Twenty-One Truths About Love

by Matthew Dicks
First sentence: “Ways to keep Jill from getting pregnant”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: November 19, 2019
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It will be in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

10 Reasons you should read this book
1. It’s told in lists. Seriously
2. And yet, there’s a plot with character development.
3. Which is really quite brilliant, if you think about it
4. It’s about a not-quite 40-something man stressing about his life.
5. Which sounds boring, but really isn’t because of the lists.
6. They range from “books of the month” — Dan, the main character owns a bookstore — to “Songs you would think have great lyrics but don’t”.
7. It’s charming and sweet and funny but isn’t all happiness and roses.
8. And about being honest with your spouse and how having friends is important.
9. And maybe a little bit about forgiveness.
10. But really, it’s that it’s told through lists that makes it so incredibly unique and worth spending your time on.

I loved it.

Witches Abroad

by Terry Pratchett
First sentence: “
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Others in the series: Equal Rites, Wyrd Sisters
Content: There’s some violence, but nothing graphic, as well as some mild swearing. It’s in the science fiction section of the bookstore.

AhHA! I found Granny Weatherwax. So, now you know: it took until this book for Pratchett to really fully develop Granny and her spitfire ways and headology. And this one was such a delight.

When a nearby witch finally dies, she sends a package to Magrat (which I keep misreading as Margaret, poor girl) Garlick with her wand, deeming Magrat a “fairy godmother”. Her task: go to Genua (which kind of felt New Orleans-y) and make sure Ella does NOT go to the ball. And, oh, don’t bring Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg along.

Of course Granny and Nanny come, and of course the three witches have adventures getting to Genua where they realize that someone — Granny knows who, but isn’t saying — has made a “perfect” kingdom where everyone lives out their “stories” and ends up “happily ever after”. And, of course, the witches get involved to help the stories, well… stop.

Yes, it’s a spin on fairy tales — Sleeping Beauty, Red Riding Hood, and Cinderella among others — but it’s also a musing on those last three words: happily ever after. See, Granny doesn’t believe in happily ever afters. Or fairy godmothers. People ought to make their own happiness, and witches are there not so much to give people what they want, but rather what they know they need. And I appreciated that.

It was laugh out loud funny in some spots, and just amusing in others. It was delightfully chaotic, poking fun at those people who don’t quite know how to travel abroad. I have to say, it’s my favorite among the witch books I’ve read (Tiffany Aching aside) so far.

An absolute delight.

The Starless Sea

by Erin Morgenstern
First sentence: “There is a pirate in the basement.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: November 5, 2019
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is some violence and some swearing, including a few f-bombs. It will be in the Fiction section (though I think it fits better in science fiction/fantasy), but I bet it’ll have some YA crossover.

I haven’t read The Night Circus since it first came out, though I own it and I was thinking I need to reread it, but I imagine my reaction to The Starless Sea was pretty much the same: Morgenstern may not have a driving plot to her books, but she can write! Oh, she can write. Such lovely sentences, such lovely pages. Such gorgeous, haunting, twisting, lovely words. (And I don’t usually read for words.) There were pages I wanted to highlight and copy and, yes, get tattooed on my body (and I’ve never felt that way about words before, not even Maggie Stiefvater’s words). And, truth be told, the way this book unfolded kept me interested until the end.

The plot is simple: Zachary, a fortune-teller’s son, found a magic door when he was 11, but didn’t go through it. Fourteen years later, he’s at grad school in Vermont and finds — entirely on accident — a book called Sweet Sorrows, that has a tale about a fortune-teller’s son who finds a magic door but doesn’t go through. That piques Zachary’s interest, and he begins a journey — one that starts in Manhattan and ends by the shores of the Starless Sea and involves a reformed hit-man and a painter who may or may not be immortal — to find out what, exactly, was behind that door he didn’t go through all those years ago.

But, really: this book is a book for all of us who love and recognize the power of stories. Who recognize that truths can be found in fiction, that there is a need to tell stories and believe stories and embrace stories. It’s a remarkable book, and one that will stay with me for a long, long time.

Audio book: Red at the Bone

by Jacqueline Woodson
Read by: Jacqueline Woodson, Bahni Turpin, Shayna Small, Peter Francis James, and Quincy Tyler Burnstine.
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is some on-screen sex as well as swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

I’m at a loss to talk about this one plot-wise. It jumps back and forth through time, starting in 2001, at Melody’s “coming of age ceremony”, where she’s wearing the dress her mother, Iris, wasn’t able to wear, because she was pregnant with Melody and didn’t get a ceremony. It gives us glimpses into the inner lives of Iris and Melody, but also Iris’s parents, and Aubrey, Melody’s father. It’s an introspective novel; nothing really happens, but Woodson’s tight writing and way of observing human nature still allows us to get to know these characters and understand their motivations.

