Something wicked this way comes

A Great and Terrible BeautyAfter the death of her mother, Gemma Doyle, who has spent her childhood in India under the British Raj, is sent to England to attend Spence Academy for Young Ladies. Grieving and unfamiliar with social customs, she has difficulty fitting in, and all the while she struggles with the strange visions she’s experiencing, visions that will lead her to a place of magic and mystery known as the Realms.

I first picked up A Great and Terrible Beauty in high school, and was immediately drawn into the creepy, atmospheric world Libba Bray has created. Gemma’s arrival in England from India, and her shock at the wet, dreary climate, forms the perfect backdrop to the otherworldliness she encounters at Spence. Life at Spence – rigid, dreich, and clique-y – is utterly different from her life in India, characterised by hot weather, hot food, and the warmth of her family’s love.

It is through the Realms that Gemma begins to find her place at Spence, forming friendships with other girls and feeling empowered by her secret. The uptight, cloistered world of upper-class Victorian womanhood is contrasted with the freedom and power women have in the Realms. In the Realms, it is women who have held the power for generations, and Gemma and her friends’ ability to take control of the magic in the Realms highlights their utter lack of agency in the mortal world. Gemma’s friend Ann, in particular, is poor and plain and feels utterly powerless in England, and her character arc as a whole is a rather scathing indictment of the objectification of women and emphasis placed on physical beauty.

Rebel AngelsOne of the things I love about Libba Bray’s historical fiction is that she never falls into the trap of confusing ‘historical’ with ‘all white, male and heterosexual’. While her cast is primarily white, it’s also primarily female, and its most significant male character is an Indian boy, who is a fully-realised character in his own right, but also the primary love interest for Gemma, in spite of what society tells her is ‘right’. Likewise, it’s revealed near the end of the third book (though to modern readers it’s obvious earlier on) that one of the main characters is a lesbian, who, unbeknowest to Gemma, struggles with the messages Victorian society sends her about her sexuality. Bray manages to make these characters’ feelings and behaviour seems completely natural within the framework in which they’ve grown up, but to also make their struggles resonate with modern readers.

Of course, these books aren’t just about things like gender and class and race and sexuality. They’re first and foremost fantastical horror novels, and they do a magnificent job of it. Bray has a talent for slow-burn suspense, and even on my third re-read I’ve forgotten enough that I found myself on the edge of my seat, racking my brain to remember what was being foreshadowed, because I knew it was something bad but couldn’t remember what. And the second book features a trio of ghostly girls who appear to Gemma in visions, and I swear, the description of the toes of their boots scraping on the wooden floor made me positively shudder.

The Sweet Far ThingsIf a Victorian horror series with progressive leanings sounds like your kind of thing, the Gemma Doyle trilogy is right up your alley. But don’t let the covers fool you – these aren’t light romances, as my coworker assumed.

Nicola is always up for a Victorian fantasy, and the dreich weather in Edinburgh lately makes for the perfect excuse to read more.


Two Series Collide

We recommend a l3682ot of new books here, but I’d like to recommend an older series today that I love: The Gemma Doyle Trilogy (A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels and The Sweet Far Thing). TGDT takes place over a single year in Victorian England and I would classify it as “historical fantasy.” The series follows its main characters, Gemma Doyle, Felicity Worthington, Pippa Cross and Ann Bradshaw down a wild rabbit hole into “the realms” of dreams and nightmares. The series is worth a read on its own, but I have an ulterior motive for recommending it today.

You may remember that I’ve recommended Libba Bray’s work in The Diviners series before. The Diviners takes place in the 1920s and focuses on a group of supernaturally gifted young people known as “Diviners.” Bray’s attention to detail is fastidious and as the mystery unfolds in Lair of Dreams, a character from the past reappears, if only for a brief moment.

