A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske

A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske is set in Edwardian England, with all of it’s rigid formality and strict social rules intact but with one difference – magic exists. However, only a few people know this and fewer still possess magical abilities.

Sir Robin Blyth comes from a noble family but due to his parent’s frivolous ways, he and his sister are left with little money and he must work to keep them afloat. An administrative error assigns him the job of civil service liaison to a hidden magical world, something he had no idea even existed before his first day at work.

Edwin Courcey is a member of a very old magical family, although he has only a small amount of magic himself. He is horrified to find Robin in the Magical Liason office and astonished to discover that he doesn’t even know magic exists. Edwin and Robin take an instant dislike to each other and part ways. However, on his way to resign, Robin is accosted by three strangers wearing mysterious masks, asking him “where is it?”. When he can’t answer (he has no idea what they’re talking about), one of the men places a painful curse on his arm and tells him the curse will only get worse until he gives them what they want.

Well, thinks Robin, this isn’t good. He seeks out Edwin (the only magical person he knows) and Edwin, who has made a study of magic, is intrigued by the curse which appears in intricate curls and patterns on Robin’s arm. At first reluctant, Edwin can’t pass on this intriguing puzzle and thus begins a search for answers that includes murder, foresight, a very dangerous hedge, family drama, secret rooms and magical objects of all kinds including a very protective mansion.

The enemies become friends and then much more over the course of their adventures. The magical world that Marske creates is imaginative and intricate and the characters – good guys and bad – are compelling. You will root for Robin and Edwin both as a couple and as individuals as they stumble their way to solutions. There are elements of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Red, White and Royal Blue and even a touch of Lord of the Rings that combine into something unique and delightful.

 

The Heartbreak Bakery by A.R. Capetta

Genderqueer and genderfluid representation abound in this utopic LGBTQ read about the magical power of food to divide or unite people and communities, a book which doubles as a love letter to Austin’s LGBTQ scene.

In A.R. Capetta’s The Heartbreak Bakery, Syd (no pronouns, please, just Syd) is a baker finishing high school while working full time at The Proud Muffin, an invaluable community space/cafe. Syd also just got dumped, ending a relationship that had spanned both middle and high school. To cope, Syd does the only possible thing: baking. But when Syd’s Unexpected Brownies hit the cafe floor, something strange happens: every couple that has one breaks up. Messily and immediately. Including the owners of The Proud Muffin. Racked with guilt and fear of losing a great workplace and second home, Syd resolves to find the perfect recipe to fix each shattered relationship. And who better to help than Harley, friendly cafe delivery person – check the pronoun pin on Harley’s bag to find the day’s pronouns. As they chase down each customer and make magical bakes, Syd and Harley grow closer. But is new love and magical baking enough to save The Proud Muffin?

If you’ve seen my YouTube videos for the library, you know I am an unskilled but enthusiastic baker – so you won’t be surprised that I loved Syd’s detailed, helpful recipes that were included in the text. I also loved Syd’s determined, “I can fix this” attitude, and the descriptions of Syd’s “fashion recipes” as Syd tries to express a vague sense of gender through creative outfits. The book as a whole does a good job at showing the rich spectrum of gender and sexuality in a vibrant, hopeful queer community. There’s also some thoughtful examinations of how relationships grow, break and heal, and the bakes that accompany each feeling make the story a treat for all senses. Best of all, despite the serious topics it digs into, the tone of the book is gentle and kind, hopeful of the best outcomes for everyone.

If you like stories of new love, healing after heartbreak, learning lessons about growing up, and – most importantly – food, this is the book for you.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

Published in 2019, The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow has lived on my to-read shelf for much too long. Deciding to read it based on my love of Harrow’s 2020 book The Once and Future Witches, I was not disappointed. The Ten Thousand Doors of January contains many elements that I enjoy: magical realism, fantasy, antiquities, multiverses, books, and strong-willed women.

January Scaller just wants to find her place in the world. Growing up as the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, January grew up roaming multiple sprawling mansions filled to the brim with peculiar and mysterious treasures. Her father travels the world hunting antiquities to add to Mr. Locke’s collection and as a result, he is seldom home with January. Mr. Locke treats her as well as can be expected, but January never quite fits in. She is instead largely ignored, while simultaneously given fancy clothes and is groomed as yet another piece of his collection. She feels out of place and just wants to find where she truly belongs. Mr. Locke treats her as a precious treasure to be trotted out in front of his rich friends. He can mold her into whatever he wants. January and her father become increasingly separated from each other, leaving January to feel imprisoned in this sprawling mansion and longing to see her father.

One day while January is looking around the rooms, she finds a strange book. The more she reads the book, the more she begins to see that there are other worlds out there full of breathtaking impossibilities. It tells the story of secret doors hidden everywhere that lead to other worlds full of danger, love, and adventure. One story has a deep pull on January. It becomes increasingly difficult for January to separate herself from the book as that one story has woven itself deep into her life.

