Book Review: The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

Title: The House in the Cerulean Sea
Author: TJ Klune
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: March 17, 2020
Length: 400 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.

When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.

But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.

An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours.

In these crazy, unsettled times, who doesn’t need a perfect pick-me-up of a book?

If you’re looking for something special and heart-warming, have I got a book for you!

The House in the Cerulean Sea is utterly lovely and altogether charming. It makes me smile just thinking about it.

The main character is a buttoned-up pencil-pusher named Linus Baker, who is a caseworker for DICOMY — the Department In Charge of Magical Youth. DICOMY is a marvel of bureaucracy, supposedly invested in the well-being of magical children, but really focused more on containment and concealment.

And don’t be fooled into thinking we’re talking a Hogwarts-type setting here. In this world, there are magical children, but they’re problems to be solved, not gifted youth to be nurtured. And for at least the children we meet in The House in the Cerulean Sea, they don’t (mostly) have human appearances. These children are very clearly other, and they live in a world in which they’re adamantly and obviously unwanted.

Linus’s job is to visit orphanages housing these children and to file reports. His life and his job haven’t changed in years and years — until he’s summoned to a meeting with Extremely Upper Management, who send him on a classified, top-secret mission to Marsyas Island and the orphanage there. Linus’s new assignment is to spend four weeks at Marsyas, filing weekly reports on the headmaster and the children in his charge, and ultimately to recommend whether the orphanage should remain open or be shut down.

Linus is not at all prepared for what he finds there. First of all, it’s on the sea — and he’s never seen an ocean or a beach before. It’s beautiful, and he’s immediately enchanted. And then there are the children. All are strange and different, and at first, Linus is more or less terrified, yet before long, he sees how truly special the children are… once he gets past the somewhat scary and strange exteriors of a few of them.

The story is just lovely. I loved seeing how Linus reluctantly opens up and connects with the children and headmaster of Marsyas, and how his warmth brings out new interests and confidence in each of them. This is a perfect example of a found family story, and it’s marvelous.

The writing is descriptive and lively and funny, but also has great emotional depth. The author does an excellent job of showing us the individuals living inside each of the odd exteriors that the public sees.

My favorite has to be Lucy — short for Lucifer — a six-year-old boy who’s adorable and also happens to be the Antichrist. He’s prone to making such statements as:

“Mr. Baker… Can I get you something to drink? Juice, perhaps? Tea?” He leaned forward and dropped his voice. “The blood of a baby born in a cemetery under a full moon?”

… and

“There,” he said brightly. “You’re welcome! And I’m not even thinking about banishing your soul to eternal damnation or anything!”

Really and truly, this book was a special read, and was a perfect distraction for me from the chaos and confusion of our current world. But I’m sure that even in relatively normal times, I’d love this book! Don’t miss it.

Book Review: Hearts of Oak by Eddie Robson

Title: Hearts of Oak
Author: Eddie Robson
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: March 17, 2020
Length: 272 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The buildings grow.

And the city expands.

And the people of the land are starting to behave abnormally.

Or perhaps they’ve always behaved that way, and it’s normality that’s at fault.

And the king of the land confers with his best friend, who happens to be his closest advisor, who also happens to be a talking cat. But that’s all perfectly natural and not at all weird.

And when chief architect Iona wakes from a long period of blindly accepting the status quo, she realizes there’s a mystery to be solved. A strange, somewhat bizarre mystery, to be sure, but no less dangerous for its improbability.

And the cat is almost certainly involved!

How does a book featuring a king with a talking cat turn into science fiction?

I’m not telling!

But I will say this: Hearts of Oak is all sorts of awesome, and was exactly the sort of punchy, engaging read I needed this week.

The setting is weird and perplexing. We’re in a city where everything seems to be made of wood, and the entire focus of the city is building. Architects are practically rock stars, and the only city functions that seem to matter are building and planning.

And then there’s the king (and his cat Clarence), who observe the growth of the city from their window in the king’s tower, reading daily reports and signing off on plans, but really not doing much of anything else.

Everything seems to change when chief architect Iona is approached by a woman asking to be tutored in architecture. Something about Alyssa seems off, and her presence starts to bring forward words and images that Iona associates with her odd, recurring dreams.

And I’m not going to say what happens next! There are plenty of cool twists, and I actually laughed out loud over certain developments — like, OH, so THAT’s where this is going!

Seriously, this book just needs to be read! It’s great fun, full of surprises and really amazing and inventive elements, and I just could not put it down. I can see returning to Hearts of Oak and reading it again from time to time — it’s that good!

And a final great thing — it’s worth taking a closer look at the cover! I love the detail!

Top Ten Tuesday: Top ten authors on my auto-read list

Top 10 Tuesday new

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Top Ten Authors On My Auto-Buy List. Since I’m trying to curtail the buying — but not the reading — I’ve played with the theme just a teeny bit.

We actually did this TTT topic back in February 2013, and if you’re interested, you can check out my list here. When I look back at my 2013 auto-buy list, I have to say that I’d still include 100% of the authors I included back then! In an effort not to repeat myself, my list today is going to be an ADDITIONAL ten authors whose works I want to read, pretty much no matter what.

Without further ado — here are the ten authors whose inspire a “gimme, gimme” feeling in me:

Spike grabby

Gimme all the books. Now.

  1. Patricia Briggs: Looking back at my 2013 list, I’m shocked that Patricia Briggs wasn’t on it yet. Perhaps I was still in the early stages of falling in love with her amazing urban fantasy worlds?
  2. Chris Bohjalian: I haven’t been let down yet, and I’m constantly impressed all over again by his ability to write in seemingly every genre. I still have several of his older books to catch up on, and I’m looking forward to it!
  3. Jojo Moyes: In the last couple of years, I’ve read 6 books by Jojo Moyes, and I’m planning to read many more.
  4. Deanna Raybourn: While I haven’t read the Lady Julia Grey series for which she’s so well-know, I have read and enjoyed two historical novels by this author, and plan to start her new Victorian mystery series in the next month or so.
  5. Lisa Genova: I thought Left Neglected was fascinating, and Inside the O’Briens was incredibly powerful. I still need to read Still Alice, and I’m sure wherever this author goes next will be equally interesting.
  6. Miranda Kenneally: Gotta admit, I’ve really loved each of the three YA novels I’ve read so far by Miranda Kenneally. I still have to read her earliest three, but this is an author I intend to keep following.
  7. Rainbow Rowell: I’ve loved all four of her books so far. More please!
  8. Nicole Peeler: Her Jane True series totally rocked! I really liked the first book in her Jinn & Juice series too, and hope there are more on the way.
  9. Joe Hill: He regularly scares the bejeezus out of me, but I love him anyway. I’ll read anything he writes.
  10. Bill Willingham: After the masterpiece that is Fables, I’m willing to bet that whatever comes next will be smashing.

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Do we have any auto-buy/auto-read authors in common? Share your links, please, and I’ll come check out your top 10!

If you enjoyed this post, please consider following Bookshelf Fantasies! And don’t forget to check out my regular weekly feature, Thursday Quotables. Happy reading!

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Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I host a Book Blog Meme Directory, and I’m always looking for new additions! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!