Sunday, September 30, 2018

Review: The Reckless Club

The Reckless Club The Reckless Club by Beth Vrabel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Beth Vrabel has done it again, offering up another middle grade book about transformative friendships and experiences between teens and adults. In The Reckless Club (which if you're thinking it sounds a bit like the Breakfast Club you wouldn't be wrong) the story begins on August 23, at the end of summer vacation, a just before the start of high school. We meet Jason (the Nobody), Lillith (the Drama Queen and do not call her Lily), Wes (the Flirt), Ally (the Athlete, aka Sports Barbie) and Rex (the Rebel, or hey, Just Rex) they are going to spend time doing community service hours at a nursing home. Each youth has their own history that informed some behavior that earned them detention at the end of middle school. Spending the day helping out at the old folks home managed by their principal's sister is a way to serve their detention instead of starting their school year with one.

One of the things that Vrabel excels at is developing tween and teen characters who are unique and who have unique family challenges and vulnerabilities. Each of these children has an interesting story and the alliances formed on their community service day is a pretty timeless trope that works well in Vrabel's hands. These are kids that middle graders and young teens will relate to and who may encourage them to look deeper at peers and adults. I especially love the aspect of interacting with the elderly, something that can be so valuable for young people and which sometimes they resist.

Another positive Vrabel book about not being as alone or invisible as you think you are.

I received a Digital Review Copy from Running Press Kids via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: A Promise Stitched in Time

A Promise Stitched in Time A Promise Stitched in Time by Colleen Kosinski
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A Promise Stitched in Time is a novella with an interesting premise and a disappointing execution. Dedicated to the memory of two women seamstresses held prisoners at Auschwitz, the book involves Maggie McConnell, who recently lost her father, and her quest to find a suitable subject for a painting that could earn her a summer art academy scholarship. She searches in thrift shops for items to paint and walks away with an old coat that has memories (and more) imbued in it. My problem with the book lies with a painfully real series of events in human history (Shoah, the Holocaust) being convolved with pseudoscience like astrology and theories like reincarnation. There's already enough Holocaust denial out there. Do we really want to juxtapose these two unprovable/pseudoscience-y things with something history tells us is fact? While it's evident that the author's intent was positive, the convolving of the real with unreal just felt poorly conceived. I think this book was a missed opportunity. I felt there should have been ways to tell Maggie and Gittel's story better, more realistically and more authentically. Just having Maggie solve the mystery of the coat and having Gittel explain the story of it and retrieve the personal item in it could have been a magnificent story about a young person building a relationship and learning history from an elderly Holocaust survivor. Maggie could have painted Gittel's memories in that context.

I received a Digital Review Copy of this book from NetGalley and Schiffer Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

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Thursday, September 27, 2018

Review: Exit Strategy

Exit Strategy Exit Strategy by Martha Wells
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"But maybe I had a place to be while I figure it out."

Reader, as I read the last lines of the last Murderbot installment until 2020 I had a complex emotion.

The emotion was 80% sad longing for more Murderbot, plus 10% of wishing Martha Wells could write the forthcoming Murderbot full-length novel much faster, and yet another 10% of wondering how I will get to give me that one ASAP. Because until then, I'll be missing Murderbot.

This is such a splendid series and I'm frankly a bit in awe of how Martha Wells can cross so smoothly back and forth between high fantasy (Hugo finalist Raksura Series) and Sci-Fi. Murderbot is a compelling character that I almost (please don't ever tell him I said this!) forget that he's an AI and not a human. This is a SecUnit with more humanity than many people have nowadays. (Do you watch the news?) A SecUnit with loyalty, morals, and courage. And cunning. And who likes a good solid currency card and also a hotel room with a very large display surface. Also, humans who let SecUnits handle security because really, we humans are so oblivious to what's important we should leave it all to someone like MurderBot. But if you want to contract with them for your security you're going to have to talk to their legal counsel first. Because this SecUnit has plenty of friends and colleagues looking out for them and their best interests. (Please don't stand too close and for heaven's sake, don't stare with awe. Murderbot detests that sort of thing.)

With a satisfying end of the novella story arc and a solid platform on which to build a novel story arc, all I can say is...

Is it 2020 yet?

I received a copy of a paper ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Review: Barren

Barren Barren by Peter V. Brett
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

3.5 Stars

Upon accepting to review this novella, I read the first two books in the Demon Cycle series to try to learn about the setting, the magic system, and frankly to gather my own thoughts about a series that I've seen alternately praised and reviled by readers as stunning but filled with violence, especially sexual violence. I can definitely say that The Painted/Warded Man and Desert Spear are violent books, with ample sexual violence (female and male rape). I also took time to read an AMA on Reddit in which Brett tried to explain his rationale for the sexual violence in his stories and in a way, his point about how common sexual violence is is certainly being made for him at present when one peruses the tweets with #MeToo and #WhyIDidntReport hashtags all over Twitter. Sexual assault is an all too common experience in our culture and the will to survive and thrive is one that needs stoking. However, I also think it's a valid point that some readers may want fantasy without this particular horror. This series is definitely not for those people who don't want to see sexual violence in fantasy. For those who might want a taste of the series without the level of violence in some of the earlier books but with a feel for the magical battles against demonic creatures called the corelings, Barren might be a fit, though I'm not sure its the best entry point for these series since it does appear to have, unsurprisingly given its position in the Demon Cycle timeline, spoilers for the series. I'm also not sure it's Brett's finest writing in terms of character development compared to what I've seen.

Barren is the story of Selia Square, a Speaker (Leader) of Tibbet's Brook. Selia is sixty-nine at the book's opening but the magical warding used in battling demons that plague Tibbet's Brook has caused a reversed aging process and she looks much younger than her years. She has taken a much younger woman as a lover (Selia is a lesbian) and she worries that this will give her community the excuse to "stake her" like they have recently done to another woman, who I gather was a central character in the Demon Cycle series. (Staking someone at night in this world seems to imply they will meet a horrible end, though honestly I'm not 100% sure that the character referred to really bit the demon dust.) Even the community's minister, Tender Harral warns Selia about her misguided ways, and when Selia responds that she is who she is, he replies that "We are who we want to be," echoing the offensive real world idea of a "lifestyle choice." Selia, of course, scoffs at his warning. We get to see several relationships that Selia has had thanks to flashbacks to fifty years before, when she was a young woman of nineteen rejecting the idea of marrying an eligible young man her father approves of and who, it seems, becomes a lifelong foe of hers, as a result of this perceived slight. The development of Selia as a gay character was balanced between her sexuality and prowess as a demonfighter/leader in her community, meaning her success as an individual, something I always consider a positive. Selia's various lovers show robust physical affection with her and the physicality was pleasant to read, as well.

Although through the flashbacks we come to see Selia's terrible loss of a lover, and the lasting consequences, to the present day, that followed this tragedy, I can't say that I felt I learned much about many of the other characters in the novella. They were rather thin characterizations, and in some ways I find that quite uncharacteristic of Brett's writing, which, while it may not be quite my fare, is skilled in both world-building and character development according to what I found in the first two novels.

