Book of the Week: The Witches of New York – Ami McKay

Here’s a satisfying sleeper you can put into the hands of fiction lovers who like their genres stirred into a potent, bracing brew—and their escapism underpinned with some substance.

The Witches of New York takes place in a beautifully realized Victorian New York—at a time when both science and spirituality were taking society by storm. The witches of this novel run a small tea shop that helps ladies find cures for many ills—from sleepless nights to bad marriages to unwanted pregnancies. Enter a young girl from the countryside who hires on as a shop girl—a girl who turns out to be a young witch unaware of her latent powers. Add in a powerful demon who works through a culture of men threatened by these self-sufficient, independent women and you have a summer entertainment whose themes couldn’t be more relevant today.

In this weighty, wonderful novel, McKay takes a sidelong glance at misogyny through a veil of witches, ghosts, and other mystical entities in 1880 New York…. McKay seamlessly combines several plots and juggles a large cast with grace. Skillful worldbuilding, fascinating characters, and a suspenseful plot make McKay’s novel an enchanting, can’t-put-down delight. The door is left open for a sequel, and readers will hope McKay takes Adelaide, Eleanor, and Beatrice on further adventures of witchery and self-determination.”
—  Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“With a remarkable cast of characters… McKay has crafted a stunning work that bridges the gap between historical and contemporary women’s issues. The novel is ambitious in its scope yet still delves deep into the thoughts and motivations of characters who normally exist on society’s outskirts—or even beyond the earthly realm…. McKay’s elegant prose bridges the gap between the real world and the spiritual realm with skill and compassion.”
Kirkus (starred review)

The Witches of New York (9780062359926) by Ami KcKay. $15.99 trade paper original. 7/11/17 on sale.

New Young Adult Fiction: Midnight at the Electric – Jodi Lyn Anderson

One of the most profound and haunting books I ever read was Michael Cunningham’s Specimen Days. It initially seemed to be three unrelated novellas but by the end it was clear that the three disparate stories were slowly and structurally wound together through time and with the intention of telling us something profound about what it means to be human.

A bit of the same technique is at work here. Anderson’s story starts in 2065 with Adri, a young woman who has been chosen for a mission to Mars. While visiting an extended family member’s Kansas home, she uncovers clues about the life of a girl who had lived in the family’s home during the Dustbowl of the Great Depression. A final thread winds the story back further back to include young woman preparing the immigrate to America after WWI.

With intertwined voices, the story is told through prose, letters, and diaries–and the result is a lovely and timeless story about the nature of being human: the poignancy of leaving as well as the fear and excitement of an unknown future.

Five starred reviews for this one! Anderson has definitely arrived as one of the more nuanced and accomplished writers writing fiction for teens.

Anderson interweaves the stories of three tenacious young women in this sprawling saga…. Each character’s resilience and independence shines brightly, creating a thread that ties them together even before the intersections of their lives are fully revealed. Anderson’s piercing prose ensures that these remarkable women will leave a lasting mark on readers.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

’Deft, succinct, and ringing with emotion without ever dipping into sentimentality, Anderson’s novel is both intriguing and deeply satisfying.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“With quietly evocative writing, compellingly drawn characters, and captivating secrets to unearth, this thought-provoking, lyrical novel explores the importance of pinning down the past before launching into the mystery of the future.”
Booklist (starred review)

Anderson deftly tackles love, friendship, and grief in this touching exploration of resilience and hope. A must-have for all YA collections.”
School Library Journal (starred review)

“Anderson employ[s] a no-frills style that allows her characters to shine through, with each distinct, nuanced, and memorable.”
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books (starred review)

Midnight at the Electric (9780062393548) by Jodi Lyn Anderson. $17.99 hardcover. 6/13/17 on sale.

Fiction Short Take: The Wrong Dead Guy – Richard Kadrey

This is volume two in Kadrey’s new series and takes this acclaimed urban fantasist into Christopher Moore territory. In fact, Moore himself called the first volume, The Everything Box, “A rolling bouncy-house of a caper tale…quick-witted characters, snarky dialogue, and surreal analogies. If you haven’t sampled Richard Kadrey’s take on fantasy yet, this is a great place to start.”

“[I]nveterate thief Coop is a fast-talking criminal making his way through a supernatural substratum of society. Last time around, he saved the world and has now reluctantly been seconded to the Department of Peculiar Science….Coop’s boss, Woolrich, orders his team on a new mission: ‘A simple theft. A local museum has a mummy on display. We’d like to have it instead of them.’ What sounds like a simple heist quickly becomes mortal danger when they accidentally awaken Harkhuf, an evil mummy imbued with dark magic, which is totally the worst kind of magic, apparently….A goofy, flamboyant, and breathless horror adventure by one of the genre’s sharpest creators.”
Kirkus

“Cross Donald Westlake’s John Dortmunder with Lawrence Block’s Bernie Rhodenbarr, add a layer of supernatural shenanigans, and if you are as talented a writer as Richard Kadrey, you end up with Coop, thief protagonist of The Everything Box….Richard Kadrey is a master of paranormal suspense and relatable antiheroes with a strong dose of dark humor, and The Wrong Dead Guy is a delight from beginning to end. Highly recommended.”
— Carol Schneck Varner, Schuler Books & Music, Okemos, MI

The Wrong Dead Guy (9780062389572) by Richard Kadrey. $24.99 hardcover. 2/28/17 on sale.

