The Historian – Elizabeth Kostova

The Historian - Elizabeth KostovaThis fascinating book has a Dan Brown-like plot (but with much better writing). Academics search for clues to find missing persons and to research Vlad Dracula’s life (is he still living?). This research is conducted in medieval libraries (yay!) with much travel: Oxford, Istanbul, Budapest and Bulgaria. Actions happen in three times: the 1930s, 1950s and 1970s, often with parallel stories so the complex plot with much historical detail requires the full attention of readers. This is a really enjoyable read; thanks Steph, for this recommendation.


The Golem and the Jinni – Helene Wecker

The Golem and the Jinni - Helene WeckerA second recommendation from Steph, so thanks again. This book is another example of a remarkable first novel, notable both for its imagination and context. A golem is created from clay and brought to life by her master who then promptly dies, leaving her adrift in New York. A jinni is accidentally released from a copper container. Much of this book is about alienation – how to fit into a human population. And the context is glorious: New York in 1899 with detailed descriptions of Little Syria and the Jewish enclave with some fantastic trips to Central Park. And yes, there is a wicked villain! This is a very entertaining book.

The Witches of New York – Ami McKay

the-witches-of-new-york-ami-mckayThis book takes place in 1880 New York, with Moth from The Virgin Cure as one of the central characters. Witches abound in New York, along with ghosts and spirits. The practise of witchcraft is mostly folk magic. The story-telling is excellent, with some peril of course for the sisterhood. And there is an alienist. Will there be another sequel?

Something Wicked This Way Comes – Ray Bradbury

something-wicked-this-way-comes-ray-bradburyNot sure how I missed reading this classic science-fantasy book from 1962, but thanks to Amy, this serious omission has been rectified. This is a classic morality tale of good versus evil with two 13 year-old boys, a library as sanctuary, and a soul-destroying circus. How about this description of the circus carousel: “Its horses, antelopes, zebras, speared through their spines with brass javelins, having contorted as in death rictus, asking mercy with their fright—coloured eyes, seeking revenge with their panic-contorted teeth”. A dark fantastic masterpiece.

NOS4A2 – Joe Hill

NOS4A2 Joe HillSometimes a fantasy book written in the horror genre is just so appealing and Hill (Stephen King’s son) is a go-to author (previous recommendation for Heart Shaped Box). In this book, the title is from the license plate on a vintage 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith car, and of course stands for Nosferatu (German for vampire). This is an imaginative story with portals between the physical world and the mind, with child abductions and serial killings: the story is violent with many vivid descriptions of pain and quite a few deaths, so be warned. If you like (occasional) horror books, this is a cracking good read.

Gracekeepers – Kirsty Logan

At the end of the book mentioned aboveGracekeepers - Kirsty Logan, Swyler is interviewed and gives a list of some favourite books with circus themes, and Logan’s remarkable first novel is from that list. It is some time in the future when rising sea levels have eliminated most land masses. Thus people are divided between the land lockers who live on islands, and the seagoing damplings. A circus troupe travels by boat; the sail becomes the big-top tent. And there is a marked plot change half way through the book that enhances the story – a very satisfying book.