley Armstrong’s Lost Souls is that quintessential three-star book. There’s nothing wrong with it, but at the same time, it didn’t blow me away.

It’s a CAINSVILLE novella that falls between book three, Deceptions, and book four, Betrayals. If you haven’t gotten that far, you’re in for a slew of spoilers, so I would recommend waiting and reading it in sequence. At the end of Deceptions, Gabriel said something cruel to Liv, and now their friendship is on shaky ground.

That’s when Gabriel encounters a new, weird case. In an echo of an old urban legend, a spectral woman in white hitches a ride with a businessman. He imagines seducing her, she leads him astray i... Read More

Behind Her Eyes: Twisty thriller with cross-genre appeal

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Louise is an insecure single mom who, one night, meets and kisses a dashing stranger. She’s mortified the next morning to find that the stranger, David, is now her boss. Her married boss. Then she (literally) bumps into David’s wife, Adele, and the two of them hit it off.

Despite her best friend’s warnings that all of this is a bad idea, Louise falls in deeper: into a full-blown affair with David, and into a close friendship with Adele. In particular, Louise and Adele bond over their shared experience with night terrors.

This triangle is a freight train barreling toward trouble, and Louise soon learns that the stakes might be deadlier, as questions and mysteries lurk beneath the surface of Adele and David’s lives: Who, if anyone, killed Adele’s parents? Who, if anyone, killed Adele’s teenage friend? Is David abusive? And most importantly, what’s being plotted in the ... Read More

Miranda and Caliban: A beautiful melancholy tale

Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

Miranda and Caliban is a twist on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, ringing one major change on the play: what if Miranda and Caliban were in love?

Our tale begins years before the events of the play; we first meet Miranda as a child, assisting her father Prospero in the ceremonial magic that will bind the “wild boy,” Caliban, and the spirit Ariel to his will. From there, Jacqueline Carey alternates between Miranda’s point of view and Caliban’s, following them as they grow up together. At first, Miranda helps Caliban learn to speak and read; later, when she is stricken by an illness, Caliban helps her. And then when adolescence strikes, the two begin to have forbidden feelings for each other.

Looming over all this is Prospero, who rules the isla... Read More

The Dark Mirror: Did Not Finish

The Dark Mirror by Juliet Marillier

As a rule, I love Juliet Marillier’s work, but I’ve tried several times to read The Dark Mirror and have never managed to get very far.

Marillier’s prose is as beautiful as ever, but the story doesn’t hook me. It just feels like such a slow beginning, and the protagonist Bridei is very young and nobody tells him anything. Events occur, but we often don’t see them; a secondary character will exit stage left, come back having obviously had a perilous adventure, and not tell Bridei, or the reader, what happened.

Mostly The Dark Mirror made me want to reread Nicola Griffith’s Hild, which is set in a similar time period but has a prota... Read More

Arrowood: Creepy, tragic Gothic mystery

Arrowood by Laura McHugh

When Arden Arrowood was a little girl, her younger twin sisters vanished without a trace. The last Arden saw of them was a flash of blonde hair, speeding away in the back of a gold car. A local man with a car fitting the description was questioned; nothing could ever be pinned on him, but the whole town thought he was guilty anyway.

The girls were never found, and their loss became a wound that destroyed the Arrowood family and continues to haunt Arden, now in her twenties. Then her father dies, and Arden learns she has inherited the family home, also called Arrowood, in Keokuk, Iowa. Reeling from academic and romantic troubles, Arden decides to go home and regroup. But the old house is full of secrets, and Arden soon learns that there might be more to her sisters’ disappearance than she realized as a child.

Arrowood is a twisty Gothic mystery that follows Arden in her ... Read More

A Feast of Sorrows: A sampler of delicious poison

A Feast of Sorrows by Angela Slatter

Angela Slatter was one of those authors I’d always been meaning to read. I have one of her earlier collections, The Girl with No Hands, on my Kindle and hadn’t gotten around to it yet. And then this year, her collection A Feast of Sorrows hit the US shelves. I was intrigued by Alyx Dellamonica’s review at Tor.com, not to mention seduced by the cover, and the rest was history.

