Monday, September 16, 2019

Review: Just Ask!: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You

Just Ask!: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You Just Ask!: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You by Sonia Sotomayor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Years ago, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who has Type 1 Diabetes, was giving herself an injection of insulin in a ladies room. When she was done, another woman there commented to her friend that Sotomayor was a drug addict. Sotomayor politely set her straight and said "if you don't know why someone is doing something, just ask." This event stayed with Sotomayor and became the seed of this children's picture book about differences. Using the analogy of a garden (what if all the plants in our garden were all the same?) Sotomayor points out all the ways in which the differences among people make the garden of our world a richer place. She also encourages children that don't understand why another child or person seems different to (politely, of course) just ask. You could ask the other child, or if they can't explain, ask a teacher or a parent. Understanding differences helps us respect those differences and maybe even make a new friend, or be more helpful to that friend. If you understand about another child's asthma and you've been running around the playground all afternoon and they start wheezing, maybe you can offer to get their inhaler out of their backpack. Or maybe you can learn some ASL to talk with your friend, which is really learning a whole other language! Sotomayor says all of these things are possible once you have just asked.

This is a beautiful picture book.

Este libro también está disponible en una edición en español titulada ¡Solo Pregunta!

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Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Review: Gideon the Ninth

Gideon the Ninth Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I just... I honestly just don't know where to begin.

Gideon Nav is a swordswoman who is part of the order of the Ninth House. Well, by part of, I mean she's an indentured servant to. The order includes necromancers, including the resplendent Harrowhawk. Gideon has tried to escape her House eighty-seven times. And now, she is going to serve as a cavalier to Harrow as she competes in trials set by the Emperor: as Harrow seeks glory, Gideon seeks her freedom. This is the plan. This is probably a terrible plan. Especially since Gideon and Harrow are like... gasoline and a blowtorch? And from this explosive partnership, we have the makings of a classic Greek tragedy overlaid onto... a space opera. Of sorts.

This book reminds me of the feeling I had the first time I read Yoon Ha Lee. Complete disorientation and fascination, as I am immersed in a complex world without so much as a guidebook. (Well, I do have a dramatis personae list, at least. There's that.) Awe at the imagination, the strangeness, the sheer wit of the world-building. By the time I was a few chapters in, I was totally hooked because of the dynamic between Gideon (Griddle) and Harrow (who will have her own book next year) and wondering how this would play out. It's quite a tale.

I can honestly say it's like nothing I've ever read and I want more of it. I am looking forward to Harrow the Ninth.

I've purchased the audiobook, narrated by Moira Quirk, to read/listen to it again.

I received an Advanced Review Copy from in exchange for an honest review.

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Monday, September 9, 2019

Review: A Choir of Lies

A Choir of Lies A Choir of Lies by Alexandra Rowland
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When we last saw Yfling, Chant (his Master-Chant) had been the wrecking ball that brought down Nuryevet. Yfling, a sweet young man who loved nothing more than a good tumble with any handsome young man who was willing, always seemed like a deer caught in the glare of Chant's determination to bring down a corrupt, absurdist government. Three years later, we find him on his own, now himself a Chant, and the title of the book could have easily been "What the Hell Am I Doing Here?" or "How in the Name of Stories Am I Going to Fix This?" or possibly "I Don't Want to Be a Chant Anymore, Please Make It Stop." Of course, we're only getting part of what Yfling wanted to tell us because someone has redacted what he wrote (he wasn't supposed to be writing it down in the first place) and that includes burning some of it (starting at Chapter 3, just so you'll be prepared) and also has liberally commented all over what remains and we are not talking nice commentary ("You little shit.") in the beginning, though it does soften considerably by the almost end ("Ah, child. You are still so young."), which is something of a relief. Because Yfling needs the encouragement. He might have to fix a few things. Well, a lot of things. Okay, just because you make a mess doesn't mean you can't fix it. The right stories can fix things. Usually. Oh, and there is Love! Yfling, who has such a good heart, so deserves True Love. Frankly, the entire book is like a love letter to stories- those who tell them and those who read them.

