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Posts Tagged ‘paranormal fiction’

watchmakerAt first, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street (Bloomsbury, digital galley) reads like really good historical fiction, evoking the atmosphere of 1880s London — bustling gaslit streets, boisterous pubs, conversations buzzing about the latest scientific discoveries or the new production from Gilbert & Sullivan. But then as Natasha Pulley’s first novel follows the solitary life of a young telegraph operator at the British Home Office, oddities appear, like the intricate watch that Thaniel Steepleton finds on his bed. Soon after, the watch save his life as it sounds an alarm coinciding with a bomb set by Irish terrorists, and Thaniel goes in search of its mysterious maker, Japanese immigrant Keita Mora. He’s another solitary soul but a mechanical genius when it comes to fashioning timepieces and automata. He’s also strangely prescient.

Thaniel and Mora’s growing friendship is complicated by Mora’s secrets, official suspicion that the watchmaker may be the sought-after bombmaker, and the entrance of Grace Carrow, a strong-minded Oxford physicist in need of a husband to secure her independence and a family inheritance. Questions of love and fate play into the intricate and surprising plot, which may yet hinge on the actions of Mora’s playful mechanical octopus Katsu, who hides in dresser drawers and steals socks. The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is much like Katsu — whimsical, magical, oddly plausible and totally enchanting.

uprootedSpeaking of enchantment, Naomi Novik puts readers under a once-upon-a-time spell with Uprooted (Del Rey/Random House, digital galley), drawing on Polish fairy and folk tales to conjure up a magically medieval world. Readers familiar with Novik’s alternate history Dragons of Temeraire series may be surprised to know that the Dragon of this story is a wizard who once every 10 years — in return for protecting the region from the evil, encroaching Wood — selects a village girl as his serving maid. Narrator Agnieszka, plain and pragmatic, is surprised when she’s picked to accompany the enigmatic Dragon to his isolated tower. Left to her own devices and longing for home, Agnieszka is an initially awkward housekeeper and cook until she develops her true talents and realizes the reason she was chosen. Eventually she becomes part of a perilous quest involving a young prince, a lost queen and the thorny depths of the sentient forest.

Novik’s immersive writing reminds me a bit of Emily Croy Barker’s The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Practical Magic and/or one of Robin McKinley’s fairy tale retellings. Magic.

aliceThe cover of Christina Henry’s Alice (Ace/Penguin, digital galley), with its bloody-eyed rabbit in menswear, is your first clue that this is not Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. True, Henry is inspired by the classic, borrowing characters’ names and familiar motifs, but her wonderland — the Old City — is dark and dystopian. When a fire engulfs an insane asylum, an amnesiac Alice and fellow patient Hatcher escape, but so does the ravenous, flying Jabberwocky. The fugitive pair, seeking shelter and then revenge, follow the maze-like streets of the crumbling city, its sectors presided over by the overlords known as Rabbit, Caterpillar, Walrus and Cheshire. Crime is commonplace, from thievery to human trafficking, and evil is afoot and aloft. This is midnight-dark fantasy, occasionally confusing and not for the squeamish. Henry leaves enough threads hanging to spin a sequel. I’d read it.

inkandboneLibrarians are both guardians of knowledge and brave warriors in Rachel Caine’s Ink and Bone: The Great Library (NAL/Penguin, digital galley), a rousing YA action-adventure set in a near future where “knowledge is power.”  The great Library of Alexandria has survived the ages and its librarians rule the world by strictly controlling access to all original books. The librarians’ alchemy allows regular folk to read “mirror” versions of select volumes on blank tablets, but the ownership of real texts is forbidden, and the printing press is unknown. A thriving book-smuggling trade for collectors is threatened both by tyrannical librarians and their fearsome automata, as well as by the heretical “burners” who destroy books as an act of rebellion. At 16, Jess Brightwell is an experienced thief and smuggler in London who loves reading real books, and whose father wants him to become a spy among the librarians. But first he must pass the entrance exams and survive the training at Alexandria. So, it’s Harry Potter meets The Book Thief meets young Indiana Jones, sort of.

