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!

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Valiant

by Lesley Livingston
First sentence: “The steam rising off the backs of the cantering horses faded into the morning fog.”
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Content: There’s violence, obviously, and some references to naked people and drinking. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Fallon is a chief’s daughter of one of the Celtic tribes back in Roman times. They fought off the Romans, once, but her father was captured and her sister was killed rescuing him. Which means, Fallon’s not allowed to join the warriors (even though she’s an amazing fighter) and is being forced to marry a man she doesn’t love. So, in fit of pique, she storms off only to be captured by Roman slavers. She’s sold — for an exorbitant price — to a gladiatrix training school, one that Julius Ceasar owns, and has to decide: will she fight in warrior games for a country she despises? Or will she become target practice?

I didn’t expect to like a book set in Roman times about a female gladiator, with a side love story with a Roman soldier, but you know what? I did. Livingston knows how to propel a plot and I really enjoyed the female relationships in this. Fallon wasn’t the only girl the slavers captured, and I liked how Livingston developed those relationships. They learned to work together and care for each other, and while she did have some women (once Fallon got to the academy) who were operating out of jealousy, it was mostly a supportive environment.

I didn’t particularly like the romance, though, and it all felt a bit too modern for me at points, but that’s forgivable. I don’t know if I’m going to go on to read the other two in this series, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

Obsidio

by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
First sentence: “Perhaps we should get proceedings under way?”
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Others in the series: Illuminae, Gemina
Content: There is a lot of swearing, all blacked out, and a lot of violence. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Spoilers for the first two, obviously.

First off: this series is some solid action/adventure science fiction. This one is lacking the aliens or diseases of the others, but deals more on the human aspects of war. We’re back on Kerenza, where for the past seven months (while the previous two books were happening), the people who didn’t escape are now being occupied by BeiTech forces. Who, to be frank, are murderous, awful people. In fact, that’s the central conflict of the book, as we find out how the Illuminae files were compiled (though I wonder how the audiobooks changed from the first, as we learned more) and the conflict between the Hypatia and Heimdall crews. It’s about what happens to humans in time of conflict, and the decisions — and rationalizations — that come from it. Kaufman and Kristoff are also exploring the consequences of decisions made by the AI without the aid of emotion.

And, yes, this one has two new characters to add to the mix. And while we weren’t given as much time to connect with them, they still were fascinating to read through the twists and turns. And while they didn’t play as big a role as other characters, they were still integral to the plot.

It’s such a good series, maybe made better by being able to read them all back-to-back without waiting in between. I was able to catch small things in the stories that I would have probably missed if I had waited between books. But plowing through them all one right after another is highly recommended.

The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe

by Ally Condie
First sentence: “Call tells me he sees a star and that makes me laugh.”
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Release date: March 26, 2019
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is some violence. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

In this near-future, dystopian world, Poe is a member of the Outpost, a group of people who mine the river for gold and basically try to survive. (From what, we don’t know). They are up against the raiders, every time they take to the rivers, and when Poe is on her first voyage, the raiders kill her love, Call. So, she vows revenge. She creates an impenetrable armor for the ships as they dredge the rivers, collecting gold. And now, it’s her last voyage, the one on the biggest river, the one where she’s captain. The one where she will get revenge for Call’s death.

And then everything goes. wrong.

I wanted to love this one. I wanted it to be fierce girls taking on the patriarchy, overturning everything, breaking free from the bondage of male rule. But, what I got was one girl, grieving for a lost love, building a weapon out of revenge, and her personal journey to enlightenment. Not that it was a bad journey: I liked Poe, and I thought that (for the most part) her journey from one side of the conflict to the other was believable. Maybe a bit rushed, but understandable. Mostly I felt this book was an exploration of the anger stage of grief, and how a person gets through to acceptance and moving on. Which is fine and all, but not what I wanted out of the story. (For a much better girls taking on the patriarchy book, check out Anne Ursu’s The Lost Girl)

The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy

by Mackenzi Lee
First sentence: “I have just taken an overly large bite of iced bun when Callum slices his finger off.”
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Others in the series: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
Content: There was some mild swearing and some frank depictions of 18th century medicine. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore, because that’s where Gentleman’s Guide is.

