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.”
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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.

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.”
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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!

The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins

by Clint McElroy, Griffin McElroy, Justin McElroy, Travis McElroy, and Carey Pietsch
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Content: It’s violent, but not overly so, and there are multiple instances of f-bombs. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

In an interesting twist on things, this graphic novel is based on a podcast, in which the McElroy family gets together and plays Dungeons and Dragons. I’ve never listened to the podcast, though I did dip into it a little bit just to see how much like the podcast the graphic novel was, but I thought this one sounded interesting. What they did, essentially, was pull out the threads of the story from their game, and make it into a straight-up story. (For the most part. Griffin, who’s the dungeon master, shows up as the DM on occasion to direct the action.)

And for the most part, this was fun. It holds up as a story of three adventurers — and elf, a dwarf, and a human — who are on a rescue mission which turns into something bigger than they thought. They interact with wild and weird (and often hilarious) characters, like the bad bodyguard Barry Bluejeans, or the boss gerblin, or the female orc that has a bigger, more encompassing purpose.

It’s silly, and I think it’ll especially resonate with people who have either listened to the podcast or played a lot of D&D. But it still worked for me.

Wyrd Sisters

by Terry Pratchett
First sentence: “The wind howled.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Equal Rites
Content: There’s some brief talk about sex, and the more Shakespeare you know the better this one is. It’d be in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore if we had it in the store.

First off: you really don’t have to read these in order. I kind of am, and so I’m going to list them as part of a series, but each of these books stand on their own. (That said, there was a small footnote about a professor at the wizard school being turned into an orangutan and I was able to laugh because I *remembered* that, which makes it so much better.)

Things that make Wyrd Sisters fantastic: all the Shakespeare references. I know I didn’t catch them all, but they’re there. And the ones I did catch made me laugh. It’s not just that the whole book was loosely based on Macbeth, but other little things, like the theater being called “The Dyske” or various characters trying to speak Shakespearean. Or my favorite: “I’d like to know if I could compare you to a summer’s day. Because — well, June 12th was quite nice…”

I also thoroughly enjoyed the witches. I didn’t much care for Granny Weatherwax in Equal Rites, but I feel like, set against Nanny Ogg and Magrat (who I kept calling “Margaret” in my head), she was awesome. Super practical, very blunt and always Right. I liked the three witches together, how they worked with (and against, sometimes) each other, for the better of this silly little kingdom. I could definitely read more of this Granny Weatherwax.

And so I probably will. There’s a handful more in the Witches Discworld series before you get to Tiffany Aching and I’m planning on going through them all.

The Obelisk Gate

by N. K. Jemisin
First sentence: “Hmm. No. I’m telling this wrong.”
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Others in the series: The Fifth Season
Content: There is swearing, including many f-bombs, and violence. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

Again, it’s super hard to talk about this one without giving too much away. Let’s just say it’s about magic, and community, and the end of the world, and forgiveness and how all that fits together.

Things I really liked: the language. Jemisin KNOWS how to spin a story. And this one is super intimate, it’s one character telling it to another, which is why the second person (which usually drives me nuts, but doesn’t in this one). The storytelling is just effortless, even when dealing with tough and complex things.

I liked that Jemisin was fearless about what the end of the world means. Communities will run out of supplies, there will be starvation and cannibalism. It’s refreshing that she’s so frank.

I liked one character, Nassun, who is 10, though I thought she was much like most 10-year-olds in fantasy novels written for adults: super precocious, and not at all believable as a 10-year-old. Even so, she was smart and intuitive and I enjoyed her as a character.

One more book to go in this trilogy! I can’t wait to see how the story ends.

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.