Dragonsinger

by Anne McCaffrey
First sentence: “When Menolly, daughter of Yanis Sea Holder, arrived at Harper Craft Hall, she arrived in style, aboard a bronze dragon,”
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Others in the series: Dragonsong
Content: There is some bullying. It would be in the YA section of the bookstore if we had it.

This picks up exactly where Dragonsong left off: with Menolly, discovered by Masterharper Robinton, arriving with her nine fire lizards at Harper Hall to become an apprentice. It takes place over her first week, where she makes some friends and a lot of enemies, gets into more trouble because of her fire lizards, and tries to find confidence in herself.

I think this one is better, overall, than Dragonsong, but only because there’s a lot more going on and a lot fewer awful people. In the first book, it’s Menolly against the world. In this book, Menolly makes some friends and it isn’t quite her vs. everyone. Though it seems that in McCaffrey’s world, Menolly’s enemies are mostly empty-headed girls, which bothered me. I disliked the lack of female support, and the one-dimensionalness (not a word, I know) of the other women in the book. M pointed out that most of the secondary characters are one-dimensional, but still, for all of Menolly’s talent and awesomeness and that I’m glad she learned to stick up for herself, I kind of wished she had developed more of a circle of female friends rather than becoming “one of the guys”. But, the book was published in 1977, so maybe that’s too much to ask.

At any rate, it was a fun little read.

Dragonsong

by Anne McCaffrey
First sentence: “Almost as if the elements, too, mourned the death of the gentle old Harper, a southeaster blew for three days, locking even the burial barge in the safety of the Dock Cavern.
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there! (Though I’m not entirely sure you still can.)
Content: There is some emotional abuse and injuries. It would be in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

I wrote about this about 14 years ago (I have been blogging for a very long time!) but I thought I’d give each of these a proper post of their own (because once you read the first, you kind of have to read the rest).

Menolly is the youngest daughter of the Half-Circle Sea Holder. He’s a strict man, in charge of the whole hold (think a small medieval city) and he doesn’t have time for Menolly’s “twaddlings” — her foray into music. She has a gift for songwriting, but because she’s a girl, her father (and mother) believes that she’s a disgrace because she should be doing women’s work. Not music. After a knife accident supposedly renders one of her hands useless, Menolly runs away. And inadvertently impresses nine fire lizards. She doesn’t think much of this until a dragon rider finds her, and brings her back to the Weyr. It’s there that she learns her true worth.

It’s a fantastic story. You can’t help but feel for Menolly’s plight in the Sea Hold, stuck with parents who don’t understand her desires and dismiss her talent as “useless”. It’s so very easy to hate her parents and her siblings (well, there’s one brother who’s okay) because they just don’t understand or care. And when Menolly gets to the dragon weyr, her life changes so drastically. There’s one scene where all the people at the weyr are fussing over her, helping her get new clothes and a haircut, and Menolly bursts into tears because no one has ever been this nice to her.

It’s a story about a girl persevering even though everything’s against her, and it’s a joy to read. And there’s bonus bits for those who have read all the other books as well. (Or at least the original trilogy.) The best thing is that it still holds up all these years later. Such a good book!

Tigers, Not Daughters

by Samantha Mabry
First sentence: “The window to Anna Torres’s second-story bedroom faced Hector’s house, and every night she’d undress with the curtains wide open, in full view of the street.”
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Content: There are a lot of swear words, including multiple f-bombs. There is also a lot of talk about teen sex and some teen drinking. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

The four Torres sisters live in an unhappy house. Their mother died when the youngest, Rosa, was born, and their father hasn’t been the same since. But their one attempt at running away was foiled. And a year later, the oldest sister, Ana, was dead.

The three remaining sisters have been grieving in their own way. And a year after Ana’s death they’re at a breaking point. And when Ana’s ghost shows up, it pushes the rest of the girls over the edge.

This is a little bit family drama, a little bit empowerment story, and a little bit ghost story, and Mabry makes it all work together excellently. The narrative switches between the three surviving sisters, as the story of Ana’s death, and their home life, unfolds. It’s a celebration of sisterhood — not just actually having sisters, but the act of women working together and supporting each other. And how we are stronger together than apart. It’s about grief and healing and support and the intersection of those three.

It’s an excellent story. I really ought to read more of Mabry’s book.

The Gravity of Us

by Phil Stamper
First sentence: “At home, I’m invisible.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s a bunch of swearing, including a dozen or so f-bombs, as well as some teenage drinking. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Cal has a decent life in Brooklyn: he lives upstairs from his best friend, Deb. He has a goal in life for after his senior year. He’s got a following on FlashFame, a social media app. The only downer: his parents constantly fight, mostly about his dad applying to be a pilot for one of NASA’s missions to Mars. Which means, if he gets it — and he does — they’ll have to relocate to Houston. Which is something neither Cal or his mom wants.

