Book Review: Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett

Title: Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries
Author: Heather Fawcett
Publisher: Del Rey Books
Publication date: January 10, 2023
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A curmudgeonly professor journeys to a small town in the far north to study faerie folklore and discovers dark fae magic, friendship, and love, in this heartwarming and enchanting fantasy.

Cambridge professor Emily Wilde is good at many things: She is the foremost expert on the study of faeries. She is a genius scholar and a meticulous researcher who is writing the world’s first encyclopaedia of faerie lore. But Emily Wilde is not good at people. She could never make small talk at a party–or even get invited to one. And she prefers the company of her books, her dog, Shadow, and the Fair Folk to other people.

So when she arrives in the hardscrabble village of Hrafnsvik, Emily has no intention of befriending the gruff townsfolk. Nor does she care to spend time with another new arrival: her dashing and insufferably handsome academic rival Wendell Bambleby, who manages to charm the townsfolk, get in the middle of Emily’s research, and utterly confound and frustrate her.

But as Emily gets closer and closer to uncovering the secrets of the Hidden Ones–the most elusive of all faeries–lurking in the shadowy forest outside the town, she also finds herself on the trail of another mystery: Who is Wendell Bambleby, and what does he really want? To find the answer, she’ll have to unlock the greatest mystery of all–her own heart.

In this tale of professors and faeries, Emily Wilde is an introverted scholar who’d much rather be left to her own devices than be forced to (gasp!) chitchat with the locals at the tavern. Much to her dismay, this is exactly the situation she’s forced into when she travels to the land of Ljosland to study the Hidden Ones – the final type of fae she needs to document in order to finish her masterpiece, an exhaustive encyclopaedia of all types of faerie.

Emily’s antisocial tendencies initially cause offense among the locals, but when her colleague Wendell arrives to join (or take credit for?) her studies, he immediately charms everyone and smooths over Emily’s blunders. He’s gorgeous and charming and sets Emily’s teeth on edge, but he soon transforms their rented hovel into a cozy cottage and gets access to people’s help and their stories which had previously been denied her.

While Emily’s goal is to study, not interfere, she soon becomes aware of trouble in the little village. A couple lives in torment, and Emily soon realizes it’s because their true child has been replaced by a faerie changeling. What’s more, abductions of village youth by the fae are on the rise, and the villagers have given up hope of ever seeing their loved ones again. As potential romance blooms between Emily and Wendell, Emily decides to set things right with the village by seeking out and confronting the dangerous Faerie King — but her chances of walking away from the encounter are very doubtful.

Told through Emily’s journal, we read about her arrival in Hrafnsvik, the initial enmity of the villagers, her first contact with a helpful brownie, and the complications that stem from Wendell’s arrival. As time passes, she documents her research success and challenges, her interactions with the people of Hrafnsvik, and the irritation (and secret attraction) she feels for Wendell. We also see her document her risky forays into the faerie kingdom, as well as the dismay she feels as she becomes ensnared by enchantments and loses track of time… and perhaps loses track of herself as well.

Although the beginning is a bit slow, eventually Emily’s story picks up steam. Her actions are very determined and brave, even while taking foolhardy risks. Although Emily depicts Wendell in her journal with a great sense of annoyance, it’s easy to see through her irritation and to find Wendell just as charming and delightful as she secretly sees him.

I enjoyed the inventiveness of the story, the setting, and the characters very much. I did feel that the device of telling the story through Emily’s journal became a hindrance in the latter half of the story. There’s a lack of suspense in the storytelling — if Emily is writing the story of a dangerous escape in her journal, then we know right away that she DID escape… so while the details may be exciting, there’s no question about the outcome. (I also felt confused after the big climactic moment — because Emily’s description of the event ends after she leaves the scene, yet I wanted to know what happened next in the scene she left! Sorry, being deliberately vague to avoid spoilers…)

Overall, Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries is a captivating, entertaining read. I wished for a bit more in spots, but still enjoyed reading it. There’s a planned sequel, and since several plot points are left unresolved at the end of this book, I’ll be on the lookout for #2!

