Even with beautiful world building, an interesting magic system and characters you adore, fantasy can become predictable. There’s a hero, a quest, an evil to defeat or overcome, and then everything gets tied up tidily at the end (unless there’s a massive cliff-hanger to kick off the rest of a series). Have you been here before? Have you seen that tree? It’s lovely that time of year in Smarsgardland. As I’ve been diving deep into fantasy worlds to escape the inescapable dire reality we live in now, I’ve read some fantasy that has let me down. It could be beautifully written with a world I want to explore, but I’m left wanting, like Ariel, something more.
Luckily with some help from friends, recommendations from authors I want to hurry up and write more, and my favorite, a best of list, I was able to find some fantasy that surprised and delighted me, leaving me glad that what’s old and played out can be made new again. If you’re tired of dragons, bulging biceps wielding swords, and anything that remotely resembles a stone fortress, let me introduce you to djinn, a baker who can make gingerbread do a choreographed dance, and a teahouse that serves as a gateway to the afterlife. Let me serve you up a little fantasy with a twist.
There are so many items in the summary that checked all my boxes: alternate history, Cairo, lady detective who basically works for the supernatural cops. Having gobbled up the Daevabad trilogy last year, I was hungry for more djinn based mythology and Clark delivers in a big way. It felt like all of the great things about Miss Fischer’s Murder Mystery (goreous clothes, confident female lead, and the early 1900s) plus the backdrop of Cairo, Arabian folklore, LGBTQ+ characters and on-point critiques of colonization and imperialism. Clark weaves all of these threads together to create a truly enjoying jaunt through the streets of a Caito that could have been.
This book surprised me in all the best ways. If there’s a hole in your reading world, since the passing of the late, great Terry Pratchett, then A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking might help. Kingfisher crafts a tale that is so delightfully charming and quirky that I couldn’t help but fall in love with it after three pages and then recommend it to all my book loving friends, don’t worry I have proof.
From start to finish, it was a joy to read, so many details and turns of phrase that made me laugh and marvel at Kingfisher’s ability to delve into more cringe-worthy aspects of a well-used fantasy trope, the child hero, but also keep it from turning too dark. It felt light and airy just like the perfect sticky buns Mona turns out in her magical bakery.
I have to admit that one of the best things about being a librarian is having access to books before they are published. That’s right, I’m talking ARCs! Advanced Reader Copies can come by a librarian in a variety of ways, but my favorite is Netgalley. I’m not sure how it works if you’re not able to drop librarian as your job title, but this is the one of the only times dropping librarian gets you something awesome, so I’m going to revel in it.The House in the Cerulean Sea truly rocked my world. I loved every moment of it. So when I found out I had early access to TJ Klune’s latest, I immediately downloaded it and swallowed it whole. I’m not going to do justice to this book. Honestly, this review will have done it’s job if you actually go out and read the book when it comes out in September. Wallace is a bit of...well, a dick. He’s a grade A a--hole. His death is no great loss to the world, as everyone at his funeral is thankful he’s gone, well except to for his reaper, Mei, who is tasked with escorting him to the afterlife. But what if one refuses to cross over? So starts Under the Whispering Door and I was hooked. Don’t get me wrong, it has dark, desperate soul wrenching parts, we are dealing with death after all, but Klune somehow spins the sorrow into a golden love story, full of redemption, beauty and a thoughtfulness that still has me staggering and wanting the perfect cup of tea. Wait, did I forget to mention that the setting is an adorable tea house? You’ll read, you’ll drink tea, you’ll try and you’ll leave this book feeling like the world is a better place.
-Lauren Taylor is a Children's Librarian at Lawrence Public Library.