The character is almost certainly, Gemma Doyle and she is overheard discussing her friend Felicity. The moment has no impact on the plot of Lair of Dreams, but it’s hard to dismiss it as insignificant.  In mentioning Gemma and Felicity, a whole new aspect of worldbuilding is suggested that may have an impact on the world of The Diviners. And that’s a good thing, because the world of The Gemma Doyle Trilogy is every bit as compelling, creepy and fantastic as Bray’s newer series.

Reading back now, a cohesive fantasy world between the two series is brilliant and makes tons of sense. A Great and Terrible Beauty (the first book in TGDT), starts in India, where Gemma’s mother dies in the first chapters of the book. Gemma is almost immediately shipped back to England to attend boarding school at her mother’s alma mater, Spence Academy. Once there, she is met with a rather chilly reception. The girls at the academy have a well established social hierarchy with years of history behind them and aren’t friendly to newcomers.  

Eventually, Gemma forces her way into the confidences of the most popular girls in school, Pippa and Felicity. Their relationship grows, based on secrets and manipulations, and they grudgingly include Gemma’s roommate Ann in their circle. Amidst this social maneuvering, Gemma is plagued by dreams and visions, which eventually lead her to a secret cave, where she finds a diary that leads all four girls into a fantastical other world, where dreams and nightmares alike can come true.

All the while, Gemma is being followed by a mysterious young Indian man, who seems to want to warn her of danger. As the story grows and Gemma’s mother’s secrets are slowly revealed, it becomes apparent that the other world the girls have stumbled upon is as dangerous as it is beautiful. Furthermore, everything that happens there is very real and the consequences will carry into the real world.

Like The Diviners, TGDT is meticulously detailed in terms of historical detail. Bray is an excellent researcher and is able to seamlessly merge historical accuracy with fantastic worldbuilding. TGDT has the same gothic otherworldliness as The Diviners. It’s not quite horror, but Bray doesn’t shy away from the terrifying aspects of her fantasy world.

I have no idea if the events of TGDT will have any bearing on The Diviners series. It would be interesting to see the characters from TGDT as adults, but merging the two series might be a bit complicated for Bray’s already complex ensemble narrative.  Even if that brief moment in Lair of Dreams is only a nod to the fact that the two series exist in the same worldbuilding framework, I think it’s worth it to read TGDT while you wait for the next installment of The Diviners.

Anyone who enjoys historical fantasy, with a gothic twist will enjoy The Gemma Doyle Trilogy and The Diviners alike. If you’ve never read either series, I think you’re in for a treat. If I may make a suggestion, don’t read before bed, unless you want to find Bray’s world in your nightmares.  

Allison Carr Waechter is ready for spring. Aren’t you?


The Diviners: An Audiobook Recommendation

7728889I’m not typically a huge audiobook fan. However, I’ve been getting into podcasts more lately, so I decided to give audiobooks from the library another shot. I checked out Libba Bray’s The Diviners, read by January LaVoy and I absolutely think it was better than reading the actual book to myself.

First of all, January LaVoy is one of those narrators who can do male and female voices with no trouble at all. She can do accents and inflections that sound completely natural, which in a book whose genre falls pretty squarely in the “horror” scene is pretty amazing. Horror can be hard to play off, especially in a story with an ensemble cast and one third person narrator, and LaVoy’s work is flawless.

So, that being said, even without LaVoy as a narrator, I’d recommend The Diviners to you if you wanted to read the regular old book. First off, nobody does creepy period work quite like Libba Bray. I read the Gemma Doyle Trilogy in college and it gave me weird dreams for weeks. The Diviners is no different in terms of Bray’s talent, it’s just set in 1920s New York City, rather than a Victorian boarding school for young women:

Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City—and she is pos-i-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult. Evie worries he’ll discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer. As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho hides a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened. (summary from Goodreads)

The story itself is great. Bray has done her research and LaVoy’s narration of the audiobook paint a gorgeous picture of 1920s NYC. I appreciate that Bray has included a somewhat more diverse cast in this first book and I’m interested to see what happens as the story develops. It’s sometimes hard in the first book in a series of books with an ensemble cast to get a good read on all of the main characters, but I feel like Bray does a nice job giving us enough to get to know all the characters enough to stay interested.

