Nona the Ninth

by Tasmyn Muir
First sentence: “In the dream, he told her the words about where he took his degrees his postdoc, his research fellowship.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: September 13, 2022
Review copy snagged from the publisher when it came in.
Others in the series: Gideon the Ninth Harrow the Ninth
Content: It’s violent and sweary. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

Things you should know:

  1. It’s MUCH better if you read Gideon and Harrow right before reading this one. Seriously. I spent so much time trying to remember things, I finally gave up, found a Wiki, and spent time looking up things to remind myself. If you remember stuff from the previous two books, you will better understand and grasp what is going on in this one.
  2. It’s the …. cheeriest? possibly.. of the three so far. Nona is an endearing character and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with her, Pyrrha, Cam, Palamedes, and all the new characters we met.
  3. I have no idea what the heck happened in the last 1/4 of the book, and I’m not sure I care that I didn’t know. Truthfully: upon reflection, all the pieces were there, I just didn’t catch them. (See, #1.)
  4. Muir blew my mind in the best. way, and I am utterly impressed with her world-building, with her character development, and just the way this story is unfolding.
  5. Bring on Alecto. I can’t wait to see how this ends.

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking

by T. Kingfisher
First sentence: “There was a dead girl in my aunt’s bakery.”
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Content: there is some death by murdering and mild swearing. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

Mona doesn’t consider herself a wizard. After all, all she does is small magic – like make bread rise or gingerbread men dance. But when a girl turns up dead in her the kitchen of her aunt’s bakery, she soon discovers that someone is out to get her (and all the other people who do magic in her town). And, since now of the adults in Mona’s life seem to be doing anything, she and her friend (the brother of the dead girl) soon decide to challenge the powers that be and make someone listen.

People have been recommending this to me for a while now, and I guess I just felt that Now was the time to read it. I mean, who doesn’t love a possibly sentient sourdough starter named Bob? But it was also more than that: it was about inclusiveness, about finding one’s power, even if you think it’s small, and about making and keeping friends. It’s very sweet I get why Kingfisher self-published it: it’s not really an adult book, but it’s not really a YA one either. it sits in that publishing no person’s land, where if you like the sort of thing – baking, slight mysteries, magic, etc – you’ll probably love this book.

I fell on the love it side, and I don’t regret that at all.

The Agathas

by Kathleen Glasgow and Liz Lawson
First sentence: “Alice Ogilvie is crazy.”
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Content: There is some swearing, including 3 F-bombs, some mention of teenage drinking, drug use, and sexual activity.

Alice Ogilvie is persona non grata in Castle Cove: last summer, she disappeared for five days. Everyone in town panicked and sent out searches for her. And then she reappeared, much to everyone’s chagrin, and refused to talk about her summer. She’s trying to get back into school – after being on house arrest for two months – and is failing at it.

Iris is trying to get her and her mother away from her abusive dad. This means she needs money. So, when the school counselor hirs her to be a tutor to Alice, she’s a little wary, but needs the $3,000 enough to take it on. But when Alice’s former best friend, Brooke, goes missing and then turns up dead, Alise is determined to get to the bottom of it. Iris is just along for the ride, and for the reward money. The question is: can two teenage girls figure out the mystery?

If you can’t tell from the title: this is really a straight-up murder mystery, the kind Agatha Christie used to write. It hits all the mystery beats: a dead body, a falsely accused person, and so on. And it did it all really well. I liked the voices of Alice and Iris, and the way the story was told through both of their eyes. I liked that the mystery was just high enugh stakes that I woudl fl a sense of danger when Alice and Iris get into questionable situatons It’s a strong story ad a fun one. Definitely recommended.

Finlay Donovan is Killing It

by Elle Cosimano
First sentence: “It’s a widely known fact that most moms are ready to kill someone by eight thirty a.m. on any given morning.”
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Content: There is swearing, including some f-bombs, talk of sexual assault, and (of course) death. It’s n the mystery section of the bookstore.

