The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

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.

The Taste of Appleseeds by Katharina Hagena

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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!

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

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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.