Category Archives: Review

Book Review: Studying Portal Fantasies and Asexuality and Solving Murders in Every Heart a Doorway

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Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, awards list, reviews, and author's bio.

Being asexual can feel like being one of the Whos of Whoville during the trial of Horton the Elephant, shouting desperately “We are here! We are here! We are here!” but feeling like no one can hear. This is only the second book that I have read with a character that identifies as asexual. The protagonist in this actually uses the word asexual to refer to herself and her orientation, which the other, Felicity Montague from Mackenzi Lee’s Montague Siblings does not. And it’s such a relief. It feels like someone hears. Even if it is only one kind-hearted elephant with ginormous ears and the rest of the jungle still can’t hear and refuses to believe.

I was a little disappointed that Nancy, the asexual character in question here, is marked as an outsider and considered a suspect by her peers for her association with the dead.  I would have enjoyed more I think a story about an asexual character who is liked and accepted by her peers—as much as Nancy’s social exile is here not related to her asexuality.  And I did enjoy Nancy’s story apart from her asexuality.  I just wish in a way that the two stories—that of her asexuality orientation and what that means to her and that of her disassociation from the land of the living—hadn’t been found in a single character.

It was the knowledge that the protagonist describes herself as ace that got me to pick up this book, though it had been recommended to me on the basis of its concept before.

It recommends itself well. The eponymous wayward children are those who have visited other worlds and have returned and are struggling now with how to live in our world. That is a unique concept. And I enjoy the idea of exploring what happens after most plots end, after the world has been saved, after the villain has been slain.

But this is a weird book.

It will not be for everyone.

Beyond increasing asexual visibility, I’m still trying to decide if it is for me.

I enjoyed it.

But I didn’t love it like I expected to do.

I didn’t fall in love with McGuire’s prose the way that I expected to do.

This is a book that seems partially a murder mystery, partially a bildungsroman, a school story specifically, partially a study of portal fantasies as a genre—all while refusing to settle into a genre itself. There’s only a little magic in this world. We visit none of the portal worlds for more than a glimpse.

I did enjoy the murder mystery, but I didn’t get wrapped up in the whodunit the way that I expected to do or the way that I wanted to do. I didn’t feel drawn to guess or invested in guessing I think because I felt like I lacked information as characters were slowly added to the novel even after the murders had already begun.

I liked the characters, but I didn’t really feel as though I got to know any of them as much as I would like to do. This is a series, and it seems like later books might more fully explore some of the characters to which we are introduced, but not Nancy and not Christopher as far as I can tell who were some of the more intriguing to me, Nancy because I want to savor time getting to know other aces and Christopher because I found his world and his magic intriguing, which seem to be closely tied to the Land of the Dead found in Mexican mythology.

I did like and enjoy getting to know Kade whose coming out as transgender got him expelled from his world and his childhood home in this world, though not before becoming a hero and the goblin prince.

Jack grew on me. I look forward to getting to know her better, but I’m not sure that I want to explore with her her High Reason, High Wickedness world, which is where the next book heads.

I am glad that I read this. I am debating still whether or not I will continue the series.

****

McGuire, Seanan. Wayward Children, Book 1: Every Heart a Doorway.  Tor/Forge-Tor.com, 2018.

This review is not endorsed by Seanan McGuire, Tor, or Forge. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: A Eurocentric Study of Curious, Mostly Christian Myths of the Middle Ages

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Click to visit WorldCat to find a copy in your local library and summary.

In his introduction to this edition, Hardy writes that he “ruthlessly abandoned the farther shores of [Baring-Gould’s] research,” and I am inclined to believe that he was utterly ruthless (14-15). I have sought out copies of Baring-Gould’s unedited text and have found 600 page volumes where this one is 159.  I found Hardy’s edit of Baring-Gould’s original to be wonderfully readable and accessible, mostly because in this edit each story and its dissection is only a few pages long, most entries less than 10 pages, making it an easy book to read in pieces.  I found most of what I would want from this book—the myths themselves and some information about their possible antecedents—to be present in the abridged edition.  I have not yet and probably won’t read the ponderous 600 page volume; there is too much more modern scholarship to read, and this was a library book acquisition literally picked up when the book that I came for could not be found.

Please note that from now on whenever I cite “Baring-Gould” I really mean “Baring-Gould filtered by Hardy” because I suspect that Hardy’s edit has greatly influenced my impression of this book.

This is both a collection of myths and a study of myths.

Although Baring-Gould often points out similarities between the myth that he is telling and myths of other continents, this book is whoppingly Eurocentric, focusing most of its time on myths of Germany, France, and Great Britain—somewhat understandable as Baring-Gould seems to have spent most of his time in these countries—but his evaluation of and the language that he uses to speak about peoples outside of Europe is often uncomfortable to a modern reader.