New Young Adult Fiction: Of Fire and Stars – Audrey Coulthurst

I love it when booksellers alert me to the strong reads. Early in the season Steph Appell, the children’s book buyer at Parnassus, called to rave about this novel and asked to include it in the store’s YA signed first editions subscription series, Parnassus Next. She compares it to the epic fantasy of Tamora Pierce and Kristin Cashore. And no less that Mercedes Lackey praises it, saying “I devoured Of Fire and Stars in two sittings; it’s a delightful debut, full of all the things I like best in a fantasy story, including not one but two wonderful heroines.”

It’s a Winter Indie Next pick and arrives with strong advance reviews.

At the start of Coulthurst’s spectacular debut, seven-year-old Princess Dennaleia of Havemont discovers that she has a magical ‘Affinity’ for fire. Unfortunately, she is already betrothed to Prince Thandilimon of Mynaria, a kingdom where the practice of magic is considered heresy. ….But Dennaleia is faced with difficult choices about her future after something other than friendship unexpectedly develops between the two princesses. Dennaleia and Amaranthine’s narratives combine to create a powerful and exquisite love story that also provides incisive political commentary and cautions against zealotry, vengeance, and intolerance. The central mystery is intriguing, Coulthurst’s worldbuilding is excellent, and the book’s explosive conclusion both thrills and satisfies.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Lovely…a worthy debut that succeeds as both an adventure and a romance.”
Booklist

“Murder, mayhem, magic, romance-and horses…a romantic fantasy that will appeal to those who appreciate character-driven novels.”
Kirkus Reviews

 Of Fire and Stars is the most self-assured fantasy debut I’ve read since Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes. It simply hits all the right notes with perfect pitch. Fans of Tamora Pierce, Kristin Cashore, and Rae Carson will not want to miss it.”
— Stephanie Appell, Parnassus Books. Nashville, TN

Of Fire and Stars (9780062433251) by Audrey Coulthurst. $17.99 hardcover. 11/22/16 on sale.

New Fiction: The Everything Box – Richard Kadrey

Kadrey’s long-running Sandman Slim series has a devoted following that has, over time, put Kadrey on the bestseller lists, not to mention garnering one of my all-time favorite book endorsements:

“The best B movie I’ve read in at least twenty years. An addictively satisfying, deeply amusing, dirty-ass masterpiece…an LA noir spaghetti western grudge-war apocalypse, fought with magic, shotguns, occult artifacts, and (at one point) the broken wooden handle of a toilet plunger. Sweet.”
— William Gibson

For those of us with somewhat more delicate sensibilities, this time out Kadrey offers a gentler but no less inventive story–more Christopher Moore than Jim Butcher. In fact, Moore is a fan, saying, “A rolling bouncy-house of a caper tale, The Everything Box abounds with quick-witted characters, snarky dialogue, and surreal analogies.”

The plot? In 2000 B.C. and angel loses a small box that happens to be the engine of humanity’s destruction. In 2015, a thief delivers what he thinks is a simple, supernatural heirloom into the wrong hands. And the race to get hold of this doomsday box and save the world is on.

Advance reviews and bookseller praise suggest that Kadrey’s likely to expand his legion of fans with this one.

Coop is a thief whose immunity to magic lets him specialize in stealing magical objects – until he steals a box that could trigger the Apocalypse. Now fallen angels, supernatural law enforcement officials, rival doomsday cult leaders and just plain criminals all want the box, and expect Coop to get it for them. Can Coop keep himself and his friends alive – and will there still be a world left for them to live in if he does? Kadrey is a master of edgy humor, complex plotting, and nonstop action with a paranormal edge, and The Everything Box is an engagingly dark delight to read!
— Carol Schneck Varner, Schuler Books and Music. Okemos, MI

“Kadrey draws heavily on Gaiman and Pratchett’s classic novel, Good Omens, for inspiration, and in equal measure on Donald Westlake’s caper comedies. Kadrey’s plot doesn’t depend on magic; instead, magic is the broth bringing all manner of delicious ingredients together in this wonderful stew of a story. This unusual urban fantasy is a delight.”
Publishers Weekly

“A supernatural comic caper that reads like one of the late Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder novels sprinkled with some fairy dust.”
Kirkus

  “Thoroughly entertaining and hilarious… I was laughing all the way to the end. Speaking of the end, good endings are very important to me, and this one was particularly satisfying…I can easily recommend this to a casual fantasy reader, or someone looking for a good laugh.
–Kate Schreffler, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Lexington, KY

The Everything Box (9780062389541) by Richard Kadrey. $24.99 hardcover. 4/19/16 on sale.

