Witches Abroad

by Terry Pratchett
First sentence: “
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
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.

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.

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.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
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!

The Witch Boy and The Hidden Witch

The Witch Boy
by Molly Knox Ostertag
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there (Witch Boy and The Hidden Witch)!
Content: There are some intense images of violence. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

I’d been seeing this one on a LOT of the best-of 2018 lists and I realized I knew NOTHING about it (I had gotten it in, but really paid no attention to it), so I realized I needed to get this one and read it. And since it looked up K’s ally, I decided to buy both it and the sequel as well.

Aster is part of this old magical family, where the girls are all witches and the boys are all shape-shifters. But Aster, at 13, has realized that his talents lie with being a witch rather than a shape-shifter. Except, because that’s what GIRLS do and he’s obviously not a girl, he’s forbidden. Like actively. Every time they find him sneaking around trying to learn witchcraft, the women shame him and shun him. Especially since the last time a boy tried to be a witch — Aster’s grandmother’s brother — he turned into a monster and was never seen again.

(Yes, I do think this is meant to be a feminist allegory for gender roles and toxic masculinity and how silly they are. If a boy wants to be a witch, then LET HIM BE A WITCH.)

Things get complicated when Aster’s cousins — all of whom embrace the traditional male role and become shape-shifters — start disappearing. And Aster — because he’s both male and a witch — is the only one who can save them.

The story continues in The Hidden Witch; Aster’s family has (kind of sort of) accepted him as a witch and is trying to teach him, when his non-magical friend, Charlie, gets attacked by a bit of dark magic called a “Fetch”. It turns out that there’s a rogue witch in town, and the family has to figure out how to take care of them.

This one, honestly, wasn’t as good as Witch Boy, which I adored. She did wrap up the story of the grandmother’s brother, which was left hanging in the first book, but I’m not sure how much I cared about that. I did like seeing Aster use his witchcraft to help Charlie figure out where the Fetch was coming from, but it just didn’t have the larger conflict that Witch Boy had. Even so, it’s delightful series, expertly drawn (Ostertag worked on Star vs. the Forces of Evil, and her art style fits that). I adore the friendship between Aster and Charlie, and I liked how Ostertag worked in diversity without making it a huge “look at me, I’m diverse” issue.

She’s a solid graphic novelist, and someone I’m excited to see more from.

The Wicked Deep

by Shea Ernshaw
First sentence: “Three sisters arrived in Sparrow, Oregon, in 1822 aboard a fur trading ship named the Lady Astor, which sank later that year in the harbor just beyond the cape.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There are instances of teenage drinking and lots of talk about sex. There is also swearing, including several f-bombs. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore. 

This one a hard one to summarize: it’s a slowly unfolding tale of three sisters who were accused of being witches and drowned, of a town that’s paid for their deaths for nearly 200 years through drownings of boys each summer. It’s the story of forgiveness and sacrifice and of falling in love. It’s the story of judgement and the price paid for not being open and accepting. 

It was atmospheric, as it slowly unfolded the historical tale of the Swan sisters and the contemporary tale of Penny and Bo. I was interested enough to keep reading to the end, but once there I was left with a shrug. I think I was supposed to care about the sacrifices made, about the love story. But mostly, it was all just a big meh. I guessed the twist fairly early on, and once I got to the Big Reveal, I was left kind of shrugging: yeah, so? 

I suppose I just wanted to like this one a lot more than I actually did. 

Audio book: The Wolf Hour

by Sarah Lewis Holmes
Read by David de Vries; Thérèse Plummer
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is violence, though none of it is graphic. There are some biggish words, as well. It’s in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Magia lives on the edge of the Puszcza — a huge, dark, magical forest — with her woodcutter father, mother, and siblings. Her mother has big dreams for everyone: Magia’s sister is going to be a healer, her brother a solder. And her mother wants Magia to be a singer. Except Magia wants to be a woodcutter like her father. But, she’s a good daughter, so she goes to music lessons with Miss Grand… and gets stuck in a story. And not a happy one at that.