First off: you don’t have to read Gentleman’s Guide before reading this one, though it will probably help with some small references, and with knowing who the characters are.

It’s been a while since Felicity has come back from her “tour” with her brother and his now-boyfriend, Percy. She decided that instead of going back to her parents, she would rather try her hand at getting into a medical school in Edinburgh. However, that didn’t go well. At all. For all the reasons you can guess: she’s a woman, women are inferior, why don’t you go play with the midwives, honey? So when this man she has befriended, the Callum of the opening sentence, proposes, Felicity panics and heads back to London. Where, through a series of chance encounters (and some standing up for herself), she ends up on a trip to Stuttgart in the company of a less-than-trustworthy woman, to attend the wedding of her former best friend.

Of course, adventures ensue. Felicity and the other women — Sim, who turns out to be a pirate princess, and Johanna, the daughter of a naturalist — have to fight (both literally and figuratively) for their right to be heard, to be understood, to be listened to. And, along they way they learn a bit about themselves.

I adored this one (as much as Gentleman’s Guide, which means it wasn’t all the narrator with that one). I loved that Lee got in many different kinds of women, and several different feminist points (you can, in fact, loves clothes AND science!). I loved that Felicity was asexual, and was okay with that. She thought maybe she worked differently from other people, but that was okay with her. I loved that the girls all ended up as friends (even though Sim has a bit of a crush on Felicity), and that there wasn’t a romance in the plot. I loved that Lee gave us some feisty and fierce historical girls, who were willing to blaze paths and be unapologetic about making the world a better place.

A very excellent read.

Shout

by Laurie Halse Anderson
First sentence: “this book smells like me”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is talk about rape and sexual abuse, and swear words, including f-bombs. It’ll be in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

I didn’t think
about where Speak
came from, though I have read that
several times
and respect it.

So when I learned that it
was inspired by Anderson’s story
I was shook
and also inspired;
she had a tough childhood,
but worked out a path
and made a successful
life.

But what really got me
about this book —
what made me angry —
was all the stories she heard
in response to the book
both from girls who read it
and can now speak their truth,
and from adults,
who want to keep kids from that truth.

In the end,
what will stay with me
is the beauty of the words
as well as the
power
of the story.

The Boneless Mercies

by April Genevieve Tucholke
First sentence: “They say dying makes you thirsty, so we always gave our marks one last drink.”
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Content: There is a lot of death and some drinking. It’s in the Teen sectiong (grades 9+) but it’d be appropriate for younger kids as well.

Frey and her companions — Ovie, Runa, Juniper — are Boneless Mercies: women who roam the country performing mercy killings for payment, such as it is. They’re shunned by society, even while they’re treated with respect. But the girls — and they are all girls, ranging from 15 to 19(ish) — are tired of the death trade. Frey, especially, longs for something More out of life. So, when they here of a monster — a giant — who is terrorizing the Blue Vee area of Vorseland, they head out to perform that impossible task.

There’s more to it, of course. And it’s very much an Epic Tale in the tradition of the Odyssey, or (more accurately) one of the Norse myths. In fact, it’s deliberately Norse (without being explicitly so): the Boneless Mercies worship the goddess Valkree, and others follow Obin. It’s Vorse and Finnmark and Dennish. Warriors die and go to Holholla, and they believe in Hel. This bugged me, at first, because why be Norse without really being Norse? But, eventually, I settled in and it didn’t bother me as much.

It’s a very feminist book, without hitting the reader over her head: it’s female-centric (there are about five male characters in the whole book), it’s a world where while females don’t have power (there are references to the way women and girls are kept down), they search out the power they do have and wield it to the full extent, while working for change. But, mostly, it’s beautifully written. Tucholke has a gift for words in the same way Laini Taylor and Maggie Stiefvater do: she keeps the story going, while painting beautiful word pictures.

It’s a lovely epic story, and one I’m very glad I read.