Book Review: Ms. Demeanor by Elinor Lipman

Title: Ms. Demeanor
Author: Elinor Lipman
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Publication date: January 10, 2023
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

From one of America’s most beloved contemporary novelists, a delicious and witty story about love under house arrest

Jane Morgan is a valued member of her law firm–or was, until a prudish neighbor, binoculars poised, observes her having sex on the roof of her NYC apartment building. Police are summoned, and a punishing judge sentences her to six months of home confinement. With Jane now jobless and rootless, trapped at home, life looks bleak. Yes, her twin sister provides support and advice, but mostly of the unwelcome kind. When a doorman lets slip that Jane isn’t the only resident wearing an ankle monitor, she strikes up a friendship with fellow white-collar felon Perry Salisbury. As she tries to adapt to life within her apartment walls, she discovers she hasn’t heard the end of that tattletale neighbor–whose past isn’t as decorous as her 9-1-1 snitching would suggest. Why are police knocking on Jane’s door again? Can her house arrest have a silver lining? Can two wrongs make a right?

It’s been years since I read an Eleanor Lipman novel, but when I stumbled across Ms. Demeanor at a book store and got a look at the cover, I just couldn’t resist.

In Ms. Demeanor, Jane Morgan owns a fabulous New York apartment in a posh building, has a successful law career, and a slightly overbearing but very loving twin sister. When Jane has a spontaneous hook-up with an associate from her firm late one night… on the roof of her building!! … her neatly ordered life comes crashing down. The two are arrested for public indecency after a neighbor calls the police. Instead of a slap-on-the-wrist fine (which her associate gets), she’s sentenced to six months of home confinement, along with an ankle monitor to make sure she doesn’t leave the premises.

She loses her job and has her license to practice law suspended, so ends up amusing herself by creating TikToks where she follows recipes from centuries-old cookbooks. (Boiled onions as a dish? Um, no thanks.) Jane is actually a good cook, though, and one thing leads to another — meaning that she meets the other ankle-monitor-wearing building resident and is pressured (by her twin Jackleen) into catering dinners for him three times a week.

Jane and Perry have an awkward business arrangement, which soon turns into more of a friendship. After all, if she’s bringing him meals and sticking around to take home the dishes, she might as well stay for a glass of wine, right? And maybe eat dinner with him too? And… more?

Meanwhile, the nosy neighbor from the penthouse across the street, who originally called 911 after seeing Jane’s midnight tryst through binoculars, ends up having more to her story than Jane originally thought. Soon enough, there’s a mysterious death, stuck-up Polish siblings with expired visas, and a love-starved endodontist to deal with. (I know, it sounds like a lot).

The tone of Ms. Demeanor is smart and flippant. Jane is very blunt about just about everything, can talk her way in or out of all sorts of questionable situations, and becames TikTok famous for her no-holds-barred life narratives that accompany her cooking videos.

The plot zips along with some truly ridiculous twists and turns. It’s all in good fun (but — warning — be careful not to injure yourself from too much eye-rolling).

It took me a bit to get into the writing style, which initially threw me off with some unusual phrasing choices, but I quickly got into the rhythm and started to appreciate Jane and Jackleen’s gift with banter.

I tried to suspend judging the characters too harshly — but it was hard at points not to scoff at the relative ease of home confinement in a luxury co-op. Obviously, this book is intended to be humorous, but I couldn’t help but think how dramatically different this story would be if the characters involved didn’t have quite as enormous an amount of privilege as Jane and Perry do.

Ms. Demeanor really can’t be taken too seriously. It’s fun and entertaining, and a very quick read. I’d recommend this as a nice break in between heavier reads.