Finlay Donovan’s life is falling apart. Recently divorced, she is spending so much time taking care of her own children that she can’t finish the mystery book she’s supposed to have already had into her editor. Her ex-husband (and his fiance) is no help; he begrudgingly helps her bills when they get too big, but he’s had his lawyer file a motion for sole custody of the kids (even though he doesn’t really want to deal tih the everyday grind of raising them). Nothing seems to be going right.

Then, at a meeting in a Panera with her editor, a woman overhears her talking about the plot of her new book and mistakes her for an assassin. She hires Finlay to off her husband, offeringto pay enough to cover Finaly’s bills for quite a while. Finlay is determined not to dot his (she’s not a killer after all!), but when she’s checking the husband out, he accidentally ends up dead (seriously). Everything goes off the rails after that, with Finaly’s former nanny (who had quit because Finaly’s husband was sexually harassing her) getting in on the deal, and the two of them attempt to figure out who killed the husband while keeping the cops off their trail.

I needed something fluffy that wasn’t a romance, and this definitely delivered. It’s an incredibly smart and funny book, full of twists and turns, while also being a critique of how we look at motherhood and single/divorced moms. It was a lot of fun and the plot was good enough that kept me guessing.

I’m glad there’s a sequel so I can enjoy Finlay some more.

Audiobook: Flying Solo

by Linda Holmes
Read by Julia Whelan
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There’s swearing, including a couple of well-placed f-bombs. There is also off-screen sex. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

Laurie grew up in a small Main town, and couldn’t wait to get away. She didn’t return often, and once her immediate family moved away, there wasn’t much reason to return. That is, until her Great-Aunt who had no children of her own, passed away. Suddenly, it became Laurie’s job to go through Aunt Dot’s house and get it ready to be sold. Once there, she discovers a wooden duck in a blanket chest, and that starts off a chain of events that leads Laurie to a greater understanding of her aunt. Along the way, she reconnects with her old boyfriend, Nick, who is recently divorced.

I liked that this was a less-than-traditional romance. While it’s still about people falling in love, it features a heroine who called off her wedding because she didn’t feel right about it. She’s nearly 40, she’s she’s a larger woman; Holmes mentions “size18” and “larger body”. Laurie is a woman who knows that she wants to live alone and that maybe being married isn’t for her. She’s bucking societal norms, not doing things the way things are “supposed” to be done. I really really appreciated that. And honestly: it was this embracing of non-traditionalness that made the book a really good one for me.

Whelan is still a delightful narrator; she makes the listening experience super engaging and enjoyable. I will have to listen to her read more! In short: thoroughly enjoyed this one.

Spear

by Nicola Griffith
First sentence: “In the wild wast, a girl, growing.”
Support your local independent bookstore: by it there!
Content: There’s some violence and off-screen sex. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

One of my co-workers sold this to me by saying “It’s Arthurian legends, but gay” and honestly, that’s all it took. Griffith is taking the world of King Artur, planting it in 6th-century Wales, and making one of the knights, Peretur (or Percival) a woman. It’s familiar (to those of us who have gone through Arthurian obsessions), and yet, it’s also new. Making Peretur a woman updates the myth without sacrificing its ancient origins. I adored Peretur, and the journey she went on, from growing up in the wild with her mother to her quest to become a knight of KIng Aruthur. Her kind heart and fierce nature were balanced so well. I felt that Griffiths’ writing gave the book an ethereal quality, making it seem like a story that’s being told around a fire. It’s short, so I felt like Griffiths was able to get to the heart of the matter, without there bieng a lot of extra.

In short, It was exactly everything I wanted from an Arthurian tale.

Bravely

by Maggie Stiefvater
First sentence: “This is a story about two gods and a girl”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is some violence, a pretty intense fire scene, and a small amount of romance. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

I will admit that when I heard Maggie was going to write a book set in the world of Brave, that takes place after the movie, I was a bit skeptical. I mean Disney is a huge corporation, and corporate fiction isn’t always, well, good.

