Heroic Hearts

Heroic Hearts, edited by Jim Butcher and Kerrie L. Hughes

Unexpected heroes are featured in short stories by twelve popular writers of urban fantasy. They vary considerably in tone, setting, and type of narrator, including a sprite, a troll, a werewolf, and an Irish wolfhound. If you read urban fantasy, you’ll rejoice at the list of authors; other readers may find new favorite. I regularly read Jim Butcher, Anne Bishop and Patricia Briggs, but I also enjoyed Kerrie L. Hughes’ story about a troll who works at a train station, the poignant “Train to Last Hope” by Annie Bellet and the valiant dogs in “Fire Hazard” by Kevin Hearne. Enjoy!

Brenda

The Grief of Stones

grief of stones

The Grief of Stones by Katherine Addison

Sequel to Witness for the Dead, this is a stunning shorter fantasy mystery set in a steampunk world where technology is mostly in the background, with Thara Celahar traveling the city of Amalo with his new widowed apprentice Velhiro Tomasaran by tram and sending notes by pneumatic tube, and rarely, airship. Thara is a cleric who has the ability to read the thoughts and feelings of the recently dead, which helps in investigating the cause of death, location of a will or treasured item, or even identity or religion. His new cases involve him with all classes of society in Amalo. He is elven, many of his clients are all or part goblin. I like how the set of a character’s ears show their mood or energy level. His friends, including admirer and new friend Pel Thenhior, a composer and director of opera, often aid his investigations. Thara is not well paid, and has a single room, taking all his meals and tea out, and visiting bathhouses. When his secondhand black coat of office needs extensive mending, he gratefully trades with his female apprentice. Thara is frequently asked if he is well after a dramatic confrontation with a monster in an underground tomb, and he is clearly shaken up, having lost something very valuable in the process. Readers, along with Thara’s allies, will hope his health and fortune improve in the promised final book in The Cemeteries of Amalo trilogy, set in the world of The Goblin Emperor.

 

Brenda

Magic for Liars

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

Oakland private investigator Ivy Gamble is mugged on her way to work, and shortly afterwards a stranger appears in her locked office. Ivy is asked to investigate a suspicious, gruesome death at Osthorne Academy for Young Mages. Ivy doesn’t usually investigate possible murders, but the retainer offered is large, and she will have the chance to reconnect with her estranged twin sister Tabitha, a teacher at the school. Ivy has 14 years of experience as a PI, but feels ordinary compared to her brilliant, magical sister.

At Osthorne, Ivy wonders if it’s wrong to let staff and students think she also has magical powers. What if she dates one of the teachers? Does she want a relationship with her sister, and can she be trusted? Darkly humorous, this compelling read skillfully combines mystery, fantasy, and relationship fiction. Readalikes include Book of Night by Holly Black, Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo, and A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik.

Brenda

Minor Mage

Minor Mage by T. Kingfisher

I read this eBook because I liked A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, a newer book by the author. I enjoyed this fantasy novel for teens, tweens, and adults even more. Oliver, a minor mage, is 12. His mother is out of town. His familiar is an armadillo. The armadillo’s mother was the familiar of the elderly wizard who taught Oliver everything he knows. And, other than learning about using herbs, it’s not much. Oliver only knows how to use three spells. Trying to summon an elemental or becoming invisible are just a bit tricky at the moment. But Oliver’s village is struggling during a drought, so he gets sent on a journey with his familiar to the Rainblade Mountains, in an attempt to bring back some rain.

Oliver and the armadillo are very appealing characters. Their adventures, while many, are not predictable, either to Oliver or the reader. They meet ghuls, bandits, pigs, an evil mayor, and a musician in this charming, heartwarming story. The eBook is available from Hoopla Digital and from Media on Demand/Libby.

Readalikes include the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett, beginning with The Wee Free Men, The Penric and Desdemona novellas by Lois McMaster Bujold, books by Caroline Stevermer and Patricia Wrede, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, and The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison.

Brenda

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher

Mona, 14, is an orphan who works at her Aunt Tabitha’s bakery. She has a knack with bread and cookie dough, and can make gingerbread men dance for the bakery’s customers. Her bread is exceptionally good, thanks to a sourdough starter named Bob. One early morning, Mona arrives at the bakery to find a body on the floor; someone who also had a magical talent. The dreaded Spring Green Man has struck, again. But Mona first has to clear her name, aided by the city’s Duchess. A boy named Spindle and a skeleton horse help her in what turns out to be a quest to save their city, aided by some really massive baked goods. By turns funny and deadly serious, this exciting Andre Norton Nebula Award winner is a good readalike for Terry Pratchett’s fantasy novels featuring Tiffany Aching and the Wee Free Men.

