Cover Image: The Strange Inheritance of Leah Fern

The Strange Inheritance of Leah Fern

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On her 21st birthday, Leah Fern has planned an elaborate ceremony to end her life.  This ceremony is interrupted when a lawyer knocks on her door and tells her that her curmudgeonly and reclusive art photographer neighbor, Essie East, has died and left Leah a very strange inheritance.  Through a series of letters, Essie will lead Leah on a journey to nine different locations spanning from South Carolina to Canada, a journey which will reveal the story of Leah's own mother's disappearance when Leah was only 6 years old.  

Told alternating between the past and the present, this is filled with whimsy, heart, loss, mistakes, and discovering your own power.  Leah was an engaging character I could really get behind as a reader, and I enjoyed following her travels and the gentle unraveling of her tale. The magical realism elements blended well with the story.
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I was unable to finish this book. While I tried to return to it several times, it could not keep my attention when other books were available to read instead. It was not the right book  for me!
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Leah Fern grew up in a circus where her mother was a magician. She herself was a fortune teller from a young age. Her mother abandoned her when she was just 6 years old. She is now 21 and still hasn't gotten over the loss of her mother. On her birthday, she receives a strange and surprising inheritance that leads her on an international scavenger hunt. During her travels, she slowly unravels the mystery of her mother's disappearance. 

I liked the first few chapters of this book but ultimately didn't feel a connection to any of the characters. 

Thank you to Melville House Publishing and NetGalley for a review copy of this book.
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I loved this book so much. Magical realism is a favorite of mine. Wish it had its own category on here so books like this would be easier to find. Just a joy to read
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This was a fun little book. I don't generally enjoy anything historical but who could resist Leah Fern, lifelong carnival worker and her search? It was fun to follow her on her pilgrimage to find out more about her mother and herself along the way.
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Leah Fern grew up in a traveling carnival circuit and is how 21 years old.  She  has decided to  commit suicide because she doesn't know what has happened to her mother and has no desire to live.  That morning a neighbor knocks on her door and hands her a letter.   Her mysterious neighbor, the curmudgeonly and reclusive art photographer Essie East, has died and left Leah a very strange inheritance. Through a series of letters, Essie will posthumously lead Leah on a journey to nine points on the map, spanning from South Carolina to Canada to the Arctic Circle—a journey that, the first note promises, will reveal the story of Leah's mother.  A good story that shows there is always a reason to continue living.
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I love books with just the hint of magical realism. For example, I am a big of Sarah Addison Allen, so I was excited to try this  one. I enjoyed the main character and her storyline, but it took me longer than usual to read. I can't quite put my finger get on why. I just wasn't hooked.  That said, the concept was fresh and enjoyable!
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They sang “broken luck”, “gathering gloom”, “dogs of doom”, and she felt as if they were singing for her, as if they knew her.

This is a story of abandonment, one that has Leah Fern, on her 21st birthday, ready to start her own death clock. Whose absence could drive the young woman, who at six years old was know as “The Youngest and Best Fortune Teller in the World”, to long for nothing more than erase herself? Her mother, of course. Leah Fern was born in a trailer in the Alabama fields of the Blazing Calyx Carnival to Jeannie Starr, a dazzling magician, but it is Leah who is fated to be something special. Her beautiful mother tells her since she was a baby her big eyes were always looking around, as if she knew even secret things. In this place of mysteries, where her best friends are HerSweet, the Bearded Lady, and Rubberband Man, the contortionist, each day feels like a treasure. Hank, the ‘oily and baleful carnival owner’ and her mother’s lover, is the dark spot in their magical life. Young though she is, Leah knows cruelty when she sees it, and his weak charms don’t work on her. She may not know who her father is, but Hank isn’t a man anyone would dream of calling daddy. As she amazes folks with her insight peering into their future, it is her own that will puzzle and torment her.

Leah never got used to the silence that remained anytime her mother left their trailer, but she never imagined Jeannie’s vanishing would be permanent. She is left in the care of her mother’s friend, the kind, elderly Edward Murphy, who becomes a father of sorts, but it is loneliness they share waiting for Jeannie’s return. Growing up she endured pain, absorbing others’ emotions and feelings, and if it’s enchanting, it leaves her feeling wounded, out of sorts more than gifted. She does not fit the mold in South Carolina, not this carnival born empath. As she comes of age, she begins to feel like an unloved thing, more so after Edward’s death. Believing that she has no one and nothing left, everything of Edward’s goes to his kin, but it is a stranger whose death alters her future. She is shocked to discover that Essie East has left her an inheritance. Essie was an elderly downstairs neighbor, a disheveled, strong character but they didn’t really know each other well. How is it possible the peculiar old woman could make a request of her? What, exactly, awaits Leah in the cardboard box left to her? Will she act upon what Essie is telling her to do posthumously, in letters? What is in it for Leah? This puts a snag in her plan to kill herself and as she sets off, there seems to be more questions than answers about her mother and herself. All this time Essie was a spy in their midst, but why?