A Feast of Sorrows is a collection of dark fairy tales. Some are retellings of fairy tales we all know, some are more loosely based on known tales, and some are completely new. I’m not kidding about the darkness (trigger warning: everything you can think of, and then some), yet they are moving, and strikingly written without being ... Read More

Mythago Wood: Dreamy and strange

Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock

After his post-WWII convalescence in France, Steven Huxley is returning to his family's home on the edge of Ryhope Wood, a patch of ancient forest, in Britain. For as long as Steven remembers, his father, who recently died, had been so obsessed with the forest that it destroyed their family.

Upon returning home, Steven finds that his brother Christian is quickly following in their father's footsteps — both figuratively and literally — for he has also discovered that this is no ordinary forest! It resists intrusion from Outsiders, time and distance are skewed there (so it is much larger inside than the 6 miles it covers in modern Britain should allow, and time seems to expand), and strange energy fields interact with human minds to create mythagos — the idealized forms of ancient mythical and legendary creatures, heroes, and villains formed from collective subconscious hopes and fears. So, fo... Read More

The Singing Bones: Haunting fairy-tale sculptures

The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan

I’m not quite sure how to review The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan. It’s not quite like anything else I’ve read, and I’m not sure I know how to review visual art in the first place. But I can certainly recommend it.

This unique book contains photographs of small sculptures by Tan, each illustrating one of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales. Each sculpture encapsulates its respective tale in one haunting image, often enhanced by the lighting and arrangement of the photo, and accompanied by a short passage from the tale.

"Mother Trudy"



You will be familiar with some of the tales. Others, you might not be. Tan includes a... Read More

The Ocean at the End of the Lane: An evocative return to childhood

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

I’ll start by saying that I’m not hugely familiar with Neil Gaiman’s work. I’ve read Stardust and watched his two Doctor Who episodes… and that’s it. At first I wasn’t sure whether or not to absorb more of his work before tackling The Ocean at the End of the Lane, but decided against it for the sake of a fresh perspective. So consider this a review from someone who has very few preconceptions about Gaiman’s style and themes.

Our middle-aged protagonist (I don’t recall if we ever learn his name) recounts to us his movements after a family funeral. Instead of going to the wake he drives through Sussex to his childhood home where vague memories begin to stir. Going down a little country lane he arrives at the Hempstock family farmhouse, certain that he used to play with the family’s young daughter Lettie. At the back... Read More

Swordspoint: A Melodrama of Manners

Swordspoint: A Melodrama of Manners by Ellen Kushner

Set in a fictional Georgian-era-type society, Swordspoint: A Melodrama of Manners is a “fantasy of manners” or “mannerpunk” novel. In contrast to epic fantasy, where the characters are fighting with swords and the fate of the universe is often at stake, mannerpunk novels are usually set in a hierarchical class-based society where the characters battle with words and wit. There may or may not be magic or sorcery involved and, in many ways, this subgenre of fantasy literature is more like historical fiction that takes place in an imaginary universe. The focus is on societal structures and social commentary. Characters may not be changing THE world, but they’re changing THEIR world. If you like Jane Austen and P.G. Wodehouse, mannerpunk may be just your thing.

In Swordspoint... Read More

Magic Rises: Kate is still as much fun as ever

Magic Rises by Ilona Andrews

I’ve been a fan of Ilona AndrewsKATE DANIELS series from the get-go, but didn’t really click with the spinoff Gunmetal Magic, right around the same time as I was getting burned out on paranormal urban fantasy in general. Then, the other day, I was looking for something to read, and thought, “Hey! My backlog!” I saw that I had Magic Rises on my Kindle and settled in for some magic and swashbuckling. Happily, Kate is still as much fun as ever.

In this installment, the sixth in the series, Kate and Curran are hired to protect a werewolf princess in Colchis. This princess, Desandra, is pregnant by two different men from rival shapeshifter families, and the family whose heir is born first will inherit Desandra’s father’s lands. Both... Read More

Thoughtful Thursday: Fantastic Quotes

It's been nearly 5 years since we last shared some of our favorite quotes from speculative fiction, though I think at the time we were considering collecting quotes and making this a regular column. Let's try it again. Share some of your favorite quotes from the books you've read, or from interviews or blog posts from the authors who write those books. Give us the quote and the source (book title, link to interview or blog, etc).
Here are a few quotes that readers mentioned last time we did this:
Consistency is the defense of a small mind.
~The Seeress of Kell by David Eddings
To make life worth living a man or woman has to have a great love or a great cause… I have neither.
~Robert E. Howard

There’s no freedom quite like the freedom of being constantly underestimated.
~The Lies of Loc... Read More

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