Fiction, March 2020

salt slow by Julia Armfield

salt slow by Julia Armfield. October 8, 2019.Flatiron Books, 195 p. ISBN: 9781250224774.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

In her electrifying debut, Julia Armfield explores women’s experiences in contemporary society, mapped through their bodies. As urban dwellers’ sleeps become disassociated from them, like Peter Pan’s shadow, a city turns insomniac. A teenager entering puberty finds her body transforming in ways very different than her classmates’. As a popular band gathers momentum, the fangirls following their tour turn into something monstrous. After their parents remarry, two step-sisters, one a girl and one a wolf, develop a dangerously close bond. And in an apocalyptic landscape, a pregnant woman begins to realize that the creature in her belly is not what she expected.

Blending elements of horror, science fiction, mythology, and feminism, salt slow is an utterly original collection of short stories that are sure to dazzle and shock, heralding the arrival of a daring new voice.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Strong sexual themes; Violence

 

Reviews

Booklist (September 1, 2019 (Vol. 116, No. 1))
Armfield, winner of the White Review Short Story Prize, debuts a short-story collection that is both provocative and thrilling. A city is plagued with insomnia as Sleep disassociates itself and becomes its own ethereal entity. A teenager going through puberty finds her body changing in very unusual ways. A PhD student scavenges beautiful body parts of men to create the perfect male specimen for herself. A teenage girl gains a wolf as her new stepsister, and their bond grows dangerously close after the wolf-sister defends her from a persistent boy. As a woman in her thirties falls in love, her beloved becomes increasingly stiff and statuesque. A pregnant woman living during the time of the apocalypse realizes that the creature in her womb is not the child she expected. Armfield’s collection is exemplary as she pushes the limits of reality into beautifully eerie and unsettling worlds. She blends elements of horror, science fiction, mythology, and feminism in a way that is sure to shock and amaze readers of short fiction.

Kirkus Reviews (August 1, 2019)
Between man-eating insects, a fashionably dressed sister-wolf, and a hypnotic feminist girl band, Armfield leaves no supernatural stone unturned in this dazzling debut. Writing with an elegant and often poetic style, British author Armfield conjures nine uncanny worlds in her first short story collection. And while her tales are notable for their concepts, they don’t lack in substance, either. Behind each of her stories lie undercurrents of loss, metamorphosis, and the ever shifting nature of human relationships. The horror of her work comes not only from the eerie occurrences on each page, but also in the relatability of her characters and the connections a reader can draw between their situations and the absurdity of everyday life. In “Formerly Feral,” for example, an adolescent girl copes with her parents’ divorce, her father’s remarriage, and her own shifting identity as she faces school bullies and bonds with the newest member of her family—a wolf. “Smack” also deals with divorce but depicts the breakup of a marriage through the eyes of a wife holding on to her disintegrating relationship by locking herself—sans nutrition or power —in the beach house she and her husband once shared. Perhaps most extraordinary is “The Great Awake,” which captures the sleeplessness of city life and the bitter, competitive spirit that accompanies it. In this strange world, plagued by the “removal of the sleep-state from the body,” shadelike “Sleeps” step out of their human hosts while the tired people left behind reshape society to take advantage of the mass insomnia. The title story, meanwhile, follows a couple navigating both the salt waters that have flooded the Earth and their unspoken feelings about their future. While a story or two ends abruptly or doesn’t delve quite as deeply as the most spectacular in the collection, each piece is filled with magic, insight, and a rare level of creativity that mark Armfield as a fresh new voice of magical realism. Artistic and perceptive, Armfield’s debut explores the ebbs and flows of human connection in lives touched by the bizarre.

About the Author

Julia Armfield is a fiction writer and occasional playwright with a Masters in Victorian Art and Literature from Royal Holloway University. Her work has been published in The White Review, Lighthouse, Analog Magazine, Neon Magazine and The Stockholm Review. She was commended in the Moth Short Story Prize 2017 and won the White Review Short Story Prize with two of the stories in this collection. She lives in London, where she is at work on her debut novel.

