Reread: I Shall Wear Midnight

by Terry Pratchett
First sentence: “Why was it, Tiffany Aching wondered, that people liked noise so much?
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Others in the series: The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith
Content: There’s a bit more romance, and some illusions to sex (none actual), and the story’s a bit darker than the other Tiffany Aching books. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Last time I read this, seven years ago, I called it a perfect ending for a perfect series. It’s still a perfect series. But, going back and rereading this, I’ve realized that this isn’t an ending. More like a stopping place. (And I am glad The Shepherd’s Crown got published. It makes for a better ending.)

That said (follow the seven years ago link for the plot), I still loved this one. I loved that the conflict was the negative opinions of witches, the hate that is so often seen in the face of the unknown. It felt very timely. I liked that Pratchett used old lore to battle the hate (if we know and understand our history, we will better be able to fight against the dark), and having recently read Small Gods, I understood all the references to the priests of Om this time. I adore Tiffany’s practicality (and wish I could figure out how to better roll with the challenges in my life), and I love the humor. There can never be too much NacMacFeegle, and I loved the fierceness with which Jeannie (the kelda) watches over her clan.

Really, these books are such a delight to read.

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Reread: Wintersmith

wintersmithby Terry Pratchett
First sentence: “When the storm came, it hit the hills like a hammer.”
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Others in the Series: The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky
Content: There’s a bit of mushy love stuff, but it’s fairly understated. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

I spent the review the last time I read this talking about the characters and how they’re what really matters when reading this series. And that’s true. Tiffany Aching wouldn’t not be Tiffany without the other witches, like Nanny Ogg or Granny Weatherwax or Annagramma or Petulia, or without Roland or the Nac Mac Feegle. Or the Chalk. But, what stuck with me was not the characters (perhaps because I’m reading all these one right after another) but the plot.

Basically, Tiffany disrupts the seasons when she gets impulsive during the winter dance and joins in. The Wintersmith, the elemental who runs winter, is intrigued and decides that he needs to woo Tiffany. Which, because he’s Winter, involves a lot of ice and snow and cold weather. And because of this, spring is delayed. Tiffany has taken on the role of Summer in this dance, and has to figure out how to get out of it. Before the cold starts killing animals and people.

I loved the way Pratchett was playing with Old Stories, with mythology. I loved the way Tiffany had to take responsibility for things, even though it was impulsive and she didn’t “mean” to. This time, I enjoyed what it was about as much as the journey.

This series is just so great.

Reread: A Hat Full of Sky

hatfullofskyby Terry Pratchett
First sentence: “The Nac Mac Feegle are the most dangerous of the fairy races, particularly when drunk.”
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Content: It’s a bit complex, story-wise for the younger set, but would make a great read-aloud for ages 8 and up. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.
Others in the series: The Wee Free Men

Of course when you read The Wee Free Men, you have to follow it up with reading the rest of the series. I’ve read and reviewed this once before, nearly 8 years ago, and I don’t have much else to add. Except that much of what I remember about Tiffany Aching and this series comes from this book. The bit about being afraid of depths. The definition of what a witch is. The encounter with Death. It’s all here. This is the one (aside from the Nac Mac Feegle, which really shine in the first book) that has stayed with me all these years.

Which makes me wonder: what will I think of the others this time around?

The Wee Free Men

weefreemenby Terry Pratchett
First sentence: “Somethings start before other things.”
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Content: The Nac Mac Feegle’s speech is written in dialect, which might be difficult to understand. But, I’d give it to a precocious 10-year-old, and it worked as a read-aloud to K a couple years back when she was 8. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

I don’t really have much to write, since I’ve already reviewed this on my blog twice: first in 2009 and then the audio version in 2011. But I wanted an excuse to put up the pretty new cover (I LOVE IT!) and to say that Tiffany Aching wears well, and that it’s still as wonderful and as fun and as Important as it was when I first read it.

On to the next one!

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

girlwhodrankby Kelly Barnhill
First sentence: “Yes.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: Although this is masquerading as a middle grade novel, it’s really an upper-middle-grade/mild YA novel. There’s not much, content-wise, that would be inappropriate for the younger set, I’m just not sure how well they’d follow the plot. It’s either for those contemplative readers who want to immerse themselves in a slow story, or older readers who are looking for something lyrical.  It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore (though it could easily go in our YA — grades 6-8 — section).