Book Review: Episode Thirteen by Craig DiLouie

Title: Episode Thirteen
Author: Craig DiLouie
Publisher: Redhook
Publication date: January 24, 2023
Length: 467 pages
Genre: Horror
Source: Review copy via the publisher
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

A ghost-hunting reality TV crew gain unprecedented access to an abandoned and supposedly haunted mansion, which promises a groundbreaking thirteenth episode, but as they uncover the secret history of the house, they learn that “reality” TV might be all too real — in Bram Stoker Award nominated author Craig DiLouie’s latest heart pounding novel of horror and psychological suspense.

Fade to Black is the newest hit ghost hunting reality TV show. It’s led by husband and wife team Matt and Claire Kirklin and features a dedicated crew of ghost-hunting experts.

Episode Thirteen takes them to Matt’s holy grail: the Paranormal Research Foundation. This crumbling, derelict mansion holds secrets and clues about the bizarre experiments that took place there in the 1970s. It’s also, undoubtedly, haunted, and Matt hopes to use their scientific techniques and high tech gear to prove it. 

But, as the house begins to slowly reveal itself to them, proof of an afterlife might not be everything Matt dreamed of. 

A story told in broken pieces, in tapes, journals, correspondence, and research files, this is the story of Episode Thirteen — and how everything went horribly wrong.

This book was always going to be a must-read for me. I’ve read Craig DiLouie’s three most recent novels and loved them all (despite how disturbing they all are). Not only that — haunted house + found records + unexplained disappearances = just what I want in a scary book!

In Episode Thirteen, we follow the crew of Fade to Black, a ghost-hunting reality show with a twist that sets it apart. Each episode features examination of a supposed haunting, led by star and true believer Matt Kirklin — but with Matt’s wife Claire Kirklin, a scientist with a Ph.D. in physics, there to debunk every finding and offer explanations for every finding. It’s been a winning formula among fans, but of course the network honchos want bigger excitement and bigger ratings if the show is to get a second season.

As we learn from the outset, something goes terribly wrong during the filming of the show’s 13th episode. Matt and Claire, along with the tech team of Kevin and Jake, plus Jessica, an actress hired by the network to make the show more popularly appealing, investigate Foundation House in Virginia for this episode. Foundation House is infamous for the disappearance of a group of paranormal investigators in the 1970s, who mixed new age mumbo jumbo with startlingly cruel psychological experiments and plenty of hallucinogenic drugs. No answer has ever been found about this group’s fate.

In Episode Thirteen, Matt hopes to capture evidence of the supposed haunting rumored to have taken place in the house — but the crew gets much, much more. As they spend more time in the house, strange events build upon each other, promising a television episode unlike anything ever before seen… but only if they themselves survive.

Told through the crews’ journals, text messages, transcripts of video footage, and other documentation, we follow the events as they unfold. The journals especially give us insight into each character’s inner doubts and fears, what they believe, and what they want. As the book progresses, we see them all become sucked into the paranormal events they’re there to investigate, risking more and more not just for the sake of a TV show, but to pursue the inescapable obsession to find the truth that builds within each characters.

There’s a fascinating creepiness to the way the story unfolds. We learn about events through the various written records, rather than by reading a straight-forward narrative. At first, I found this somewhat distancing — but as the book progresses, the inclusion of the crew’s journals provides the deeper characters insights that might otherwise be missing. In fact, it ends up being a clever device for having an omniscient viewpoint. At various times throughout the book, we’re privy to each character’s private thoughts and doubts, and this greatly expands our understanding of why they act as they do.

Of course, as in any haunted house book, inside I was screaming at the characters as they made one dangerous or foolhardy decision after another. No, don’t go down into the dark well! No, don’t enter the scary tunnel! WHY WOULD YOU DO THESE THINGS? But, this is where obsession comes into play. These characters aren’t stupid. They understand that it would be safer to walk away, but their need to know overrides all elements of caution or common sense.

One of the plot elements that I considered a plot hole throughout the latter half of the book (I won’t say what, because it’s pretty spoilery) gets very neatly resolved right at the end, and it made me appreciate the author’s cleverness all over again.

This is not a good book to read late at night! I wasn’t scared exactly, but the building sense of dread and disaster meant that I couldn’t put the book down — and since my routine is to read in bed before falling asleep, I found myself reluctantly stopping once I realized how late it was, only to be absolutely wide awake and fully alert.

