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.

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

Shadowhouse Fall: Still magical, still powerful, still wonderful

Reposting to include Kelly's new review.

Shadowhouse Fall by Daniel José Older

Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper was one of the best books of 2015 — not “best YA books” but best books of all categories. It featured an engaging, authentic female hero, an original magical system, mundane issues as well as magical ones, and a distinctive voice and sensibility. 2017’s sequel, Shadowhouse Fall, shows no second-book slump in this series.

Sierra Santiago is mastering her skill as a shadowshaper, an ability that melds spirit contact with art, and adjusting to her new role as the Lucera, but things are not calm or quiet in her neighborhood. A powerful rival group called the Sorrows still purs... Read More

SHORTS: Miller, Leiber, Clement, Brackett

SHORTS: In this week's column we review several short fiction works that we've read recently, including three more of the current Retro Hugo nominees from 1943.

“Galatea” by Madeline Miller (2013, $3.99 on Kindle; anthologized in xo Orpheus, edited by Kate Bernheimer)

In the Roman myth of Read More

Yarrow: Very early de Lint

Yarrow by Charles de Lint

I’d been meaning to read Yarrow (1986) for years. I loved Charles de Lint’s Memory and Dream, in which he tells the story of a painter touched by the Otherworld. And I’m a writer (or at least a wannabe one), not a visual artist, so I figured, “if I liked his artist book so much, how much more am I going to love his writer book?” Unfortunately, the answer is “not as much.” Yarrow is very early de Lint, and not my favorite book of his that I’ve read.

Yarrow is set in Ottawa and loosely follows Moonheart; the plots are standalone, but T... Read More

Akata Witch: An exciting, imaginative, and heart-warming story

Reposting to include Kelly's new review.

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Sunny Nwazue, an albino who needs to stay out of the sun, has always been different from the other kids in her school. When her family returned to Nigeria after living in the United States for most of Sunny’s childhood, she never quite found her place. Her strangeness becomes even more obvious when she sees a vision showing what appears to be scenes from the end of the world.

When Sunny finally makes a few friends, she begins to realize there's a reason for her strangeness, and that she's not the only weird kid in town. She finds out that she belongs to the Leopard People, an ancient bloodline that endows its descendants with various magical abilities. As Sunny is initiated into this new family, she learns that she and her friends are part of a prophecy related to her frightening apocalyptic vision. Without much knowledge or skills, Su... Read More

Shadowshaper: Five-star characters with five-star prose

Reposting to include Kelly's new review.

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

I’ve commented before that I give very few five-star reviews. Usually, I expect a book to somehow change my thinking, or how I see the world, in order to rate it a five-star book. As I sat down to write this review I was going to say something like, “While that didn’t happen with Shadowshaper, by Daniel José Older, I still…” and then I thought more about it, and decided that Shadowshaper (2015) has changed how I think about the world, mostly because of the time I spent with the main character, Sierra Santiago, who is a hero, an artist and a genuine girl.

As far at the plot goes (and it’s a fast-paced one) in many ways Sierra is a classic Chosen One, a trope that som... Read More

Crescent Moon: Did Not Finish

Crescent Moon by Lori Handeland

Crescent Moon (2006) is a werewolf romance, fourth in Lori Handeland’s NIGHTCREATURE series. Diana is a cryptozoologist who is desperate to discover an unknown species, to fulfill a promise she made to her late husband. Her quest brings her to the Big Easy in search of the loup-garou werewolves that are reputed to lurk in the swamps. It also brings her to the attention of the brusque and secretive, yet sexy, Adam Ruelle.

I was interested in Crescent Moon mainly because it was set in New Orleans, a city that I love. Unfortunately, it never grabbed me and I ended up setting it aside. My problems with the novel can be boiled down to three main issues: a lack of sense of place, a distracting error about wolf behavior, and too little cohesiveness between scenes.

I’ve been spoiled by a lot of ... Read More

Ghost Wall: These are not the good old days

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

Silvie’s summer vacation is a nightmare. She, her abusive father, and her browbeaten mother have joined a college professor and his three-person Experimental Archaeology class in the northern woods of England, where they are trying to live like the ancients. For the class, it’s a learning experience and something of a lark, at least at first. For Silvie’s father, it’s deadly serious; he’d love to live like that all the time, as he imagines Iron Age Britain to be the world of his racist and sexist dreams.

Things get worse when Silvie’s father and some of the others become obsessed with the grislier aspects of the olden days: the titular ghost wall — a fence topped with skulls that was meant to magically repel invaders — and the human sacrifices preserved in the peat bogs. Meanwhile, Silvie is both drawn to and terrified by Molly, one of the students, who refuses to allow Silvie to keep seein... Read More

Night and Silence: Emotional and twisty

Night and Silence by Seanan McGuire

Night and Silence begins with Toby and her friends still recovering from the events of The Brightest Fell. Tybalt is suffering from PTSD and pushing Toby away. Jazz isn’t doing much better. Sylvester is mad at Toby because of what happened with Simon. Toby doesn’t need a new problem, but that’s exactly what she gets when her human ex, Cliff, and his wife, Miranda, turn up on her doorstep. Toby’s daughter Gillian, now a student at UC-Berkeley, has been kidnapped again. And Cliff and Miranda think Toby had something to do with it.

Roughly the first half of this installment feels like familiar ground. Gillian has been kidnapped before, and the plot structure of Toby traveling all over the metro area chasing down clues and red herrings is one that Seanan McGu... Read More

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

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