However, it is nearing Halloween and I’ve mostly been focusing on spooky reads this month, so I should tell you that one of the main reasons I wanted to recommend this book is that it is so, so scary. Bray chose to follow the killer through the murders in the book, so we don’t just get the “Scooby gang” perspective. I’m going to go ahead and little an itsy-spoiler(ish) slip and tell you that you’re going to be so sad when each victim dies. Bray is in it to break your heart.

There’s no gore or jump scares, it’s a slow burn of creepy mystery that will keep you thinking, but probably won’t have you starting awake with nightmares. I don’t have a high threshold for scariness, so if you’re accustomed to Stephen King-level horror, you probably won’t find this very scary. I thought it was pretty scary though, so if you’re into medium-level scary books this will probably work for you. 

One of the things I found most attractive about the book, other than its scare-factor, was that its main character, Evie is a really human person. She likable and unlikable at turns. She does stuff that she shouldn’t, but she does stuff she should too. And most of all, she’s fairly self aware. She seems to know that she can be selfish and off-putting, but like most young people, isn’t quite sure how to work things out. I love that Evie knows her way around an apology and while she definitely steps in it from time to time, she has a good heart. 

If you’ve got time for one more scary read this month, see if you can hunt down The Diviners on audiobook at your library. You can listen while you do the dishes or take a dog for a walk. Spice up chore time! Lucky you, the next book in the series, Lair of Dreams is already out, so no waiting for your sequel.

Allison Carr Waechter hears little whispers behind her back as the veil grows thinner. Don’t look behind her. No, I said don’t, you fool! Don’t tell her what you saw, she knows all too well what lurks in the shadows.

Summer Favorites: July/August Releases

A couple of months ago I shared with you my summer and fall TBR lists (May/June, July/August, September, and October), as well as my favorite January – June releases. Since it’s mid-summer, here’s a roundup of my favorite July and August releases (of what I’ve read so far).


21569527The Heart of Betrayal (The Remnant Chronicles #2), by Mary E. Pearson: If you haven’t read the first book in this trilogy, The Kiss of Deception, do so ASAP and you’ll likely be devouring The Heart of Betrayal just a few days later. This series is addictive, and this second book in the trilogy did not suffer from a sophomore slump and is equally good, if not better, than the first book. (Stay tuned for a discussion post about this series in the near future.)

16060716Lair of Dreams (The Diviners #2), by Libba Bray: I’m currently reading this sequel to The Diviners, which I loved. After Evie’s frightening showdown with the serial killer that took place in The Diviners, she’s become a celebrity Diviner. The world now knows her special talent: she can “read” objects and discern people’s pasts (and their secrets). But despite fame and fortune, her troubles aren’t over. Another serial killer is causing a deadly sleeping sickness, whom the Diviners must catch in the dreamworld.

23346358The Accident Season, by Moira Fowley-Doyle: If you liked Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap and Nova Ren Suma’s The Walls Around Us, I think you’ll enjoy The Accident Season. It is literary horror at its best: magical realism and eloquent, imaginative prose amplify the horror narratives and play to our most primal fears. Seventeen-year-old Cara’s family is cursed. Every October (The Accident Season), Cara, her mother, her sister Alice, and her step-brother Sam find that no matter how many precautions they take, “[b]ones break, skin tears, bruises bloom,” and sometimes family members (her father and uncle) die. Bone Gap and The Accident Season do not have similar plots, but, like Finn in Bone Gap, Cara grapples with confusing romance, violence, dark secrets, and uncertainty about what is real versus imagined. And, like The Walls Around Us, The Accident Season is a ghost story. Cara is haunted by a missing classmate only she remembers, who keeps showing up in her family photos. The Accident Season isn’t classic-horror scary, but its lyrical prose and original, creepy narrative will haunt you for a long time to come. (Read my full recommendation here.)