This book is also available in the following format:

Online Reading Challenge – June Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Readers!

We’re halfway through the year – how is your Challenge going? Did you find something good to read during this month of Alice Hoffman?

I chose to read The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman. Although it was written after Practical Magic (one of Hoffman’s most popular books) this one actually takes place chronologically  before Practical Magic begins. In The Rules of Magic we learn a little more about the curse that haunts the Owens family, about the aunt that helped raise Jet and Franny (and their brother Vincent) who in turn one day will be tasked with raising Gillian and Sally whose story will unfold in Practical Magic.

Members of the Owens family possess magic and trying to deny it or hide from it will not save them from the family curse, that everything they love will leave them. Jet and Franny and Vincent’s parents work hard to make the siblings hide their magic, but it persists in each of them, just below the surface. One summer, when they’re young teens, their mother allows them to spend the summer with their Aunt Isabelle at the family home place in a rural town. At first they miss Manhattan, but they soon discover that their magic is growing stronger and that their aunt is happy to encourage them. It becomes a summer of rebellion and revelation as they each begin to find how to live with their legacy.

In time, despite their best efforts, each sibling falls in love and for each one, in one way or another, the family curse prevails. But isn’t that part of everyone’s life, that we seek out love, that we love recklessly and without regret and that someday, maybe today, maybe years from now, that love will no longer be with us.

It has been several years since I read Practical Magic and I wasn’t sure I would be able to make a connection, but I found this book can stand pretty much on it’s own. The writing is lyrical, which sounds kind of pretentious, but describes it best – Hoffman evokes the mysterious, tangled atmosphere of Isabelle’s house as well as the depth of emotions the characters feel with the same delicate touch, never maudlin but always real. In many ways, I found this book to be sad with so much heartbreak and sacrifice but also, ultimately, hopeful that the legacy of the past passes on to the next generation and the sacrifices made were worth the pain. As Hoffman concludes, “the only remedy for love is to love more”. A beautiful book.

Now it’s your turn – what did you read this month?

Online Reading Challenge – June

Hello hello!

Time for a new author exploration in our Online Reading Challenge. This month our author is: Alice Hoffman!

A popular and prolific author, Hoffman books always include a bit of magic. It’s often understated, and sometimes doesn’t appear immediately, but it runs through each title like a vein of gold. Some of her best loved titles include Practical Magic, The World That We Knew, The Dovekeepers and The Marriage of Opposites.

If you would like to read something by a different author, look for books with some magical realism and/or female relationships. Some titles to consider include:

House of Spirits by Isabel Allende

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Amiee Bender

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by A.E. Schwab

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Chocolat by Joanne Harris

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Morena-Garcia

Lots of great choices! There will also be displays at both Fairmount and Eastern with titles to consider.

I am planning on reading The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman, which is a prequel to Practical Magic. It’s been a long time since I read Practical Magic, so I’m hoping this one can be read as a stand-alone. I will let you know how it goes!

 

The Backstagers by James Tynion IV, Rian Singh, and Andy Mientus

Today I’ve got something to recommend for lovers of both prose chapter books AND graphic novels! The Backstagers, by James Tynion IV and Rian Singh, started out as a young adult graphic novel series, but then was adapted into middle grade novels of the same name by Andy Mientus, and both give you an avenue into a tale of high school theater as a gateway into fantastical realms.

Here’s the basics: a boy named Jory transfers to an all-boys private high school, St. Genesius, and is pushed by his parents to join a club. First he considers joining drama club, only to discover that it’s much more exciting (and welcoming) being a backstager, the techs behind the scenes that make all the magic happen. Magic in this case is also meant literally: the backstage corridors lead into wild and unpredictable worlds of odd creatures, shifting passageways, and general mayhem. Jory jumps in feet-first and quickly bonds with the Backstagers crew: Hunter, Aziz, Sasha, Beckett, and two kindly senior stage managers. Together, it’s their job to keep the theater safe AND make sure the show goes on. It’s not an easy task, but the power of new friendship and budding romance is more than up to the challenge.

I started with the graphic novels, and I thought the art style was charming and the characters were diverse and full of personality. I’m very excited to read the prose novels and see this world fleshed out in more detail, with new adventures to experience. If you were a theater kid, have a devoted squad of friends, or loved either Stranger Things or Ouran High School Host Club, I recommend you try reading about The Backstagers (one way or another)!

Online Reading Challenge – February Wrap-Up

Hello Readers!

How did your February reading go? What wonderful, magical, mind-twisting book did you discover this month? Or was it the opposite and nothing caught your fancy?

