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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Review: Polite Society

Polite Society Polite Society by Mahesh Rao
My rating: 3.25 of 5 stars

3.25 Stars

As a lover of Jane Austen, I've enjoyed a number of retellings including Gurinder Chadha's 2004 Bollywood spectacular "Bride and Prejudice." So I was intrigued by this recasting of Emma, probably my least favorite Austen novel, set in the era of social media. With the dilettante Ania as the ill-fated matchmaking protagonist (anti-heroine?), Rao has managed to capture all of the self-importance and narcissism-lite qualities of the original Emma while giving us interesting secondary characters like Dimple (Harriet), Dev (Mr. Knightley), Fahim (Mr Elton) and Ankim (Mr. Martin). I found the early portions, just as with its inspiration Emma to be less engaging, but as Ania begins to have it all go wrong and gain a bit of insight, her story becomes more palatable.

I finished by listening to the engaging and well-narrated audiobook.

This is the first work of Rao's I've read it's left me curious to see what his original work is like.

I received a Digital Review Copy and paper review copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Friday, September 6, 2019

Review: How to Raise a Reader

How to Raise a Reader How to Raise a Reader by Pamela Paul and Maria Russo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the most common challenges I hear from my blog's readers is their struggle to get their children to keep reading. With so many distractions of an electronic nature, children may seem to have too many alternatives to a good book. What's a parent to do? New York Times Book Review editors Pamela Paul and Maria Russo are full of good ideas and suggestions about common reading pitfalls to avoid.

This book is structured according to developmental stages, from reading to babies, toddlers, primary grades, middle grades to YA suggestions for your teens. One of the things I love about their advice is that they point out how quickly children will notice that their parents aren't reading, are on the phone or otherwise distracted. They encourage family reading time, family audiobooks, and in general, modeling the behavior that you wish to achieve. They also point out that you need to know your child's nature- what engages them, what they fear, and even just making sure you know why your child resists some aspect of reading. One of the author's children was resisting reading alternate pages out loud with their parent and the concerned parent was surprised when the child sighed heavily and said "I hate reading out loud. I have to go so slow." Not what you'd expect unless you know your child is an excited reader who is looking forward to getting to the next page!

I found this book has some good advice, some great booklists, and in general I think it would be either a solid purchase for parents of young children or a book you could check out of the library for strategizing about flagging interest in your middle grader or high schooler.

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

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Review: My Jasper June

My Jasper June My Jasper June by Laurel Snyder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Author Laurel Snyder's (Orphan Island) latest middle grade novel, My Jasper June tackles some serious topics including sibling death, grief, teen homelessness, and family dysfunction. Telling the story through the eyes of Leah and her friend Jasper, we see their friendship find ways to heal something broken in each of them. Snyder does a find job of giving us a poignant look at the ways children grieve their losses and struggle to express their fears.

This is a touching novel that exposes children to ways in which their peers may struggle silently. It's also a good reminder that talking about loss is vital to the wellbeing of those who have lost loved ones or family. Failing to connect out of fear can just leave someone you care about isolated and suffering further feelings of loss.

I received a paper Advanced Review Copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Review: The Unkindest Tide

The Unkindest Tide The Unkindest Tide by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How long, how long? How long have we waited, readers, for Antigone of Albany, aka The Luidaeg, to find justice for what was taken from her? At last we are at the close of Act 2 and she has the means by which to restore her beloved children (that would be Toby) only how many goddamn conspiracies and coups and murders may try to prevent things for a while longer. No matter, Toby and her friends are going to fix everything up right as rain. Sure Tobes might bleed a bit in the process, okay, a lot in the process, but almost everyone will be fine.