I'd heartily recommend this novella for longtime readers of the Demon Cycle series. It may also satisfy those who are looking for shorter works depicting queer characters working their way into an open lifestyle in a resistant community. Selia's success is the most heartening part of the story for me.

I received a copy of the final book from Harper Voyager in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: I Am Jazz

I Am Jazz I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's Banned Books Week and I'm celebrating a book that has been banned for its message of positivity and acceptance of transgender kids.

During the years that I was a Guardian ad Litem (Court Appointed Special Advocate) in the child welfare system in Miami I had two cases of children in the foster care system who were transgender. I can unequivocally say that allowing a child to be their authentic self, regardless of the gender assigned at birth, is one of the most powerful gifts you can give. It is literally a life-sustaining gift for some children. Getting there, to that authentic expression, can too often be a difficult process for a child, because of the peers and adults who are in the life of a child who is transgender.

I Am Jazz is a children's picture book that tells the story of Jazz Jennings, a transgender youth activist who hails from my own South Florida. Jazz is the founder of the TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation and an outspoken member of the LGBTQ community, as well as a media personality with her own TV show on TLC. She recently published Being Jazz detailing her life as a transgender teen. I'm pretty sure that one's been banned, too.

So why am I reviewing a picture book? The younger a child is allowed to express their authentic self, the less likely they are to suffer from the crushing depression and various body issues at puberty that often affect transgender adolescents and can greatly complicate their transition to their true gender. It means making children who feel they are not the right gender aware that this is a known thing, they aren't alone, and that there isn't something wrong with them, all of which is absolutely vital for a trans child. It means giving trans kids more words to share and express how they feel with the adults in their lives, if their parents still haven't fully come to terms with their child's sense of self. It means their peers knowing this is something that happens with some children and that there isn't something wrong with them. It also evidently means that some people think kids shouldn't know about these things and can get a book banned from school and even public library shelves.

Having books out there that reassure trans kids that they're not alone ("There's a book! About a kid just like me! And she's happy!") gives them a head start toward building the resilience to live their lives being their authentic selves. Jazz, with her courage to be herself and share her experience with others, is a role model for all children.

Does your library have any of Jazz's books?


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Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Review: For a Muse of Fire

For a Muse of Fire For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For a Muse of Fire is that rare thing, a book that is a pastiche of so many disparate themes that flow together to make something truly unique. Heilig, whose previous books The Girl from Everywhere and The Ship Beyond Time were fantasy adventure time travel stories, surprises in this new trilogy with a book that is a seamless blend of colonialism, necromancy, puppetry and mental health issues. Set in a Southeast Asian country* that echoes colonial Thailand and French Indochina** (Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos), Heilig gives us the story of Jetta, whose family, the Ros Nai, perform in puppet theater, one of the few remaining aspects of their country's culture and one that fascinates their colonizers. (See examples of relevant puppetry below) Jetta's artistry is fueled by a dark secret- she sees the souls of the recently dead and can capture them and force them into objects, like her puppets, or even stone. But magic has been banned since the Aquitans (basically the French) have colonized the region and Jetta doesn't know everything about her power because she has to hide it and cannot safely explore it. Threading the dangerous line between exploiting her magic in their performances to gain fame and a wider audience and the risk of discovery, Jetta wishes to reach Aquitan, the capital, where she hopes to be healed from her malheur (her misfortune, i.e. her mental health issues, which in all honesty were not very much in evidence in this first book). Presented like a play in three acts, the interplay of the resistance and outright rebellion against the often brutish Aquitan colonizers and Jetta's family's struggle makes for a compelling and sometimes heartbreaking read. The conclusion of this first novel leaves the reader heartbroken for Jetta's family.

The physical book that I received for review is peppered with ephemera from theatrical performance promotional flyers to telegraphs to sheet music. What was missing in the ARC and what I had hoped had found its way into the final version of a book (I actually held the review until release day to verify) was a glossary. Targeting young adults, or really any reader, I think the book would have greatly benefitted from a glossary of French terms (e.g. malheur and fantouche/fantoche) which I still do not see in the final book. Other than that odd defect, this is just a stunning book unlike anything that I've read in recent years in fantasy. It is not, however, an easy book to process and I fear some readers will be deterred by its complexity of language, structure, and cultural message. For instance, the Asian cultural aspect, other than shadow puppetry, of the Chakrana setting feels as if it has been almost extinguished or overwritten by the colonizing Aquitan/French culture, which I am assuming is Heilig's entire point here. Also, readers of #ownvoices books may be puzzled by Jetta's lack of an obvious display of mental health (bipolar) symptomatology. Since this is a trilogy and the end of the first book is so crushing, I am assuming that how Jetta deals with these traumatic events will evidence her struggles more in the next book.

I avidly look forward to the next book in this series. This is a truly novel world.

*Chakrana, which on the map in the final edition of the book looks somewhat like Cambodia, is actually an Urdu word that means Swirled, which is rather interesting considering the setting.

**The real military history in this region of Southeast Asia is complex. The Franco-Thai war took place during WWII, when Thailand recovered territory conquered by France from 1893-1907 (Franco-Siamese War and later encroachments) and which was placed under the Indochinese Union. Due to interventions of the Japanese, Thailand did, in fact, recover territory.

Puppetry is an integral part of Southeast Asian culture, whether the Wayang kulit of Indonesia or the Nang sbek thom of Cambodia or farther afield in China. Examples of traditional Thai shadow puppetry (Nang yai) and music can be seen here and while traditional Thai three dimensional puppetry (Hun krabok) can be seen here. For a regional twist on the shadow puppet theme check out the dragons in this example of Vietnamese water puppetry here.

I received a DRC copy from Greenwillow Books via Edelweiss, along with a paper ARE copy, in exchange for an honest review.

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Monday, September 24, 2018

Review: Small Spaces

Small Spaces Small Spaces by Katherine Arden
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

3.5 Stars

Katherine Arden is one of my favorite new authors and I nominated her for a Campbell Award earlier this year for her magnificent subversion of the gender roles in Russian mythology in The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower. She started telling her readers about writing a middle grade story late last year and I was excited to have won a copy in one of her Instagram giveaways this spring.

From the first time I heard the title Small Spaces and read the blurb "Avoid large spaces. Keep to small." I was reminded of one of my all time favorite Japanese fairy tales, "The Boy Who Drew Cats" as translated by Lafcadio Hearn. In that story a young acolyte is sent away from his temple for perpetually drawing cats. When sent on his way, his priest tells him "Avoid large places at night. Keep to small." Hiding overnight in a deserted temple in a nearby village, he remembers the words and after a day of drawing cats all over the walls of the interior, he sleeps inside a small cabinet. In the night his cat drawings save him by coming alive, attacking and killing a rat goblin that had been menacing the temple and village. (And I have to give a shout out the the marvelous retelling of this story, as "The Girl Who Drew Cats" by the late Eugie Foster in The King of Rabbits and Moon Lake.) I'm pretty sure that Katherine Arden knew this story and let its safety warning inspire her own tale.