Most of the myths that Baring-Gould, an Anglican priest and hymnist, explores here elevate and presuppose a Christian worldview—again, understandable given the focus on European myths of the medieval period when and where the Church had more power and more greatly effected everyday life and given Baring-Gould’s own religious occupation, though again the disregard for other religions and even other branches of Protestantism than Anglican is again uncomfortable.  Baring-Gould’s view of Christianity seems more militant than some too; his perhaps best known hymn is “Onward, Christian Soldier,” so his militancy doesn’t surprise me either, though even that hymn has always made me uncomfortable.

Some myths discussed here are stories of holy objects or people who interacted with Jesus on earth. Some are about devils or portals to Hell or Purgatory. Some are stories of saints or fallen Church officials. A few are more secular, like the tale of Gellert or of Melusina.  Many are myths that have made their way if not in their entirety then in pieces or into the framework of the imagination of modern, Western consciousness.  The story of Gellert, for example, I knew almost exactly as Baring-Gould reports it.  The story of the Man in the Moon I had never heard, but of course I know the phrase.  The barest bones of the story of Pope Joan I knew but not the particulars.

Baring-Gould at times comes off as stunningly condescending towards any who disagree with his assessments of the origins and meanings of these myths. “It need hardly be stated that the whole story of Pope Joan is fictitious and fabulous, and has not the slightest historical foundation” (72).

Though often he traces his assumptions through a list of sources and presuppositions, at times in this edition—too often—there is little to no explanation of particular statements, making me wonder if such statements were considered fact by the everyday nineteenth century literate who might have found this volume in its original printing—or perhaps were facts to Hardy’s readers in the 1970s. For example, Baring-Gould connects the English Jack and Jill to the Scandinavian Hjuki and Bil largely based on a supposed similarity between the names which seems like it could to me be coincidental and not an etymologically sound conclusion then decides that the trek of Jack and Jill up the hill and tumbling back down represents the waxing and waning of the moon because of his connection to the two Scandinavian children who are kept on the moon.  Past his word, there’s little evidence presented here.  Again, “Ursula is in fact none other than the Swabian goddess Ursel or Hörsel (Hürsel) to whom human sacrifices were occasionally made and who became the Venus of Venusberg, or Hürselberg, who entranced and debauched Tannhäuser” (105). I have learned being even a casual reader of Tumblr posts about etymology to be skeptical of such seemingly direct lines of etymological connection. I might believe a shared etymological source for the name of the saint and the name of the goddess before I would believe a direct descent from stories of the goddess to stories of the saint—especially without any proof of such, which I do not get from Baring-Gould.

I enjoyed the introduction to a few new European myths and further explanations of ones with which I was already passingly familiar, but much of what Baring-Gould states seems like it ought to be taken with a healthy dose of salt as his biases are very much on parade here and his evidence is at times thin and his observations sometimes not backed up at all.

**1/2

Baring-Gould, Sabine. Curious Myths of the Middle Ages. Ed. Edward Hardy. New York: Oxford U, 1978. This edition first published London: Jupiter, 1977.  Original source text by Baring-Gould published 1866.

This review is not endorsed by Edward Hardy, Sabine Baring-Gould, Jupiter Books, or Oxford University Press. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Reviews: Entering Amulet’s Alledia

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Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, and reviews.Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order and summary.Spoilers.

The first book in this series felt incomplete to me, as if the whole were a prologue and maybe a first chapter, but certainly not a full story.

I decided that I really needed to read the Amulet series after opening one of the later books (I’m not sure which) and discovering the rebellious prince of the elf court and the political allies and enemies that he has in his father’s palace. He was present in this first book but only barely, given not even a name.

This book focuses on the humans who find themselves in this alternate earth, a brother and sister and their widowed mother.  It seems too to want to be about building the world, but the world introduced in this book is so shallow compared to what comes in the second.

This first book started more darkly than I expected, with the death by a car crash of the protagonist’s father, who while still alive but trapped beneath the dashboard and steering wheel plunged in the car over a cliff.

Seeking a new start and a less financially burdensome house, the widowed mother moves her family into an old house inherited from her eccentric grandfather. In her great-grandfather’s library, Emily pricks her finger on a handprint, which causes the revelation of a pendant that she cannot leave behind and which ties itself onto her neck.  (Are you getting One Ring vibes?  Because I was.)

In the house’s basement, chasing odd noises that she expects are caused by a wild animal, Emily and Navin’s mother is swallowed whole by a tentacled creature. The creature gets Navin too, but Emily and her mother are able to rescue him.  By the time that they do, though, all three of them and the creature have entered a strange land through a portal in the basement.

