Stress Reading: Susanna Kearsley

I’ve had a stressful summer. I taught an extra summer course and it didn’t leave me a lot of time to prepare for Fall. When work is really stressful, I need my TV and reading time to be entertaining and engaging, but not overly stressful (The Fall, I’m looking at you — so good, but so stressful to watch!). Those of you not prone to anxiety might not know what I’m talking about, those of you who are are nodding your heads right now.

Sometimes I’ll just re-read old favorites during times like these, but I think it’s good to have a good go-to author who writes prolifically and on whom you can depend to have written something you’ll enjoy. For me, this usually means romance novels. Victoria Holt is my go-to when I’m in the mood for straight up historical romance, but Susanna Kearsley has been one of my favorites in recent years because she tends to write modern romance with a historical and paranormal twist.

So far, my favorite of Kearsley’s books have been in the Slains series. Each of the three I’m mentioning below is related, but not in a linear series of events. There is some overlap with characters and shared setting, but mostly they stand alone (which I really like).

10074752The Winter Sea

In the spring of 1708, an invading Jacobite fleet of French and Scottish soldiers nearly succeeded in landing the exiled James Stewart in Scotland to reclaim his crown. Now, Carrie McClelland hopes to turn that story into her next bestselling novel. Settling herself in the shadow of Slains Castle, she creates a heroine named for one of her own ancestors and starts to write.

But when she discovers her novel is more fact than fiction, Carrie wonders if she might be dealing with ancestral memory, making her the only living person who knows the truth-the ultimate betrayal-that happened all those years ago, and that knowledge comes very close to destroying her

This was the first of Kearsley’s books that I ever read. It was recommended to me after I read The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, by Katherine Howe and I understand why. It has the same “time slip” quality, but I found The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane a great deal less cozy than The Winter Sea, which for me is one of the top qualities I look for in my stress-free reading.

15942636The Firebird

Nicola Marter was born with a gift. When she touches an object, she sometimes glimpses those who have owned it before. When a woman arrives with a small wooden carving at the gallery Nicola works at, she can see the object’s history and knows that it was named after the Firebird—the mythical creature from an old Russian fable.

Compelled to know more, Nicola follows a young girl named Anna into the past who leads her on a quest through the glittering backdrops of the Jacobites and Russian courts, unearthing a tale of love, courage, and redemption.

Though this is billed as “Slains #2” it’s the odd one out of the three for me. It’s good, don’t get me wrong! I just found the tone to be slightly different than that of The Winter Sea or The Shadowy Horses, which likely has to do with the Russian influences that aren’t present in the other two. It is similar to The Winter Sea in structure though, as it shifts between Nicola (in the present) and Anna (in the past). Kearsley is great at working the time slip angle, so this is effective.

15715406The Shadowy Horses

Verity Grey abandons her comfortable job at the British Museum to seek adventure on an archaeological dig in the wilds of Scotland. But when she arrives on site, she discovers that the excavation is being led by a discredited and eccentric old man who has forsaken scientific evidence. Instead, the entire team is following the word of a local boy who claims that he saw a ghostly Roman soldier in the fields.

As she becomes entangled in a subtle web of treachery and danger, Verity begins to believe that there is a Roman sentinel haunting the site. And he’s there to do more than guard the bodies of his fallen comrades.

This is probably my favorite of the three. Instead of the time slip concept, this is more of a ghost story with some psychic influences. I enjoy stories about archaeology though, so that might be the source of my preference. It’s also closely related to The Winter Sea in that it shares some of the more prominent side characters.

Each book is a nice length and pace and has a mystery to solve, but the danger isn’t intense or threatening, so much as entertaining. I found the characters in each to be likable and attractive, which I enjoy in a romance novel. As for the romance, there are some steamy moments, but these are definitely books that lean more towards emotional romance than sexy scene after scene.

The bottom line is that there are times I like to read a book I know will end well. I want to know that in a couple hundred pages, everything is going to be okay and that all loose ends will be tied. Is this real life? No, but I think we all need to know where to go for a great escape.

Allison Carr Waechter is starting up her collection of witchy reads for October. If you’ve got something you think she should add to the list, holler



September Favorites: This Monstrous Thing, The Weight of Feathers, and Everything, Everything

Yay! It’s time to recommend fall books! Here are a few of my favorite September releases in YA:

22811807Mackenzi Lee’s This Monstrous Thing is an alternative historical fantasy set in 1818, Geneva, that brilliantly reimagines Frankenstein with a steampunk twist. Alasdair Finch is a Shadow Boy, an illegal mechanic who supplies humans with clockwork parts. Two years ago, he secretly brought his brother back from the dead, but Oliver is more monster than man.