In Arden's Small Spaces Olivia aka Ollie or Ollie-Pop Adler is a math whiz sixth grader who is still aching over the loss of her mother. She's withdrawn from so many of the activities she enjoyed as a fifth grader in her small Vermont town's school, including chess club and softball. She's stubbornly sticking to her books and her loner ways when strange events result in her stealing (the shock!) a book a mysterious woman was about to throw in the river. (Throwing a book in the water like that was clearly sacrilege, so it's justified theft to Ollie's mind.) The book "Small Spaces" is a cautionary tale, and that tale comes to life during a school field trip to the Misty Valley Farm. Or was that Smoke Hollow Farm. Hmmm. Good question. Oh those creepy Websters! A few hours into the field and Ollie is less certain that "Small Spaces" is fascinating and creepy fiction and more certain that it's a scary autobiography. But how will Ollie will keep her friends Coco and Brian safe when her beloved mom's broken watch mysteriously starts a count down and tells her to RUN in capital letters? Well, after running, you know you're going to have to hide. And you already can guess that small spaces are the safest bet!

This is a fun Halloween story for younger middle graders. Its central characters include Ollie, who is recovering from the loss of her mother, Coco the city girl who moved to the country but who turns out to have more than a few unexpected skills, and Brian, a burgeoning hockey star with a surprising love of Alice in Wonderland. What I love best about the story is its clear message to children that sometimes you need to slow down and look at your peers with a little more open-mindedness to see them clearly and realize they could be great friends.

Arden's first foray into children's fiction was a charmer. I hope she'll continue writing both adult and children's fiction and I'm happy for her that she's now confident about writing two very different books at once. (She was writing this book when she was writing The Winter of the Witch which I cannot WAIT to read!)

I received and ARC from the author in a Giveaway.

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Sunday, September 23, 2018

Review: The Sisters of the Winter Wood

The Sisters of the Winter Wood The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner
My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

Maybe 3.75 Stars?

The Sisters of the Winter Wood is the debut novel of literary agent Rena Rossner. In a YA story that melds themes of The Goblin Market by Rosetti with elements of Russian and Jewish folkore, Rossner captures the relationship between two sisters, Liba and Laya, their adolescent longing for love and romance, cobbled with a family secret that involves magical transformation of shapshifters. The historical fantasy itself is set against the backdrop of all too real danger- the era of the pogroms that took place at the turn of the 20th Century in Moldova. Written in a style of alternating prose and prose poem chapters, reflecting the differing natures of Liba and Laya, this is a story that evolves at a slow and lyrical pace.

I have a complex set of feelings about this novel. Unlike some other reviewers I'm not bothered at all by the alternating chapters with prose and poetry as I thought it simply reflected the animal natures of the two sisters, bear and swan. I actually enjoyed the alternating chapters and felt Laya's lightness of commentary suited the character. What I had a harder time with is the romance aspect of the story, especially with pogroms used as a backdrop for the romantic/historical fantasy. Pogroms were real, deadly, and terrifying. I have trouble seeing them as backdrop and view them more as a foreground topic and not for a romance fantasy. And even the associations of a Jewish bear and a goyim swan, since it seems to implicitly reinforce a bias, just bothered me. People are likely to think swans beautiful and bears to be bad, aggressive and fearsome. And yes, I know that Rossner is Jewish and living in Israel, but the choice to potentially reinforce a negative association frustrated me. (Also, "flying away" to safety in America seems particularly poignant at our present juncture in US history. Those were the days... All I can think of is that a few decades after the events of Moldova, Anne Frank's family was refused immigration to the USA.) So basically I had an uncomfortable set of feelings about some of this novel, though I greatly admire its recasting of the Goblin Market tableau onto a Central European folklore setting. Liba's body image issues were also of interest and I think that I'd consider this a body-positive YA book in that Liba's intended one loves and is attracted to her just as she is, a zaftig young woman, as her father says. I know that some may still quibble with Liba's negativity on the issue but sadly, that's probably another smattering of realism in the midst of fantasy.

I look forward to seeing where Rossner goes next with her work.

I received a Digital Review Copy of this book from Redhook Books, along with a paper ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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Monday, September 17, 2018

Review: The Iron Flower

The Iron Flower The Iron Flower by Laurie Forest
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

4.5 Stars

It's pretty darn hard to write this review without massive spoilers. But try, I shall.

The Iron Flower picks up Elloren Gardner's story right where The Black Witch left off. Elloren remains at the University in Verpax, still sheltering Marina, a rescued Selkie, and rooming with her friends, Diana, a Lupine, and Wynter, and Ariel, who are Icarals. She still resists being wandfasted to Lukas Grey. And she is still drawn to the mysterious Yvan Guriel, who she's beginning to think is hiding more than she previously realized. Her affinity lines continue to strengthen and her feel for power moves beyond just earth and fire. While her friend Amaz friend, Andras, and Ariel try to heal the rescued military dragon Naga, and Elloren ponders how to help her friend Tierney escape Council-mandated wandfasting and iron-testing, the unthinkable happens. Overnight, Marcus Vogel becomes High Mage on the Gardnerian Council and events are set into motion that will change Erthia forever. If you thought the sexism, racism, and hatred were bad before, you haven't seen anything yet. Pogroms, genocide, and other atrocities begin to occur, all with the horrifying support of Elloren, Rafe and Trystan's despicable Aunt Vyvian. Most importantly, the Shadow Wand appears at last. Its bearer comes as no surprise.

Against this backdrop of terror, with Mage Council Rulings one after another, each viler than the last, the Gardnerian Mage Council is poised to pass Vyvian's edict that would result in the execution of all Selkies. Meanwhile, Elloren is shocked to find that Marina is learning to speak the Common Tongue and has quite a lot to say. Elloren also finds out that her childhood friend Gareth has Selkie heritage, and that even in a university town like Verpax there is a terrible sex-trafficking trade in Selkies. Someone needs to help the Selkies but that would mean returning them to the ocean with their skins. Marina needs the help of Elloren and her friends to rescue the captive Selkies but how on Erthia is the task to be accomplished? It's going to require far more power than this group of student dissidents has at their disposal.

To try to find aid, Elloren is willing to risk leaving Verpacia in order to seek assistance for the Selkies in neighboring realms who are harboring other threatened groups like the Urisks, Fae, Kelts, and Smaragdalfen. While in Amaz she encounters her friend Sage, the Light Mage who gave her the White Wand, and who broke her wandfasting vows. Sage is hard at work trying to break the wandfasting spell that keeps her in constant pain, dulled to bearable levels by Amazian rune magic. (A point I can already see is going to be vitally important to Gardnerian women's future. I can think of more than a few wandfastings that need to be broken ASAP.) Elloren ponders yet again what role she can play in opposing Vogel. As the action ramps up, she finds herself having to make the hard choice to appear more Gardnerian in order to best help her friends. That path is fraught with danger since she looks so much like her infamous grandmother, the Black Witch, but appears to have none of the actual power of Carnissa Gardner to safeguard herself. Elloren is equal to the task as she begins to fight for everything she believes in. There are sorrows and losses in this book, but they only strengthen Elloren's resolve.