Craig DiLouie writes disturbing, strange books that stay with the reader long after finishing the final pages. Episode Thirteen is no exception. Fascinating even when the sense of nearby doom is nearly overwhelming, and what an ending!! Definitely check it out… but maybe check your fear of darkness and closed spaces before you enter.

Book Review: Lost in the Moment and Found (Wayward Children, #8) by Seanan McGuire

Title: Lost in the Moment and Found
Series: Wayward Children, #8
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: January 10, 2023
Length: 160 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

A young girl discovers an infinite variety of worlds in this standalone tale in the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning Wayward Children series from Seanan McGuire, Lost in the Moment and Found.

Welcome to the Shop Where the Lost Things Go.

If you ever lost a sock, you’ll find it here.
If you ever wondered about favorite toy from childhood… it’s probably sitting on a shelf in the back.
And the headphones that you swore that this time you’d keep safe? You guessed it….

Antoinette has lost her father. Metaphorically. He’s not in the shop, and she’ll never see him again. But when Antsy finds herself lost (literally, this time), she finds that however many doors open for her, leaving the Shop for good might not be as simple as it sounds.

And stepping through those doors exacts a price.

Lost in the Moment and Found tells us that childhood and innocence, once lost, can never be found.

You might wonder whether, by the 8th book in a series, an author might run out of fresh stories to tell.

If the author is Seanan McGuire, then the answer is — not a chance! In Lost in the Moment and Found, she puts a fresh spin on the ongoing Wayward Children series, once again moving the focus to a completely new character in a completely new circumstance.

While all the Wayward Children books feature children who’ve had lousy childhoods in one way or another, the circumstances here are particularly awful — enough so that the author includes a note prior to the opening of the story:

While all the Wayward Children books have dealt with heavy themes and childhood traumas, this one addresses an all-too-familiar monster: the one that lives in your own home. Themes of grooming and adult gaslighting are present in the early text. As a survivor of something very similar, I would not want to be surprised by these elements where I didn’t expect them.

I just want to offer you this reassurance: Antsy runs. Before anything can actually happen, Antsy runs.

I have to say, I very much appreciated the warning. While the sense of dread builds in the early part of the book, at least I could proceed without fearing the absolute worst. And as the author promises, the main character, Antsy, does in fact run. When her fear and sense of isolation and lack of support gets to the point that she can no longer stand it, she finds a way out and escapes.

… as she got older, she would come to think that the ability to cry was the third thing she’d lost in a single day.

Antsy, at age six, a year after a terrible loss, gains a stepfather whom she never wanted, but she hopes her mother’s happiness will allow her to feel happy too. It doesn’t work that way. Her sense of wrongness and unease whenever she’s around her stepfather only continues to grow. He’s insidious, undermining Antsy in small ways through lies and contradictions, so that Antsy knows that if she goes to her mother with her big worries, she won’t be believed. It’s utterly heartbreaking.

When Antsy finally does reach her breaking point and runs away, she ends up at a strange little thrift shop that she never noticed before, with the words “Be Sure” written over the door frame. Once inside, the door she entered through disappears, and Antsy finds herself in a new home with an odd elderly woman and a talking magpie as companions.

As she stays in this store, she discovers new doors leading to new worlds, where she meets all sorts of strange and fascinating people and brings back more goods for the infinite shelves of the store she lives in. And for a long time, she forgets that there’s anything else out there and doesn’t think to question certain very odd occurrences…

Eventually, Antsy realizes that there’s a steep price to be paid for all the miraculous new worlds she visits — and that she may run out of options sooner than expected. The ending is moving and fitting, very sad, but with a small sliver of hope too.

Yes, I’m being vague!

As in all the Wayward Children books, the writing is simply gorgeous. These stories are never just straight-forward action — there’s a sense of mythic scope embedded in the descriptions of sad, lost children, and loss permeates so much of the storytelling.

