The Fifth Season

by N. K. Jemisin
First sentence: “Let’s start with the end of the world, why don’t we?”
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Content: There is some tasteful sex, and a lot of f-bombs. It’s in the science fiction/fantasy section of the bookstore.

As I was reading this, I know I thought at one point that there really is NO way to summarize this book without giving it all away. And it was so delightful — mostly, at first it was a bit confusing — not knowing what was going on and slowly discovering it for myself, that I think I’m going to spare you the plot summary. Let’s just say this book is about a world — the Stillness — that sometimes has catastrophic events they call Fifth Seasons, and at the beginning of this one, a Fifth Season starts. It’s about what happens before and after.

Which really doesn’t give you a sense of this book at all. At one point, early on, I wasn’t sure I liked it, but the writing kept drawing me in — Jemisin is a fabulous writer — and I was intrigued, which really was enough. By the end, though, I was blown away and, of course, I need to read the rest just to see what happens with these characters I’ve come to really enjoy. There are also layers and layers to this book — it was chosen for a book group (actually, they ended up doing all three), and I can see why. There’s a LOT to talk about with people who have also read it.

Which is to say: if you enjoy a good, complex fantasy, you ought to be reading this series.

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Black Card

by Chris L. Terry
First sentence: “I was finally black again.”
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Release date: August 13, 2019
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There are many f-bombs, and several instances of the n-word. It will be in the adult fiction section of the bookstore, but I think mature teens will be interested in it as well.

Our narrator — whose name I thought I knew, but looking through things, I’m not so sure now — is a bi-racial punk musician drop out, working at a coffee shop as a barista, and who is trying quite desperately, to figure out who he is. Is he white? If so, what does that mean? Or is he black? Again, if so, what does that mean? He’s not white enough to fit in with his white friends and other band members, especially when they pay at places outside of Richmond, VA where the Civil War is still being fought. (For the record, it is never never never okay for a white person to use the n-word. Ever. Even ironically.) But he’s not black enough because he works as a barista and plays (and likes) punk music, and doesn’t really understand street talk.

So where does that leave him? Mostly just floundering trying to find a direction.

It’s an interesting book, introspective, and challenging regarding race. It’s a quick read, with short chapters, and there’s a bit of magical realism going on that was odd but didn’t really bother me. I liked it, though, for the way Terry tackled race by looking at one person’s experience. It’s definitely a book worth picking up.

Equal Rites

by Terry Pratchett
First sentence: “This is a story about magic and where it goes and perhaps more importantly where it comes from and why, although it doesn’t pretend to answer all or any of those questions.”
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Content: It’s short, but there is small print and no chapters, which might throw some kids off. It’s in the adult science fiction/fantasy section of the bookstore, but there’s nothing inappropriate for a kid.

I’ve been meaning to read more Discworld books for ages and ages… well, since the Tiffany Aching arc finished, really. And for some reason — it may have been rereading Good Omens in preparation for the show — I decided that THIS year was the year I was going to get to Granny Weatherwax (at the very least) and the witch books in Discworld.

I did some Googling and found out that this one was a good place to start. Unfortunately, the library doesn’t have it, so I was forced (boo hoo!) to buy it. To be honest, I’m surprised it’s still in print! This is the story of a wizard who goes to bestow his magic on the eighth son of an eighth son, except for that kid ends up being a daughter. The magic gets bestowed upon Esk anyway, and it’s up to Granny Weatherwax, who is the witch in the town of Bad Ass (*giggle*) to figure things out. She initially resists: girls are witches and boys are wizards after all, and that’s just the Way Things Are. But, as Esk grows, Granny realizes that she has something Different, and that maybe going to the Unseen university is a Good Thing, even if she is a girl.

Unfortunately, the wizards have the same views as Granny originally did: Girls Can NOT be Wizards. But, Things Happen, and it’s plain to everyone that Esk is, actually, a wizard and they just better deal with it or there will be Dire Consequences.

On the one hand, this kind of felt like a pre-Tiffany Aching book. It was written in the late 80s, way before Pratchett made up Tiffany in all her practical wonderfulness. And if I had read this before Tiffany Aching, I might have had a different opinion of it. As it was, I felt like this story had already been told (which, of course, it hadn’t. I had just read them out of order.)

That said, it was quite funny. I loved the way Pratchett personified the wizard staff, and Granny Weatherwax’s bull-headedness, and even Esk’s determination to learn something that everyone was telling her she couldn’t. I could see the bones of other books in there, and I loved it for that.

And now, on to the next one!

Where We Come From

by Oscar Cásares
First sentence: “No kicking the ball against the side of the house.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

Nina is an older woman who has grown up in Brownsville, TX, which is right along the US-Mexican border. Having never married, she’s spent her whole life in service of her family, ending up being the one to take care of her mother while her brothers all married and moved away (and they all treat her like absolute crap). She is a kind woman, and so when her housekeeper asks for a favor in helping get family across the border illegally, Nina says yes. It almost turned into something awful, but the traffickers were caught. Except one boy, Daniel, got away in the raid, and made his way back to Nina’s and she’s been trying to help him find his father in Chicago.