While I enjoyed this second book, I did feel that some of the plot points were less smoothly handled. There were plenty of further daring adventures with the varied band of friends. (Elloren's journeys, especially to Amaz, were fascinating. Forest's world building is just terrific. Even her choice of names provides delight.) There was also genuine horror. But I was less enamored of the love interest dynamic in this book and thought that if Elloren and her paramour said just one more time that they couldn't, shouldn't be together I was going to pass out from all the eye-rolling I was doing. We all knew how this was going to go and a good hundred plus pages of "we shouldn't, oops! we can't, oops!" was getting mighty old by the end. Also, the two big reveals of the book come in such short order, in the last twenty pages of the book, and at least one of them just felt unrealistic, since if Elloren saw him so unguarded, anyone could have? The other, well... if you haven't been expecting that since the beginning of the first book, you haven't been paying attention. I guess I was just expecting something with a bit more gravitas and I'm still wondering how it never happened before (view spoiler below).

Many things are still unresolved, not least of which is what Jules and Lucretia aren't telling Elloren about the fate of her parents. They clearly know something that Elloren and her brothers don't. And I have a few other questions, especially about that famous prophecy. Don't you ever wonder why the prophecy doesn't say anything about the White Wand and the Shadow Wand? I do. I want to read original prophecy and know more about who prophesied it. Because if history is written by the victors, it seems like prophecies are subject to the same kind of bias.

The Black Witch Chronicles continues to be a series that encourages young people to learn as much as they can about everything and everyone they can and to fight for what is right, while being pragmatic enough to know when they'll need help doing so.

"The Wand knows you have her power in your blood. It chose you anyway." - Sage Gaffney

I received an Uncorrected Proof of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Spoiler, if you dare: ....since she's been carrying around some premium wood for quite a while now....

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Sunday, September 16, 2018

Review: The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid

The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid by Dylan Thuras
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For adventure-loving children this version of the popular adult Atlas Obscura by Joshua Foer offers a look at some fascinating places around the globe. Progressing from place to place by a linkage of ideas, Thuras zig-zags around the planet, offering children a bit of information about some place fantastic on every continent. Joy Ang's colorful illustrations are beautiful complements for each locale selected. Places featured range from the glowworm caves of New Zealand to the seed vault on Svalbard, the Blood Falls of Antarctica to the Diavik Diamond Mine in Canada's Northwest Territories, and from the Devil's Swimming Pool in Namibia to the Everlasting Lightning Storm over Lake Maracaibo. With a packing list, alternate routes that suggest still more curious places, and further reading suggestions, this is a fun book for children ages eight to twelve.

I received a Digital Review Copy of this book from Workman Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

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Saturday, September 15, 2018

Review: The Black Witch

The Black Witch The Black Witch by Laurie Forest
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Black Witch is a YA novel that tries, via fantasy, to tackle some difficult but vital topics in a way that should make young people think about what they have been taught, what they've read, what they think they know about other people. It's garnered quite a bit of criticism for its display of sexism, racism, and I predict as the series moves forward to the second Elloren novel, it will get slammed because of overt genocide. What I'm not sure I understand is how you could possibly teach people about the evils of these things without letting feel the impact of them, which is exactly what Forest has tried to do, with fair success, in this book.

We are introduced to Elloren Gardner, a middle child, orphaned by her parents' mysterious and untimely death, raised with her brothers Rafe and Trystan by their loving uncle, Edwin. She is the seventeen-year-old granddaughter of a powerful Mage, Carnissa Gardner, The Black Witch, who was the savior of the Gardnerian people during the Realm Wars. Carnissa Gardner, a rare female magic user, freed her people from the abuse thrust upon them by the Kelts and, with a vengeance, re-secured the Magedom of Gardneria, a region of Erthia in with access to the sea and poised between Lupine tribes and Keltania. Gardneria had its origins with Carnissa's several-generations-back grandfather, Styvius, who wrested the Gardnerian lands from Keltania, along the way becoming a religious zealot. Denying his racial origins (spoilers) he created an "alternate facts" version of the Keltic holy book in which the Gardnerians were the First Children of Erthia and are racially pure. They dress modestly in severe black and have strict religious observances. But back to our protagonist. Elloren's bloodline is impeccable, so it's rather sad that she appears to have no Mage power. But what she does have, and what every Gardnerian young woman has, is her fertility.

One of the most disturbing aspects of Forest's Gardneria is the fact that young women, regardless of their power, are "wandfasted" or bound to young men, to whom they are bound for life. The process leaves magical tattoos on their arms so it's obvious they're off the market. Once wandfasted they cannot have sex with another man lest they have horrible disfiguring burns form on their hands and arms and endure a lifetime of pain. Breaking your wandfasting is visibly and physically punitive for a woman. Wandfasting works quite differently for men. Sure they're marked as taken. But they can fool around (and apparently do quite a lot, with non-Gardnerian women like the poor Urisks or Selkies, who are often seen as little more than sex slaves and omg, wait until you see the horrifying Selkie sex-trafficking in book two) without suffering any of these consequences. Birth control is forbidden in Gardneria. The duty of every decent Gardnerian young woman is to be wandfasted at puberty, be subservient to her fastmate, go forth and obediently procreate. Interestingly we meet some powerful women who are either not wandfasted or whose fastmate has conveniently died. We can start with the almost all-powerful Carnissa (she was eventually killed by oops... spoiler) but there are other women who have escaped this fate. Men can marry again if their wife dies but it's not clear that women can fast to another man. Gardnerian girls as young as thirteen are wandfasted, with marriages arranged by their parents, usually the father, and little consideration is actually given to the rapport between fastmates. What's really important are the powerful alliances of these marriages and the sort of magical political dynastic lines formed. So much to love about Gardneria, where girls and young women are subserviently bound to a partner for life, on pain of horrible, disfiguring suffering, even if they loathe the fastmate. Great place. Great place to get away from. Can you spell Dystopia?

Elloren's good-hearted Uncle Edwin seeks to spare Elloren the usual fate of Gardnerian women. He moves to Halfix, as far away from Valgard, the capital of Gardneria, as he can feasibly get, and raises Elloren, Rafe and Trystan in humble circumstances with lots of books and animals and kindness. He plans to send all three children to university in the free province of Verpacia, at the university in Verpax, and to delay Elloren's wandfasting until she has graduated with her apothecary training completed. Unfortunately, Edwin's sister, Elloren's politically scheming Aunt Vyvian (daughter of Carnissa Gardner) has a different plan. Disappointed that Elloren has no power of her own since she's the spitting image of Mom, she is still trying to make a powerful wandfast match for Elloren, mostly to keep herself ensconced in the powerful Mage Council. With a prophecy that the Black Witch will rise again, Vyvian is clearly worried that the rumored new Black Witch, Fallon Bane, from another powerful mage family, will result in the Banes supplanting the Gardners for power and position. So she tries to wrest control of Elloren from Edwin and wandfast her to Lukas Grey, a young man from another powerful family, who is a Level Five military mage. Elloren is rightly chary of this plan and heads off to university where she is promptly punished by her aunt for her perfidy. She will have no money, no pretty things, no fancy accommodations and will have to work in the kitchen among, gasp, Urisks, and live with two, gasp-again, Icarals. Icarals are a despised race with wings, born seemingly randomly to parents of any race on Erthia, whether Elves, Fae, or even it seems Gardnerians. (Important backstory there) Elloren, who has been raised in a strict Gardnerian environment, feeling all First Children smug and superior, is initially horrified. But... But...

