A miniature mansion, a woman who lovingly crafts its tiny rooms and shares them on the internet for others to see, and a man on the other side of the country who is inexplicably finding photos of a dollhouse on the internet that portrays... his actual home?
Myra Malone lives in her home surrounded by the frozen time warp that is her life. At the age of five, she was in a devastating car accident—it killed her step-grandmother and left Myra traumatized and near death. Her recovery journey went from coping with some altered facial differences as a child to isolating herself inside as a homeschool student to being an adult wholly unable to leave her home.
In this very, very isolated and hermit-like existence, Myra has her Mansion.
Well, it's not a mansion. It's actually a very well-crafted large dollhouse, complete with dozens of furnished rooms, beautiful miniaturized fixtures, and a little extra something that Myra herself never questions. (If the rooms she creates react and adapt on their own, who's to say? Myra knows there's something a bit like magic happening under her nose, but she doesn't mind.)
Across the country, Alex works in his father's furniture store. His family is Virginian old money, and they have an old estate in the woods that his father hates and Alex loves. It's a true mansion in the Virginian woods, and it calls to Alex like some kind of magic. Furniture moves around when he's not looking, and every once in a while he can here music and voices.
Alex and Myra don't know it, but their worlds are about to collide.
Myra made an online blog about her miniature Mansion, and it developed a massive cult following despite her lack of interest—it was all her friend Gwen's idea, after all. But that cult following kept growing, and one day it reached the ears of Alex in Virginia.
Alex is stunned to discover that Myra's "Mansion" is... his house. And the bedroom she just took a photo of is... his bedroom. Done in miniature, of course, but it's his room. And that's his library, and that's his... and on.
Myra and Alex are about to uncover a lot of history and the magical ties that bind them together...
The Miniscule Mansion of Myra Malone was such an enchanting and original read. I was drawn to this story by its very unique title, but the ultimate thing that made me ask for an early reading copy was this concept of a magic dollhouse tied to a real mansion. What a fun twist on the magical house trope!
And, for those who come to this story for that reason, I think you're in for a similarly delightful read. Quaint, soft, yet overwhelmingly filled with heart and healing, this is a story that I think will find broad appeal in the soft fantasy, romance, light historical, and contemporary literature market. There's a dash of this, a dash of that...
At times too drawn out and at others too condensed, I did feel like this story included too much and yet also too little. This was a deceptively large concept hiding behind a small pitch line, and once you pulled on the first thread it all just collapsed into your metaphorical reader lap.
Something about this story that I did not expect were the multiple timelines throughout it. This is a multi-generational epic that spans over 100 years, with chapters of various points in time. Myra and Alex each have their own POV thread with chapters throughout the book, but interspersed continuously through that main story arc is a very dense historical narrative with some other characters. I wasn't expecting that in this story, and frankly I think it led me as reader to feeling too spread out between such a long time period and too many characters. My personal preference would have been to keep this story contemporary, with Myra and Alex, and let the past be the past. But take that with a grain of salt—I am not a historical fiction reader!
However, quibbles aside, I think this story will find its niche audience and bring out some joy and emotional healing to its readers.
Thank you to the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
PACK OF SECRETS - Amara Mae
This is a super solid opener--the mix of urban fantasy with high fantasy, the shifters, the artifacts... What a fun time. Some annoying elements in this opener kept me from loving it more, but I am eagerly looking forward to the sequels.
Character relationships: ★★
Grace's life is strange. The daughter of the local werewolf pack's Alpha, Grace's inability to shift into her wolf makes her a pariah and an unwelcome member of the dog-eat-dog harsh world of the pack. She's the omega, the bottom feeder, the unwanted one. And so she gets to do the dirty work.
This werewolf pack isn't like your typical one--there's something post-apocalyptic happening here. But more on that later.
Grace's family lives on the Trepari side of the dividing line in Seattle, Washington, in a version of our world that is rebuilding itself slowly from the ravages of a human (Mondeine) vs. nonhuman (Trepari) war that occurred before Grace was born. The "cloaking"—which had previously hid all shifters, magical species, and Other from the eyes of humans—disappeared. Mass chaos and warfare ensued between the two groups. Walls were erected, cities bisected, supplies and spoils ruthlessly taken by the humans and left in dregs for the magical sides of the line. The magical beings grabbed what they could and turned into small, insulated clans that isolated themselves from all magic and non-magic alike.
When we meet Grace, she's on a dangerous heist to steal a unique artifact for her Alpha father and the pack. She's been told this item will help her free her inner wolf, and she's eager to please the pack and bring home this treasure. It's a dangerous mission for any thief, but Grace has had a lot of practice.
However, she doesn't expect this artifact to have a guardian. More specifically, a freaking DRAGON guardian...
Atrioch has lived for a long, long time. And his life has not been a pleasant one. Cursed from his father's familial line, bound to be within narrow reach of this mysterious artifact he is tasked to protect at all costs, and betrayed over and over again by those closest to him... Yeah. This dragon shifter has a serious chip on his shoulder and a pretty abrasive personality. (I would to, if I was dealt his hand.)