The toll of childhood trauma becomes literal here: Antsy’s loss of safety and innocence leads to her new reality in the strange world of endless doors and lost things:

She should have had a childhood, ice cream and matinees and sunshine and cookies, not working in a dusty shop while she grew up faster than she should have been able to, rocketing toward adulthood, spending hours she’d never be able to recover! She should have had time. It was hers, and she had never agreed to give it away.

Antsy’s story is particularly tragic — obviously, no small child should ever have to doubt whether the one person they count on will actually believe them when they speak up. We can cheer Antsy on as she saves herself, but still, we can’t avoid mourning her shattered childhood and sense of faith in family and love.

The Wayward Children books include beautiful drawings by the very talented Rovina Cai. See more at https://www.rovinacai.com/portfolio/wayward-children-series/

As a whole, the Wayward Children series is beautiful, sad, emotional, and full of heartache and redemption. There’s hope and joy to offset the sorrow, but an undercurrent of sadness never quite leaves the stories or their characters.

I love the series, and I’m so happy that Lost in the Moment and Found lives up to my (very high) expectations. Please do start from the beginning if you haven’t read any of these yet! Each book is novella -length, but don’t rush through them — the lovely writing should be savored.

Top Ten Tuesday: Most Anticipated Books Releasing in the First Half of 2023

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Most Anticipated Books Releasing in the First Half of 2023.

There are plenty to choose from — but here are ten I’m really excited for:

  1. Episode Thirteen by Craig DiLouie (1/24)
  2. Lessons at the School by the Sea by Jenny Colgan (3/7)
  3. Backpacking Through Bedlam (Incryptids, #12) by Seanan McGuire (3/7)
  4. A House With Good Bones by T. Kingfisher (3/28)
  5. The Soulmate by Sally Hepworth (4/4)
  6. Said No One Ever by Stephanie Eding (4/4)
  7. Not the Ones Dead (Kate Shugak, #23) by Dana Stabenow (4/13)
  8. In the Lives of Puppets by TJ Klune (4/25)
  9. Happy Place by Emily Henry (4/25)
  10. Late Bloomers by Deepa Varadarajan (5/2)

What new releases are you most looking forward to over the next six months? Share your links, and I’ll come check out your top 10!

Top Ten Tuesday: Top ten books on my TBR list for winter 2022/2023

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is about our winter reading plans.

So many books to choose from! This time around, my list includes a mix of upcoming new releases and books already on my shelves. My top 10 priorities to read this winter will be:

New releases:

1) Episode Thirteen by Craig DiLouie: I’ve loved every book I’ve read by this author so far, even though they’re always super disturbing. (release date 1/24/2023)

2) The Magician’s Daughter by H. G. Parry: I don’t know much about this one, but it looks good! (2/21/2023)

3) Lost in the Moment and Found (Wayward Children, #8) by Seanan McGuire: If it’s January, it must be time for another Wayward Children book! (1/12/2023)

4) The Stolen Heir by Holly Black: I’m beyond thrilled that there’s a new book in the world of Folk of the Air on the way! (1/5/2023)

5) Backpacking Through Bedlam (Incryptids, #12) by Seanan McGuire: Another series by Seanan McGuire that I love! Of course I’ll read the new book as soon as possible. (3/7/2023)

6) A Sinister Revenge (Veronica Speedwell, #8): This series continues to be so much fun. (3/7/2023)

And books I already own:

7) Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir: Although I didn’t completely love Gideon the Ninth, I’m interested enough to want to keep going.

8) A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers: On the other hand, I did love the first book in this series, so #2 is a must!

9) The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal: I bought this right when it came out, and I love everything I’ve read by this author… and I’ve ended up saving this book to read when I can savor it (which hasn’t happened yet).

10) Akata Woman by Nnedi Okorafor: I really enjoyed the audiobook of the first two in this series, so if my library has this one available via audio, I’ll probably go that route… but otherwise, the paperback will do just fine.

What books will be keeping you warm this winter? Share your links, and I’ll come check out your top 10!