Monday, September 30, 2019

Review: Of Wars, and Memories, and Starlight

Of Wars, and Memories, and Starlight Of Wars, and Memories, and Starlight by Aliette de Bodard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My introduction to Aliette de Bodard's work was initially her Nebula Award-winning Xuya Universe novella The Tea-Master and the Detective, a clever take on Sherlock Holmes and Watson (in a gorgeous edition from SubPress), then her luminous novella, In the Vanishers' Palace. After finding so much to love, I snapped up the opportunity to read this first anthology of her shorter works (short story to novella length). Giving us stories set in the Xuya Universe, along with that of the Dominion of the Fallen world, the collection also includes de Bodard's award-winning 2012 story "Immersion," and a story that's been haunting me since I read it, "The Dust Queen." (What is an artist without her memories?)

Some of the context of these stories, given in de Bodard's Introduction, is equally mesmerizing. A child of the Vietnam war, feeling alien in the environs in which she grew up, science fiction became a potent outlet for her, though still the lack of Asian characters, the poor roles for women, the lack of female friendships, all were, in fact, too similar to the world that de Bodard sought to escape. She has definitely remedied those defects in her marvelous stories, with rich female characters and Asian influences that are woven so deftly into the worlds she envisions. There are riches of the imagination here.

This compilation was released in a gorgeous limited edition set of 1250 volumes from SubPress but those who cannot afford this can also get the 380 page eBook for $6. Don't miss it.

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

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Sunday, September 29, 2019

Review: Aurora Blazing

Aurora Blazing Aurora Blazing by Jessie Mihalik
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

3.5 Stars

Author Jessie Mihalik's sequel to her popular Polaris Rising follows the story of Polaris's protagonist's sister, Lady Biana von Hasenberg, who has been recently widowed. (Fans of Ada will be glad to know that she does appear in the novel, though she and Loch are on the borders of this story.) Bianca has been keeping a lot of secrets from her family about her dreadful deceased husband, Gregory, who has... um, modified her. (He was basically a mad scientist.) In the Consortium world, though women from powerful families retain their power, they are little more than chattel in the hands of an unscrupulous husband and Bianca has paid a heavy price for this fact. Now widowed, back at home with the von Hasenberg family, and with her House being on the brink of war with House Rockhurst (over some of the events from Polaris Rising, Bianca is attacked and her brother Ferdinand is kidnapped. She breaks out of her father's security stranglehold to try to find and rescue her brother and is saddled with Ian Bishop, the young man who heads her father's security. With a background as shadowy as Marcus Loch, and as Bianca's entire marriage was, all Bianca knows is that Ian is quite handsome, and getting on her very last nerve as he tracks her all over the Universe as she tries to get Ferdinand back.

I found this book a little less satisfying than its predecessor in part because I didn't quite feel Bianca's trauma issues blended well with Ian's often cutting high-handedness and I felt that it was too similar in its template to the first novel. While I could see Ada's growing attraction to Loch, who also isn't exactly what he seems to be, the relationship between Bianca and Ian just didn't work as well for me and I can't seem to articulate why. I also think I missed Loch's brio a bit, since Ian is not as colorful a character. And I don't understand why Bianca's father would ever have allowed her to marry and leave to join another house if she is really the best hacker in the universe, among other things. I need more about Albrecht von Hasenberg in order to understand how such a vile man and father would risk a power match that might lose him an asset like Bianca. Because he really almost lost her. Perhaps he's too sexist to realize her value, though her training implies otherwise.

The next von Hasenberg sibling to rebel is evidently Catalina, the youngest, in the as-yet unnamed third and concluding novel in the Consortium Rebellion trilogy. She will be rebelling with Jonathan, introduced in this book along with his adopted sister Aoife. I must confess I think it would be way cool to have a von Hasenberg daughter who rebelled without a man's assistance, just for the sake of rebellion. Ada started out that way, which might be part of why I liked her so much. In any case, I also wish the brothers would rebel. Just for the equity of it. Albrecht sounds like he totally deserves it.

I received a Digital Review Copy and paper review copy of this book from Harper Voyager in exchange for an honest review.

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Monday, September 23, 2019

Review: This Tender Land

This Tender Land This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This Tender Land is a novel of historical fiction, set during the Great Depression. Four orphans, Odie, Albert, Mose, and Emmy journey from Lincoln Minnesota toward a better life, an odyssey that is imbued with aspects of magical realism. The historical aspects of the story, particularly the horrible treatment of Native Americans, particularly, Native American children, by the US government and off-reservation schools, and the grinding poverty, homelessness, and heartless seizure of farms and land, are all recounted with accuracy and painful detail, as viewed through the eyes of twelve-year-old Odie. Equal parts a coming of age story, a mystery, and an adventure, Krueger leaves us with a keen sense of the spectrum of humanity, good and evil, during the Great Depression. While some aspects of the story are fantastical, the heart of the novel approaches some of the best writing of Norman Maclean and William Maxwell, which is no small compliment.