New Fiction: Lovecraft Country – Matt Ruff

Oh, Matt Ruff! Booksellers who have hand sold his work know that potential customers go one of two ways: Those who politely say, “That’s different” and pick up something else—and those who say “Whaaaaat??!!” and become fans for life. Count me in the second category.

To get a sense of the kind of weird we’re dealing with here, consider some of his previous books:

  • Set This House in Order — A coming of age story from inside the head of a young man with multiple personality disorder who is living with over one hundred different people inside him.
  • Bad Monkeys — A paranoid psychological thriller about a world of deadly secret societies surrounding our everyday lives that reads like Nancy Drew on LSD.
  • The Mirage — An alternate history conspiracy novel that tells the story of a 9/11 where North American Christian fundamentalists hijack four Arabian jetliners and fly into the Tigris & Euphrates World Trade Towers. (Uh huh.)

This new novel will likewise expand your mind and set your sense of perspective on end. It takes place in 1950’s Jim Crow America and involves a travel guide published for African Americans that helped them find food and lodging in an often inhospitable U.S. This is a dark fantasy so at the heart of this novel are true Lovecraftian horrors—but it’s no accident that they are stirred in with the real-life terrors of life in the 1950’s for our African American heroes.

This timely rumination on racism in America refracts an African-American family’s brush….Ruff has an impressive grasp of classic horror themes, but the most unsettling aspects of his novel are the everyday experiences of bigotry that intensify the Turners’ encounters with the supernatural. Readers will appreciate the irony of how the Turners’ conditioning in enduring racial bias empowers them to master more macabre challenges.”
— Publishers Weekly

“Genuinely spooky… But the real horror is the reality of life for African-Americans in the Jim Crow era… sparks the imagination while also igniting the reader’s empathy.”
— Library Journal

“Another ‘only Matt Ruff could do this’ production. Lovecraft Country takes the unlikeliest of premises and spins it into a funny, fast, exciting and affecting read.”
— Neal Stephenson

“A brilliantly conceived story brilliantly executed. In Lovecraft Country, Matt Ruff renders a very high-concept, imaginary world with such vividness that you can’t help but feel it’s disturbingly real.”
— Christopher Moore

“Matt Ruff is one of our most imaginative living writers, and Lovecraft Country is simply amazing. It’s the story of two African-American families in the Jim Crow era, dealing with terrors both supernatural and man-made. Ruff is a master at creating clever, sympathetic underdog characters who triumph – mostly – over their enemies, and his sharp wit and brilliant world-building make his books delightful to read while leaving you with plenty of food for thought.”
— Carol Schneck Varner, Schuler Books and Music, Okemos, MI

 

New Fiction: Medusa’s Web – Tim Powers

Ah, Tim Powers…When I sell in his books I’ve learned to recite Powers’ literary bona fides before I start explaining the plots. So here we go: The Washington Post named Powers’ last book, Hide Me Among the Graves, one of the 50 Notable Works of Fiction for 2012. Three Days to Never was a NYTBR “Editor’s Choice,” and was included on the San Francisco Chronicle’s “Best SF/F Books” list. He has won the Philip K. Dick Memorial Award twice, and the World Fantasy Award three times.

So does write genre books or literary novels? Yes.

The books are weird, eerie exercises in speculative fiction that handily bridge literary and genre writing. PW started its review of this new novel by observing that “A new Tim Powers novel is always cause for excitement” before laying out where he’s taking us: “His latest is a twisted journey through time travel, possession, old Hollywood, addiction, and familial violence…”

I’m going to let PW’s reviewer Catherynne M. Valente outline the plot because every time I try I disappear down a maze of outlandish, absorbing detail. Expect review attention.

Medusa’s Web is a book of mirrors and doubles, falling somewhere between a Tennessee Williams play and a Nancy Drew mystery. It centers on two sets of siblings—the forlorn orphans Scott and Madeline and their cousins Ariel, a recovering addict, and Claimayne, a cruel recluse. All four were raised together in a sprawling, crumbling mansion called Caveat in the Hollywood Hills, and all of them share a family secret, a set of arcane drawings known as spiders that, with a single glance, allow one to travel back and forth in time between the present day and the golden age of Hollywood. The time travel is more of an exchange program: the traveler inhabits the bodies of men and women of the 1920s and ’30s, while their spirits are transported into the body of the traveler. Such journeys have become a passionate, secretive cult within the elite of Los Angeles over the decades and destroyed many lives, as the pleasures of possession prove irresistible but bad for a person’s health. When Claimayne and Ariel’s mother dies under extremely dramatic circumstances, the prodigals all return to the roost to uncover her mysterious past and face their own profound attraction to the spiders….
Publishers Weekly

“[A]n atmospheric and complex supernatural thriller, with an old-time Hollywood frame, and it steadily builds to a frenetic climax.”
Booklist

“This novel is as weird as anything Powers has written, but he maintains his usual skillful way of making even the most surreal twists compulsively readable. The vestiges of Old Hollywood have their hooks deep in the story, which moves back and forth in time through the visions of the spider users
— Library Journal

 Medusa’s Web (9780062262455) by Tim Powers. $26.99 hardcover. 1/19/16 on sale.