Thorn is a retelling of Grimm's The Goose Girl. The original is a strange story with a lot of elements that I wasn't sure a new telling could make sense of. But Khanani surprised me. More on that in our upcoming book club discussion. I hadn't seen this tale done before, so that was refreshing as well.
Alyrra is a princess in a small kingdom. She is not happy in her royal life, and when she gets betrothed to the greater neighboring kingdom's prince, she fears her life will get worse rather than better. I would warn a trigger for physical abuse. Not very many described, but much in the emotional aftermath and state of mind. Alyrra understandably does not trust men, especially those in power. So when circumstances, magical as they may be, give her the opportunity to live out life as a mere goose girl instead, Alyrra struggles with that desire for freedom conflicted with any responsibility for duty that she might have.
Alyrra has to learn a new way of life, in a new city and country, where she doesn't speak the language. I really felt for Alyrra's character, and enjoyed watching her growth as she learned to care and trust for others. The book deals with differences in caste, and what is justice. The ending was well done and satisfying. This is the first in the Dauntless Path series, but it is a standalone. The subsequent books are a spinoff featuring a new character. I definitely recommend this, both as a Goose Girl retelling and as a fantasy.
In exchange for saving her father from dying in the freezing winter wilderness, Echo Alkaev agrees to stay with the white wolf in his house under the hill for one year. Echo North weaves together the the tales of East of the Sun, West of the Moon, Beauty and the Beast, and Tam Lin. All have in common falling in love with a beast. Meyer combines these so expertly it is as if they were always meant to be the same story.
T. Kingfisher is the nom de plume for Ursula Vernon for her adult fiction. Kingfisher once stated that, regarding The Raven and The Reindeer, she was "kind of worried that no one who isn't familiar with the source material will find this story even remotely readable". I have to disagree. Though I am familiar with some of the basic elements, I have yet to read the original Hans Christian Anderson tale (I will be doing so before our official discussion). I found The Raven and the Reindeer to be very steeped in fairy tale and accessible at its basic elements.
Another amazing book from TJ Klune. Earlier this year I read and reviewed The House in the Cerulean Sea. I loved it so much I bought it and preordered Under the Whispering Door. I was not disappointed.
It takes dying for Wallace to learn how to live. A Reaper collects Wallace from his own funeral and takes him to the ferryman's teahouse. This is a place of transition, where you have time to adjust before choosing to go through the door into whatever the afterlife holds. Wallace goes through all the stages of grief. He starts out a very unlikeable character, but learns and grows in his time in the teahouse. This is a heartfelt story about love and loss and redemption. It's not about religion or what is on the other side of the door. I laughed; I cried.
This is light on the fantasy compared to The House in the Cerulean Sea. In that it will probably appeal to a larger audience. It is very queer and diverse friendly. I highly recommend the book, especially if you enjoyed his previous title. And these books look amazing on the shelf. I adore the artwork.
"We aren’t supposed to force someone before they’re ready. That’s not our job. We’re here to make sure they see that life isn’t always about living. There are many parts to it, and that it continues on, even after death. Its beautiful, even when it hurts."
"The first time you share tea, you are a stranger. The second time you share tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share tea, you become family."
House of Salt and Sorrows is a haunting, gothic tale steeped in lore and the sea. This is a retelling of the Grimm tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Erin A. Craig does a magnificent job elevating this story. Each of the sisters is given a name, but collectively known as the Thaumus Dozen. The family lives at Highmoor, a manor on the sea. Their life and religion revolves around the sea, and the sea god Pontus. I could hear the sea and smell the salt.
The story begins with their mother and four of the sisters tragically dead. Rumors begin that the Thaumus family is cursed. The point of view of the story is Annaleigh. She is convinced that this latest death was no accident, and seeks to find the truth. She meets a mysterious man not from the islands, and also reunites with an old childhood crush. Tired of years of mourning, the sisters find an escape to dance away their woes.
One part ghost story, one part mystery, one part romance, and all fairy-tale. This was a completely new retelling of a familiar tale, yet manages to still be very recognizable as such. I was thoroughly enchanted and swept away. Craig's descriptions are immersive, the characters come to life, and the mythology seeps through the pages. You can tell she did a lot of world-building, with each region having its own deities and culture. The world felt very alive and that it had a history, it didn't just exist for this story alone.
I highly recommend this one. It felt very Haunting of Bly Manor - both haunting and romantic.
The June book for our Enchanted Garden Book Club is Towering by Alex Flinn. This is a Young Adult, modern retelling of Rapunzel. The story is told in two perspectives, both first-person present-tense, of the main characters Rachel and Wyatt.
Rachel, 17 years old, has been kept isolated by her Mama, cut off from the world in an old tower. What she knows of the outside world are old memories of her youth and books. The books are all older, classics, so she has no knowledge of the workings of the modern world.
Wyatt is the same age as Rachel. After a tragedy back home, losing his closest friends, he moves out to the country to live with Mrs. Greenwood, mother of his mom's childhood friend. There he comes across a diary of Danielle, Mrs. Greenwood's daughter, who had disappeared seventeen years ago.
Wyatt is able to hear Rachel's singing and finds a way to track the voice and meet her. The two end up saving each other, and solving a mystery of missing people in town.
This book wasn't a must-read for me. I was hoping to enjoy it more. Despite the first-person perspectives, I didn't feel connected to the characters. Some of the writing, especially in the early chapters, was confusing, with thoughts interrupting actions and conversation in odd places. Rachel is of course very naïve, due to her protected nature. I felt the romance was rushed, very much a fated, love at first sight, with no weight behind it. There were magical aspects to the story that didn't really get explained. I had hoped for possibly a connection to the Fae, but that didn't seem to be the case. There is a prophecy with nothing to support it, and no reasons given for Rachel's magical properties.
