Black Leopard, Red Wolf
Marlon James’s latest wonder begins with the disappearance of a young boy. The first installment of the Booker Prize winner’s Dark Star Trilogy, Black Leopard, Red Wolf closely follows Leopard (a shapeshifter) and Tracker (a “hunger of lost folk” with a preternatural sense of smell) as the mercenary duo comb through the jungles of pre-colonial Africa in search of the child. Set in a world filled with witches, vampires, mermaids, slavers, and formidable queens, Black Leopard, Red Wolf’s luminescent prose transports readers to an unforgettable realm where a well-told story is just as valuable as a sharp sword. Unshakably searing and vivid, James’s inventive novel is a spellbinding start to a fascinating saga.
Helen Oyeyemi’s hypnotically allusive novel centers around three generations of women—Margot, Harriet, and Perdita—as they reckon with the thwarted dreams and desires that have shaped them into the women they’ve become. With each chapter, Gingerbread mixes memories of the unusual land of Druhástrana with the aftermath of age-old curses and diabolical deeds that cannot be undone. Thrillingly unpredictable and unnerving, Oyeyemi’s world—where dolls talk, girls hide in wells, and gingerbread is a life-threatening confection—is ultimately a moving meditation on free will, power, and intergenerational trauma. Like all of Oyeyemi’s books, Gingerbread is a masterpiece that will swallow you whole without apology.
Masterfully penned by the iconic Margaret Atwood, the stories that appear in Stone Mattress “owe a debt to tales through the ages.” Within this collection, Atwood—who is well-known for crafting narratives that entrap readers like flies in a web—skillfully intertwines humor, heart, and horror with each story. Through the eyes of a young woman whose family thinks she’s a monster, the driven persistence of a vengeful widow, and the desperation of an elderly woman who sees what others cannot, Atwood’s Stone Mattress will force readers to examine how myths and lore can be a mirror for hidden and difficult truths. Skillfully haunting from start to finish, Atwood’s collection is as timely as it is gripping.
The Sea Beast Takes a Lover
In Michael Andreasen’s debut short story collection, readers quickly learn to expect the unexpected. Amidst lovelorn sea monsters, ailing patriarchs, violent little boys, and headless girls, Andreasen’s audience will find fragments of themselves. Deliciously strange and defiantly dark, The Sea Beast Takes a Lover is an existential tour-de-force that isn’t afraid to flirt with fabulism. Reminiscent of Donald Barthelme’s wry satires and Edward Gorey’s grim humor, Andreasen’s unconventional stories are best enjoyed when savored slowly.
The Dream Peddler
Martine Fournier Watson
Martine Fournier Watson’s debut novel, The Dream Peddler, begins as “the light of the gold harvest moon” wakes Benjamin Dawson from his dreams. Entranced by the glow of the moonlight, the 9-year-old-boy slips out of bed and into the night. Awash in poetic language and remarkable characters, Watson’s tale follows the aftermath of young Benjamin’s disappearance as it coincides with the arrival of Robert Owens, a traveling salesman peddling a mysterious elixir that allegedly gives users the ability to control their dreams. A makeshift cure-all for the frustrations, fears, and prolonged hopes of the townspeople, the peddler’s presence gradually divides the town into those who believe in the power of his elixir and those who are convinced that he’s a fraud. A mesmerizing story forged by breathtaking prose, Watson’s novel is an intoxicating exploration of desire and loss.
As children, Daniel, Karla, Simon, and Varya visit a psychic in Manhattan who tells them each the exact date of their deaths. Irrevocably shaken, the psychic’s predictions loom over their heads as they transition from childhood and adolescence into adulthood. Varya becomes a scientist and sequesters herself in her research, Daniel embarks on a mission to find the psychic (who he discovers is a fraud) from his childhood, and Simon and budding medium Klara stumble into new lives on the West Coast. As they weather the ups and downs of adulthood, their connections to each other and who they used to be are eroded, ultimately pulling them further apart. An ingenious depiction of human closeness, family, and faith, Chloe Benjamin’s second novel is a meaningful examination of mortality and hope.
St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves
Even after a decade, Karen Russell’s debut collection, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, still captivates with ease. Comprised of 10 skillfully crafted stories, the MacArthur fellow’s bestseller is filled with wit and electrifying prose. With each story, Russell creates a new reality that revolves around protagonists on the brink of the unknown: growing up. Whether they’re raised by werewolves, haunted by their sister’s ghost, or sprouting horns, the characters in this collection are a vibrant reminder of the endless magic and mystery of discovering oneself. Russell’s stories are undeniably otherworldly.
In Daniel Quinn’s lore-filled thriller, 60-something detective Howard Sheim is tasked with tracking down Ashtoroth, Baal, and Moloch—the false gods of the Old Testament—for a millionaire. This uncommon request forces Howard to seek the help of psychics, mystics, pagans, and occultists as he digs for the truth. With each chapter, what started off as just another gig quickly evolves into something much deeper. A satisfyingly camp commentary on power, tradition, and faith, The Holy is a spirited allegory for postmodern readers, especially for those who consider themselves to be cynics.
The Bloody Chamber
A master of reinvention, Angela Carter’s reworkings of age-old fairytales are filled with anxiety, doom, and the sort of devastating beauty that seeps into the marrow of readers’ bones. No longer merely cautionary, Carter’s retellings seamlessly bring new life and depth to age-old archetypes and well-known endings. Within The Bloody Chamber, “Beauty and the Beast,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” and even “Puss-in-Boots” are transformed into something grittier and more universal. In Carter’s hands, even the most familiar story can elicit awe and dread. Unsettling and stirring, The Bloody Chamber’s pages are as memorable as the woman who wrote them.
Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm
Published in celebration of the Grimm fairy tales’ bicentennial, Philip Pullman’s collection breathes new life into 50 well-loved tales, resulting in a provocative re-envisioning of some of literature’s most celebrated classics. Pullman’s retellings pair familiar narratives like “Cinderella,” “Hansel and Gretel,” and “Rumpelstiltskin” with lesser known offerings like “The Little Shroud,” “The Singing Bone,” and “The Girl with No Hands.” A spellbinding primer for any fairy tale lover, Pullman’s collection taps into the timeless wonder that has become synonymous with the Brothers Grimm.
Before stories could be scrawled onto the page, folktales, fables, and myths existed. Passed from one generation to the next by oral storytellers, elders, and travelers from afar, so many of the tales that we know today were first shared beneath star-speckled skies as listeners crowded around crackling fires, breathless with suspense. Stories of magical creatures, lost children, wayward sorcerers, and enchanted lands, fairy tales—old and modern alike—are a manifestation of our universal hopes and fears, a compelling portrait of what it means to be human. So much more than just “once upon a time,” fairy tales laid the foundation for modern fiction.
Through the voices of contemporary titans like Margaret Atwood, Marlon James, Helen Oyeyemi, and Karen Russell, impossible tales live on. Ancient and ever-evolving at once, fairy tales—fabulism, magical realism, fantasy, and horror—remind us just how powerful a captivating story can be.
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