Brenda

The Witness for the Dead

The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison

This shorter fantasy novel reads like a cozy historical mystery, and is connected to the acclaimed The Goblin Emperor, which was published in 2014. Thara Celehar is a witness for the dead in Amalo, and is a minor religious cleric. His rank is unclear, and he lives modestly; with a daily routine that includes visiting teahouses and feeding stray cats. Thara can sometimes get information from a dead person, and is obligated to investigate any suspicious deaths. An opera singer who dies in the wrong part of town is one plotline, and a forged will that somehow leads to Thara being sent to a mining town with a ghoul problem is another. The aftermath of an explosion at an airship factory and searching local cemeteries for the grave of a missing young woman are the last strands in this intricately plotted yet character-driven story. Thara is an elf, but is unlike any of Tolkien’s elves, and many of his clients are part elf and part goblin. A thoroughly nice and hardworking man, Thara will win hearts of many readers and makes them long for more mysteries for him to solve. Readalikes include books by Natasha Pulley, Zen Cho and the Foreigner series by C.J. Cherryh.

Brenda

Cloud Cuckoo Land

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

The Pulitzer Prize winning author of All The Light We Cannot See has written another masterpiece. Set in an astonishing variety of settings and time periods, with a story within the larger story to keep the reader enchanted. In a modern day public library in Idaho, Zeno, a Korean War veteran, is helping several children produce a play he translated from the Greek. Young seamstress Anna and Omeir and his oxen are caught up in a siege of Constantinople in 1453. In the future, teenager Konstance is living on a spaceship bound for planet Beta Oph2. Doerr excels at storytelling, plot, and characters, although this is not a happy, upbeat story. Somehow, the storylines converge with the theme of the importance of story to inspire, cheer, and remember. Readalike authors include Elsa Hart, David Mitchell, Natasha Pulley, and Neal Stephenson.

Brenda

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

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

Addie LaRue will likely win your heart, but almost no one she meets in her remarkable long life remembers her. Desperate to avoid marriage to a widowed man with children, Addie prays for “a chance to live and be free”. Unfortunately, the sun has set and a spirit from the dark answers her plea. Luc grants her freedom, but she can’t even say or write her own name. When someone steps through a door, they forget her. Born in a small French village in the late 17th century, Addie struggles to survive, and to thrive. After many decades, she can make friends quickly, learns to read and speak several languages, and influences artists and musicians. It’s an amazing life, but Addie’s often lonely. She may see Luc once a year, if that. One day in New York City in 2014, she steals a book. When she returns it to the bookstore, Henry remembers her. And so her life changes, again, while Henry finds someone who sees him as he really is, but there’s a catch. The audiobook is skillfully narrated by actor Julia Whelan. Readalikes include How to Stop Time by Matt Haig and A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness A wonderfully immersive, character-focused read, Schwab is quite the storyteller and Addie LaRue is unforgettable.

Brenda

Legendborn

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

Bree Matthews and her friend Alice are accepted into the Early College program at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Bree’s mother recently died in a car accident, and she doesn’t always make the best choices. Assigned a peer mentor, Nick, she realizes he can also see magical creatures like hellhounds, and asks to join his secret society at the college as a page. She doesn’t realize he’s connected to King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Meanwhile, Bree’s new counselor, who knew her mother, introduces her to her Black Southern magical roots, where she learns that her female ancestors still have stories to tell. While Bree’s classes are barely mentioned and Bree doesn’t share what’s going on with Alice or her father, this is an immersive and suspenseful fantasy novel with numerous plots twists that neither Bree nor the reader will see coming. The well-developed and diverse characters, especially mysterious and menacing Sel, have me looking forward to a sequel expected next year. 

Brenda

The House in the Cerulean Sea

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

Reading this fantasy novel about an orphanage for magical youth is as comforting as a warm hug. Scrupulously honest Linus Baker is a caseworker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. After work, Linus retreats to his small house, listening to records and talking to Calliope, his grumpy cat, while dreaming of a sunny day by the sea. After being summoned by Extremely Upper Management, Linus is sent to inspect an island orphanage for especially dangerous magical children. After a long train ride (with Calliope the cat, of course), he meets the children, their charming caretaker Arthur, and island local Zoe. After getting acquainted with the children, then encountering prejudice in a nearby village, Linus finally finds his voice. The six children are unique, and I can’t pick a favorite. They include eager Chauncey, who wants to be a bellhop, Talia the fierce gardening gnome, and a scary six-year-old boy nicknamed Lucy. Linus evens gets to dance with Arthur, once, before returning home to file his final report. Readalikes include Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire, Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh, The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart, and the Tom Hanks movie Joe Versus the Volcano.

Brenda