The amulet speaks to Emily and leads her to the home of her great-grandfather in this land.  Its instructions include telling her to leap off a cliff while clinging to a large mushroom which is too reminiscent of her father’s death, though that parallel seems never to be addressed within the text.

But her great-grandfather is dying.

His power over the amulet is passed to Emily when she accepts the power, and by accepting the power, she maintains the life force of her great-grandfather’s magical, mechanic creations.

Together with the machines, Emily and Navin chase after the creature that swallowed their mother.

With the amulet’s help, they manage to wrest her from the creature, but Emily is almost abducted by an elven prince who has his own stone amulet and who wants her help to kill his father. The amulet wants Emily to kill the prince for his attempted abduction, but Emily resists and lets him go. Emily’s desire for mercy I think will be central to what makes her an effective heroine of the series and of this fantasy world.

Emily’s mother is poisoned by the creature, and the second book takes the heroes of this tale to the nearest city where they seek the help of a doctor.

There Emily and Navin witness the cruelty of the elves who rule the city.

They are offered help from a vulpine bounty hunter, which they initially refuse, focused on merely helping their mother.

But the elves follow them to the doctor’s, and they narrowly escape into the arms of the resistance.

Emily, Leon Redbeard the bounty hunter/resistance fighter, and the leporine Miskit seek out the prophetic gadoba forest and the fruit that will cure Emily’s mother, pursued by the elves, but Navin discovers himself the commander of the resistance army.

The end of this second book is far more satisfying. The personal and societal stakes are heightened. The magic is a little better explained though still quite nebulous. The roles of the main pro- and antagonists are better settled. The family has a new home—the three of them, everyone conscious and mending.

I think I will continue on with the series, though I read the description of the last of the HiLo books the other day, and now I want to read that series too.  Kazu Kibuishi has only one more book planned for this series, so perhaps I will wait until the series is complete then binge my way through the war for Alledia.

My advice to you, though, if you’re just coming to this series is to read past the first book, to read at least through the second before deciding whether you will or will not continue.

Kibuishi, Kazu. Amulet, Book 1: The Stonekeeper.  New York: Graphix-Scholastic, 2008.

Intended audience: Ages 8-12, Grades 3-7.

Kibuishi, Kazu. Amulet, Book 2: The Stonekeeper’s Curse.  New York: Graphix-Scholastic, 2009.

Intended audience: Ages 9-12, Grades 4-7.

This review is not endorsed by Kazu Kibuishi, Graphix, or Scholastic Inc. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Reviews: DNF But I Have Opinions

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Now for something a little different

This year there were a few books that I never finished but about which I still wanted to say a few words. I realized that when I pass them on to someone else and take them off my Goodreads lists as neither read nor to be read, I will lose any reviews that I might leave on them, so I’m taking advantage of having a blog, and leaving those thoughts here. Even if I never finished these books, I hope my thoughts will help you decide whether or not to begin them yourself.

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample, reviews, and awards list.

Mahurin, Shelby. Serpent & Dove, Book 1. New York: HarperTeen-HarperCollins, 2019.

Intended audience: Ages 14+.

I left off reading the ARC of this book at page 257 of 514, but I want to take a moment to organize my current thoughts about the novel:

I’ve struggled to enjoy this one.

First I didn’t realize going into this book that it is far more a new adult novel than a young adult or teen novel. I perhaps should have known, knowing that the protagonists are married. I have read so few new adult or even adult novels that I wasn’t prepared for the tone and the themes.

But what is most keeping me from connecting with it I think is the seemingly unequal power dynamic of the supposed romance, which thus far in the novel, does not feel like a romance, though Reid is starting to begin making an effort towards connection with Lou. Lou is choosing to live with the threat that Reid poses to her because he poses a threat to those who would harm her too, choosing to live with him though she knows that if he knew her secret he would regard her as inhuman and fit only for death. That to me is unsettling. Perhaps we are meant to think that she too poses a threat to him, but Lou hasn’t killed; she does not view even witch-hunters like him in the same inhuman way as he does witches. I don’t like to see that sort of unequal power dynamic romanticized or marketed as a romance.

I think I would have given up this book entirely after the book club discussion except that I read a summary of the plot, and I now know where the novel is headed. I like the spoilers that I have, but I don’t know if it will be worth slogging through the uncomfortable relationship to get to see them acted out, and after several months of not touching the book I have decided to give up and give my copy of this book to someone who I hope can enjoy it more than I.

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample, and reviews.

Wen, Abigail Hing. Loveboat, Taipei.  New York: HarperTeen-HarperCollins, 2020.

Intended audience: Ages 13+.

Spoilers between the asterisks.