Remember that taste of freedom when you first went away to college and started seeing all these people and ways of living and ideas that were different from the ones you were raised with? Remember how if your parents were conservative you looked with curiosity at "dangerous" liberalism or maybe vice versa? Over months of living with Ariel and Wynter, her Icaral roommates, and studying with Lupines Diana and Jarod in Chemistrie, and having a lab partner, Tierney, who she gradually realizes is secretly glamoured to look Gardnerian, and working in the kitchen around a sweet Fae child, Kelts who despise her, and a gentle Urisk, Elloren begins to question everything, and I do mean everything, that she's been raised to believe. As a result, Elloren does the sensible thing. She starts asking her professors various questions she has about Gardnerian history and racial superiority. A Gardnerian professor tells her that she has the right of it and they're just the blessed ones. She is dissatisfied and pursues the matter further. Her kind Keltic professor regards her interest with surprise and after a quiet chat gives her various Erthian history books from the perspective of all the various races of Erthia. And gives her still more books later when she's finished the first batch. As she reads about history, culture and faith of all the peoples of Erthia, Elloren becomes even more confused. Because every race (except of course those poor evil and cursed Icarals) believes they are the ones with the right religion, the right culture, and the Right. However, out of this confusion what becomes paramount is that Elloren begins to see how abusive Gardnerian culture is and fear the rising power of an almost Hitler-like fanatical figure in Gardnerian politics.

There's a bunch of other stuff going on in this book, namely Elloren's possession of something that may or may not be the legendary White Wand, dual love interests, Lukas, the is-he-good-or-bad Gardnerian potential fastmate, and Yvan, the oh-no-not-a-Kelt! love interest, and the pastiche of all the various races that Elloren encounters with her increasingly open mind.

There has been a lot of commentary slamming this book for exhibiting white savior complex, which kind of made me laugh because Elloren isn't white. But should we call it emerald shimmer savior complex? Besides the fact that it's a mouthful I honestly feel like Elloren the Powerless wouldn't be saving anyone very well without the help of her friends. Elloren's friends form a dissident cooperative and given her relative naivete about some things, I think she'd be lost without them. Furthermore, when I think of white savior complex, I think of misguided white people saving people that don't need to be saved or whose own people might save them in ways that the white person cannot foresee or doesn't take the time to comprehend. The person that Elloren saves in this book needed saving. There was no one else who was going to save her, and that person's people were in no position to save or help her. (Elloren becomes involved in saving others with her friends, as well.) I would also point out that Elloren's friends, no matter what their affiliation, appear quite frankly to be the saving of her. Her aunt's punishment backfires spectacularly and rather than breeding disgust or hatred, it leads to insight and a quest for a greater understanding that fuels Elloren's resistance.

Elloren's learning to be open to other cultures, races, ideas, appears to be Forest's entire point in this novel. It is precisely this openness that allows Elloren to overcome her own very apparent racial issue- the fact that she looks exactly like her Gardnerian grandmother Carnissa, the murderous and vengeful Black Witch of worldwide fame (infamy?). Many people hate Elloren for her looks while others seem dismayed by her apparent powerlessness as if she's sorrily disappointing all of Gardneria. Elloren manages to make her friends in spite of her resemblance to Carnissa (a bigger barrier than initially apparent, by the time you get to the second book), and in spite of her own initial apprehensions and misconceptions of other races. She overcomes the latter concerns because she learns better. These friendships and alliances are the ones that save others and in a way save each of these characters, since they learn that there are good people out there in any tribe. That's learning to believe in hope. And that is one of the main themes of The Black Witch- the bonds you make, moving beyond mere tolerance, to understanding, respect, attachment and affection for those whose experience differs from your own. These bonds are the ones that will bring about real change in your world and the world at large.

I like this book because it shows young people benefitting from questioning the racial, cultural and religious prejudices, or mere assumptions, they were raised with. It challenges them to learn more about other cultures and religions and to see their own culture and religion from the perspective of others. I can think of no finer aspiration for young adult fantasy or dystopian fiction at present. Mind you, the book is not without its flaws. From its sprawling narrative to its abundance of pretty people save an "ugly" token (by-the-way disabled and boy that really bothered me) character, to the fact the way Elloren and her friends careen from one wild adventure to the next. But that's about as probable as Harry Potter and Ron and Hermione's fantasy adventures at Hogwarts. The Black Witch has got mages and wands and a magical university. It's got genuine friendships. It's got learning to be loyal and kind and accepting of difference. And that, Readers, is always worth reading.


Laurie Forest has written two shorter novels (The Black Witch is just over 600 pages) that I'm including here rather than generating separate reviews.

WandfastedWandfasted by Laurie Forest
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wandfasted is a prequel to The Black Witch and takes us back in time to the beginning of the Realm War, when Tessla Harrow and Vale Gardner, future parents of Elloren, Rafe and Trystan Gardner, meet and in short order are wandfasted. This story is an intro to the horrors of wandfasting, a process whereby lovely, smart women are shackled to life to either good men or to monsters. The short novel also introduces us to the nasty Malkyn Bane. (From the Black Witch its evident that the apple didn't fall far from the tree with Fallon and Damion Bane.) While the reasons for despicable wandfasting being enforced by female mages like the Black Witch Carnissa Gardner remains inscrutable to me, what is clear is that sometimes matches result in love, which was the happy case for Tessla and Vale. It's still not clear what happened to these two, that is how and why they died. Hopefully at some point that will be revealed.

Light MageLight Mage by Laurie Forest
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was harder to read for me. If The Black Witch series has parallels to Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale they are certainly strongest in this book, the story of Elloren Gardner's friend Sagellyn Gaffney. Sage is one of the bearers of the White Wand, having received it from a girl named Gwynnifer, who was lured into stealing it from the mage armory, seemingly by the wand itself. The wand instructs her that it is to be transferred to Sage and eventually she in turn transfers the wand, at great personal risk but with the reward of rescuing her beloved sisters, to Elloren Gardner.