Her website is https://www.juliaarmfield.co.uk/

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Fiction, March 2020

A Constellation of Roses by Miranda Asebedo

A Constellation of Roses by Miranda Asebedo. November 5, 2019. HarperTeen, 326 p. ISBN: 9780062747105.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile:.

Ever since her troubled mother abandoned her, Trix McCabe has preferred to stay on the move.

But when she lands with her long-lost relatives, she finds out that the McCabe women have talents like her own that defy explanation: pies that cure all ills, palm-reading that never misses the mark, knowledge of secrets that have never been told.

Before long, Trix feels like she might finally have found somewhere she belongs. But when her past comes back to haunt her, she’ll have to decide whether to take a chance on this new life . . . or keep running from the one she’s always known.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild sexual themes; Strong language; Underage drinking; Discussion of domestic abuse; Discussion of a parent’s drug addiction

 

About the Author

Miranda Asebedo was born and raised in rural Kansas with a love of fast cars, open skies, and books. She carried that love of books to college, where she got her B.A. and M.A. in English, with an emphasis in Creative Writing and Literature. A Seaton Fellowship recipient, her short fiction has appeared in Kansas Voices, Touchstone, and Midway Journal. If Miranda’s not writing or reading, she’s most likely convinced everyone to load up in the family muscle car and hit the road.

Her website is www.mirandaasebedo.com

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February 2020, Fiction

A River of Royal Blood by Amanda Joy

A River of Royal Blood by Amanda Joy. October 29, 2019. G.P. Putnam’s Son, 351 p. ISBN: 9780525518587.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 800.

Sixteen-year-old Eva is a princess, born with the magick of blood and marrow–a dark and terrible magick that hasn’t been seen for generations in the vibrant but fractured country of Myre. Its last known practitioner was Queen Raina, who toppled the native khimaer royalty and massacred thousands, including her own sister, eight generations ago, thus beginning the Rival Heir tradition. Living in Raina’s long and dark shadow, Eva must now face her older sister, Isa, in a battle to the death if she hopes to ascend to the Ivory Throne–because in the Queendom of Myre only the strongest, most ruthless rulers survive.

When Eva is attacked by an assassin just weeks before the battle with her sister, she discovers there is more to the attempt on her life than meets the eye–and it isn’t just her sister who wants to see her dead. As tensions escalate, Eva is forced to turn to a fey instructor of mythic proportions and a mysterious and handsome khimaer prince for help in growing her magick into something to fear. Because despite the love she still has for her sister, Eva will have to choose- Isa’s death or her own.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language; Violence

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2019)
Princess Evalina Killeen attempts to tap into her magical abilities in preparation for a magical showdown. Eva has always known she was born with the feared magick of marrow and blood which she is supposed to use in a fight to the death with her sister, Isa, for the queendom once they both come of age. But Eva’s only accessed her magic twice, and both times its violence frightened her. Mere months before her nameday, Eva is desperately searching for a magick teacher when she stumbles across Baccha, a fey of immense power who shares her magical abilities. Though Eva is often empathetic, she’s sometimes whiny, and her lack of awareness and acknowledgement of her own privilege—and complete obliviousness toward other people’s needs—may irritate readers. However, as she learns to access her magic and begins uncovering family secrets, she also continues to grapple with the current and historical bias (species, not color, based) of Myre, whose diverse population is made up of humans, fey, bloodkin, and khimaer. Her willingness to question the status quo may help readers forgive her for being otherwise self-centered and sometimes rash. A surprising twist and multiple unsolved mysteries will leave readers looking forward to the next book. Black-haired Eva is biracial (her father is brown-skinned while her mother has light pink skin) while Isa has golden hair and lighter brown skin. Supporting characters are racially diverse. A compelling debut. (Fantasy. 14-18)