There are so many parallels between this and Christine Riccio’s Again, but Better. The protagonists of both books are girls whose parents set them on tracks for medical school but who would rather pursue the arts, who travel for the first time abroad to study, who find ways to circumvent their parents’ plans for their time abroad, who struggle with liking boys who already have girlfriends, who make lists of things that they will do to reinvent themselves while abroad, who drink for the first time, who dance in a club, who kiss a boy.

But Wen’s was so much better written!

I all but forgot every character of Riccio’s except the main romantic pair, Shane and Pilot, after reading this book—and Shane I keep wanting to call Christine for her strong parallels to the author, a booktube celebrity, and Pilot I was never sure I wholly liked.

The characters of Wen’s novel are fully-fledged and interesting. Their lives are complicated. They have motivations and individual desires. They are many of them shaped by their parents’ expectations.  They each get to defend themselves, to explain themselves to Ever.  They don’t feel like props or catalysts for the protagonist Ever. Two characters are dyslexic. It feels like anyone of the characters could have held the story on their own.

Reading Wen’s novel, I was given a peek into another culture than my own. Almost every character is Taiwanese American or Chinese American or a local Taiwanese citizen. The default is not white.

Despite it being outside of my usual genre, I found compelling Ever’s fight between her passions and her duty to her family and their expectations for her. I might have continued to read if it were any closer to a genre that I generally enjoy. I may hang onto this one, and I might go back to it one day, but there’s no magic system here for me to explore, there’s not a whole lot of the type of adventure that I enjoy, and frankly the drama of teenage romances is just… not holding my attention. It didn’t in high school, and it doesn’t now.

But I want to know if Xavier can finally get the help that he needs. I want to know if he’ll be okay. (If someone who has finished this book wants to tell me the answer to that question in the comments, I’d thank you.)  I already read a spoiler * promising that Ever gets her parents’ approval of her passion for dance in the end *—though I have not found out yet which path she ultimately pursues in college.

This is a book I will recommend to those who tell me that they enjoy this genre—and definitely to anyone who read Again, but Better.

I am currently on page 240 of 414 of this ARC.

This review is not endorsed by Abigail Hing Wen, Shelby Mahurin, HarperTeen, or HarperCollins Publishers. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: How to Confront Hate and Discrimination with A Tale of Magic

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Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and excerpt.TaleofMagic

Spoilers.  The one spoiler that is of the book’s ending instead of its beginning is in white.  Highlight between the stars to read.

I have never read any of Chris Colfer’s Land of Stories series though it has been recommended to me, so I didn’t really know what to expect when I opened this one to try to prepare for an event at the store. A Tale of Magic… is I think a prequel series to The Land of Stories. I began an ARC of the story in October and didn’t finish it until the very end of December, but I kept reading it past the event, and I finished it, which I can’t say of every book that I begin for an event. There seemed near the middle to be enough parallels between the story that I thought Colfer might be telling and the story that I am struggling to tell that I decided that I had to finish this one, even if the event was long over. (I managed just about 150 pages before the event.)

The book didn’t end up going quite the direction that I thought that it might.

In the Southern Kingdom we are introduced to Brystal Evergreen. Brystal is living beneath laws that are deeply misogynistic. Women are allowed only to pursue motherhood. They are banned from reading or even entering the library. But Brystal has brothers. She has studied law alongside them and reads novels that her younger brother sneaks to her. She manages briefly to hide a part-time job as the library’s nighttime maid, reading through the library’s offerings after close.

One book reveals to her the corruption of the government, the manipulation of laws for the purpose of consolidating the power of the government, and another reveals the existence of good magic, fairy magic instead of witchcraft.

I would actually have liked to have spent more time with Brystal’s family, the dynamics of which I found very interesting, while she slowly picks apart the prejudices that have built her world, but that wasn’t the story that Colfer wanted to tell.

Reading a passage from that second book reveals Brystal to be a fairy, and her magic lands her in a Correctional Center that is really a workhouse, from which she is rescued by a mysterious and obviously magical Madame Weatherberry, author of the book that landed her in such trouble.

The magical community is even more oppressed than women are in the Southern Kingdom. Magical peoples have been pushed to the dangerous In-Between, which is outside of the control of any of the four kingdoms and where resources are scarce for such a large population.

Madame Weatherberry begins a school for magic with the intention of training fairies to do good works for the non-magical inhabitants of the kingdoms and by so doing erase the prejudice and suppression that causes non-magical people now to hunt the magical.

That was the original thought of my own WIP’s protagonist, though recent years have made me more cynical. I wanted to see if Colfer was able to convince me that there was some good to be achieved through such a plan.

Then I thought that Colfer’s characters might begin to see as I have that “Stonewall was a riot!” and that only through revolution is revolutionary change achieved.

Neither was really the direction that the book went.