To make matters worse, Frankenstein has just been published anonymously and many people believe it is about a real-life doctor and his monster. As prejudice towards the Shadow Boys and clockwork people grows, Alasdair suspects that Frankenstein is about himself. Who exposed his secret? Oliver, Dr. Geisler, or the girl who helped revive Oliver but broke Alasdair’s heart…Mary Shelley?

20734002I can see why Anna-Marie McLemore’s The Weight of Feathers is being called “Night Circus meets Romeo and Juliet,” but don’t let such comparisons fool you into thinking it’s a copycat. This star-crossed romance between the daughter and son of two rival families of traveling performers (white-scaled “mermaids” vs. black-feathered tree-walkers) is inventive, magical, poetic, and multicultural (interweaving Spanish and French phrases).

When Lace Paloma and Cluck Corbeau meet, they don’t know they are enemies (since her white scales and his black feathers are hidden). She saves him from being beaten by her cousins; he rescues her from a chemical disaster. After Lace realizes she’s been touched by a Corbeau, whose “black magic” cursed her (accidentally binding her to him), her family casts her out. Hoping for a cure to the curse, she works for the Corbeaus (who don’t know her true identity). As she and Cluck become friends, then lovers, they uncover family secrets that challenge everything they’ve been led to believe. Will their love withstand all that’s against them? I highly recommend The Weight of Feathers for fans of The Accident SeasonBone Gap, The Walls Around Us, and The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly.


I effortlessly fell in love with Nicola Yoon’s Everything, Everything for many of the same reasons that I adore All the Bright Places, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Because You’ll Never Meet Me, and Eleanor & Park.

Told through diary entries, instant messages, emails, vignettes, charts, illustrations, and more, Yoon’s debut is an imaginative, heartwarming love story about a girl and a boy whose relationship is doomed from the beginning, but that doesn’t stop them from being romantic, funny, hopeful, and adventurous. Maddie, a biracial seventeen-year-old, is allergic to the outside world and never leaves her house. The only people she’s allowed to see are her mom and her nurse. But then, Olly moves in next door…and they might just risk everything to be together.

Alyssa recommends new and upcoming releases in mostly young adult fiction at Coven Book Club and its sister site Spellbinding Books. She thanks Edelweiss, 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. Please chat with her on Twitter about books! What are you looking forward to reading this fall? What are your favorite September releases?

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Love Thy Enemy? The Wrath and the Dawn, by Renee Ahdieh (Spring YA)

If you’ve read my other book recommendations, you probably know that I really enjoy YA fantasy, including folktale re-imaginings. Some examples: Monstrous, The Lunar ChroniclesRed Queen, An Ember in the Ashes, A Court of Thorns and Roses, and The Orphan Queen.

Today’s post is no exception. Renee Ahdieh‘s The Wrath and the Dawn (on the shelves 5/12) has all the elements of a great fantasy: magic, a tyrannical villain, a strong, yet conflicted, heroine, a thrilling and suspenseful plot, amazing world-building, power struggles, moral dilemmas, and complicated romance.

18798983It is also inspired by A Thousand and One Nights. Every evening eighteen-year-old Khalid, the ruler of Khorasan, takes a new bride whom he executes at dawn. After he kills her best friend, sixteen-year-old Shahrzad (Shazi) leaves the man she loves and volunteers to marry Khalid. She knows she probably won’t live past the first night, but she wants to stay alive long enough to take revenge. Fortunately, Shazi is clever, witty, and able to captivate Khalid with her storytelling–which saves her life.

But her mission becomes more complicated than staying alive. As days turn into weeks and Shazi gets to know Khalid better, she has trouble seeing him as a monster. She wonders why he’s been killing his wives at dawn. As she struggles to understand him, her beliefs and loyalties are tested, and she unwillingly falls for him. But what about her beloved boyfriend Tariq? And if she loves Khalid, can she still kill him?

Let’s talk about Shazi’s complicated romance. It’s difficult these days to write about star-crossed lovers in a fresh and compelling way. Many readers detest a love triangle and having “a heroine fall in love with her enemy” is cliched too. But like the other YA fantasy books I’ve recommended, The Wrath and the Dawn generally avoids  being stereotypical because Shazi is a tough heroine. Like Sarah J. Maas’s Celaena or Feyre, and Jodi Meadow’s Wil, she’s strong-willed, confident, bold, snarky, knows how to fight, and is willing to sacrifice her own life for what she believes is a greater good. I think it’s safe to say that if “love triangles” or “star-crossed lovers” haven’t bothered you in other popular YA fantasy, you’ll really enjoy this book!

Alyssa Raymond is a YA blogger for Coven Book Club and its sister site Spellbinding Books. She thanks Edelweiss and the publisher for providing her with an ARC of this book for review purposes; her opinions are her own. Please follow Spellbinding Books on Twitter and Tumblr. Thanks!