Publishers Weekly (August 26, 2019)
Evalina Grace Killeen is the younger princess of the Queendom of Myre, a land populated by humans, fey, bloodkin, and the subjugated khimaer, formerly Myre’s ruling class. Since her magick was declared “marrow and blood,” like that of the most powerful, ruthless human queen in Myre’s history, Eva has been the subject of fear and isolation by courtiers, citizens, and her queen mother, who has long favored the persuasive magick of the elder princess, Isadore. When Eva reaches her 17th year, the magick-wielding sisters will fight for the sitting monarch’s throne, battling to the death for the right to rule. Biracial Eva, who can seem reactive, regards her own magick as a curse and loathes the thought of fratricide, but after she is attacked repeatedly before the battle, she must unlock the secrets of magic and heritage that have haunted her family and her Queendom for years. Debut author Joy’s engrossing, North African-inspired series opener draws effectively on real-world prejudices to inform her richly created universe’s complex history of species-based oppression and imperialism.

About the Author

Amanda Joy has an MFA from The New School, and lives in Chicago with her dog Luna.

Her website is www.amandajoywrites.com

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December 2019, Fiction

Caster by Elsie Chapman

Caster by Elsie Chapman. September 3, 2019. Scholastic, 326 p. ISBN: 9781338332629.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 810.

Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Fight Club in this action-packed fantasy about a secret, underground magic fighting tournament.

If the magic doesn’t kill her, the truth just might.

Aza Wu knows that real magic is dangerous and illegal. After all, casting killed her sister, Shire. As with all magic, everything comes at a price. For Aza, it feels like everything in her life has some kind of cost attached to it. Her sister had been casting for money to pay off Saint Willow, the gang leader that oversees her sector of Lotusland. If you want to operate a business there, you have to pay your tribute. And now with Shire dead, Aza must step in to save the legacy of Wu Teas, the teahouse that has been in her family for centuries.

When Aza comes across a secret invitation, she decides she doesn’t have much else to lose. She quickly realizes that she’s entered herself into an underground casting tournament, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. Real magic, real consequences. As she competes, Aza fights for her life against some very strong and devious competitors.

When the facts about Shire’s death don’t add up, the police start to investigate. When the tributes to Saint Willow aren’t paid, the gang comes to collect. When Aza is caught sneaking around with fresh casting wounds, her parents are alarmed. As Aza’s dangerous web of lies continues to grow, she is caught between trying to find a way out and trapping herself permanently.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist starred (August 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 22))
Grades 9-12. The world is falling apart. Real magic, rare and potent, drains energy from the earth every time a spell is cast, leaving behind charred land, frozen oceans, and smog heavy in the air. Aza is secretly a full caster, but she hides her powers, pretending to be someone who can only do small, leftover magic. She’s trying desperately to pay her family’s debt to sector boss Saint Willow before goons come to bust up her home and torture her family. Stuck in the shadow of her now-dead sister, Shire, Aza has one week left until Saint Willow’s people come for her parents. When a note left by an old tutor leads her to an underground magic-fighting ring, she realizes she has the chance, the power, and the skill to get out from under Saint Willow’s thumb—possibly for good. The fighting ring leads to more questions still, as well as more danger. Could learning the secrets of magic and the truth behind her sister’s death be worth it all? Chapman (Along the Indigo, 2018) has created compelling young adult novels before, but this is a cut above; the fully realized and atmospheric dystopia is crafted at a level not seen often. This stunning fantasy will fly off the shelves.

Kirkus Reviews (July 1, 2019)
In a dystopian world broken apart by magic, Aza Wu struggles to unravel the mystery of her sister’s death while fending off gangsters and dodging Scouts who hunt full-magic casters like herself. The rules of magic set up by Chapman (Hungry Hearts, 2019, etc.) come down to this: The more magic you use, the more magic you pull from the Earth, leaving behind a scar ranging from a buckled road to an earthquake that levels buildings. A full caster is limited by their level of control and the physical pain that follows a spell. Despite the dangers and the guilt she feels for damaging the world around her, Aza desperately casts magic for marks to pay off the family debt. This leads her to the underground Tournament of Casters, where she will risk her life for marks and answers. The main character identifies as Chinese, and though some racial and cultural discrimination is discussed, the story focuses more heavily on the haves and have-nots of magic and power. The pacing is fast and furious, upheld by the deadline Aza faces of a single week, which almost becomes a running joke. Some characters are ham-handed in their villainy, but most are genuine in their struggle to do what it takes to survive. A dark and, at times, vicious and violent story of will and questionable honor. (Dystopian fantasy. 13-17)

About the Author

Elsie Chapman grew up in Prince George, Canada, and has a degree in English literature from the University of British Columbia. She is the author of the YA novels DualedDividedAlong the Indigo, and Caster as well as the MG novel All the Ways Home, and co-editor of A Thousand Beginnings and Endings and Hungry Hearts. She currently lives in Tokyo, Japan, with her family.