The politics of the fae world that Toby has tried to straddle while living in the mortal one have always been complex and requiring of deftness and foresight. Luckily for Toby and her friends and allies, her abilities as a detective have taught her some trenchant perceptions about the ghastly way some of the purebloods and Firstborns do business. Speaking of which, who among you thought that all of Titania's children were awful? This book will prove you wrong in spades. And who of you thought you knew about Evening Winterrose's relationship with someone named Dawn? Wrong again! (Has anyone other than Tybalt and May ever told Toby the straight truth, I wonder?) And who thought that Gillian's choices, as she now wears a selkie skin, would be postponed or simple or lead to her being some sort of thin-blooded Dóchas Sidhe after that damn elf-shot wears off? Wrong, wrong, wrong.

This book ends a long arc that we've known about since "One Salt Sea" - the cruelty that has broken the Luidaeg's heart and why Toby's loyalty, fondness for, and willing to regularly indebt herself at the drop of a hat (trust me on that, says Quentin, rolling his eyes) to the Luidaeg changed the arc of her hopes and the future of the selkies. The Luidaeg, clearly the best aunt you could possibly have (as long as you don't piss her off) finally puts something back in place in her world. Now all that's left of the justice seeking for the slaughter of her children is... Killing Frost. Silver and Iron? Let's hope so.

A great installment in the series but not an appropriate entry point into the world of October Daye.

The US print and e-book editions have a novella, titled "Hope is Swift'" about a certain teenage Cat Prince who been giving Ginevra, Regent of Tybalt's Court of Dreaming Cats, a rather difficult time of things. Occasionally, he is just too much of a cat.

Buy it or borrow it, love it, tell me you can't wait for Killing Frost?>

I received a Digital Review Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: The Mythic Dream

The Mythic Dream The Mythic Dream by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

4.5 Stars

Most of my blog readers know I'm not much of an anthology fan but I'm always willing to make an exception for anything by Dominik Parisien and Hugo Award-winning editor Navah Wolfe. Each of these stories is a recasting of classic mythology, and some are simply breathtaking. Featuring stories by Seanan McGuire, Ursula Vernon (as T. Kingfisher), Ann Leckie, Rebecca Roanhorse, JY Yang, Arkady Martine, Sarah Gailey, Carlos Hernandez, Stephen Graham Jones, Kat Howard, Jeffrey Ford, Alyssa Wong, John Chu, Naomi Novik, Carmen Maria Machado, and Amal El-Mohtar, these authors offer masterful retellings from Greek/Roman, Welsh/Irish, Jewish, Babylonian, Japanese, and Native American mythology. Of particular note for me were Sarah Gailey's farouche Thetis (and she has reasons to be), "Wild to Covet;" Amal El-Mohtar's sharp edged Blodeuwedd, "Florilegia, or Some Lies About Flowers;" J.Y. Yang's almost lyrical Tanabata, "Bridge of Crows;" and Naomi Novik's Ariadne and the Minotaur story, "Buried Deep." ("Minotaur," she said softly, "Minotaur, I'm here." *chills*) One of the main themes for these stories is that in many myths women are basically "created for" the circumstances, as wives, as mothers, daughters, and they had no say so about their assigned mythological role. Until now.

I loved this anthology about as much as I loved their first, the epic "The Starlit Wood." Read one story a day, as a tonic for your soul.

I received a Digital Review Copy from Saga Press in exchange for an honest review.

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Monday, September 2, 2019

Review: The Incredible yet True Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt: The Greatest Inventor-Naturalist-Scientist-Explorer Who Ever Lived

The Incredible yet True Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt: The Greatest Inventor-Naturalist-Scientist-Explorer Who Ever Lived The Incredible yet True Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt: The Greatest Inventor-Naturalist-Scientist-Explorer Who Ever Lived by Volker Mehnert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This beautifully illustrated children's non-fiction book about Prussian explorer and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt is, at 112 pages, too long to be a classic picture book and a bit too illustrated to be a chapter reader. It nevertheless is a perfect fit for a child transitioning to non-fiction chapter readers that still offers ample illustration. Humboldt led a fascinating life and has been credited as the first scientist to link human activity to climate-change. His explorations in the Americas were seminal for the study of biogeography.

This is a lovely science-related book to offer children in the late elementary grades.