But once they get to Houston, Call meets Leon, the son of another astronaut. And there’s some instant attraction. Like loads of it. Enough that maybe Cal might change his mind about wanting to go back to Brooklyn.

There’s more to the story than that. There’s tension between Cal’s FlashFame celebrity and StarWatch, a network that is supposed to have unlimited access to the astronauts and their families. And there’s some uncertainty about whether or not the program will, in fact, go forward.

I thought this was a sweet book. I liked the merging of a retro-60s feel with the astronauts and the space program; we don’t really get excited about astronauts going into space anymore, and maybe we’ve lost something by not caring more about space. I liked that Stamper balanced the astronaut story with the story about journalistic ethics and a very cute gay love story. I really liked Cal and Leon and how their relationship developed.

It was a charming read, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Stamper writes next.

Aurora Rising

by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
First sentence: “I’m gonna miss the Draft.”
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Content: There is a lot of violence and some mild swearing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

I have this friend who adores long and intricate books, and who is also a big fan of Kaufman and Kristoff. I (finally) read Illuminae series on her recommendation, and she pointed me in the direction of these. I didn’t get around to reading them, though, until I saw that Kaufman and Kristoff were doing a read-along on Instagram during the quarantine, and I figured now was as good a time as any.

It’s the far future, and Earth — Terra — has branched out into space, discovering new world and forming alliances with new species. The inter-planetary diplomatic corps is the Aurora Legion, to which six of our seven main characters belong. There are different paths in the Aurora Academy, and the six of them come together to form a squad: Tyler, is their leader; his twin, Scarlett, is the diplomatic Face; Cat is their pilot; Zila is their science brain; and two aliens — Finian, a Betraskin, is their tech; and Kal is their Syldrathi weapons and tactical man. The seventh character is Aurora, a Terran girl that Tyler rescues from the Fold (it’s the way they space travel in this world), who sets in motion the events of the book.

And it’s a ride! The chapters alternate in viewpoint between the seven characters (I adore Zila’s chapters; they’re often less than a page, but that says SO much about her personality), and help the reader get to know each person while advancing the winding, twisting (in all the good ways) plot.

Yes, it’s the first in a trilogy, and yes, I am invested in these characters and the conflict that they have put themselves in the middle of. It’s a crazy, wild, fun ride, and I can’t wait to see where Kaufman and Kristoff take me next.

Fireborne

by Rosaria Munda
First sentence “Later, he would be known as the First Protector, and under his vision the city would transform.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is a lot of violence and some mild swearing. It’s in the YA section (grades 9-12) of the bookstore.

This book has been on my radar for a while. One of the teens in the teen review group I run at the bookstore loved it. And then it won the Young Adult Speculative Fiction Cybils. And I finally got around to reading it (thanks, COVID19!)

Lee is the son of one of the former rulers of Callipola, the same rulers that were overthrown in a revolution ten years ago. Lee’s kept his memories (he was only seven at the time) to himself as he grew up in an orphanage and then, later, as one of the chosen dragon riders. Annie is the daughter of Highland farm workers, who were heavily taxed and then murdered by the former rulers. She landed in the same orphanage as Lee and also became a dragon rider, and became Lee’s close friend as they grew up.

Fast forward ten years and Lee and Annie are vying for the position of Firstrider, leader of the dragon fleet and on their way to becoming Protector. Lee seems to be the obvious choice: he has talent and skill and charisma. The problem: his exiled family has shown up and wants to take their position back as Rightful Rulers of the island, and they want Lee to help. The question: will he join his family? Or will he stay true to the values of the new republic he has chosen to serve? And for Annie: can she rise to the situation she is constantly being told she’s unworthy of? And will her knowledge of who Lee is get in the way?

This really is fabulous. Incredibly well-told and captivating, I found I couldn’t put it down. Both Lee and Annie, as well as most of the minor characters, were well-developed, and had incredible arcs. Munda thought through her characters well, and I found them to be complex interesting people to spend time with. I loved the slow-burn romance, even if I could see it coming, enjoying the circuitous path Munda took to get her characters there. I loved her version of dragons; it felt more Anne McCaffrey than anything else, but it was also its own thing. Munda took her time to create a lore of her world, and I found myself wanting to know more.

It was an incredible read I can’t wait to see where Munda takes these characters and this world next.

A Heart So Fierce and Broken

by Brigid Kemmerer
First sentence: “I miss knowing exactly what time it is.”
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Others in the series: A Curse So Dark and Lonely
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There are some moments of violence and mild swearing It’s in the teen section of the bookstore.