Caine puts her experience as a successful series writer to good use, creating vibrant — if somewhat — stock characters in her steampunk-studded world. Jess’s classmates include a brilliant Arab scholar, a mean-minded Italian playboy, a prickly Welsh girl and a talented German inventor. Their stern teacher has secrets of his own, some of which are revealed when the students are sent to rescue a cache of ancient books in the library at Oxford, a city caught up in a brutish war. (Shades of Henry V). Surprises await, as do romance and betrayal. But we have to wait until next summer for the next book. Ah, for a little alchemy to make it appear sooner.

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speculationFortune-tellers and floods, mermaids and mysteries, a traveling carnival and a tumble-down house threatening to fall into the sea. Erika Swyler packs all these and more into her first novel The Book of Speculation (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley), which both fascinates and frustrates with its alternating narratives. In the present, reference librarian Simon Watson lives in the family house slowly sliding into the Long Island Sound where his mother — a circus mermaid — curiously drowned when he and his sister Enola were children. Simon looked after Enola while their grief-stricken father withered away, but six years ago, she ran off with their mother’s tarot cards and no plans to ever return. But then Simon receives a mysterious, water-damaged old book in the mail, and Enola calls to say she’ll be home in July. Simon is alarmed because the book — the logbook of a traveling carnival — shows generations of the women in his family all drowning on July 24th.   In the past storyline, a mute boy known as Amos is adopted by carnival owner, apprenticed to a Russian fortune-teller and is captivated by Evangeline, who may be a mermaid and is possibly a murderess. That the two storylines will eventually converge is a foregone conclusion, but the “how” makes for the suspense. Still, the novel’s rickety underpinnings sag under the weight of so many coincidences, romances and misfortunes that its magic begins to wane. The Book of Speculation ends up being both too much and too little. But I did like the horseshoe crabs.

dayshiftReaders of Charlaine Harris’s Midnight Crossing know that strangers to the dusty Texas town of Midnight are not nearly as strange as its residents. Phone psychic Manfredo Bernardo learned that when he moved to Midnight and discovered his neighbors included a witch, a shape-shifter, a couple of angels and a vampire. Still, things have taken a turn for the really strange in Harris’ follow-up, the entertaining Day Shift (Penguin Berkley, review copy). For starters, Manfredo is suspected of murder after one of his clients drops dead, and then the Reverend, who tends the little church and adjacent pet cemetery, takes in a young boy who grows taller — really taller — every day. Beautiful Olivia Channing is keeping all kinds of secrets while her vampire gentleman friend Lemuel is away. But what’s really weird is that a mysterious corporation is supposedly turning the abandoned Midnight Hotel into a luxury resort but also has relocated some indigent Las Vegas seniors to the premises. And just to keep things interesting, Harris brings in a couple of characters from her Sookie Stackhouse series as strange events come to a head under a full moon. Some mysteries are resolved, but others only deepen. A third book, please?

boneyardIslands have a certain magic, some more than others.  In author Susan M. Boyer’s mind, the fictional South Carolina island of Stella Maris is located a hop, skip, a couple of bridges and a ferry ride from Charleston. The picturesque beach community is also home base for PI Liz Talbot, although her hunky partner Nate wants her to move upstate in Lowcountry Boneyard (Henery Press, digital galley). As readers of the previous two books in this perky series know, Liz has a secret tie to the island in the shape of a ghostly guardian angel, her late best friend, Colleen, who conveniently pops up to warn of danger or gather clues in the spirit world. This time, Liz is searching for missing Charleston heiress Kent Heyward whom the police consider a rich-girl runaway. After meeting Kent’s family — including her stern father, matriarch Abigail and creepy twin uncles — Liz thinks Kent may have had good reason to leave town, but Kent’s chef boyfriend Matt and her BFF Ansley assure her otherwise. Dangerous surprises await when Liz goes poking around in a local cemetery and digging up family secrets in the lowcountry and upstate, but Colleen can’t come to the rescue if Liz is too far away from Stella Maris. Not to give anything away, but the fourth book in the series is due in the fall.