It’s hard to know where to begin with this one. There’s a girl — Luna — who was a baby left beside the road by a town that believes unless they sacrifice one baby, the witch will destroy their village. There’s a witch — Xan — who has been rescuing the babies from the village for years, depositing them in homes where they are cared for. She takes Luna, and decides to raise her. There’s a Perpetually Tiny Dragon and a swamp monster. A madwoman in a tower, and a  young man who defies the town council. There’s a lot going on in this novel, and yet, there also isn’t a lot. It’s a very small story about home and family and doing what’s right over what’s convenient. But it’s a larger story, as well: about home and family and doing what’s right over what’s convenient.

I do have to admit that while I found the language beautiful and I thoroughly enjoyed the story, I did keep wondering what sort of kid was going to pick this one up. It’s so different from the standard Middle Grade fare (probably for a good reason): much slower, much more contemplative. I do hope it finds an audience, because it really is a beautiful story.

The Witches

witchesby Roald Dahl
First sentence: “In fairy-tales, witches always wear silly black hats and black cloaks, and they ride on broomsticks.”
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Content: It’s not as scary as I thought it would be, and surprisingly simple for the size. Heads up, though: grandma smokes a cigar. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

So, I remember reading this one at some point, and I had a violently negative reaction to it. I HATED it. So, I was a bit wary going in this time. But, since I picked this for the Roald Dahl book club, I needed a re-read going in.

And it’s…. weird. I was asked if it was “good”, and I said “It’s weird.” “Does that mean it’s bad? ” Nope. Just weird.

The basic plot? There are witches out there, and they look like us. Except they always wear gloves, and a wig (to cover their bald heads) and the have no toes. They hate children and make them disappear. They are, at all costs, to be avoided. So when our narrator (whose childhood sounds suspiciously like Dahl’s), accidentally ends up in a ballroom full of witches, he’s (understandably) terrified. Especially after he hears their master plan for the children of England: make a time-release mouse potion, put it in candy, and voila! No more children. They’ll all be mice.

Except our narrator doesn’t make it out in one piece: he’s caught and turned into a mouse. But, he can talk and he can still think like himself so he goes and convinces his grandma that he’s still her grandson. And informs her of the Grand Plan. Which they, unbelievably, thwart. But our narrator remains a mouse, which is just fine with him because then he won’t outlive his grandma.

Weird.

There are the usual Dahl themes: adults hating kids, and good kids being bullied (by the witches). But it really feels different from the other ones I’ve read. Matilda is darker, and Charlie is more didactic. I’m not quite sure what The Witches is other than… weird.  Was it supposed to scare kids? Was it supposed to just be amusing? (It wasn’t.)

This one’s going to be an interesting discussion at book group.

Castle Hangnail

castlehangnailby Urusla Vernon
First sentence: “It was a marvelously dark and dour twilight at the castle.”
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Content: There’s nothing in here that a third-grader (and up) wouldn’t enjoy. Plus lots of white space and illustrations for the reluctant readers. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Molly is a 12-year-old twin with a knack for magic. So when her friend Eudaimonia gets an invite to become the Master of Castle Hangnail, a kind of small, run down castle in need of some sort of Wicked/Evil Master in the middle of nowhere, Molly jumps at the chance. Perhaps, if she can learn to become a Master of a castle, she can get the respect she’s been wanting.

However, Molly finds it’s not as easy as saying she’d do it. The Board of Magic has several tasks that she needs to accomplish (among them: securing and defending the castle, committing acts of smiting and blighting, and winning the hearts/minds of villagers by any means necessary) before she can truly be called the Master. Plus there’s the small feat of getting the minions in Castle Hangnail on her side. Not to mention that her parents (and “good” twin sister) think she’s just away at summer camp…

Oh, this book was delightful. So, so very delightful. The tone is a lot like Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching series: a smart, no-nonsense girl who figures out how to be a “wicked” witch with some hilarious side-kicks and a lot of snide asides. There’s so much to love. From the goldfish who always thinks she’s dying to the steam fairy who doesn’t deal with cold well, to the plumber who  “when he knelt to work on the boiler, you sall rather more of Harry than you wanted.” The tone, the characters, even the bullying (which it was, even if it never was called that) were all spot-on and made this book absolutely enjoyable to read.

(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)