I thoroughly enjoyed the audio book, partially because Woodson’s writing is a joy to listen to, and partially because the different narrators helped keep the story straight. (I was talking to a co-worker who said she was having trouble with this one because she didn’t know which chapter was from which point of view — Woodson, unlike other writers, doesn’t do any favors by telling us at the outset who is narrating, instead making us do the work of figuring it out.) It was short, and to the point, and I liked listening to this one family’s story through the years.

Recommended, particularly in audio.

The Power

by Naomi Alderman
First sentence: “Dear Naomi, I’ve finished the bloody book.”
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Content: There is a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs, some sex, and a few graphic rape scenes. It’s also incredibly violent. It’s in the science fiction/fantasy section of the bookstore.

The basic premise of this book is that one day, suddenly, all women in the world get a power — the ability to channel electricity — that gives them the ability to “fight back” against men of the world. It starts with teenagers, but eventually spreads to most women. The narrative follows four people: a mayor of a New England town, a girl in the foster system, a daughter of a British mob boss, and a young Nigerian man. The change affects all their lives: the mayor becomes governor and then senator, creating for-profit training camps for girls to learn to better control and use their power; the girl kills her foster father (who was raping her) and runs away and eventually starts a new religion, becoming Mother Eve; the daughter of a mob boss ends up taking over the whole operation; and the young man becomes a news reporter, going where the stories — of rebellion, of resistance, of control — are.

It was, for me, a tough book to swallow, and it wasn’t until the end when I realized what Alderman was doing. It’s best to remember that science fiction is more about the present than the future; and Alderman is shining a light on violence against women by turning the tables. The women in this book, once they get the power, become very… well… masculine. They embrace and abuse power, they torture and rape and kill men solely because they are weak. They create laws that restrict men’s movements, and in the end, blow the whole system up.

It’s also a critique of the nature of power, I think. I feel like Alderman is saying that power over another person corrupts anyone, male or female. That there is no “better nature” that will, inherently, make a woman better at leading. That power is, at it’s heart, an violent act of controlling another person.

It’s not an enjoyable read, but it is an interesting one, and has given me much to think about.

Red, White & Royal Blue

by Casey McQuiston
First sentence: “On the White House roof, tucked into a corner of the Promenade, there’s a bit of loose paneling right on the edge of the Solarium.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s lots of swearing, including multiple f-bombs, and some tasteful sex scenes. It’s in the romance section of the bookstore.

The 30-second pitch for this one? In an alternate reality, a woman has become President, and her 21-year-old son has fallen in love with Prince Henry (not Harry…) of England. Of course they keep it secret for a while, of course there are bumps and fights, and highs and lots of steamy kisses in cloakrooms. Of course this creates an international incident (sort-of, but not really) and of course this is super fluff.

It’s fun and smart super fluff though. I enjoyed Alex and Henry’s relationship, how they went from arch-nemesis (but they were never, not really) to lovers and I liked Alex’s mom and how smart a president she was. I liked the world that McQuiston imagined existed (can we live in that one instead of this one?).

There’s really not much more to say. It was fun. And maybe that’s all that matters.

Ninth House

by Leigh Bardugo
First sentence: “By the time Alex managed to get the blood out of her coat, it was too warm to wear it.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: October 8, 2019
Review copy provided by the publisher
Content: There’s a lot of swearing including multiple f-bombs, some drug use, a couple of rape scenes (not graphic) and it will be in the science fiction and fantasy section of the bookstore.

Alex has had a rough life. She’s seen ghosts ever since she can remember, and that’s gotten her in a LOT of trouble over the years. So much so, that she ran away from home at age 15 and ended up living with (and having sex with) a drug dealer. Then one night, she woke up in a hospital, with no memory of how her friends died, and a recruiter from Yale (yes, the one in New Haven, Connecticut) in her room. He — Dean Sandow — offers Alex a way out: full-ride scholarship to Yale, erasing her past, if she’ll come work for Lethe.

Lethe, in this world, is the “house” that keeps all the other magic houses — ones full of people with Connections and Power, both of the magical and non-magical kind — in check. They study the dead — hence their interest in Alex — and they keep the other eight houses from getting too out of hand, like, say, murdering people on accident. Or letting ghosts — which they call Grays — connect with the living world.

She is training to be the new Dante — which is the person on the ground, I think; it was never spelled out — with Darlington, who has come from a long-line of Connecticut blue bloods and is Lethe’s “golden boy”. However this year, this semester, is not going well. Especially since Darlington has disappeared.

One part murder mystery — a town girl turns up dead, and Alex is convinced it has something to do with the houses — and one part exploration of class, money, power, and place with a bit of feminism thrown in there, this book is a LOT. It took me a while to get into it, mostly because it bounces back and forth through time and it took a while to keep things straight, but once I got into it I could NOT put it down. Bardugo has a way with words, and is an excellent storyteller, but I think I enjoy her characters more. I loved the clashes between the upper class kids that usually go to Yale and Alex, the streetwise former drug dealer.

It is a lot more intense than her YA books, but it holds up. (Which makes me wonder if Six of Crows could have been a lot more graphic than it was.) And I’m excited to see what she does next!