Book Reviews – Magical Stories

One of the changes I’ve made in the past few weeks is to spend less time on social media. I’m not convinced that it makes much difference to my business, and the visibility of my books in the marketplace, plus there are some developments in the works (especially at Facebook, now Meta) that will change the audience and the interface, thus making those outlets even less useful. I also find that the more time I spend on social media, the less I write. I’m feeling quite excited about my upcoming projects and want to dive into them.

The most reliable interaction with readers for me has always been my blog, so I’ll be blogging more. My general posts will be on this site, along with posts about my contemporary romances. Posts about my historical romances will continue to be on the blog, and those about my paranormal romances will be on One of other wonderful things about cutting back online time is that I’ve been crafting more, and you’ll find those posts on my Alive & Knitting blog

I’m also reading more fiction, which is glorious. Over the past few years, I’ve been in the habit of reading non-fiction, not fiction, and I missed the adventure. At the same time, my eyes were fatigued from all the screen time so I didn’t want to read on my iPad. Now I’m back reading fiction again, both in paper and ebook. I thought I’d share some of my reads with you every week or two. Be warned that they’re not always “on-brand”—i.e. in the genres I write—I read lots of different things, and you might also find some of them interesting.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

My ticket back to fiction was The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. (That’s an Amazon link, with an affiliate code.) I read this book when it was new (in 2006) and loved it. I still have the hardcover on my shelf and pulled it out last summer, wondering whether it still had that magic for me. Not all books do, but this one does. I still loved the imagery and the mystery, the way the story unfolded. I loved the idea of an older author, famous but with secrets, who chose to confess. I loved the love of stories and the fragments of tales. The ending was satisfying. The characters were engaging and it was very evocative of England for me. It’s also a book about books, and a book about the love of stories and storytelling, which gets me right where I live. It was lovingly published, with rag edges on the paper, too. Overall, one of my fave books.

What did I love about it specifically?
• Stories within stories
• A tangled chronology that switches back on itself but becomes clear in the end.
• Beautiful and striking imagery
• A strong sense of place
• An intriguing (and maybe unlikely) protagonist
• A character arc for that protagonist
• A satisfying ending
• A love of books, fables, myths and stories

It’s been 15 years. I wondered what else the author had published since then.

Once Upon a River by Diane Settlefield

There were two books, Bellman & Black and Once Upon A River. I bought Once Upon A River, which had a similar nested story as The Thirteenth Tale. It’s more a story about the stories people tell, how stories twist and turn, how rumors evolve and gain weight, and maybe how legends are born. It had lovely prose and a strong sense of place—as well as a ghost (maybe?) and a wise pig. It was very atmospheric, almost beguiling, and I enjoyed it very much. It wasn’t quite as much of a page-turner for me as The Thirteenth Tale, maybe because it had a much larger cast and I lost rack of some of them, now and again. As a writer, I love a big cast, but the pacing is often more compelling if the cast is small. It’s on the shelf, though, and I know I’ll go back to it. I liked the idea of stories that need endings, and I really loved the ending of this book.

In the meantime, I had that hunger for another book.

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

I went into the Also Buys on Amazon (the section that says “Customers who bought this also bought:”) and found The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, which had a gorgeous cover. I do shop by cover. Always have. So, that became my next read.

My copy, though, has a different cover than this. 🙂 I suspect it’s the UK cover.

This book is really evocative. The imagery is just wonderful—I want to walk into that house with all the doorknobs hanging from the ceiling by ribbons, swaying slightly in the moonlight—and I read some passages multiple times, just for their beauty. The story is very layered, always peeling back a little more. More magic. More mystery. More love of stories and tangled chronologies—plus the idea that what you do can change the story, which is an idea I love to bits. I wasn’t as engaged with the protagonist in this story, but in a way, there was so much unfurling that I didn’t need to be. It’s a book I’ll need to go back and read again.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

It drove me to the author’s first book, The Night Circus. Once again, mine has a different cover, probably the UK cover. There are so many reviews for this book that I’m kind of amazed I didn’t hear about it sooner (It was published in 2012) but then I have been hiding in the writing cave.

I gobbled this one up. The magic and the stories, the imagery, the setting all wove a spell. Who wouldn’t love the notion of a night circus that suddenly appears and abruptly vanishes, as if it was never there? The tangled chronology was exactly what I love, and I adored the twist of star-crossed lovers. I loved the details of the historical setting, and how the two protagonists created magic for each other. What a debut novel! The book left me hungry for more, though, so I thought it might be first in a series, but it’s apparently a standalone. Well worth reading, though, if you like the items on my little bullet list above.

I’m reading some mysteries now, and will tell you about that next time, when I have a little collection of keepers to share. My goal is to do this once a month. We’ll see how it goes. In the meantime, happy reading!