But then Atrioch's artifact is stolen—by Grace, a "broken" beast who can't shift and yet can get under Atrioch's skin and deal him unseen emotional blows.
It looks like Grace's life is about to get much more interesting... and Atrioch's cursed existence might just be in for some adjustments too.
Hooooo boy. What an interesting setup for series!
Firstly, let me commend this author for her inventive take on the shifter concept. While many authors in the urban fantasy scene have taken shifters and integrated them into the "real" world—I'm thinking of Patricia Briggs, Laurell K Hamilton, etc.--I have not read any novels that take the concept of a shifter pack and place them in our world but with a heavy dose of post-apocalyptic, war-ravaged modern day. That element was new here, and it was interesting.
This series is already slated to be 6 books, and I think that definitely factored in to the pacing and structure of this first book. This is a slowwww burn. A prequel, of sorts, if you really asked me to nail it down.
Romance fans will be disappointed at the lack of pairing and romantic interactions in this installment—spoiler alert, there aren't ANY—and urban fantasy/high fantasy fans might be disappointed at the sheer lack of action here too.
This is a building block for a much larger series arc, and it definitely feels like it. I think it could have included more momentum for me, personally, to keep me engaged in the flow of the story—but at the end of the day, I still devoured this book in just a few sittings so the character- and world-driven story arc in Pack of Secrets clearly worked for me on some level.
Speaking specifically on the characters, I liked Grace a lot. I liked the intricate and messed up pack dynamics. I found Atrioch to be very two-dimensional compared to Grace, but he also did not receive a lot of POV "screen" time so that might have been a casualty of how this book was framed.
I did NOT like the naive plotline between Grace and her feelings for her father. Without getting into spoiler territory, let's just say that it's a painfully obvious dynamic and watching Grace delude herself for this entire book was such a drain. It rendered her beautifully complex character into a two-dimensional being at times, and I think that is one of the main reasons why I'm rating this 3 stars instead of 4 stars. It was a thread that continued throughout the entire book and was utterly transparent to the reader and yet never resolved, deepened, or enhanced in Grace's character situation. In a very strong book, this weak element kept shining through in an annoying way.
However, all that being said, I am very excited to read book two.
This historical mystery series is criminally underrated—I LOVE it, y’all. Queer rep, 1940s noir with a modern edge, witty as hell, and so much fun you can’t stop reading/listening/laughing. I highly recommend the audiobook.
Audiobook experience: ★★★★★
This is the third installment in the Pentecost and Parker mystery series. While they each can be read as standalones, the first two books are great too and I recommend starting there.
Pentecost and Parker are back! And there's a new series of murders in town....
Willowjean 'Will' Parker and her boss, Ms. Lillian Pentecost, are a private detective duo operating in 1940s New York City as two women with a reputation for solving New York's most troubling and unsolved cases. They're a unique crime-fighting duo for the 1940s—two single women, one older with a multiple sclerosis diagnosis and one in her 20s with a passion for crime and for love affairs with both men and women—and their passion for helping women, people of color, and those in special circumstances has given them a boatload of cases and a sensational relationship with the press.
In Secrets Typed in Blood, the case for Pentecost and Parker starts with a high body count and a ticking clock. There's a copycat murder on the loose, killing New Yorkers in a sensational way and ripping their crimes from the fictional stories of one particular crime writer.
Holly Quick pens crime stories for a local paper under many pseudonyms. When she notices a disturbing link between her fictional murders and some real-life headlines, she calls up Pentecost and Parker. Her one stipulation? No police.
Will and Ms. Pentecost are very aware that Holly's hiding secrets of her own, but the mystery of the copycat killer is too enthralling to pass up. They take the case.
Y'all! My neighbors could hear my scream of happiness when this latest book appeared on my doorstep. This series—and in particular, these characters—have my heart and I've been an advocate for them since my first read last year.
The perfect hybrid between cozy mystery and noir, Pentecost and Parker fulfill an interesting niche in the detective story scene. They're historical and filled with banter, but they're not your grandmother's predictable tea shop cozy. They're intricately plotted and their murders are ghastly, but it's not the grim never-ending darkness of today's modern detective mystery/thriller.
There's something about this series that hits all of my buttons.
This particular installment was nicely paced and a fresh mystery for the iconic duo to solve. I liked the interplay between the copycat murderer and the social mystery behind Holly Quick's backstory.
I also liked that the slow-burn unsolved mystery that emerged in the early books continued in the background of this one--similar to Sherlock with Moriarty, Pentecost and Parker have a "big bad" that they're chasing behind the scenes of their current drama. I'm excited to see that play out in future books.
Don't sleep on this story—pick it up! And for my listening friends, I can't recommend the audiobook highly enough, it's fabulous.
*I receive a small commission from Libro.fm if you use my link above.
THE CLOISTERS - Katy Hays
Medieval history secrets, ancient tarot decks, a dark academia museum setting, and a close-knit group of coworkers who blur the lines between personal and professional... I'd love to live in this version of higher academia, please, potentiality for murder be damned.