A beautiful novel, no doubt destined to become a classic when adapted for film. The audiobook, narrated by Scott Brick, was a pleasure.

I received a paper Advanced Review Copy and an audiobook copy of this book from Atria Books and in exchange for an honest review.

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Sunday, September 22, 2019

Review: His Hideous Heart

His Hideous Heart His Hideous Heart by Dahlia Adler
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

3.5 Stars

A collection of thirteen (of course!) short stories that are retellings of classic Edgar Allan Poe short stories and poems. In a nice touch, the original Poe works are included in the same order after the newer stories.

I found this collection a bit uneven in sustaining my interest. Some are as filled with psychological horror as Poe's original work (see for instance "The Glittering Death" by Caleb Roehrig), some a clever remix (Amanda Lovelace's "The Raven (Remix)" uses redaction to create a new short tale), while some seem almost fragmentary ("Changeling" by Marieke Nijkamp left me wanting more story). I did enjoy Fran Wilde's clever "Fall of the Bank of Usher" and Tessa Gratton's poignant "Night-Tide," inspired by Annabel Lee.

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

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Thursday, September 19, 2019

Review: The World That We Knew

The World That We Knew The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Alice Hoffman has long been America's mistress of magical realism, or as she terms her unique brand, suburban magic. She has shown deft touches of it in her novels of historical fiction, most recently for instance, in The Marriage of Opposites. But typically in her historical novels, deft touches are the extent of her use of magical realism. Thus, it's something of a surprise that she employs broad elements of fantasy in a novel about one of the darkest moments in human history, the Shoah. Although I went into this novel skeptical of the fantasy aspect of the book, it is a resounding success.

What makes us real? What makes us human? What separates you or me from the monsters of the German SS? And what separates them from good Germans or French, or from neighbors who turn traitor trying to survive another day? Hoffman explores these questions in the powerful and often even lyrical story of four people, Ava, Ettie, Julien, and Lea. One of these people isn't a "real" person at the start. She is made real, over the course of a few years and many pages, just as are some of the secondary characters in the story are made real- by their loves found and lost, the strife endured, and the resistance to caving into Nazi ideology. Focusing not just on the plight of the Jewish who seek shelter and safety, Hoffman also tells stories of the Righteous of in France, who hid Jews at great peril, and the French Resistance network. She gives us the often overlooked minutiae, the daily cruelties, and privations, of the German occupation, and gives us lightly fictionalized accounts of real people who braved everything to do the moral thing.

At the start of this novel, in Berlin 1941, a German Jewish mother, Hanni, seeks to protect her daughter and to send her to France to escape the deportations. She enlists the help of Ettie, the well-educated daughter of a Rabbi, who breaches the Jewish edicts as a woman by exploiting an obscure branch of kabbala and language reserved for men in order to create a golem, whose job it will be to shield Hanni's child Lea from harm. That golem, Ava, will leave Berlin with Lea, Ettie, and Ettie's sister Marta. This fateful decision changes the course of all their lives. In the meantime, Julien and his brother Victor each deal in different ways with the Nazi occupation of Paris. Victor leaves the family to fight, and Julien remains with their parents in increasingly precarious occupation conditions. When the Nazis round up all the Jews in their neighborhood for deportation, his father buys Julien's freedom and he escapes to the south. Victor manages to find their family's beautiful former maid Marianne, and together they join, each in their way, the Resistance. Weaving together these brave souls, the reader is drawn into the story and the lives of these characters, especially that of Ava. What turns a being of water and clay, or anyone, into a real person? There is only one thing, Reader.

I listened to Judith Light's marvelous narration, with thanks to

An extraordinarily moving novel.

I received a paper Advance Review Copy and a courtesy audiobook copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: The Tattooist of Auschwitz

The Tattooist of Auschwitz The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've had to think long and hard about how to rate this book. It is loosely based on the first hand account of Lale Sokolov, born Eisenberg, a survivor of the Shoah (Holocaust). I had a lot of feelings about this book, namely that it is, somewhat unpalatably to me, in part a romance, set against the backdrop of the very worst that humanity had to offer. Two Slovakian Jews, Lale and Gita (Gisela) meet in Auschwitz, fall in love, and are later almost miraculously reunited after the camps are liberated. It sounds impossible but this really is the story of Lale and Gita Sokolov. How they did it, how they managed to stay alive, and how also their friend Cilka did, brings up a whole host of difficult questions.