This picks up where the first book in the series left off: Rhen and Harper have put off their enemies to the north in Syhl Shallow, but that seeded unrest in Emberfall. There are rumors that there is another heir, someone more suited to the crown than Rhen, and that his former Commander of the Royal Guard, Grey, knows who it is. But, Grey is refusing to tell. Meanwhile, one of the daughters of the Syhl Shallow queen, Lia Mara, would rather have peace than war, but instead of negotiating, Rhen imprisons her. She and Grey fall in together (after a series of incredibly vicious circumstances) and try to broker peace between the two countries.

It’s been forever since I read the first in this series, and from what I can gather over at Goodreads, that’s a good thing. This book follows Grey and Lia Mara, leaving Rhen and Harper to be background characters. I think if you read these two too close together, you get invested in Rhen and Harper’s story and there’s a bit of backlash with the change in narrators. As for me, I didn’t mind. I liked seeing the growth in Grey and Lia Mara’s quiet strength. I liked following their stories and learning more about characters where were background in the first book. I though it was an interesting development in the story, moving away from the fairy tale retelling and becoming its own thing. It’s probably not perfect, but I found it entertaining and am curious to see where the next book takes these characters.

Little Women

by Louisa May Alcott
First sentence: “‘Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,’ grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.”
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Content: It is very long and old-fashioned (well, it was written in the 1860s). It’s in the fiction section as well as the middle grade classics section.

I have had an affection for this book for a long time. Maybe since youth? I’m not sure, but I think my youth affections were more for Laura Ingalls Wilder and L. M. Montgomery than Louisa May Alcott. I know, as a mother, I have tried to be like Marmee: supportive and loving, but letting my girls be their own individual selves, giving advice and comfort as needed.

So, I haven’t read this for at least 25 years; I think the last time I cracked open the book was soon after the 1994 movie came out. And, well, now I remember why. See, I think I have a fondness for the story, and for the movies (I really enjoyed the new Greta Gerwig one!). But the book, I find, well, dull and long-winded and more than a bit preachy. I tell myself it’s because it’s 150 years old, but I don’t feel the same way about Jane Austen and those are more than 200 years old! There are moments of sweetness and sass (which is why the movies can distill the story so well), but the book is overlong, and full of passages that I ended up skipping.

And can we talk about the end? The whole book spent championing girls and women and their lives, and Jo decides to open a school for BOYS? It just didn’t sit well with me, but maybe that’s because I’m reading it with 21st century eyes.

So, yes to the story (and the movies). But it may be another 25 years before I read the book again.

The Vanishing Stair

by Maureen Johnson
First sentence: “‘Has anyone seen Dottie?’ Miss Nelson asked.”
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Others in the series: Truly Devious
Content: There’s some mild swearing and a couple of f-bombs. Somehow, this ended up in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore, but I’d give it to a younger kid interested in mysteries.

Picking up where we left off… (Thankfully, Johnson gives us a bit of background to help out in the beginning) Stevie was at Ellingham, a non-conformist boarding school in Vermont, until Hayes, a fellow student, turned up dead, and Ellie, another student went missing. Stevie was pulled out of school and brought home, that is, until a powerful senator convinces her parents to send her back. The reason? So she can keep an eye on his son David. Whom Stevie happens to really like. But things don’t go as planned; there’s still a kidnapping/murder left from the 1930s left to be solved, a fellow student is still missing. And Stevie seems to be at the center of it all.

This is a good solid second book in a series, answering some questions left over from the first book, and bringing up new ones. It’s still a delight to spend time with Stevie, Noah, Janelle, and David, and Johnson has a way of spooling out a mystery with just the right amount of information at the right time.

And bonus: the last one is already out! I can’t wait to see how it ends.

The Afterlife of Holly Chase

by Cynthia Hand
First sentence: “The first thing you should probably know is that Yvonne Worthington Chase was dead.”
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Content: There’s some mild swearing. It would be in the Christmas section if we carried it, but I’d also shelve it in the YA section (grades 6-8).

Holly Chase is dead. She was the recipient of “Project Scrooge” — which is based on A Christmas Carol, going around and finding callous individuals who need redemption — and failed. Miserably. She didn’t believe it was real, she didn’t believe she would die (granted: she wasn’t quite 17), and she ignored all the warnings. And ended up dead.

Now she works for Project Scrooge as The Ghost of Christmas Past. For the past five years, she’s stayed 17, and gone into peoples’ memories, searching for moments of good that could change them. But this year is different. The target is Ethan Worthington III who has a lot of similarities to Holly (and is super attractive too!): they both can pinpoint their increasing materialism and callousness to the point when they lost a parent.

I’m going to leave the rest of the story for you to find out. It was incredibly enjoyable; I liked how Hand echoed the Dickens book without coping it outright. It’s not a retelling of A Christmas Carol, but more a riff on it. Which makes all the difference. I enjoyed Holly as a character, even when she was being a brat, and Hand genuinely surprised me with the direction the story took.

An excellent addition to the world of Christmas books. Maybe not an instant classic, but very, very good.