This book takes some time after the movie, and Dun Broch has gotten stagnant. When, on a Christmas Eve, merida captures the god of change and ruin, Feradach, at her house, she knows something bad is about to happen She makes a bargain with him and the Cailleach (the goddess of renewal): give her a year to get her family to change, and prove that they are worthy to be spared.

I shouldn’t have doubted: The journey Maggie takes readers on is amazing. Fllowing the seasons, as Merica and her family visit three other neighboring kingdoms, is full of heartbreak, laughter, and yes, change. Maggie explores the need for change, and the difference between natural, renewing change, and the destructive change that humans bring. Merida ries so hard to make Feradach into the “bad guy”, but he’s not. There is a balance to all things, and maggie explores that as well. Brave is one of my favorite movies, and to have a book that is set in this world and is so compelling and complex makes my heart sing.

I will read anything Maggie writes and I will proabably love it. So, I’m biased, but truthfully: this really is a great book.

Aurora’s End

by aie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
First sentence: “I am rarely surprised.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Aurora Rising, Aurora Burning
Content: There is some mild swearing, illusions to sex, and a lot more f-bombs than in the previous two books. They’re still in the YA section (grades 6-8) though maybe they should get moved?

Things I loved about the book:

The tagline on the cover. It really is about time. And Kaufman and Kristoff play with it so well.

The way all the pieces fit together, and the characters learned and grew and it just worked.

The fact that a bawled for the last s00 pages or so. They made me care about these characters and their fates and man, it was all just so satisfying.

I can’t wait to see what these two do together next They just create pure gold.

The Last Cuentista

by Donna Barba Higuera
First sentence: “
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Content: There are some intense moments and suggestions of killing. It’s in the YA section (but will be moved to the Newbery section, since it won the Newbery medal on Monday) of the bookstore.

Petra wants to be a storyteller like Lita, her grandmother. But the world is ending, and her family is one of the few that found a space on the departing ships because they are scientists. She is put in stasis, which kind of goes wrong, and when she wakes up 380 years later the world has gone sideways. A group called the Collective has taken over the ship, and it’s nothing like Petra — who can still remember Earth — was expecting.

What she found is a ship full of “shrimp” people, who eat this nutritious “biomass” block every day, who have tonics who alter their moods, and who don’t question the word of the Chancellor. All diversity, all difference, all remnants of Earth life have been erased.

In many ways, this is the same old story: diversity is what makes us strong; the acts that get us to sameness are despicable. Butt his adds a layer. Petra is a storyteller, a person who loves to tell the stories that she grew up with. And stories, more than anything else, are what connect us to our past. I loved that Higuera emphasized the importance of stories in addition to knowledge.

There was so much to love. It’s a brilliant world Higuera created, one that I would love to know more about. And she knows how to ramp up the tension. I was quite anxious several times in the story, not knowing how it was going to go. The stakes were real without being harsh. You do have to suspend your disbelief a bunch – can a 13-year-old who has been in stasis for 380 years really do this? – but other than that, it’s an incredible book.

I’m glad I read it.

Graceling

by Kristin Cashore, illustrated by Gareth Hinds
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is some violence and an implied sex scene. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Graceling, if I had to choose, is one of my favorite books of all time. So, I’m glad it exists in graphic novel form if only to draw in more readers to the world that Cashore has built. And I admit that I’ve been meaning to reread these before reading Winterkeep (I’ve been putting it off), and reading the graphic novel gave me a reason to read it without having to actually read it.

On the one hand, it was wonderful to be back in Katsa’s world, to see the story that Cashore built, follow its twists and turns. And Hinds’s illustrations are pretty great; I loved the way he illustrated the fights, and how he imagined Cashore’s world.

But I think the graphic novel diluted some of the impact of the novel (or maybe it’s just because I know what’s going to happen). It didn’t have the same punch that the novel did. I didn’t feel the same connection for the characters, the same dread. Maybe, though, it’ll inspire people to pick up the books. Or maybe Hinds will illustrate the other ones. Either way, I’m glad I got a chance to visit the world again.