Her website is elsiechapman.com

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Fiction, November 2019

Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron

Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron. September 3, 2019. HarperTeen, 485 p. ISBN: 9780062870957.  Int Lvl: YA.

A girl with no gifts must bargain for the power to fight her own mother’s dark schemes—even if the price is her life.

Heir to two lines of powerful witch doctors, Arrah yearns for magic of her own. Yet she fails at bone magic, fails to call upon her ancestors, and fails to live up to her family’s legacy. Under the disapproving eye of her mother, the Kingdom’s most powerful priestess and seer, she fears she may never be good enough.

But when the Kingdom’s children begin to disappear, Arrah is desperate enough to turn to a forbidden, dangerous ritual. If she has no magic of her own, she’ll have to buy it—by trading away years of her own life.

Arrah’s borrowed power reveals a nightmarish betrayal, and on its heels, a rising tide of darkness that threatens to consume her and all those she loves. She must race to unravel a twisted and deadly scheme… before the fight costs more than she can afford.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong sexual themes, Violence

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (July 1, 2019)
A teenage girl ashamed of her lack of magic must step up when she discovers evil at work in her kingdom. Privileged Arrah has never wanted for anything—except magic. Though she comes from powerful magical lineages on both her parents’ sides, when she turns 16 without developing any gifts, she must finally admit she won’t be blessed with magic. Heartbroken, Arrah throws herself into discovering who’s behind the recent child abductions in her kingdom. The magic needed to accomplish such a task has a high cost, and her discovery of the culprit proves to be a devastating revelation. In Arrah’s West African–based world, there are orishas as well as other gods and demons, and orishas are able to converse directly with humans. Arrah, aided by her friends (including love interest Rudjek), must mine hitherto unknown depths in herself in order to stop the ascension of the Demon King, who supposedly was vanquished by the orishas long ago. Though the pace is sometimes slow and the page count perhaps higher than needed, Arrah’s a compelling heroine, relatable in her fallibility, and her story is intriguing. Most characters are black; Rudjek is biracial (his light-skinned mother and a handful of other characters hail from the north). An imperfect but promising series opener. (Fantasy. 12-18)

School Library Journal (August 1, 2019)
Gr 9 Up-Legend has it that the orisha destroyed all of the demons in the Almighty Kingdom, but when children begin to disappear from the Kingdom and a great evil looms, it seems that perhaps the orisha were wrong. And if they were wrong about this, where else have they failed? Sixteen-year-old Arrah is the daughter of two powerful witch doctors in a long lineage of magic. For as long as she can remember, she has waited to come into magic of her own, and though she has the ability to see magic, she cannot touch it. Magic in the Kingdom, however, can be acquired at a cost. Will Arrah be willing to give up years of her life in exchange for the magic that might be able to save the people she loves? In this epic West African-inspired debut, Barron weaves a story filled with blood magic, political intrigue, epic world-building, and a brilliant cast of characters. VERDICT Fans of folklore-inspired fantasy and Laini Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer will relish in this masterful tale. From start to finish, this magical debut is not to be missed.-India Winslow, Cary Memorial Library, Lexington, MA

About the Author

Rena Barron grew up in small-town Alabama where stories of magic and adventure sparked her imagination. After penning her first awful poem in middle school, she graduated to writing short stories and novels by high school. Rena loves all things science fiction, ghosts, and superheroes. She’s a self-proclaimed space nerd. When she’s not writing, she can be found reading or brushing up on her French.

Her website is renabarron.com.

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