Witchy Reads

Fiction has been awfully witchy this year, with strong showings across historical fiction, romance, and general fiction. For your reading pleasure, an incomplete list:


Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch by Rivka Galchen
In 1615 Germany, 74-year-old Katharina Kepler is accused of witchcraft, an accusation she shrugs off until it starts to stick. Told via Katharina’s dictation to a neighbor, court documents and witness testimony, this wry and witty novel is loosely based on a real witch trial (of physicist Johannes Kepler’s mother!).

Hour of the Witch by Chris Bohjalian
In 1660s Boston, headstrong Mary Deerfield petitions for divorce from her husband on grounds of cruelty, only to be ensnared by accusations of witchcraft from jealous neighbors and servants. As Mary tries to find an avenue to the life she envisions, the Puritan panic around her reaches a fever pitch.

The Manningtree Witches by A.K. Blakemore
Manningtree has been largely depleted of men since the beginning of the English Civil Wars. When Matthew Hopkins, Witchfinder General, arrives, he starts poking around the margins of town life, looking for covens and general witchcraft. 19-year-old Rebecca West tries to quell the rumors and protect her neighbors, even as accusations land at her door. Continue reading “Witchy Reads”

A guide to exploring new genres

Each year, groups of librarians from across the country hole up in a room (this year, a virtual room) to discuss and select the best books from the year before. The Notable Books List features literary fiction, nonfiction, and poetry; the Listen List is all about outstanding audiobooks; and The Reading List, which I want to tell you about today, highlights outstanding genre fiction in eight genres: Adrenaline (aka thrillers, adventure stories), Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Relationship Fiction, Romance, and Science Fiction.

While each genre has a winner, it also has a four-title shortlist of runners up. Taken together, the five books in each genre represent a range of the types of stories a reader can find in that genre, with the idea that both longtime fans and folks new to the genre can find a title of interest. If you are looking to branch out into new areas of fiction reading, it is a great place to start. Check out the 2021 winners (for books published in 2020) below, with annotations from the ALA Reading List Council, or in our catalog.


The Holdout by Graham Moore
Ten years after Maya Seale convinced her fellow jurors to acquit a man of murder, a true crime documentary reunites the jury amid claims of new Continue reading “A guide to exploring new genres”

Queering Historical Fiction & Historical Fantasy

Queer literature is booming right now, with more and better representation of LGBTQIA+ characters every year. Here are some recent historical novels and historical/alternate history fantasy to check out. First, some historical novels with queer protagonists:

The Best Bad Things by Katrina Carrasco is one gritty historical debut. It has a pretty fast-paced bent, introducing Alma, a bi undercover agent who routinely dresses and acts as a man, who loves fighting and collecting lovers, and gets into plenty of scrapes. Set in 1887 Port Townsend, WA, it centers on a group of opium smugglers and climbers on the make, with a widowed woman of color mastermind, Delphine, pulling strings behind the scenes. A little too violent for my tastes, but it all worked for the character and grimy setting. Here, too, is an article about the seedy Port Townsend history that inspired the novel. Continue reading “Queering Historical Fiction & Historical Fantasy”

Nightstand Reads with author Sara Donati

Where the Light Enters is the latest from Sara Donati, a bestselling author known for her riveting and well-researched historical novels. We asked her to share her own reading list with us:

I read a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction out of personal interest and professional necessity. My novels are deeply researched, so I spend a lot of time reading medical texts and government reports written before 1890.  But I also read contemporary and historical fiction of all stripes, from noir crime to romance to short story collections. Ancient Rome, modern-day Detroit, Victorian England, WWII China are all welcome.

If I continue thinking about a book long after I’ve finished it, I consider it time well spent. Here are some of my recent discoveries.

Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger
by Rebecca Traister
There is a lot to be angry about. Traister’s book came out just after Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified, and it reminded me that women’s anger, once focused, is hugely powerful. It has launched movements and revolutions that have changed the world for the better. Continue reading “Nightstand Reads with author Sara Donati”

Historical fantasy – the best of both worlds!

I appreciate the way genre designations can make books easier to find, but I confess that I love the bleeding edges where books shade from one genre into another; my current bailiwick is historical fantasy. I find that it brings the best elements of historical fiction – a strong sense of time, place, and culture – and melds it with the fantastical elements that make anything possible. Here are a few recent titles that I’ve been thrilled to find.

Book cover image for The Bird KingThe Bird King by G. Willow Wilson – In 1491, Granada, the last remaining vestige of Muslim Spain, has been surrounded and besieged by the Catholic Spanish forces of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. When a delegation comes inside the walled city to negotiate, young concubine Fatima is charged with welcoming the female delegates, including a member of the Spanish Inquisition. After Fatima accidentally reveals that her friend Hassan, the court’s mapmaker, can draw places he’s never seen and reshape reality, she realizes she has put him in danger. Aided by jinn, Fatima and Hassan flee the city. Continue reading “Historical fantasy – the best of both worlds!”