Sage, who hails from Halfix, Gardneria just like Elloren, is one of the rare young women to defy Gardnerian religious and cultural norms. She is wandfasted at age thirteen to a brutish young man. By the time she sees him again at age eighteen, when she attends the university in Verpax, she finds that he is still enamored of another girl and is rough and angry in his manner with her. Sage runs away from him and her family after he and her parents beat her for her defiance. Hidden by an unusual family that runs a smithy, Sage builds an interesting new life for herself. She violates her fasting vows at great personal cost and gives birth to an Icaral child who may or may not be the famed Icaral of prophecy as far as the Gardnerians and the rest of the peoples of Erthia know. I am sure that we will see more of her partner in the third book in the series. Sage is a strong character and a rare light mage with interesting powers.

Temporally, this book is best read in between The Black Witch and The Iron Flower.

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Friday, September 14, 2018

Review: Basque Country: A Culinary Journey Through a Food Lover's Paradise

Basque Country: A Culinary Journey Through a Food Lover's Paradise Basque Country: A Culinary Journey Through a Food Lover's Paradise by Marti Buckley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Basque Country, which straddles the Northwest corner of the Pyrenees in Spain and France, is home to a unique culture and linguistic heritage and truly delicious food. My husband is part Basque and I'm lucky to have traveled in the Basque country more than a few times and to have enjoyed their cuisine. One of the things I love about Basque food is the emphasis on simple, flavorful preparations reflecting seasons, and the fact that processed food is virtually unheard of in this region. It's easy to eat gluten-free! Buckley gives the reader an introduction to the Basque country and offers up sections with simple recipes, offering context on these foods in the Basque culture. Buckley's book focuses on the Spanish Basque Country. She offers only a brief discussion of Ipparalde, the French Basque provinces which she describes as less authentic for various geopolitical and economic reasons than the Spanish Basque regions.

Pintxos (Pinchos en español), which are, according to Buckley, distinct from Spanish tapas,* are a bite size bit of food pierced with a toothpick, and are miniature cuisine items, often punches of flavor combinations. Zopak (Sopas) are soups and Buckley offers a variety of simple soups and more traditional seafood soups including soups with bakalao (bacalao- salt cod) or hegaluze (bonito del norte- albacore tuna). After the appetizer recipes, there are a selection of Barazkiak eta Haragiak (pescados y mariscos- fish and shellfish, staples of the Spanish coastal diet) recipes followed by a similarly lengthy section of Barazkiak eta Haragiak (carne y veruduras- vegetables and meat) in which you can find some of the classic Basque lamb dishes and stews. Here you can find dishes like the classic Pil Pil preparations or Marmitakoa, a tuna and potato stew. Gozoak (postres - desserts) in the Basque country often tend to be either dairy-based or tartas/tarts, flour-based and less sugary than those in France, or from the Arab influence in the south of Spain. The recipes are, by and large, very easy to prepare. Sourcing ingredients may be more of a challenge for those living in areas without an authentic Spanish grocery store (you might want to check out any Portuguese groceries, too) but Buckley has you covered with a list of online stores. Buckley also provides a handy translation guide for the English, Basque, Spanish and French names of the dishes.

No book on the food of the Basque country could be complete without mentioning Txakoli (pronounced Chá-ko-lee, accent on the first syllable), the unique wine of the region first referenced in the sixteenth century. It's a crisp white wine with a sour and sometimes salty flavor, that is a common apertif in the warm season. The uninitiated may be shocked by the unusual flavor. Pair it with a bit of chorizo, tortilla or some pintxos on a hot summer day and you'll begin to get why it's so popular. Txakoli is one of the most iconic Basque items in this book and a must try for the adventurous.

Many of the dishes offered in this book can be found throughout Spain and I'm sure many a Spaniard would argue vigorously that these are Spanish dishes and frankly, because of the cultural permeation of classic Spanish cuisine from one province to another, it's pretty hard to say some dishes are exclusively Basque versus say, Galician, Asturian or Cantabrian. There are strong regional associations for the origins of some dishes, though. For example, you can get paella in Á Coruña, a northwestern province of Spain, even though it's a classic Valencian dish. Valencia is a province on the East/Mediterranean coast of Spain.) Some dishes, for instance fried Gernika peppers with salt, simply have variations in traditional Spanish cuisine based on regional peppers like the Galician Padrón peppers, prepared in the same style. I don't think many will argue that Pil-Pil dishes or Marmitakoa are Basque! In any case, this book is a visually pleasing introduction to the Basque culture and the Basque food ethos, which is a diet rich in flavor, and good quality ingredients.

Basque Country released on September 11th and is worth a look if you are interested in delicious food with relatively simple preparation to your table. Along the way you'll learn about one of the most fascinating regions of Spain.

Map of the Basque Country showing historical and present day regions of Euskadi, the Basque Autonomous community in Spain, and Ipparralde, the French Basque region.

*I predict howling about this statement from the Spaniards in my and my husband's families.

I received a Digital Review Copy of this book from Artisan Imprints, via Net Galley.

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Saturday, September 8, 2018

Review: Brave Enough

Brave Enough Brave Enough by Kati Gardner
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

3.5 Stars

Brave Enough gives us the story of Cason and Davis, two teenage cancer survivors who help each other survive and thrive. Cason, a talented ballet dancer, dances through pain to complete weeks of training and an audition for the American Ballet Theatre. After many days of telling herself the terrible pain in her leg is just a strain, she collapses during the audition, her femur crumbling, and finds out that she has Ewing's sarcoma. Cason had thought kids with cancer was merely a trite plot device. She finds the reality shatters her world, not just her femur. Davis is in recovery and not just from cancer. He's been released from rehab and is attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings because he's become addicted to pain meds, an ugly reality that we seldom hear about with respect to cancer survivors of any age. Davis struggles in recovery, lurching from wanting "just one hit" to striving to make his family, friends and doctors proud of his commitment to sobriety. He is plagued by an ex-girlfriend. Alexis, who is still and addict, and their dealer, Ethan, who menaces Davis in multiple ways. As part of Davis's recovery and juvenile sentencing, he is ordered to do community service at the same cancer hospital he worked out. The lure of stealing some of those pain meds is balanced with the personal knowledge of just how much the children in the cancer ward need their pain medication. Davis keeps pushing Ethan and his demands away. It's here that he meets Cason, in treatment for her cancer, who attended his same high school. They had always been in different circles (Cason was in barely any circle since her entire life was about ballet) but now their lives overlap because of their cancer experience. They provide support for one another and hope for their futures.

Gardner is herself a Ewing's Sarcoma survivor, though she was younger than her protagonist Cason when she was diagnosed. She brings authenticity to the patient experience but where I struggled in this book was the lack of depth and insight into the abusive relationship between Cason and her mother, Natalie. Although we see Cason snarking about her mother being more artistic director than mother, and there are passages where Natalie finally seems to come to terms with the fact that Cason has cancer and will never dance as she did before, the unhealthy dynamic felt glossed over. It is hard to believe that years of such a controlling relationship could be resolved in the months that this book covers in Cason's life. This is a parent who had her daughter dancing through indescribable pain, as her femur turned to mush. Who controlled every corner of her daughter's life.