Instead Brystal * learns to leverage society’s fear of magic by leaving alive a greater threat that only she and her classmates are powerful enough to fight.   She and her classmates attack no one but neither do they perform good works across the kingdom.*

The writing was at times not subtle enough for me, perhaps a little didactic. I was not wholly on board with how easily Brystal accepts the leadership role into which she is thrust nor how adult she acts or how quickly the protagonists pass through their challenges.  The magic system was vague, but it worked, because I never felt that the magic was anything other than a stand-in for other inborn traits that lead to discrimination in our world.

Knowing some of Colfer’s biography, I felt it likely that magic was here a stand-in for an LGBTQIA+ identity, though there was no instance in this book of any romance—which itself is a welcome change.  This book touches too on the dangers of a culture of toxic masculinity with the character of Xanthous, the only masculine-presenting fairy that we meet.

I marked several poignant ideas from the novel, thoughts mostly on how to change the world and why the world is hateful and how to react to the hate in the world.

My ARC is 61 pages shorter than Goodreads advertises that the book is in the final print; I don’t know what was added or what other changes may have been made between the ARC that I read and the final print copy, though I know that mine lacked much of the artwork, most places where illustrations will appear merely held with the phrase “ATK.”

****

Colfer, Chris. A Tale of Magic…  Illus. Brandon Dorman.  New York: Little, Brown-Hachette, 2019.

This review is not endorsed by Chris Colfer, Brandon Dorman, Little, Brown and Company, or Hachette Book Group. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

People of Color in Books That I Read in 2019: Part 1: The Novels

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It’s Black History Month here in the US, a time when we stop to recognize specifically the achievements of African Americans and the influence they have had on our history, society, and culture. And that seems a good reason for me to post my annual review of the books that I read the previous year that included people of color, some of whom are African American.

I read 141 books altogether in 2019. 69 of those included a character of color, 49% of the total, very nearly half (28% in 2018, 27% in 2017, 26% in 2016, 23% in 2015). 26 of those included a character of color as a protagonist, 18% of the total.  38% of the books with a character of color at all (7% of the total in 2018, 14% in 2017, 9% in 2016). Those numbers are far better then than any year for which I have done this survey of my own reading.  Finally some significant increases in the numbers of characters of color represented!

28% of the novels that I read had a person of color as a protagonist. 61% included a person of color in any capacity. I read 4 with African American protagonists. I also read 4 novels with protagonists of East Asian descent (or protagonists from fictional cultures influenced by East Asian cultures). I read 4 books with Latinx protagonists. I read 2 with Spanish protagonists.

I’m using the location on Barnes & Noble’s shelves to help me determine the intended audience on a few of these that I think could easily be read and enjoyed by younger audiences too.  Use your own discretion when deciding whether or not a book is appropriate for the intended reader.

Fiction for Young Children (Ages 4-8)

Books with a POC as a protagonist

Japanese Fairy Tales by Theodora Yei Ozaki. 1992. Originally published 1903.

Being a book of Japanese fairy tales, the characters and the stories in this book are Japanese. The stories were translated in 1903 by a woman who is half-Japanese, half-British and split her life between the two countries.

Middle-Grade Fiction (Ages 8-12)

Books with a POC as a protagonist

New Kid by Jerry Craft. 2019.

Earning a well-deserved Newbery (the first to go to a graphic novel!), this book follows Jordan Banks as he attempts to navigate his new school, one that is primarily white while going home to his neighborhood, which is primarily African American. This book deals particularly well I feel with the damage of microaggressions.

Young Wizards, Book 1: So You Want to Be a Wizard? by Diane Duane. 1983.

Young Wizards, Book 2: Deep Wizardry by Diane Duane. 1985.

Young Wizards, Book 3: High Wizardry by Diane Duane. 1990.

One of the two main protagonists of the series, Kit Rodriguez, is Latino American. He and his family speak mostly English with the occasional word or two of Spanish.

Demigods & Magicians by Rick Riordan. 2016.

The two magicians, Sadie and Carter Kane, are mixed race, their father is African American, their mother is a white, British woman.

Stargazing by Jen Wang. 2019.

This is a story partially about growing up as Chinese American. The characters listen to Korean pop music.

A diverse cast with no protagonist

9 From the Nine Worlds by Rick Riordan. 2018.

This book features short stories loosely threaded together. Each character gets a story in which they are the protagonist, but the book itself has no one protagonist. Those protagonists include a Muslim, Iraqi American who wears a hijab; her fiancé, who is also Arab American; an African American civil war veteran; a Mexican American character; and a darker skinned Svartalf.

A white protagonist with a secondary character who is POC with a speaking role

PopularMMOs Presents a Hole New World by Pat and Jen (PopularMMOs). 2018.

The one darker skinned character, Carter, is a rival for Jen’s affections and not much liked by Pat. He helps the pair on their quest to save Bomby, but he has been poisoned by Evil Jen and betrays them once before redeeming himself.

