Vasilisa is the wild and unruly daughter of an aristocratic father in rural Russia. The revered family nurse told folktales and fairy stories to all of the children growing up, and the differences between reality and fairyland blur a bit for the brave, wild heroine.
There are things around their home, in the woods, in the lakes, which Vasilisa quickly learns that no one else can see. She has the sight-and she tries to keep it a secret for the sake of her family’s reputation. The peasants are a superstitious lot, and when a priest settles into the area, Vasilisa’s troubles multiply in the extreme.
Too late, Vasilisa learns that she has some kind of pre-destiny tying her to the demon of Frost and his brother, the Bear. Hard times come upon her village, and she must find a balance between denying her birthright and authentic self, and protecting her family from harm.
Darkness is moving in- and there will be blood to pay. No one is safe.
The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden, weaves fantasy and folklore into a story about the harsh terrain that was rural Russia centuries ago. Superstition runs rampant, and demons roam the earth. Vasilisa is strong, valiant, enduring.
If you enjoy magical realism or folklore from around the world , I cannot recommend The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden, enough.
1942 Philadelphia and World War II is pulling able-bodied men and boys from every corner of the country. Young Maddie Hyde and her husband, Ellis come to blows with his crusty, uptight, disapproving upper class parents and are thrown out, disinherited and with limited financial support. Along with Ellis’s best friend Hank, a crazy plan is formed to travel to Scotland and finally find proof that the Loch Ness Monster exists…Thereby exonerating his father’s reputation which was ruined when he tried to do the same…And putting Ellis back in his father’s good graces.
But the spoiled, entitled little rich kids are about to learn what war has done to the rest of the world while they have been throwing back champagne at parties. The Scots are less than impressed by the rude, drunken American travelers and Maddie is about to learn what it is to be a friend, to serve the greater good, and to be grateful for life’s little blessings… If she can manage to survive the horror that becomes her marriage in the process.
At the Water’s Edge, by Sara Gruen (Water for Elephants), is a novel about the monsters that come in all shapes and sizes, a touch of magic (some helpful and some very, very dark), love, loss, and the importance of thinking about what good you can do in the world. Not quite a coming-of-age story, but a story about how one young woman becomes the woman she was always supposed to become, despite the many people in her life who have tried to stand in her way.
Hazel Renner was raised by German-American parents in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. When she came of age, she learned that her parents were not her true birth parents, that her early memories of a grand house with servants and fancy dinners is actually a memory from her childhood, and not a lingering dream. She leaves the home of her adoptive parents to be a teacher in a rural town called Galway and she hopes to find her own identity. Strange events ensue that will haunt her for a lifetime. Stunned by tragedy and injustice, she tries to trace her roots back to her mother, hoping to break the cycle that her birth mother started, causing destruction in her wake and possibly passing it to her daughter.
Her past leads her to a castle owned by a German Baron, a gardener who may be the love of her life, and a discovery of what she really wants in life…But with World War I in effect, she stands to lose everything and everyone dear to her.
Under the Same Sky, by Pamela Schoenewaldt, is a novel with a touch of magic, a lot of heart, and the deep emotion associated with loss and love. Readers may remember a previous novel by Pamela Schoenewaldt, Swimming in the Moon, which I covered when it first came out. Pamela Shoenewaldt has a gift for the deepest uncertainty which comes with blind love for someone, or many “someones” in your life-and the possibility that they are broken, damaged, or capable of harming themselves or others.
China, 1935…a young woman named Leiyin wakes up one day at her own funeral. Accompanied by her three souls-her Yin, her Yang, and her Hun-she must look back on her life and learn why she is still floating among the living, not crossing over. Her journey is painful. She relives all of her mistakes and sees, from the outside looking in, the pain she has caused others in her own pursuit of happiness.
The living still need her help, and she learns she must do what she can to put things right, even after death. But how does a spirit reach out to the living? They don’t seem to feel her, even when she reaches out to touch them, and her family needs her more than ever before.
Three Souls is not the first novel I’ve read this year dealing with Eastern philosophy on the afterlife, death, traditions in respect to the spirit world-and I have to say I’m glad for this little popularity surge. I tend to be pretty morbid, in general, and I’m fascinated by world views on the more macabre subjects. This novel is beautifully written, and it’s a history lesson on the advent of communism in China, while managing to truly be about a woman not so different from any of us. Mostly self-centered, but with good intentions and a lot of love and caring for people who don’t hear it enough. This novel made me wonder what, if anything, my own actions have set forth in other people throughout the course of my life. If you like this type of read, you will really enjoy Three Souls, by Janie Chang.
Originally entitled “Der Gerschmack von Apfelkernen”, this novel has been translated into English from German, and has already been a literary success in Europe, translated into numerous languages and made into a German film (which I’m dying to get my hands on).
The story revolves around Iris, a woman who inherits her grandmother’s home upon her death and is forced to face some of the secrets of her family and her past. Her grandparents both had deep, dark secrets hidden in the walls that don’t tell tales. Tragedy struck more than once in the little home, more than one daughter was lost. Iris decides to speak with the man who has been tending the home, and with the lawyer representing the property (who is conveniently handsome) and see if she can put together the pieces left behind for her.