The value of this YA book lies in promoting empathy in young people. Cason, Davis and all the other kids' lives have been upended by cancer. You can substitute any other potentially fatal acute or chronic health condition that roars into a young person's life and leaves them forever changed.

I received an ARC of this book from Flux Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Thursday, September 6, 2018

Review: The Bird and the Blade

The Bird and the Blade The Bird and the Blade by Megan Bannen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5 Stars with a bump for originality!

Megan Bannen's The Bird and the Blade is a retelling of the story that underpins one of my favorite operas, Puccini's opera Turandot, which I like for its music and pageantry. The opera Turandot owes its origins to a French adaptation of a story ("Prince Khalaf and the Princess of China," from the collection The Thousand and One Days by François Pétis de la Croix) of one of the seven princess stories in the Haft Peykar (The Seven Beauties) by the Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi. The Turandokht of the original story has, as Bannen points out, been filtered by a misogynistic lens in the era during which the Puccini libretto was written, with Turandot being cold, haughty and cruel because she doesn't want to marry and be subservient to a husband. (The horror!) While Turandokht is perhaps less cruel in the original story, the role of the slave girl was altered by Puccini from that of a spy in the original story to that of a loyal servant, who loves Prince Khalaf (Calaf) and his father, Timur. Bannen merged these two versions, with a somewhat less cruel Turandokht and a loyal slave girl Jinhua/Liù into a new retelling with fascinating results. Jinhau is a Song dynasty princess of a region conquered by Mongols who has been sold into slavery. She has lost her freedom and become chattel, all too common a fate for women, whether enslaved or not, throughout history. Turandokht strives hard to retain her freedom by setting three seemingly insurmountable riddles to be answered by potential suitors, with a penalty of death for those who fail as a further deterrent. Crafting a story with a learned and compassionate Khalaf (the Blade), a bullying father, Timur (in the West, historically Tamerlane), Jinhua (the Bird), a slave girl and former princess with her own agenda, and Weiji, her dead brother's prodding ghost, Bannen has managed to write a moving YA novel with elements of adventure, romance, tragedy, political intrigue, and historical fiction. It is truly amazing that she pulled this off. It is also gratifying that, just as I always wondered how Khalaf/Calaf could marry Turandokht after the slave girl's sacrifice, Bannen envisions an Epilogue in which sacrifice is honored.

Readers don't have to know anything about opera, or the original Turandot story, in order to enjoy this book, which is an inventive YA novel.

I'm off to listen to Luciano Pavarotti sing "Nessun Dorma" and contemplate the Quiet Flower.

I received a paper ARC edition of this book from Balzer and Bray with no commitment to review.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Review: Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen

Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen by Sarah Bird
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Daughter of the Daughter of a Queen is a historical novel based on the life of a real-life figure, Cathy/Cathay Williams, a Missouri-born contraband slave pressed into service during the Civil War, who later enlisted in the Buffalo Soldiers of the US Army while posing as a man. Cathy Williams led an amazing life, and she was finally recognized with a bust in Leavenworth, Kansas in 2016 and a memorial bench at the National Infantry Museum in Columbus, Georgia in 2018. My chief problems with this novel are the liberties and embellishments that the author has taken with Williams' story that didn't enhance my appreciation of Williams' life and the tragedy of her death. (In failing health, Williams' was denied military benefits for her service during the war and in the Buffalo Soldiers, in spite of being diabetic and a multiple amputee at the time of her application for the benefits.)

Bird has created a backstory of Williams being descended from an African queen when the facts are that there is sadly no information about where Williams' maternal line actually descended from in Africa. She has also altered what appear to be the facts of Williams early life as a slave, including having her remain with her mother and sister until conscripted. Facts indicate that Cathy Williams was separated from her mother (her father was a free man) at a very early age, as shown by her own statements made in the St. Louis Daily Times article of 1876. (My reference for that is Cathy Williams: From Slave to Buffalo Solider which, while less than perfect, does have references for facts of her life.) While little is known about Williams' early life beyond her own statements and a few slim sources in the National Archives, as I read through the first quarter to a third of this novel, I began to feel the embellishments of this fearless woman's life were not necessary to engage the reader. I was puzzled even by the distortions of factual history about Sheridan versus Benton being the officer initially pressing Williams into service all to yield a fictional meeting with Sheridan in her later life. Williams did serve under Sheridan's command after conscription, but not until she was transferred to Washington DC. (Things like this left me feeling like I do after I go to a movie with a screenplay in which several figures have been made into a composite because they want to simplify things for the viewers of a two-hour movie. This is a book, and I expect many characters.) Then there is the fact that Bird invented a romantic relationship with a fellow soldier but completely ignores the fact that Cathy Williams suffered a disastrous marriage in Pueblo, Colorado after her discharge from service with the Buffalo Soldiers. Her husband stole her belongings, and she had to have him arrested. She moved not long after to Trinidad, Colorado, where she resided until her death around age fifty.

Additionally, while I understand that Bird is trying to give us the post-Civil War world through Williams' eye, the broad use of the racial term "Indian" with minimal differentiation between various tribes of Native Americans was troubling to me. Not all Native American tribes were out there scalping American colonizers, but the broad facts are that Native Americans were just about as badly treated as had been African American slaves, albeit in different ways. They were certainly vulnerable to being abused, killed without due process, and were ripped from their homes, territory, and family in much the same way, as well. The novel provides little context for the Indian Wars.

Bird wanted to her novel to tell the story of a great American woman, whose story was for a time lost in history. I know her intentions were good, but the way in which the book has been written was, to me, something of a disservice to Cathy Williams because so much of Willilams' life story has been fictionalized while facts that are known from Williams herself have been ignored. Sadly, the takeaway for some readers is likely to be that Bird is a white author making up aspects of the life of a great African American woman, ignoring some of her most poignant and relevant personal issues, all while glossing over and amplifying the disparaging words and prevailing views of Native Americans, without context.

I received a Digital Review Copy from St. Martin's Press along with a paper review copy, in exchange for an honest review.

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Monday, September 3, 2018

Review: Night and Silence

Night and Silence Night and Silence by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5 Stars, rounded up because seriously DAW, we need more books in this series, okay?

"A little more than kin, and less than kind." ~ from Hamlet, Wm. Shakespeare

In late 2009 my friend Diana (The Literate Kitty) pressed me to read Rosemary and Rue, the debut novel by an author by the name of Seanan McGuire. It had everything she knew I loved- Shakespeare, Celtic fae, cats, and a contemplative tone. Oh, and lots of coffee. Twelve books later and if anyone asks what some of my favorite urban fantasy series are, they're going to hear all about my love of Toby Daye and Kate Daniels (by Ilona Andrews) and how these two series, though very different in tone and their heroines' nature, have given readers some of the finest urban fantasy out there. (It's been a stellar week in urban fantasy with both series releasing books within a week of one another!) If pressed to choose a favorite between the two, I honestly don't think I could. But let me tell you about Toby.