mysteriousElizabeth George, best known for her Inspector Thomas Lynley series, has a high old time with The Mysterious Disappearance of the Reluctant Book Fairy (Mysterious Press/Open Road, digital galley), her contribution to the Press short story series Bibliomysteries. At just under 50 pages, it’s a tale easily consumed in one sitting, true escapist reading a la Jasper Fforde. Janet Shore, the sickly youngest child in a boisterous Washington state family, perfects the art of escaping into a book at an early age. Literally. “Given a heart rending scene of emotion (Mary Ingalls going blind!), a thrilling adventure in a frightening cave (Tom, Huck, and Injun Joe!), a battle with pirates (Peter Pan and Captain Hook!), and our Janet was actually able to transport herself into the scene itself. And not as a passive observer, mind you, but rather as a full participant in the story.” Janet first entertains herself and classmates with book traveling, but gives it up when she grows older and has her heart broken. Then her best childhood friend Monie conspires to get Janet — now Annapurna — a job at the local library, where the overbearing Mildred Bantry sees a way to make money by setting up a book tourism company, Epic!, with Annapurna as chief tour guide. George has a lot of fun with this conceit, as will readers who can only imagine the joys of escaping into the pages of a favorite book or Greek myth. As for Annapurna/Janet’s choice of the perfect pages in which to get lost, let me just say that I’ll happily join her some gaudy night.

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bookoflifeTwo years. That’s how long eager readers like myself have had to wait for Deborah Harkness’ The Book of Life (Viking Penguin, digital galley), the third volume in her All Souls trilogy, a heady mix of history, fantasy, science and romance. Happily, the saga of Diana Bishop, an American scholar with witch DNA, and Matthew Clairmont, Oxford geneticist and centuries-old vampire, picks right up where Shadow of Night ended. The star-crossed couple, now married, have returned to the present after action-packed adventures in Elizabethean England, France and Prague. Alas, the ancient alchemical manuscript, Ashmole 782, the so-called Book of Life that may explain the origins of the supernatural world and its witches, vampires and daemons, is still missing. Worse, the present-day Clairmont clan is appalled by Matthew’s marriage to a witch and the even-more astounding news that Diana is expecting twins. Impossible! The ruling Congregation has rules about the cross-mating of species!

The first part of the book is weighted by family dysfunction and the reintroduction of numerous characters from previous books. But then Harkness immerses us once again in her colorfully detailed paranormal world, which is threatened by dark historical forces and present-day politics. Diana must grow into her magical powers as a witch and Matthew must harness his inherited blood rage to make the future safe for all their supernatural kin and kind — vampire, witch, daemon and human.

thequickVampires have been almost done to death in recent paranormal fiction, while zombies, aliens and angels are coming on strong. But Lauren Owen resurrects the shivery terror of Dracula and Victorian vampires in her first novel, The Quick (Random House, digital galley), where revenants are eventually revealed both as members of a mysterious London gentlemen’s club and a shadowy rag-and-bone underclass. But before brother and sister James and Charlotte Norbury are engulfed by this dark Gothic world, Owen describes their solitary upbringing in a country manor house, after which James pursues his literary studies at Oxford before heading for London. He shares lodgings with his aristocratic friend Christopher, tries writing a play and falls in love. The year is 1892, and Oscar Wilde is much admired. But on a late-night walk to Wilde’s house, James vanishes, and Charlotte eventually makes her way to London in search of her brother. What is weird becomes thrillingly weirder.

Owen keeps interest high by discarding the linear in favor of overlapping, shifting narratives. Readers become privy to the grisly goings-on of The Aegolius Club, the valiant efforts of two vampire hunters, the plight of an American businessman, the research of  “Doctor Knife,” and the wily ways of a beggar girl. There will be blood. Oh, yes.

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rhapsodyBravo! Kate Racculia’s nifty novel Bellweather Rhapsody (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, digital galley) has been likened to Agatha Christie meets The Shining meets Glee. Add in Racculia’s declared devotion to the late great Ellen Raskin, author of Newbery Medal-winning The Westing Game, and I am so there. There, in this case is the once-grand, now-shabby Bellweather Hotel in the Catskills, famous for a 1982 murder-suicide in Room 712, witnessed by reluctant 10-year-old bridesmaid Minnie Graves. Fifteen years later, troubled Minnie decides to confront the past by returning to the Bellweather, which is hosting a statewide music festival for talented teens. On hand are twins Alice and Rabbit Hatmaker; she a drama-queen vocalist, he a shy bassoonist with a secret. They’re chaperoned by former piano prodigy Natalie Wilson, who right off runs into her old nemesis, Viola Fabian, the festival’s acting director. Viola — think Glenn Close as Cruella de Vil — terrorizes everyone, including aging concierge Harold Hastings, Scottish conductor and former lover Fisher Brodie, and especially her 14-year-old daughter, Jill, a musical prodigy who is rooming with Alice. In Room 712.