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 1: The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan. 2015.

Magnus is white, but he is helped by Sam, who is Muslim and Iraqi American and wears a hijab. Among his hall-mates is TJ, who is an African American civil war veteran. He is also helped by Blitz, who is dark skinned.

The Trials of Apollo, Book 2: The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan. 2017.

Apollo and Meg are helped by Leo, who is Latino American and by Jamie, who is descended from the Yoruba in Western Africa.

The Trials of Apollo, Book 3: The Burning Maze by Rick Riordan. 2018.

Apollo and Meg are helped by Piper, who with her father the (former) movie star is Cherokee. Leo returns briefly.

NewsPrints by Ru Xu. 2017.

Jill and the Admiral seem to have a skin tone faintly more dark than that of most in Nautilene. The mayor and newspaper owner and head of Blue’s found family—all one man by the name of Nancy—has a skin tone that is a little darker still. A few of the boys in Blue’s family share his tone. There is one nameless woman employed by the navy to build and repair ships whose skin tone is even darker. Nothing is made of these variations in this novel.

A white protagonist with diverse background characters

The Giver adapted by Craig P. Russell from Lois Lowry.  2019.

All the speaking characters are white that I remember, and only two of those characters can see color at all—literally not figuratively. This is a world that has given up color among other things to eliminate choice and to eliminate violence. I have never read the original novel to know if Lowry writes all these characters as white.

Percy Jackson & the Olympians, Book 3: The Titan’s Curse by Rick Riordan. 2007.

Zoë Nightshade is described as looking like a Persian (Iranian) princess. You might infer that from that her whole family looks Persian, but godly or Titanic DNA seems to be a very odd thing, and the gods at least can choose how they appear in this series.

Percy Jackson & the Olympians, Book 4: The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan. 2008.

Kelli the empousa, who is a reoccurring antagonist in this book, is described as appearing to be African American.

Teen Fiction (Ages 13-19)

Books with a POC as a protagonist

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi. 2019.

Every character I think in this novel is African American. Jam’s father Aloe peppers his English with Igbo, a language spoken primarily in Nigeria.

I’m Not Dying with You Tonight by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal. 2019.

A fight is sparked at a high school football game when racial slurs are slung. The two narrators, Lena who is African American and Campbell who is white and working class, at the school and the police’s response to it, spark a protest that becomes a riot on one of the city’s more commercial streets. The two narrators trade chapters and react to the encounters with the other’s reality. They come out nearer to being friends than they were at the beginning of the novel.

The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys. 2019.

An American oil baron and his family, including his Spanish wife, travel to Madrid to make a deal with Franco. The story follows their mixed race son Daniel Matheson as he bonds with the maid assigned to the family by the hotel, Anna, and then with her family. Together Anna and her family and Daniel unravel the secret snatching of children by the orphanage. The Mathesons adopt a daughter from one of these orphanages.

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater. 2017.

The Soria family of Bicho Raro, Colorado, the main characters of this novel, is Mexican American. People come to them for the miracles that they perform. Some of those that come to them are Latinx themselves including Padre Jiminez and Marisita. I listened this year to an audiobook preformed by Thom Rivera, which really brought the characters to life. If you have the choice, I recommend listening to rather than reading this one.

A white protagonist with a secondary character who is POC with a speaking role

Montague Siblings, Book 2: The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee. 2018.

Sim, an African, Muslim pirate, finances Felicity’s cross-Europe trip and accompanies her on that trip before taking her to Africa, where they chase the dragons that Sim’s family protects.  Sim makes a good go, really, of being a protagonist herself, but the POV is Felicity’s.

Wilder Girls by Rory Power. 2019.

None of the three protagonists are cued as other than white, but one of the girls, Julia, on Boat Shift with Hetty is darker skinned and one of the girls at the school is Chinese American.

Again, but Better by Christine Riccio. 2019.

Shane herself is white. One of her roommates in London is Sahra who is Indian American. I think she is in the pre-med program that Shane’s parents believe that Shane is in. Atticus’ last name is Kwon, which cues me that he is likely Asian American, but I didn’t remember this and only found his last name researching this book for this review. Frankly, I don’t remember Atticus.

A white protagonist with diverse background characters

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang. 2018.

Prince Sebastian does welcome a visiting princess whose clothing and coloring seem to place her as being from a culture inspired by India. Frances is portrayed with a skin tone darker, so perhaps she is of a different race, but I can’t find any other review or interview that claims this to be the case, and the difference is slight, perhaps indicating the amount of time each character would have spent in sunlight.

Adult Fiction (Ages 20+)

Books with a POC as a protagonist

Avatar: The Last Airbender: Imbalance, Part 1 by Faith Erin Hicks. 2018.