I received a Digital and Paper Review Copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Tidelands

Tidelands Tidelands by Philippa Gregory
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

3.5 Stars

This is my third try to read Philippa Gregory and though I had a genuine interest in the period (Commonwealth/Cromwell era England) and the rigid gender expectations for women, I felt frustrated by the men in the story who felt too one dimensional.

Goodwife (Goody) Alinor Reekie is a woman abandoned by her husband, struggling to raise her children in a era in which clever women are presumed to be witches. Alinor is a gifted midwife and practitioner of herbal medicine. Her beautiful daughter Alys is following in her mother's footsteps, while her son Rob mourns the disappearance of his father, Zachary. Alinor is despised by Goody Miller, who manages to spread enough rumors about Alinor to lead to her being tried as a witch. Alinor falls in love with James, who is posing as a tutor and secretly aiding the campaign of King Charles to retake the throne. Alinor's trial as a witch is inevitable and we spend the entire book building toward that inevitability. Gregory managed to make me dislike every male character other than Rob, who is a child. I was, however rooting for Alinor and Alys all the long day.

I'm sure that there are many who will find this a perfectly suitable novel of historical fiction, but it just wasn't my fare.

I received a Digital Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: The Nobody People

The Nobody People The Nobody People by Bob Proehl
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Nobody People is a novel that is so similar to the stories of Marvel's X-Men that I wonder about infringement on the franchise. Mutants, I mean Resonants, are humans who secretly walk among us, who have special powers. Sometimes those powers are clearly defined (like being filled with high energy blue light or being able to throw people into a null space or read people's minds or even control their minds) and other times we are left wondering. Resonants can be very good or very bad or occasionally confused about what makes a person one or the other. Resonants are running an Academy and are ready to reveal themselves to the world, which may be at their own peril, since the world has not proven itself ready to be intolerant of an intolerance for difference.

Reader, I struggled with this book. Many characters, some never clearly defined, and so many storylines that evolved at an odd pace. And it just felt so derivative. If you're going to redo the X-Men, I just think you could strive for something more.

I received a Digital Review Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Sunday, September 1, 2019

Review: Dominicana

Dominicana Dominicana by Angie Cruz
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

4.5 Stars

Dominican-American author Angie Cruz's latest novel is powerful coming of age story encapsulating the search for the American dream. Inspired by the real-life arrival story of Cruz's own mother, fifteen-year-old Ana Cancion Ruiz is married off to a man twice her age because her family is desperately poor, struggling in the politically divisive post-Trujillo Dominican Republic and seeking a foothold in 1960's America. Ana marries feeling that she has no choice in the matter and finds herself little more than a maid and sex partner for her husband Juan. Her tourist visa to the US says she's nineteen and, like so many before her, just visiting New York. She hides, cooks, and feels utterly trapped in her life. She speaks no English, has no friends, and Juan becomes physically abusive. She also quickly detects that he is involved with another woman, Caridad. Ana dreams of a better life, of bringing her family to New York, and of simply working for someone other than her abusive slob of a husband. The vulnerability she feels is beautifully captured, though this first person narrated novel is sometimes painful to read. Ana's acceptance of her abuse is something the reader hopes she grows out of. When Juan is forced to return to the D. R. due to family business problems, Ana, now pregnant, is left in the care of Juan's much kinder brother, César. She finds the cracks in her prison and seizes the opportunity to learn English and make money of her own with her cooking.

Told with a light touch of magical realism and set against the tremendous strife of the 1960s, both in American and in the D.R., the real history of the era is the backdrop of the novel. Ana witnesses the events of the assassination of Malcolm X at the Audubon Ballroom, which is across the street from her apartment, feeling a mixture of shock and confusion. This happens in her Washington Heights? She wonders how Betty Shabazz will manage to raise six daughters on her own. Meanwhile her family wonders if Balaguer (the devil they know) can bring order back to a D.R. that has spent years in tense chaos following the assassination of Trujillo.

I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Coral Peña, courtesy of

I received a Digital Review Copy of this book from Flatiron Book, and an audiobook from in exchange for an honest review.

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