19364719Slasher Girls & Monster Boys, edited by April Genevieve Tucholke: I loved this anthology of scary stories by many of my favorite YA authors (Nova Ren Suma, Leigh Bardugo, Marie Lu, and more). This collection pays homage to classic horror films and literature, urban legends, fairy tales, and myths; yet these stories are original and disturbing in their own right. (Read my full recommendation here.)

18068907Court of Fives
 (Court of Fives #1), by Kate Elliot: What I like most about this epic fantasy adventure–pitched as “Game of Thrones meets The Hunger Games meets Little Women” —is its strong heroine. She fights for freedom and justice in a very classist, racist, and sexist society that resembles Ancient Greece and Ancient Egypt. As the daughters of a Patron father and a Commoner mother who are forbidden from marrying, Jes and her three sisters struggle to fit in with the Imperial Patrons. Jes, especially, doesn’t want to obey the rules and she secretly trains for an elite athletic competition, The Fives. When her family is torn asunder, winning fame and fortune through The Fives becomes of the utmost importance….Even if she is falling in love with a competitor?

23569428Legacy of Kings (Blood of Gods and Royals #1), by Eleanor Herman: This historical fantasy, the first in a planned trilogy, reimagines the early years of the reign of Alexander the Great through multiple POV characters. From Goodreads: Alexander, Macedonia’s sixteen-year-old heir, is on the brink of discovering his fated role in conquering the known world but finds himself drawn to newcomer Katerina, who must navigate the dark secrets of court life while hiding her own mission: kill the Queen. But Kat’s first love, Jacob, will go to unthinkable lengths to win her, even if it means competing for her heart with Hephaestion, a murderer sheltered by the prince. And far across the sea, Zofia, a Persian princess and Alexander’s unmet fiancée, wants to alter her destiny by seeking the famed and deadly Spirit Eaters. 

Alyssa Raymond thanks Edelweiss, NetGalley, the publishers, and the Boulder Book Store for providing her with digital review copies of these books for review purposes only, and her opinions are her own.

The Slump

Wise words from Dr. Seuss.

Wise words from Dr. Seuss.

I am in a horrible reading slump. All voracious readers experience this from time to time. Life gets busy, work gets hard and all of a sudden reading time turns into binge watching Pretty Little Liars on Netflix. When you (by which I obviously mean me) are in a reading slump everything in the to be read pile seems wrong and there’s nothing you want to check out from the library. You start salivating over books that haven’t even been published yet, knowing full well in your heart that there are literally millions of perfectly good already-published books out there, many of which you already own because you cannot resist used book stores.

Is this ringing true with anyone around here? Of course it is. The internet is full of memes that express what happens when the bookish experience a slump. Lots of whining around, like the entirety of this post so far, is what it amounts to. Fear not, I plan to stop soon, because what a lifetime of being a reader has taught me is that there’s only one tried-and-true way to get over a reading slump:

Read your faves again.

It just so happens that I have been in a reading slump as of late (could you tell?) which fortuitously corresponds with Nicole Brinkley’s suggestion on Twitter that we re-read some favorites in June. Full disclosure: I having been in such a slump that I haven’t actually done this yet, but I pulled out a pile today and here’s my picks for #junerereads that might help jump start my passion for reading again:

Books that might inspire me to write (because as luck would have it I also have writer’s block):

Harry Potter (1-7), by J.K. Rowling. Look, you all know everything there is to know about Harry Potter, so I’m not even going to say anything here, other than that I haven’t reread any of these books for years. I’m really interested in them from a craft perspective as I head into the second half of my WIP.

A Great and Terrible Beauty, by Libba Bray. These books are so strange and completely creepy. It’s been a long time since I revisited Gemma Doyle and her friends at Spence Academy. Again, from a craft perspective, these books are incredibly captivating and the spooky factor is something worth looking at again.