Use of history: ★★★★★
"Death always came for me in August."
Ann Sitwell, a recent college graduate from Nowhere Important in small town Washington, has arrived in New York City. She's an art history graduate with a passion for esoteric Renaissance and late Medieval pieces with a bend toward the arcane—her niche topic isn't necessarily the most relevant, her internship opportunities slim. So when she arrives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to find out that they don't want her anymore, she's paralyzed.
But then, a fortuitous chance meeting with the enigmatic head curator at The Cloisters, Patrick, changes Ann's trajectory forever.
The Cloisters, a gothic museum settled right in the heart of Manhattan and incongruously secluded, is a museum unlike any Ann has ever laid eyes on. Its history seeps from the walls, and priceless collections, artifacts, and archives all tailored to Ann's areas of interest seem like an unbelievable dream.
There's Patrick, the established curator and head of The Cloisters, who has amassed a small and cloistered—pun so very intended—group around him for his current passion project in the occult. He's searching for hints of the earliest tarot decks and their potential links between the Medieval and Renaissance periods. He's searching, unbelievably, for a hint of true magic amongst the earliest of divination decks.
There is Leo, the gardener for the magical copse of deadly plants in the center of The Cloisters' museum structure. Surrounded by plants used historically in poisons, medicines, and aids to the divine, Leo's orbit as the non-academic in this seat of hushed knowledge is an itch that Ann just might find herself scratching.
And then there is Rachel, Patrick's other assistant. Beautiful, ethereal, unbelievably wealthy and connected Rachel. Rachel is also interested in this same field of study and welcomes Ann into the fold like a sorority sister inducting a new member, teaching her all of the tricks and ways of life in this small, set apart academic pocket.
When academic stakes meet deadly games, Ann just might find that she's found more than she bargained for...
Welcome to The Cloisters.
I'll keep my thoughts short and sweet on this one, because it's all high praise. This honey-slow, lingering, and deathly divine story was one that I could not stop reading. The Cloisters is a novel that breathes, sharing its secrets and obsessive drive with you. Ann's journey through grief, her enmeshing into this closed system of claustrophobic academics, and the ultimate unraveling of it all was such a treat to read.
Obvious comparisons have been made between this novel and other dark academia titans like The Secret History. I agree with those comparisons—if you like the standard favorites in the genre, then this novel is likely going to work for you. But I'd like to expand that filter a bit. If you're interested in magic and its weavings throughout our actual history, if you're interested in tarot, if you're interested in the study of the arcane in any way... this novel will likely work for you also.
Looking forward to more novels from this author.
A secluded lake. Death and secrets. And a house with glass walls hiding something sinister inside... Keep your eyes focused on the house across the lake.
Casey Fletcher is at her family's lake house for the summer for a forced recuperation from the press. A character actress who has spent the past year burning down her life with alcohol and bad decisions, she's drinking her way through her own personal lockdown in rural Vermont.
It's an interesting place for Casey to attempt to find her center, as it's the location of her husband's death by drowning.
Grieving, drinking, and trying her best not to think about her past, Casey doesn't have much to do while sitting in the house by herself. So she watches the residents around the lake.
In particular, there's a house across from hers with an entire side of glass windows facing the lake—and therefore facing her. At night, the lit-up box is like a real-life dollhouse complete with the movements of its two real-life inhabitants: tech mogul Tom Royce and his former model wife, Katherine.
Casey witnesses some very odd things in the Royce house when no one is looking.
And then Katherine disappears.
With unsteady hands and yet a drive for the truth, Casey's decided she can't let this lie—what's happened to Katherine? And why is her husband, Tom, acting like nothing is wrong?
Casey isn't prepared for the lid to blow off of Pandora's Box. But it's coming for her anyway.
Be careful what you spy on... You might not like what you see.
I think it's no secret that I am a huge fan of Riley Sager. Compulsively readable, engagingly paced, and ultimately fantastic fun, his stories are ones that I look forward to reading each year. His characters are the right level of flawed yet relatable. His plots veer from the mundane to the fantastical. And his settings drip with atmospheric tension.
The House on the Lake delivered, again, another Sager hit.
Without veering into spoiler territory, I really can't address the plot beyond what is mentioned above. I'd go into this story as blind as you can—it makes the ending more fun!
I will say, the ending completely surprised me. I don't know if I read this on the right day or what, but that ending completely side-swiped me in left field as I confidently thought I had it all figured out. The surprise was a good one, for me, and I loved that the author caught me off my guard.
The only thing that dragged this story down for me was the first half's pacing coupled with the heavy dose of Casey's alcoholism. Representation of her struggles was—to my limited knowledge—well done and accurate, but because the setting was so limited AND not much was happening beyond establishing the scene repeatedly, it made the alcohol references feel like they were repeating all over the place. I wish we'd had more going on in the early sections of the story to dilute that element of the plot.
Overall, a fantastic read. Ready for the next one, Riley!
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.