All this is complicated by the visit of Orly, her godson. She doesn’t want word to get back to her brothers or Orly’s father (Nina’s nephew). She doesn’t want her mother to know. So, Orly is given a strict set of rules to follow. Of course, he is made curious about the pink house behind the main house, and discovers Daniel’s presence, which just complicates things.

If this were a middle grade or YA novel, there would be adventure or intrigue and Orly and Daniel’s relationship would be at the center of the book. And to be honest, I almost wish it was. As it was, I didn’t dislike it, but I did feel like there was too much adult book getting in the way. I felt bad for Nina, but I wanted her to grow a backbone. I wanted *something* to happen, but mostly it was a lot of everyday stuff. Which wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t really engaging either.

It’s not a bad book, I’m just not sure it was quite what I wanted out of it.

Evvie Drake Starts Over

by Linda Holmes
First sentence: “Go now, or you’ll never go, Evvie warned herself.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: June 25, 2019
Content: There is some talk of sex, and a handful of f-bombs. It will be in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

Evvvie (as in Chevy) Drake was unhappy in her marriage. She’d been with her high school sweetheart for nearly half her life, and it had gotten to the point where she couldn’t take his emotional abuse anymore. Except on the day that she decided to leave, he was killed in a car accident. No one ever knew about her decision.

Fast forward two years, and she hasn’t been able to get out from under her dead husband’s shadow. He was a beloved doctor in town, and since no one ever knew about the abuse, his memory is perfect. Which leaves Evvie wondering what that made her for wanting to get away. Enter Dean, a friend of Evvie’s best friend, Andy, who’s suffering from the “yips”: once a major league pitcher, he can’t throw a game anymore. He moves into the apartment in Evvie’s huge house, and the two of them set about figuring out each other. And maybe — just maybe — healing in the process.

Oh this was a delight. Seriously. Even if you don’t listen to Pop Culture Happy Hour (why don’t you?), there is reason to pick this up. It’s sweet and charming, with just enough depth to keep it grounded and from being too saccharine. I adored all the characters, from Evvie’s and Andy’s relationship (they’re really Just Friends, yay!) to the way Evvie and Dean developed. And the fact that Evvie got some female friends along the way, too. It was so incredibly satisfying watching Evvie blossom through the course of the book. And the love story was charming and sweet and oh-so-satisfying as well. I’ve always thought that Holmes knows her stuff when it comes to romance, and this just proves that she knows how to write is as well as she knows how to write about it.

An absolutely perfect summer book.

There There

by Tommy Orange
First sentence: “There was an Indian head, the head of an Indian, the drawing of the head of a headdressed, long-haired Indian depicted drawn by an unknown artist in 1939, broadcast until the late 1970s to American TVs everywhere after all the shows ran out.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is violence, a rape (though I think it was just talked about) and a lot of f-bombs. It’s in the fiction section of the bookstore.

This book, in a series of short chapters, each focusing on a different character, depicts what life is like for the Native Peoples’ population in Oakland, California. It’s contemporary, but there’s also a bit of historical fiction for context, and it culminates in a huge powwow in Oakland. The overall plot is that there are some kids who, because they need the money and because it’s an easy target, decide to rob the powwow of the cash prize. But, mostly, it’s just a picture of what life is like for the remnants of the tribes that have settled in Oakland.

Most of the Native Peoples fiction I’ve read (admittedly: not a lot) has been centered on the reservation, and I think Orange wanted to remind people (read: white readers) that Native Peoples exist elsewhere too. That, and I think he felt his story — that of the Urban Native — hasn’t been told. There was a lot of inner conflict between feeling “not Indian enough” and feeling lost without a tribe or traditions to fall back on. Orange is exploring what it means to be “Indian”, and the perception (possibly foisted upon them by white culture) that you’re only “Indian” if you’re on the reservation or dressed up in traditional clothes.

I hesitate to say I “liked” this. The more accurate word would be “challenged”. I feel for the characters; their lives are not easy and the systemic racism and oppression of them isn’t helping. I appreciate Orange for exploring all the stereotypes of Native culture, and for giving readers a fuller picture of what Native life — both urban and on the reservation — is like It’s very much a “white people are terrible” book; but it’s an honest sentiment, and one that I think is important. And it’s always good to get an own-voices view of things.

So, while I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it, I did find it worthwhile to read.

Circe

by Madeline Miller
First sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is a lot of violence, a rape scene, and some references to sex. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore, but I’d give it to an interested high schooler.

I am not overly familiar with Circe’s myth. As one of our customers said, when I mentioned that I was reading this book, “she’s the one who turned men into pigs, right?” That’s pretty much all I knew.

So, I was taken with Miller’s re-imagining of this myth. (And since I didn’t have anything to compare it to, I was a blank slate.) Circe was an interesting character (if a bit annoying at times), and I really loved her slow growth arc, how she went from being a clueless daughter of the god Helios to a witch to a woman with a confidence in her own abilities. I liked the details that Miller put in; you could tell she’s a scholar of the mythology, and she handled the huge cast of characters extremely well. It was a bit slow in the middle, when Circe was exiled to her island, but nothing much else was going on, but once Odysseus showed up, it picked back up again.

All of this to say: I really enjoyed this one a lot!