The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire, Part 1 by Michael Dante DiMartino. 2019.

The world of Avatar consists of four main cultures that are inspired by Eastern Asian cultures. The Water Tribes of the North and South Poles, of which the titular character of the second series, Korra, is one, are darker skinned than people of the Earth Kingdom or Fire Nation who share physical features of more like those of the people of Japan, China, or Korea. In the previous series, the Air Nomads had one living descendent. His children and grandchildren are in this series. His wife was from the Southern Water Tribe. She and her brother are protagonists as part of Team Avatar in Imbalance.

Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie. 2015.

This is a difficult book to describe or summarize with prose that jumps between time periods and a battlefield that encompasses the whole of two parallel worlds, our Earth and Fairyland. The jinniyah known alternately as the Lightning Princess of Qaf or as Dunia, the name that she chose when she appeared as a mortal woman around the year 1195 CE, love ibn Rushd, the Spanish, Muslim philosopher and bore him many children. In a future not long past our own present, their descendants have spread across our Earth, their unifying physical feature being their lack of earlobes. Among these descendants are Geronimo Manezes who is the illegitimate child of an Indian woman and a British priest, Jimmy Kapoor who becomes the hero of his unpublished graphic novel, and Storm who appears as a baby on the mayor’s doorstep swaddled in an Indian flag.

A white protagonist with a secondary character who is POC with a speaking role

Vox by Christina Dalcher. 2018.

Jean’s college roommate is an African American woman. She is a vocal protestor of the new administration. She is eventually rescued by Jean and her Italian lover. Her part was small.

Do you think or know that I misrepresented or misinterpreted any of these?  Please comment below.  Let me know.

Book Reviews: An Original Fairy Tale Reimagining and a Timely War Story by Ru Xu

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Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and author's bio.Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and author's bio.This review contains spoilers for both books. They are too many in this review to be hidden.

This first book ends on something of a cliffhanger! I was unprepared. I went out and bought the second in the series—new not used—when I could not get it from the library, something that is becoming for me quite rare for me unless I can get the book at half its list price. The first book’s cover has intrigued me for a long time with its buoyant protagonist in turn of the 20th century garb, surrounded by crows and being trailed by one bright canary.

Xu did something neat by having the cover art of the first book run neatly into the action of the book, the cover serving as—if not the first page then—the prologue to the novel.  (In the second book the cover does not serve as an opening for the story, but the title page and edition notice do.)

I was not expecting when I opened this novel to find a steampunk-y science-fiction/fantasy about warring countries and conscious war machines.

I was not displeased.

Where are my Legend of Korra fans? I was getting some serious Republic City vibes from Nautilene.

Blue masquerades as a boy to remain a part of the found family of newsboys that she has found at The Bugle, a family managed by the paper’s owner (who is also the city’s mayor) and his wife, who uses a wheelchair. Blue shares her secret only with Mrs. Nancy and an older boy who has left the Nancys’ home and is now a reporter in the capitol city—and he knows her secret because he was the one who found an orphaned girl on the street and invited her to the Nancys’ found family.

This first is a story about finding family, about truth and propaganda, about embracing truth, about morality, about personal autonomy.

Both books discuss the effect of war on civilians.

The second book gets into more of the grit of the war. I love how much of the politics of war Xu includes in this book supposedly written for children; she gives her intended audience ample credit.  This book expands on the way war changes the civilians’ mindsets on both sides as well as the cost of war and empire-building on colonies.

Blue chases after the friend that she made in the first book who turns out to be an automaton that controls a fleet of weaponized airships for the country of Goswing. She is abducted by a spy who has been working as Jack Jingle’s assistant. The spy, a girl about Blue’s age, reveals herself on the sea crossing to be a mixed-race child like Blue. Rejoining the Grimmaean air fleet, the pair are immediately shot down—by the Grimmaeans who distrust the spy, Snow, and her transgender brother, Red, who is Snow’s getaway pilot.

The three mixed-race children and Crow help to stop the war by making the adults in the room see reason—with the help of a natural disaster caused by the fighting that destroys a vital fuel source for the emerging world. But this is a book that gives me hope that a new generation can undo an old world’s prejudices, violence, and imperialism.

This second book deals with the prejudices that are ignited and are inflamed by governments to justify and sustain war and the prejudice.

We are introduced to another differently abled person in Goswish’s young, newly crowned queen who is blind but has learned to use a form of modified echolocation to help her navigate. She fears that her people will think her weak for being blind, but she proves an able and wise ruler.