If you loved A Conspiracy of Truths as much as I did, this will definitely be more of your jam. Rowland's books make me feel happy and hopeful and should make us all want to be worthy of our gifts that can bring about change. #hopepunkforever

Alexandra Rowland has assured me there will shortly be an audiobook offering of "A Choir of Lies" and I'll be buying it tout suite. I've listened to Conspiracy an embarrassing number of times.

I received a Digital and Paper Review Copy from Saga Press in exchange for an honest review. And frankly I am so glad no one has reached through my computer yet to redact this statement or add footnotes, I can't tell you.

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Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January

The Ten Thousand Doors of January The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

All the Stars.

January Schaller is seventeen when she finds The Ten Thousand Doors but a decade before she found her first door on her own. Living in Locke House, surrounded by the ill-gotten goods of Western Colonialism, she, her dog (Sin)Bad, and her friend/companion Jane, attempt to good-naturedly put up with the offenses of Mr. Cornelius Locke, her guardian, and the various members of his Society. Two things change on her seventeenth birthday- the odious Mr. Locke dispassionately tells her he believes her father Julian is dead, leaving January in Locke's dubious care, and January finds the book that opens the doors of her mind. And from that moment everything in her life changes.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January is more than a portal fantasy with a healthy overlay of magical realism. It's an anti-colonialism manifesto of sorts, and indictment of the marginalizing power that the wealthy have over those who are different, and how they can use that power and people for their own advantage. It's also an adventure story about friendship, and love and loyalty, and a story about good triumphing over evil that doesn't even seem to know it's evil in the first place. It's also a book-within-a-book story, just as there are worlds within worlds beyond Doors. Basically, it's wonderful and I hope everyone who loves fantasy gives it a whirl. It will not disappoint.

I received a paper and Kindle edition ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Sunday, September 8, 2019

Review: The Nightjar

The Nightjar The Nightjar by Deborah Hewitt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Nightjar is a fantasy novel set largely in an alternate London. Alice Windham, aka wrecking ball, is a young woman who crashes out of her everyday life one morning when a package, addressed to her but labeled "do not open" is left upon her doorstep. From the moment the package is delivered, her life careens out of her control. First the woman who apparently sent her the package dies in her arms, making her late to work, her job becomes a disaster, her dearest friend is hit by a car, and then a mysterious man named Crowley yanks her through a closet door in her childhood bedroom, to an alternate London "for her own safety." In this alternate London, Alice is introduced to a different reality and her magical Väki heritage.

Steeped in Finnish folklore elements, Hewitt has created a world in which each individual has a nightjar, not unlike Pullman's daemons of the His Dark Materials, that reflects the person's soul nature. Alice is the rarest of the rare, an aviarist, an individual who can see the nightjars of others, though never her own. Nightjars betray the emotions of their person, and Alice soon finds she can see if someone is lying or telling the truth, happy or sad, flirtatious or wary, all from observing the nightjars of others. But the central story of the book revolves around Alice searching for the captive nightjar of her beloved friend Jen, who is comatose. Along the way she learns of opposing factions, the Rookery, the Väki group to which she "belongs," the Beaks or Judicium who are part of the Ministry of Defence headed by Sir John Boleyn, and the Fellowship of the Pale Feather, whose mad leader Marianne wants to unleash plagues, who are the children of Death, on London, or more precisely, the Rookery. In further allusion to His Dark Materials, Alice does indeed travel into the land of the dead. But there are many twists and turns to this story, including one that might catch the reader off-guard. Many things are not what they seem to be here, and it seems that everyone wants an aviarist.

As portal fantasies go, The Nightjar is unusual in the capacity of some magic users (House Pellervoinen heritage) to open myriad doors within the Alternate London and our world. The portals are not fixed but entirely created. Each house has its own gifts, but the most interesting for me was that of Lintuvhati, the house of Death and its progenitor, Tuoni.

With a somewhat open ending, there is room for a sequel, which I'd be quite interested to read. Hewitt has created a fascinating world in The Nightjar.

I also listened to the audiobook, which is beautifully narrated by Tamaryn Payne.

CW: There is a scene in the middle of the book when Alice is seeking the aid of a necromancer, that is exceptionally grueling. It involves dog-fighting, and really, even if I tell you it's vital to remember necromancy is involved, it's not going to be any easier to read or listen to.

I received a paper Advanced Review Copy from Tor Books in exchange for an honest review.

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