A Victorian boarding school story, a Gothic mansion mystery, a gossipy romp about a clique of girlfriends, and a dark other-worldly fantasy—jumble them all together and you have this complicated and unusual first novel.

Books I love to revisit time and again:

Wise Child and Juniper, by Monica Furlong. These are some of my absolute favorite books of all time. They’re a perfect example of historical fantasy. I have probably read them both dozens of times each. I didn’t even know that Furlong wrote a third book, Colman, but I picked it up at the used book store a few months ago, so maybe re-reading Wise Child and Juniper might help me get out of the slump.

In a remote Scottish village, nine-year-old Wise Child is taken in by Juniper, a healer and sorceress. Then Wise Child’s mother, Maeve, a black witch, reappears. In choosing between Maeve and Juniper, Wise Child discovers the extent of her supernatural powers—and her true loyalties.

The Darkangel Trilogy, by Meredith Ann Pierce. I try to write a post about this series every few months because I love it so much and everyone I recommend it to ends up loving it as well, but my words always fall flat. Maybe if I re-read them I’ll finally write that post!

Aeriel is kidnapped by the darkangel, a black-winged vampyre of astounding beauty and youth. In his castle keep, she serves his 13 wives, wraiths whose souls he stole. She must kill him before his next marriage and comes into full power, but is captivated by his magnificent beauty and inner spark of goodness. Will she choose to save humanity or his soul?

The Dragonriders of Pern, by Anne McCaffrey. Seriously, have you read any Pern books? They’re incredibly re-readable. Dragons, time travel, a mix of sci-fi and fantasy. Pern books are comforting classics and it might feel great to revisit them.

Join Lessa, sole remnant of a noble house, as she comes of age and dares to reclaim her birthright–and battles to save Pern from the deadly silver threadfall that threatens devastation of the planet

Books I’d like to recommend:

There are some books I read and enjoyed before we started Coven Book Club that I probably would have recommended at the time. I like to write my recommendations right after I read something (or reread it as the case may be), so I’d like to revisit these books to consider writing recommendations:

The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield. Everybody I know who’s read this book loves it, but I find that not everyone’s heard of it.

Biographer Margaret Lea returns one night to her apartment above her father’s antiquarian bookshop. On her steps she finds a letter. It is a hand-written request from one of Britain’s most prolific and well-loved novelists. Vida Winter, gravely ill, wants to recount her life story before it is too late, and she wants Margaret to be the one to capture her history.

The Tiger’s Wife, by Tea Obreht. We’ve talked over doing this for a Coven Read a few times and it’s been a while since I read it, but I was blown away by it the first time I read it.

In a Balkan country mending from years of conflict, Natalia, a young doctor, arrives on a mission of mercy at an orphanage by the sea. By the time she and her lifelong friend Zóra begin to inoculate the children there, she feels age-old superstitions and secrets gathering everywhere around her. Secrets her outwardly cheerful hosts have chosen not to tell her. Secrets involving the strange family digging for something in the surrounding vineyards. Secrets hidden in the landscape itself.

Practical Magic, by Alice Hoffman. I love this book, and I’ve read it a few times, but I know that I’d like to write a recommendation for it soon, as well as hosting a live tweet of the film (which is nothing like the book).

When the beautiful and precocious sisters Sally and Gillian Owens are orphaned at a young age, they are taken to a small Massachusetts town to be raised by their eccentric aunts, who happen to dwell in the darkest, eeriest house in town. As they become more aware of their aunts’ mysterious and sometimes frightening powers — and as their own powers begin to surface — the sisters grow determined to escape their strange upbringing by blending into “normal” society.

Wish me luck, all. A reading slump is no joke, but hopefully with my pile of #junerereads I’ll be back on track before I know it. What books are your favorite rereads? Or does anybody have any other ideas about how I might get out of this slump?