The trips are almost like following a treasure map, or ghosts of things past, but will it be enough to root her to the world again? Will it summon her mother? It is a tale of women, art, magic, love, longing, grief, beginnings and endings. She will learn that “we are all just carrying bits of each other” and maybe her mother can become more than a myth in her painful memories.

It’s a sad and beautiful tale, one of how hope can lift us or keep us tied in knots of anticipation. It is about feeling like you don’t belong nor matter. It’s how things can take hold of us and tear us from those who need us, even pride, but some things you cannot come back from. It’s a heavier read than I thought it would be based on the cover and blurb. Beautiful journey back to life.

Published October 4, 2022

Melville House Publishing
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It's hard for me to turn away a book with an elephant on the cover, even a statue of an elephant like the one featured here. Which, I'll admit, is the initial reason I clicked on this book on Netgalley. But the description sounded right up my alley too: roadtrip novel, mysterious treasure hunt of letters, a circus setting for at least part of it -- sign me right up! 

On the eve of her planned suicide, Leah Fern receives a package from the lawyer of her recently deceased neighbor with a letter that implores her to spread the neighbor's ashes at various points around North America, offering Leah answers to a mystery she's held most of her life -- what happened to Leah's mother. When Leah was young, her mother dropped her off with an old friend, Edward Murphy, and never returned. Now, fifteen years later and desperately alone, Leah finds the possibility hard to resist, setting her off on a solitary adventure in a dusty old pickup with only the company of a bejeweled urn filled with the ashes of a woman she barely knew. 

I think the premise of this story is impeccable. I am all in on this premise. But there were some parts of the execution that fell apart for me. Firstly, I didn't and still don't understand the initial suicide plan of Leah's, both why it was included and the ritualistic method she planned to use. I felt like we didn't know her well enough to understand her desperation at that point, and it never really explained itself. I also had a hard time following the timeline, as we jump between not only Leah's present and past, but also the present and past of Essie East (the deceased neighbor) as she slowly reveals her story through letters scattered around North America. I loved the character of Edward Murphy, Leah's foster parent of sorts, with his gentle kindness and far-reaching compassion, but I wished we got more of him, his motivations, his backstory, why Leah's mother chose him to raise her child. 

However, I did love the characters Leah met along her journey. At each and every point, she meets at least one fantastic character, that both reveals more of Leah's character to the reader and just spices up the narrative in delightful ways. There were a couple stand-outs to me (namely the first and last), but not an uninteresting one in the bunch. 

There's a lot to unpack in this story, and I'm not sure it got unpacked all the way, but still held my interest and I'll be interested to see what else Chin writes in the future!

3.5 Stars

Thanks to Netgalley and Melville House for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review!
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Thank you  Melville House and NetGalley for the ARC of The Strange Inheritance of Leah Fern by Rita Zoey Chin.  
Leah's mother disappears when she is 6 years old. Her mother is a magician and Leah is an empath.  When Leah turns 21, she receives an inheritance from a stranger. This inheritance takes her on a journey across the world and little by little she unravels the mystery of her mother's disappearance.  The characters in this novel are so interesting and I will definitely be looking for more books by Chin!
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This is one of those books that you don't quite know what it will make you feel until you begin to read it, and then you realize by the end that it made you feel a little bit of everything - equal parts uplifting and heart-rending, following our main character Leah is an experience of the full range of life's emotions from beginning to end. 

I was initially intrigued to read this based on the description of her involvement in the carnival, but what kept me interested was the slow unraveling of clues and Leah's past as she embarks on a road trip to find the answers she has been looking for most of her life. For a book that barely broke 300 pages, this had an insane amount of heart.
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Loved it! This was one strange book, but in a good way. For someone who hasn't left South Carolina in years, Leah goes to the extreme after receiving Essie's letters. All Leah ate on her road trip was candy, mostly Easter candy. I'm not sure how she survived driving all those miles of peeps, jelly beans and Cadbury eggs. The sugar must have kept her alert. Jeannie Starr was a horrible mother. Who drops their child off at a stranger's house? I don't understand why Jeannie did this. Edward was a complete stranger. Edward and Leah kept waiting for Jeannie to return and never got on with their life. They were stuck and never moved on. Leah never got over the abandonment and was also afraid to leave incase her mom would finally appear. Essie's letters were exactly what Leah needed. I loved Leah's adventures. Essie's letters and the story of the Moss Witches was one of my favorite parts of the book. I was al little shocked when Essie finally revealed the truth to Leah. Leah's life would have been different if Jeannie would have contacted her. Leah might have actually went to the elephant sanctuary.