I really liked this play and mashing of the Red Riding Hood and Three Little Pigs fairy tales. Actually, what I think I liked was the narration by deVries and Plummer. I loved listening to this one; it had the feel of an oral tale, and I loved how deVries and Plummer interpreted the text. Their narration kept me engaged with a text that I probably would have dismissed otherwise. But, because of that, I stuck through it. And while I wondered if there would be a happy  (or even hopeful) ending because Holmes kept the tension in the story going for a lot longer than I expected, it all does resolve well. Which was a nice touch.

In the end: surprisingly good.

Cybils Reading Round-Up, Part 2

Frogkisser!
by Garth Nix
First sentence: “The scream was very loud and went on for a very long time.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s really nothing “objectionable”, but it just feels… older. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, but I’m sure a fifth grader who really likes quests and/or fairy tales would enjoy it too.

Anya is a princess in a minor kingdom, whose parents have died and left her and her older sister to be raised by her stepmother (who is off doing…something) and her husband (whom Anya calls her “stepstepfather”), who is trying to take over the kingdom. So, Anya is sent on a Quest, nominally to find the ingredients to make a lip balm to turn Prince Duncan back from a frog, but ultimately, for control of her kingdom.

It’s a charming little tale; I enjoyed the fairy tale references (Snow White is a male wizard, etc.) and it was mildly funny, but honestly, it was just too long. I lost interested about 23 of the way through, and skipped to the end to find out how it all finished, and I don’t feel like I missed much. I’m sure it’s enjoyable; I just don’t have the patience for it right now.

Beyond the Doors
by David Neilsen
First sentence: “Edward Rothbaum was in a grumpy mood.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It’s a bit odd; it’s long, but there are interior illustrations, so it’s like the publisher (what’s up Random House?!) couldn’t figure out if it was for the younger or older end of the middle grade spectrum. It’s in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

The Rothbaum’s mom has been missing for years, and then a freak fire leaves their dad in a coma. So they’re bundled off to their (previously unknown) Aunt Gladys’s house, where there are no doors and nothing to eat but cereal. And Gladys is a bit… off… as well. Through some digging, the Rothbaums discover the real secret: their grandfather discovered an ability to jump into memories, and has gotten stuck there. And it’s up to the kids to figure out how to solve the problem.

This was fun. Nothing super brilliant, but I liked the kids and the idea of memory jumping is a clever one.

A Face Like Glass
by Frances Hardinge
First sentence: “One dark season, Grandible became certain that there was something living in his domain within the cheese tunnels.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It’s long and slow moving. So, maybe not for a reluctant reader. It’s in the Young Adult section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Neverfell is an outsider in the world of Caverna, an abomination… because you can see her emotions on her face. So, when Neverfell gets caught up in court politics, the fate of Caverna lies within her hands.

I usually like Hardinge’s books, but this one just fell flat for me. I wanted to like it, and I liked parts of it, but it was just… too long. And it didn’t hold my interest. I would put it down for days and just not care enough to pick it back up. (I would have abandoned it, except for the Cybils.) It’s not that it was badly written, or a bad story… it just didn’t hold my interest. So maybe it was more me than anything else.

Dragon’s Green
by Scarlet Thomas
First sentence: “Mrs. Breathag Hide was exactly the kind of teacher who gives children nightmares.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There are a few scary bits. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Effie Trulove’s grandfather spent time teaching her about the magical world, and even though she’s not quite sure she believes him, it was spending time. But, he’s passed on, and suddenly Effie’s thrown into situations where she comes to realize that, yes, her grandfather wasn’t making things up: there really is magic. So with the help of her trusty new friends, she can defeat the Bad Guys (who are out to steal all the magic books), and figure out her place in the magic world.

I said, once, that silly names and magic don’t a fantasy make. And I think that holds here. The names bugged me (so very much), as did the gendering of  the friends (the boys were the Warrior and Scholar, the girls were the Witch and the Healer, though Effie was the Hero). I thought it would have more of a D&D feel, and be predictable that way, but it veered a bit from that, which was nice. It just… bugged me, in the end. I’m not sure I can really put my finger on why. But this was was most definitely not for me.