I have not read any of Alex Flinn's other titles, so cannot say how it compares. This does not seem to connect to the Kendra Chronicles. This met the basic premise of a Rapunzel retelling, but I'm sure there are better ones out there. Do you have any you would recommend?
Linus Baker is entirely mundane, but far from ordinary. He is a case worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, monitoring orphanages of magical children to make sure both the children and staff are safe. His life changes when he gets a classified assignment to evaluate an orphanage of six highly unique and possibly dangerous children.
This book was such a joy to read. Great writing, great dialogue, great characters. We get introduced to the six through Linus's eyes, and fall in love with them as he does. I won't spoil you with their descriptions, as I hope you go meet them for yourself. The big lesson is not to judge by a person's file or first impression.
Linus is the best Linus that he can be, as that's all he knows. He doesn't see anything extraordinary about himself, but those around him can see otherwise. I think we all have blindspots, admirable qualities that we don't recognize in ourselves that others must point out for us. I think that's another lesson this book tells, to be open to praise and acceptance and love from others.
Warning: This book made me cry. Because it made me feel. This book was truly a delight and I highly recommend it. I will definitely be checking out TJ Klune's other books.
"I'm just me...." " I don't know how to be anyone but who I already am. This is how I've always been. It's not much, but I do the best I can with what I have."
This is our December book for The Enchanted Garden Book Club. Toads and Diamonds is a retelling of a Charles Perrault's tale. This is the first novel length version I have read, and I highly enjoyed it. Rather than taking place in a European setting, this book takes place in a fictionalized India. The two religions central to the story are both fictional but still feel authentic. Tomlinson did a wonderful job bringing the cultures and characters to life. I felt like I could step into their world.
Another refreshing change to to the tale is the family relationship. Like the original, there is a step-family. Diribani lives with her step-mother and step-sister, Tana. Unlike most fairy-tales, they all get along and care for each other. There is no wicked step-family here. The other big change that surprised me was the gifts the sisters got. Both went to the well and encountered the goddess, who listened to their hearts desire. One sister came out speaking flowers and gemstones, the other speaking toads and snakes. Yet both here are blessings, and not curses. They may not always see them that way, and of course other characters react in their own manner, but there is no clear "good sister" "bad sister" here.
Both sisters have their unique trials and tribulations as a result of their gifts, and must learn how to make the best of them. Despite the differences in their individual journeys, there are many echoes between the two that I enjoyed noticing.
The only thing I felt lacking was the end. I would have loved a short epilogue showing what came after. It still felt satisfactory, and I highly recommend this book. For a deeper discussion, check back later this month on our Enchanted Garden blog. In the meantime, come join us in our Facebook group to discuss this book and all things fairytale.
I discovered Rachel Caine through the Chicks Kick Butt anthology. It was a short story featuring her Weather Warden main character. There was a car chase, and unique magic. I was hooked. I got the first Weather Warden book, Ill Wind, from the library, and ended up buying the entire nine book series.
It’s urban fantasy, taking place in our world but with elemental magic and djinn. The main character is a Weather Warden, having control over the weather. There is plenty of action, romance, and of course magic.
There is also a spinoff series, Outcast Season, which I own but haven't yet read.
Then you have the Revivalist series, an urban fantasy/thriller/horror. The main character is a funeral director, who becomes a zombie--murdered for finding out her employers are selling a resurrection drug, then resurrected herself--and gets involved in taking down the company responsible for her new condition.
Prince of Shadows
But Rachel Caine also writes for Young Adults. I don't remember who gifted it to me, but I also own Rachel Caine's YA novel Prince of Shadows. This is a stand-alone historical fantasy that retells Romeo and Juliet, but from Benvolio Montague's perspective. Benvolio is a thief, the Prince of Shadows, and has his own romance with a Capulet. It's a unique spin, and very engaging.
The Great Library
Very different still from the other series on this list is The Great Library series. This one is YA alternate history steampunk fantasy. I read these as they came out, and it was so difficult waiting in between books. The premise is that the Great Library of Alexandria was not destroyed, and is now the controlling power for books and knowledge. The main character, Jess Brightwell, comes from a family of book smugglers. There are book burners, and automata, and a blend of alchemy and magic.
Despite her illness, Rachel Caine's latest series is the one that is the most potent for me. Stillhouse Lake follows Gwen Proctor, mother of two and former wife of a serial killer. Her (ex) husband may be in jail, but despite the court's acquittal, there are those that do not believe she could have lived with the man and not known of his deeds, and possibly even been an accomplice. Gwen has had to grow tough fast, to survive the hate, protect her children, and try to live a normal life. But the haters keep tracking her down. This suspense thriller is so heartbreaking and emotional. I am always torn between needing to read more and having to put the book down because the feelings are so strong.
I recently finished book three. The fifth book has been finished and is slated for a 2021 release. I already pre-ordered the book, but only wish Rachel Caine could still be around to see it come out.
Rachel Caine is also the author of the Morganville Vampire books (YA Supernatural) which have been adapted as a web series, and coauthored Dead Air, a thriller serial audio story about a true crime podcaster.
I am glad I haven't yet read everything Rachel Caine wrote, as that means I have more to enjoy and discover. She lives on in her writing.
Have you read anything by Rachel Caine? What book/series has been your favorite?
Mary W. Jensen. Author, poet, gamer, library shelver.
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