Definitely recommend the book. Loved the story, characters and writing style. It was an interesting read that had me hooked from the first page until the last. I couldn't wait to find out what happened to Jeannie. Look forward to reading more books by the author.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Melville House Publishing, through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
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Unique story based on a truly unique character. This book is a testament to the fact that we  often learn our most important lessons from others after they are gone. Leah Fern, alone in the world at 20, has spent over two-thirds of her life hoping to be reunited with her mother. When a downstairs neighbor who she doesn’t know leaves her a clue, she finds herself overcoming fears, surprising herself, and learning more about the magic of life and love than she could have imagined. At times heartbreaking, at others uplifting, I found myself entranced in Leah’s exploration of the past as she awakens to her own story in a new way.

Thank you to Melville House Publishing, Netgalley, and author Rita Zoey Chin for early access to this fascinating tale full of lovely prose.
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Surprisingly good. I wasn't sure what to expect here, but the writing and story are quite strong. I look forward to Chin's future work with anticipation. 

Thanks very much for the free ARC for review!!
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Thank you to Melville House Publishing and NetGalley for this ARC in exchange for an honest review!

The Strange Inheritance of Leah Fern by Rita Zoey Chin is a beautiful contemporary fiction about a woman's quest to find out who her mother was. The story revolves around Leah, who was abandoned by her magician mother when she was 6 years old. When she turns 21, she receives an inheritance that starts her on an international quest. Will she discover who her mother was, and why she disappeared from her life?

Here is a beautiful excerpt from Chapter 1:

"Leah had imagined it for years, the way some girls imagine the ordered rituals of their weddings - the dress, the march, the ordained officiant, the declarations, the dance, the toss, the waves goodbye before crossing that threshold - but here, in her dark iris velvet dress, in her small candlelit apartment in the tiny town of Hilda, South Carolina, where Mozart's Requiem in D Minor was moving toward its crescendo and the beat-up ebony grandfather lock she'd lugged home from a roadside sale was gonging through the hours, she was the sole officiator and attendee of this, the grand ceremony of her last breath."

Overall, The Strange Inheritance of Leah Fern is a strange and quirky novel that will appeal to fans of other strange and quirky novels. One highlight of this book is the delightful prose and plot. This book was beautifully written and had a wonderful story. Although the book was great, I did take off 1 star, because I found the jumping timelines to be confusing. If you're intrigued by the excerpt above, or if you're a fan of contemporary fiction or magical realism, I recommend that you check out this book when it comes out in October!
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It started so well, that I kept reading for quite a long time before giving up. The descriptive voice is often lovely and often just too much. Moderation would. have been more appealing to me. Also, the central mystery, what happened to Leah's mother, is addressed too slowly and ostensibly in the unrelated story of Essie. Eventually, I just  gave up and jumped to the end.
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This quirky road trip/coming of age novel follows empath Leah Fern both from the strange launch of a magical journey of discovery on her 21st birthday and in flashbacks of her childhood as the daughter of a magician in a traveling circus and her mother’s abandonment when she was six years old. It’s beautifully written and atmospheric.
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Social outcasts, or rather, those outside of the social norm, have always been lightning rods for societies worst behaviors. But Rita Zoey Chin has utilized the carny characters to showcase the softer, more beautiful side of the world. Through life lessons from those social outcasts, Leah Fern, our protagonist begins her life on the day of her supposed death. Paced swiftly and illustratively, readers are taken along for the beautiful ride of their life in this novel.
Under Chin's deliberate hands, readers are delicately directed into painful, and for some, traumatizing themes. Through the soft touch of Chin's words and the storyline she carefully crafted, The Strange Inheritance of Leah Fern is a needed reminder in this day-and-age that life can be soft, healing can be soft, and sometimes the steps to healing ourselves are as sensitive and light as a gas pedal.
I only have two critiques for this book. The first being that the blurb is a summary of the first two chapters, therefore the reader is left rushing through the details to catch up to the story they know is coming. Secondly, the ending didn't entirely satiate me when it comes to this story. I don't just want the completion of Leah Fern's trip to be to discover some truths; I want to have some insight into what those truths did to her life. Even if it's just a page that says, "Leah Fern learned how to make her memories a part of her family," that would be enough. To me, answers aren't always the end of the story because answers don't answer for the reactions they cause.
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Leah is lonely and sad, and has never really known or understood her mother.  A series of letters guides her on a road trip where she figures out more about her past.  

There are moments of beauty and discovery in the writing.
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A beautifully written magical story about Leah Fern who makes a long and wondrous journey to find her past, her present and her future all  at once. Along this strange pilgrimage she finds pieces of the mother who abandoned her long ago discovering herself as well in the process. With wonderful  descriptive writing that reminded me of Alice Hoffman and Sarah Addison Allen, this is a book to be savored for the sentences and images alone.
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