The Taste of Appleseeds, by Katharina Hagena, is a must-read for readers who love Kate Morton (The Forgotten Garden, The Distant Hours, The Secret Keeper, the House at Riverton) , Katherine Webb (The Unseen, The Half-Forgotten Song) , or Kimberley Freeman (Wildflower Hill, Lighthouse Bay, Ember Island). What makes the novel original is that it has a touch of magical realism, faint but there nonetheless, which gives the story something special that you magical realism readers will love too.
Anyone who knows me well enough to judge can tell you that these types of novels are my very favorite. Long, delving back through generations, deep and dark family secrets, beautiful description and an almost magical feel, and a heroine who is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery at any cost…LOVE them. They aren’t for readers who want instant gratification or a short weekend read, but for patient readers who like to take a more languid path once in a while. If this sounds like you, then don’t hesitate to read The Taste of Appleseeds…And if any of you can figure out how to get any version of the movie available here in the states be sure to let me know!
Li Lan’s family is nearly destitute, thanks to her father’s opium abuse and lack of income. In Chinese culture, there is hope for her father if she can marry well enough that she will be taken care of, and perhaps she can take care of her father, too. But what pedigreed young man will want to marry a poor, unremarkable girl like her? The answer comes soon enough. A proposal comes through that the Lim family is interested in marrying her to their only son, and willing to go to great lengths to make it happen. The catch? The groom is dead, and has been for a while now. The Lim family believe that giving their son a fresh young bride will put his spirit to rest, and she is the lucky lady for the job. Li Lan wants to help her family and she knows that her father will benefit from the act, but can she really marry a dead man? She will never be allowed to marry another man, never have children…And the ghost groom is starting to appear in her nightmares.
The ghost bride must venture into the realm of the dead and find out how to rid herself of the curse that is her imminent marriage to the terrible ghost boy. Ancient and not-so-ancient Chinese curses and ideas about spirits are brought out in this fantastic story of evil spirits, good spirits, purgatory (Chinese style) and much, much more. If you liked What Dreams May Come, by Richard Matheson, which addresses the afterlife, and paying for evil transgressions in life, and finding family memories in the afterlife, etc, you will want to try The Ghost Bride, by Yangsze Choo, which is one-of-a-kind in every way, and very interesting. Beware, however, you may find yourself addicted to Chinese superstitions for a brief period following this novel.
I would say that this novel is more “Magical Realism” than any other genre-if you like to delve into fiction that deals with the afterlife or the underworld, The Ghost Bride is a must-read!
A man returns to his childhood home in Sussex, England, and memories from his childhood come flooding back to him, nagging at him, drawing him to the home of a childhood playmate, Lettie, and events that, looking back, don’t seem like anything other than fantasy. What was real, what was the imagination of a lonely little boy? Evil creatures, world domination, murder, the spirit world and much more will lead readers into a whirlwind of action and fantasy.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman, is in the genre that I lovingly refer to as “Magical Realism”, and it doesn’t come up on my site very often because it is a bit of a dark horse in the world of literature. Magical Realism simply means that the author has taken “real” life people and settings and inserted fantasy and/or magical elements into that world. Neil Gaiman has a number of novels on my top favorites list, and if you haven’t read him, but you like dark fantasy, you don’t want to miss out on his work. Examples of other magical realism novels are:
Neil Gaiman’s “Neverwhere“
John Connolly’s “The Book of Lost Things“
Christopher Moore’s “Practical Demonkeeping“
Ransom Riggs’ “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children“
Doyce Testerman’s “Hidden Things“
Anyone who likes to see an average person suddenly brought into a situation involving evil fantastical beings will probably like this genre and The Ocean at the End of the Lane would be a good place to test out those waters. Check it out if you dare.
Mr. Fox has a muse named Mary. Mary is sexy, witty, sweet, and has all the features of his dream woman. Mr. Fox’s wife, a fairly ordinary woman, is beginning to pick up on signs that there is another woman in his life. Can she compete with a woman who her husband, a writer, has dreamed up for himself? How does a wife compare to the woman of her husband’s dreams? Mary, the muse, is not happy with the current situation. She wants to get out into the world and have a life of her own, and she is getting stronger and more rebellious. She is leaving more and more evidence of her existence for Daphne to find. Mr. Fox has to make some serious decisions. Can he let go of the woman he dreamed up to save his marriage? Is his marriage worth saving? How long can he keep his secrets in the shadows?
This novel is broken up by short stories which add a mystical tone to the novel, there is a touch of fantasy and a hint of folklore spread throughout the stories. The real challenge is remembering what is going on with Mr. Fox, because you get so swept up by the short stories that you forget about the main characters completely. The closest in genre that I can relate to this novel is Of Bees and Mist, by Erick Setiawan, but even that is a stretch, because the magical elements of the story are easy to differentiate from the psychological possibilities.
If you like novels that don’t fit into any genres, that push the barriers between sanity and insanity, that blur the lines between fantasy and reality, then you should give Mr. Fox, by Helen Oyeyemi a try.