I’m afraid I fell into the second category, somewhat. I failed to finish The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman – it just wasn’t working for me. It felt very dark and very sad to me and I just couldn’t finish it (it doesn’t help that a kitten was killed early in the book) Harm/abuse of children or animals will keep me away from any book, no matter how good it’s supposed to be. I also have no trouble not finishing a book if it’s making me unhappy – there are too many good books out there that add value than to continue to read just for the sake of finishing!

However, I did finish a book that fits very neatly into the Neil Gaiman magical-realism read-alike category – my reserve for The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab came in and I couldn’t put it down. Thoughtful, intriguing and surprising with a twisting storyline that keeps you guessing (and hoping). One of our librarians, Stephanie, wrote a blog post about it last month with an excellent summary and examination of it’s appeal. Go read it for more details!

So, while I might not have read what I had planned to, I still finished this month’s challenge!

What about you – did you finish this month’s challenge? (Remember, no judgement if you didn’t – there are no Library Police!)

Online Reading Challenge – February

Hello Challenge Readers!

New month, new author – this month’s Read Alike is: Neil Gaiman!

I have not read anything by Neil Gaiman, although he has been on my “to read” list for a long time, so I am especially happy to have the extra push to read one of his books. Gaiman is quite popular, with an avid following but his books are far from mainstream – they’re a mix of myth, magical realism and fantasy. Now is the perfect time to try one of his popular titles such as American Gods, Norse Mythology, Neverwhere or Good Omens or his graphic novel series The Sandman.

Or try a book with a bit of the unexplainable. Here are some to consider.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

The Color of Magic by Terry Prachett

Storm Front by Jim Butcher

The Infernals by John Connolly

Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce

The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The White Forest by Adam McOmber

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

Lots of mysterious circumstances and hidden secrets to choose from! Clicking on any of the titles will take you to our catalog and a brief description of the book.

I am planning on reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane which might be a bit scarier than I generally prefer. Hmmmm. I’ll let you know how it goes!

What about you? What will you be reading this month?

 

Virtual Book Club – ‘The Night Tiger’ on August 19th

On Wednesday, August 19th, at 2pm, Virtual Book Club will be discussing The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo. We are using GoTo Meeting which will allow patrons to video chat with the librarian about the book! More information about how to join is listed below.

Curious what the book is about? Check out the following description provided by the publisher.

Ji Lin is an apprentice dressmaker, moonlighting as a dance-hall girl to pay her mother’s mahjong debts. When one of her dance partners leaves behind a gruesome souvenier, Ji Lin plunges into a world of secrets and superstitions. Eleven-year-old Chinese houseboy Ren is trying to find his master’s severed finger and bury with his body, or his master’s soul will wander the earth forever. As both young people go on their quests, unexplained deaths plague their district in 1930s colonial Malaysia.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Virtual Book Club
Wed, Aug 19, 2020 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM (CDT)

Please join my meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone.
https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/160996525

You can also dial in using your phone.
United States: +1 (646) 749-3112

Access Code: 160-996-525

New to GoToMeeting? Get the app now and be ready when your first meeting starts:
https://global.gotomeeting.com/install/160996525

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

What would you do to save your family? To break free of the narrow path set before you? Would you be able to make the sacrifice, stand against the terrible fear? What about the people affected by your actions? Would you have the courage to step forward and make amends?

In Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik we follow three young women as they face these difficult questions. Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders. While her grandfather is very successful, her father is not and she is forced to take over their business. Wanda is the daughter of a poor woodsman who takes out his anger and frustration on his surviving children, gambling and drinking away what little money they have and forcing her to work off his debt. And Irina is the daughter of a powerful Duke, disappointingly plain and awkward with no suitors and no future. These three lives, seemingly with little or no connection, weave and entwine as they each find their purpose and in the process save their country.

Events are set into motion when Miryem, who turns out to be very good at collecting debts and turning a profit, boasts that she can turn silver into gold. This catches the attention of the King of the Staryk, whose northern winter kingdom is slowly engulfing the surrounding lands, bringing poverty and hardship. The Staryk demands that Miryem turn a handful of silver coins into gold and in exchange, agrees (reluctantly) to make her his (also reluctant) Queen. And from that beginning, spins the tale.

Beautifully written, Novik creates a complex, convincing world that is part fantasy, part dark fairy-tale, part love story, part heroic quest with a dash of Game of Thrones (without the Red Wedding or incest, thank goodness) There are many “real” aspects (Miryem and her family are Jewish and experience much of the same history as in our world and the country, with it’s ever encroaching winter, feels like Siberia) but it is also uniquely it’s own. One caution – the narrator of the book changes frequently and other than a small symbol before each change, there is no indication of whose point-of-view you are now reading. It can be momentarily confusing but I found that it became clear quickly. Don’t let this slight challenge keep you away from this mesmerizing and suspenseful novel!