Having set the stage, Racculia then orchestrates this cast’s interactions with aplomb, leading up to Jill’s mysterious disappearance from her and Alice’s room, as well as a raging snowstorm that cuts off the Bellweather from the outside world. The cavernous hotel with its domed penthouse swimming pool is rife with rumor, alive with the sound of music and rowdy, randy teens.  Noting a full moon, Natalie wonders what will happen next. “The past was layered under the present like sheets of tissue paper, still visible if you focused your attention long enough to see below the surface.” Oh, my. Encore!

wolfMo Hayder’s seventh Jack Caffery tale Wolf (Grove Atlantic, digital gallery) is twisting and twisted, not for the faint of heart nor weak of stomach. Scientist Oliver Anchor-Ferrers is recovering from heart surgery at his Somerset country estate with his wife, grown daughter and their dog when they become hostages during a vicious home invasion. Meanwhile, Jack is taking a break from police work to further delve into the long-ago disappearance of his brother Ethan, believed to have been abducted by a pedophile ring. The enigmatic Walking Man, the drifter who has helped Jack previously, apparently has new information but first wants Jack to find the owners of a stray dog found with a “Help us” note tucked in its collar. Hayder builds suspense by cross-cutting the narratives and through the steady accretion of small details, some of which deal with a gruesome murder that rocked the wealthy Anchor-Ferrers years ago. Their present-day captors are all the more fear-inspiring because they are professional henchmen performing a job separate from their own ordinary lives.  Torture R Us.

midnightCharlaine Harris may have put Sookie Stackhouse and the Louisiana town of Bon Temps in her rearview mirror, but that doesn’t mean she’s left behind the paranormal. Midnight Crossroad (Penguin Berkley, purchased e-book) introduces us to the dusty, down-at-its-heels Texas hamlet of Midnight, where young online psychic Manfredo Bernardo (of the Harper Connelly series) sets up shop across the street from a large pawn shop. His new neighbors are an eclectic bunch, including an attractive witch and her watchful cat, a solitary reverend who tends over a little church and adjacent pet cemetery, the very pale downstairs tenant of the pawn shop, and a hard-working manager of the Gas ‘n’ Go and his teenage daughter and son.  Used to being an outsider, Manfredo finds himself surprisingly at home. When a missing woman with secret connections to a hate group is found dead, the community bands together against outside threats, each resident contributing his or her particular talents. As always, Harris is adept at depicting the cozy pleasures and perils of small-town life. First in a trilogy. I’ll be back.

revolutionIf you remember the ’60s, you know the era of peace, love and hard rock lasted well into the ’70s and that it often wasn’t peaceful. What I like best about Peter Robinson’s Children of the Revolution (Morrow, digital galley) is how well it evokes the youthful idealism and social unrest of that time when DCI Alan Banks investigates the death of a disgraced college lecturer. He discovers links to the victim’s college days 40 years ago and to Lady Veronica Chambers, former Marxist rebel turned popular romance novelist with political connections. Banks has his own memories and prejudices to deal with as he nudges toward retirement age. What I don’t like about the story is Banks romancing a woman younger than his children. Hard to believe and kinda creepy. Better the detective should follow George Clooney’s lead and find a more age-appropriate partner.

leonBooklovers will both delight and despair at Donna Leon’s new Guido Brunetti mystery By Its Cover (Grove Atlantic, digital galley), which spins on the defacing and theft of rare books.  The director of a Venice library calls on Brunetti when the losses are discovered after the disappearance of an American professor who was a regular patron. Surprisingly, neither the library’s longtime security guard nor another constant patron, a reader of church history, know anything about the situation. Or so they say. Then the professor’s credentials are found to be faked, and a murder ups the ante. As usual, the book is Venice-centric with many asides to the city’s charms, as well as its corruption, its crumbling culture and its invasion by cruise-ship tourists. An abrupt ending, however, may leave readers wondering if a few pages have gone missing?!

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