Lale Sokolov was the tattooist at Auschwitz for a long period of time. He marked the numbers on men, women, children. By his account he did this as kindly as he could, and with a realization of the gravity of his actions. (If you don't know, Judaism prohibits tattoos, according to a passage in Leviticus.) Though not an observant Jew, he is very aware of the fact that for observant Jews, these tattoos are not only dehumanizing but are forbidden by their faith. Someone has to do it. Better it be kind Lale, himself tattooed and aware of how much it hurts, than some barbarian. Being the tattooist also brings him more food, which he tries to share, and better quarters, which he eventually is also forced to share with an extended family of Romany. Lale is what many would call a collaborator. Lale wanted to stay alive, especially after meeting Gita, and frankly, as we see clearly in the novel, there are many Jews who took collaborator jobs that are far, far worse. Gita also works in the administrative offices at Auschwitz, as does Cilka, subject of Morris' forthcoming Cilka's Journey. All could of them, or even were, considered to be Nazi collaborators.

What I found most interesting in this novel, rather than what appears to have been a romance forged in the darkest pit of human nature, was its exploration of this collaboration. When does the will to stay alive become collaboration with the enemy? If Lale's version of events is to be credited, he actually saved many people by sharing food, by buying food with pilfered jewels at great personal risk, by getting people transported to other camps instead of executed, and in general frustrated the Nazi attempts to obliterate not just Jews but Romany, and other people. While part of me wonders how much of his story was sugar-coated and told with the kind eye that humans tend to cast on their own actions, the novel did make me think about how that will to live is what helped many Jews and others survive the camps and ultimately foil Hitler's horrifying Final Solution. Lale was a grown man when he entered Auschwitz in 1942. Gita was barely counted as an adult, as was Cilka. Each of these people had so few choices and they lived by dealing with those few choices. Were they wrong? Can any of us ever judge them without having walked in those shoes? Perhaps it is only those who were in the camps with them who have a right to judge.

This novel is a fascinating exploration of morality and the relationships that kept people going with a will to live.

I listened to the audiobook, beautifully narrated by Richard Armitage. Readers should note that the present ebook version of the novel has changed the culturally insensitive term "gypsy" to Roma or Romany. The audiobook, recorded in 2018, used the disfavored term gypsy to refer to the Romany.

ETA: As I surmised, the historical accuracy of a number of aspects of the book has been called into question. Readers are directed here for a discussion:

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Review: The Widow of Pale Harbor

The Widow of Pale Harbor The Widow of Pale Harbor by Hester Fox
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

3.5 Stars

The Widow of Pale Harbor is an atmospheric gothic novel by Hester Fox, the author of last year's The Witch of Willow Hall. Sophronia Carver, the titular widow of the tale is a lovely and kind woman whose physically abusive husband died under complicated circumstances. The locals of Pale Harbor, Maine blame her for his death and many call her a witch. Living like a recluse in Castle Carver with only her loyal housemaid Helen for company, the new minister Gabriel Stone, a man with his own secrets and history, is drawn to Sophronia and her plight. Just prior to his arrival in Pale Harbor, a series of messages (including dead ravens) begins to terrorize Sophronia and Helen. As their intensity in horror steadily increases, the widow and the minister seek answers to who is menacing Sophronia and why. Links to Edgar Allan Poe stories, published in a magazine her husband published and which she now maintains, provide some clues but the couple are still at a loss for why she is being targeted.

With twists and turns aplenty, this is a clever gothic mystery. I found the romance elements a little over the top, but otherwise enjoyed the setting and Fox's clever use of Allan's work and the local New England setting.

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Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Review: The Complete and Original Norwegian Folktales of Asbjørnsen and Moe

The Complete and Original Norwegian Folktales of Asbjørnsen and Moe The Complete and Original Norwegian Folktales of Asbjørnsen and Moe by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe translated by Tiina Nunnally
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Translator Tiina Nunnally first caught my attention in 2005 with her spectacular modern translations of the Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales which removed all the syrupy sweet Disney coating and looked at the astonishingly sharp lessons Andersen offered up to Danish children. (Witness the actual story of The Snow Queen, for instance, in all its Christian allusion.) As such, I was eager to review Nunnally's latest translation of folktales, modern translations of the much loved Norwegian Folktales collected over decades by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe. From Ash Lad to Three Billy Goats Gruff, from three-headed trolls to twelve-headed ones, all the classics are here including my personal childhood favorite, "The Tabby Cat of Dovre Mountain." (If you've never that one, you should if you want a good laugh.) This is a beautiful edition of the folktales but alas, it is only at present available in hardcover. I'm still waiting for my copy because it looks as if the first printing may have sold out. If you are a lover of folktales, this is a wonderful edition. Nunnally's well-worded translations (she points out all the efforts translators make to capture the intent of the original in terms understood by modern readers.