McGuire's October Daye books are a series that looks at marginalized races (changelings, mixed bloods, shapeshifter fae, humans), mental health issues, and families and their secrets. The series is largely set in the San Francisco Bay area, in a fae kingdom called the Mists. Toby Daye holds onto her last traces of humanity proudly and is undoubtedly one of the most productive and useful changelings in the Mists. She's not alone, though. We've also met a slew of changelings with remarkable talents, including the powerful portal-punching Chelsea, sisters with rare gifts of sight, Karen and Cassandra, and (in theory) brave Marcia, who manages to make herself indispensable wherever she serves. (So many people suspect Marcia is more than she seems.) All in all, while most pureblooded fae have looked down on the changelings, it seems that the present crop can possess rare skills. Overlooking them and trying to marginalize them has proven foolish, especially for one False Queen, and her collaborator in a neighboring kingdom, King Rhys. Also, we've recently seen in one of McGuire's best-deal-on-the-internet Patreon stories, some pretty important changelings have been changed, via hope chests, into pureblooded fae. Who knows how many people in this 'verse were initially part human in origin? Certainly not Toby Daye. After all, when we first met her, Toby knew very little about her own family and those that surround her. She was too traumatized by her upbringing and some searing life events.

Part of the reason that Toby was in the dark about goings-on in her own family was due to having lost fourteen years of her life after being turned into a fish by the man that turned out to be her stepfather, Simon Torquill. (Some significant relationship information withheld from her by her liege, Sylvester.) Toby went through a serious depression after recovering her original form and finding her daughter Gillian and Gilly's father Cliff had moved on with their lives and wanted nothing to do with her. Cliff married a woman named Miranda, who has embraced Gillian, a toddler when Toby disappeared, as her own daughter. Toby's depression and risk-taking behavior made those around her careful with what they have told her. But the truth will out, eventually. Over the course of eleven books we've come to see Toby's mother as cruel and mentally unstable, learn that Toby had a missing older sister, August, that her stepfather Simon might have been trying to spare her a worse fate than being a fish, and that Toby's mother and two of her fearsome aunts are Firstborn among the fae- direct descendants of Oberon. While Toby's growing friendship with the Luidaeg, her aunt Antigone, has become surrogate mother-like in some respects, her relationship to her other aunt, Evening Winterrose, has become one of overt enmity. And in the most recent book, The Brightest Fell, Toby parted ways with her mother, Amandine, after Amy forced Toby to find her missing sister August, by doing some pretty despicable stuff to Toby's fiancé, Tybalt, and her Fetch sister May's girlfriend Jazz.

Toby has come a long way since we first met her. She's been something of a wrecking ball, taking down a False Queen and installing a real one, and doing the same in a neighboring kingdom. All while solving mysteries, murders, and championing changeling rights. The Dóchas Sidhe race that she, her mother, and sister August belong to was supposed to be one of hope (and more than just a hope chest kind of hope) but Toby is the only one that's currently supplying it in her family line. Though she represents hope, in multiple respects, Toby herself hasn't been able to catch much of a breather. We can assume that there are times where she and her chosen family (Tybalt, May, Quentin, Raj, and Jazz) can just chill. Of course, chilling doesn't make for a dramatic plot, so usually when we see Toby she's literally bleeding all over everything and running on fumes.

One of the plot devices that McGuire has used in this series, several times now, is the idea of "look again." Toby can go somewhere and brush by someone that a few books later turns out to be a crucial person she's been looking for. (Impressive plot planning by McGuire here.) The idea of looking deeper and realizing that you don't really know what you're looking at until you need to know, is an interesting one. (It's also one that an author has to be careful not to overuse.)

"We stood there, wounded, frozen, exhausted, and waited for home to start feeling like home again. We waited for safety to come back. We were going to be waiting for a very long time." ~ The Brightest Fell

In Night and Silence we see a Toby who is still reeling from what her mother did to force Toby to find her sister August. Her relationship with Tybalt feels like it is hanging by a thread and Toby is in despair about how to fix things. Toby's friend Danny ineptly tries to encourage Toby to rectify a relationship she fears is irretrievably damaged by talking to Tybalt, who doesn't want to talk to her at all because he has such terrible PTSD. (Ironically, Toby's never been the sort of person to feel very hopeful. Also ironically, when you look a lot like your cruel mother, your mistreated loved one may have issues with you.) May, Toby's Fetch sister, is also trying to hold things together for Jazz, who has recovered a bit better than has Tybalt, but remains deeply shaken. Raj, Tybalt's nephew and heir, treads lightly and often furtively, to avoid too many questions from Toby. Quentin, Toby's squire, ponders whether there is anything he can do other than just be there for all of them.

It is into this messy well of sadness that a new crisis falls- Toby's now-human daughter Gillian is, once again, kidnapped. This time it clearly isn't Sylvester's mentally unhinged daughter Rayseline, since Raysel was elf shot several books back and is still deep in her now full Daoine Sidhe one hundred years' slumber. And Toby is pretty sure that it isn't even a once-again ensorcelled Simon, lost somewhere in deeper Faerie after the events of The Brightest Fell, a failure of Toby's that has her on edge yet again with Sylvester, her uncle, and liege. (Sylvester has asked Toby to keep her distance because his wife Luna is so upset over Simon's being on the loose again.) So who is it and what do they want? Because the only reason to take Gilly is to get to Sir October Daye, Knight of Lost Words, Hero of the Realm. In the process of solving the kidnapping and rescuing Gillian, a question long held by readers of the series will be answered and lives will be forever changed.

It's obvious that the events of this novel have been long-planned by McGuire, over the arc of twelve novels. The payoff is huge. In some ways even bigger than in The Winter Long. I was caught off-guard by the events of the book, which were so very different from what I had expected. On the one hand, the revelations, the outcomes, were rather stunning. On the other hand, part of me was uneasy with Gillian being kidnapped again (she was first kidnapped back in One Salt Sea), and the fact that yet again, we have the revelation that someone wasn't who they seemed to be. Plus, another round of demands we've heard before. (How many times can you viably do this, dear author?) Yet there are major developments built upon this platform. Even the revelations come with their own revelations in this book.

Night and Silence left me with so many new questions. One of the most stunning outcomes was disquieting to me because of the looming settlement of Toby's debt with the Luidaeg, who called in the debt of the Selkies a year ago. What's going to happen? (Readers will see what I mean when they read the novella Suffer a Sea Change included at the end of the book and think about the Selkies and the Roane.) While things with Tybalt are better resolved by the novel's end, the means by which this is achieved still seemed precarious to me. Is that truly safe, given the way the Cait Sidhe work? One thing I was glad of is that Toby finally realizes the changelings of the Mists need more attention. And hey, the seneschal of Goldengreen could use a changeling hero's help with her present project. Finally, the other thing, that big reveal... Seriously, what is wrong with some of these fae and human people? The level of their racist hypocrisy is simply stunning. What does it all mean? Decide for yourself, Reader. This is one installment that will leave you thinking until The Unkindest Tide rolls in.

"The world had changed. The world wasn't changing back." ~ Night and Silence

I received an ARC from DAW via NetGalley and a paper ARC from the author.

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