The introduction written by Neil Gaiman was not made available in the Digital Review Copy I received, but many readers may recall his own recent foray into the Norse world, Norse Mythology. I'm eager to see what he has written about this classic collection.

Spin, span, spun- my review is done!

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

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Review: Tales of Japan: Traditional Stories of Monsters and Magic

Tales of Japan: Traditional Stories of Monsters and Magic Tales of Japan: Traditional Stories of Monsters and Magic by Chronicle Books
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

3.5 Stars

This is a beautifully illustrated new edition of classic Japanese folktales and myths. Some of the stories are quite dark and might be too much for younger children as bedtime stories, though they have just the right amount of monsters and journeys for children who love scary stories. While the edition is lovely, I felt that the unevenness in the quality of the stories made the compilation feel somewhat hit and miss. If you are a collector of Chronicle's beautiful series of folk and fairytales from around the world, this will be a handsome addition to your collection. The illustrations alone draw the reader into these classic stories.

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

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Review: The Humiliations of Pipi McGee

The Humiliations of Pipi McGee The Humiliations of Pipi McGee by Beth Vrabel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5 Stars bumped because I just really enjoy Beth Vrabel's writing and her well-rendered characters.

In something of a sequel to The Reckless Club, author Beth Vrabel explores the horrors of middle school bullying that get a kid into a Reckless Club situation while offering hope to middle graders that "it gets better."

Pipi McGee is a thirteen-year-old girl who has been picked on since kindergarten. Every school year has brought her new humiliations. From her kindergarten drawing of her future self as a slice of bacon with boobs to the vomitathon she caused in a school bus to the stuck zipper event that got her that dreadful nickname (even her family calls her Pipi) to the event that shall not be named in seventh grade, Pipi has a reputation so awful that its been called the Pipi Touch. Pipi has a plan to save her eighth grade and rehabilitate her reputation. It's called The List. Her one friend, her best friend Tasha, is one of the popular kids and she is having a hard time with Pipi's plan. Her other friend, the one she hasn't really noticed as her friend, Ricky, is also a bit odd about The List, and wishes she'd just let it go. Sarah, one half of the Sarah and Kara cousins twosome, seems like she might be a friend. And then there's Jackson, a friend of Sarah's, who Pipi's been crushing on since sixth grade. Frau Jacobs is a sad teacher who is Pipi's nemesis after seventh grades "that which must not be talked about" event. Rounding out her family situation there is her sister Eliza, a teenage mom who had her daughter Annie when she was in high school, and who took the GRE to start college early and will soon graduate, and Pipi's mom, dad, and stepdad. Eighth grade is a transition point and change is swirling all around Pipi but what she wants most is to change herself in the eyes of others.

At first I have to say that I really didn't like Pipi which made me feel bad because she's had some really bad stuff happen to her. She still lives in all those bad moments and while it certainly doesn't make her a bad person, she isn't a very pleasant one. As time went on, though, I was equally frustrated by Tasha, who seemed a little too fond of her role as rescuer of Pipi, and as Pipi started to have success and more independence, Tasha didn't just seem like she was being neglected, but as if she wasn't liking a less needy Pipi. Pipi starts harboring secrets, some pretty mean, but some about her new friends. Ricky and Sarah have their own secrets to hide, and even Frau Jacobs has a secret backstory that Pipi has to make a choice about sharing. She despises Frau Jacobs, but should she share information that could really hurt her? She's been that hurt and embarrassed person. What did it teach her?

Over time, Vrabel manages to win the reader over, and toward the middle of the book, the more frequent cameo appearances of Reckless Club members like Jason, Lilith, Ally, and Rex (now all high schoolers), keys readers of her earlier novel as to the arc of this one. "Hurt people hurt people" as one teacher says and Jason is on hand to tell Pipi at key moments that there's always a way out of the cycle of hurting. Even her stepdad is on hand to point out that if Pipi has a problem she can't fix, there's a lesson there about her. I ended up really enjoying Pipi's growth in the novel, along with that of Ricky, Sarah, and Eliza.

This is another great middle grade book, for every kid that has thought about "going dark" on those who have bullied them. The only way to stop a cycle of bullying is... to say "enough!" But how you do it matters. Here's to Pip or Pippa, on her way to ninth grade with a pack of new friends.

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

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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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