In reading the second book particularly I noticed the fairy tale inspiration for the characters and their names. The Goswish take their inspiration from Mother Goose’s rhymes while the Grimmaeans take inspiration from Grimm’s. Blue herself echoes Little Boy Blue, and the queen is advised by a team of Jacks (Jack being a name that a person takes as part of the team): Jingle, Horner, Nimble, and Anory. There are Grimmaean twins named Snow-White and Rose-Red, and there’s brave little Leonhart Tailor and the kings Jacob and Wilhelm. It’s exciting to see someone doing something so different with fairy tales and clashing fairy tale characters when their worlds collide. This series is at once a fairy tale reimagining and a timely, original story of war and prejudice.

It is strongly hinted I think though never confirmed that Leo and Hector become a romantic pair.

This series feels complete to me.  I don’t think that there will be a book 3.

*****

Xu, Ru. NewsPrints, Book 1. New York: Graphix-Scholastic, 2017.

Xu, Ru. NewsPrints, Book 2: EndGames. New York: Graphix-Scholastic, 2019.

Intended audience: Ages 8-12, Grades 3-7.

This review is not endorsed by Ru Xu, Graphix, or Scholastic Inc. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Reviews: Wizards in the Deep Sea and in Deep Space

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Click to visit the author's page for links to order, summary, and reviews.Click to visit the author's page for links to order, summary, and reviews.I was reminded recently of my love for Diane Duane and for her Young Wizards series after stumbling back upon her blog as I occasionally do. This time I fell into a rambling piece about Duane struggling to write a scene and working through it with the Transcendent Pig.

So after six years, I reread the first book.

It had been more than eight years since I’d last read the second or the third, which I tumbled right into after closing the first this time, and I only ceased with my reread of the series because reading for work got in the way (perhaps I will pick up with book 4 again soon; I remember enjoying that one immensely).

On this blog, I’ve reviewed the first, eighth, and ninth in this series. In one of those reviews I defended Nita and Kit as the ultimate BroTP. Rereading these earlier books, I realized that I’d missed or I’d forgotten or I’d blocked the memory of Nita’s parents’ worry that these young teens are sneaking off to have sex with one another at the beach—and that Nita flounders around fears even within these first three books that her feelings for Kit are not wholly platonic—though so far as book 9, that relationship is not consummated with kiss, a profession of romantic love, or anything else. The piece that I’d found on Duane’s blog actually names Nita and Kit as her OTP and deals with her trying to force the two of them into a romantic scene (please don’t force what isn’t there, Miss Duane!).

I found in my reread that these books are as beautifully written and as intelligent as I’d remembered. Nita’s pure intentions and her willingness to sacrifice herself for the good of humanity in Deep Wizardry drove me to tears as I saw again in her that desire to do good, to help others, to defend us from the horrors that we are still facing 34 years after this book’s publication (this second book is older than I am!).

I again applaud Duane’s inclusion of a Spanish-speaking Latino American protagonist, a shorter and stockier boy, unafraid to cry when the situation demands while writing in the early 80s before the clarion calls rang throughout the publishing world for non-white characters and for gentler masculinity.

The third book takes a step away from Kit and Nita and turns its attention to Nita’s sister Dairine. This book expands wizardry beyond our planet and beyond our solar system.  The worlds that Duane builds in this book are delightful.  Dairine chases after “Darth Vader,” and of course she finds It—and takes part in a new species’ Choice, their decision whether or not to accept entropy and death, whether to accept the temptation of the Lone One and the chaos that It desires.

This third book was published in 1990, and I wonder what today’s readers make of the technology in this book. The Callahans are excited to get their new Apple computer, an Apple IIIc+, “a cream-colored object about the size and shape of a phone book—the keyboard/motherboard console” requiring “loose-leaf books, and diskette boxes” (6). How many of today’s kids have seen a phone book? I had to look up what the Apple IIIc+ probably looked like; the Apple IIIc+ was never invented, but there were computers called Apple //c+. Even my childhood computers were upgrades from this. I don’t know how many computers today use DOS as their primary programming language, though I think that DOS still exists if it is no longer the most relevant or advanced computer language. But from that Apple IIIc+, Dairine produces a mobile, tech-based version of the wizard’s manual with unlimited processing power and memory.

(Duane has been publishing updated versions of this series, calling them New Millennium Editions.  Perhaps those updated texts update the technology, but I have not read her updates.  The links that I provided—accessible by clicking on the cover photos—are to those editions of the texts.)

The tech might be outdated but the text is, like the first and second books in the series, otherwise as relevant now as it was when it was published.

These books are near and dear enough to me that a properly impartial book review is fairly impossible, so these read a little more like some highlights of my thoughts.  I hope you will forgive the lapse and let me take a week to just remind myself why I love these books so.

Duane, Diane. Young Wizards, Book 2: Deep Wizardry.  Orlando: Magic Carpet-Harcourt, 1985.

Duane, Diane. Young Wizards, Book 3: High Wizardry.  Orlando: Magic Carpet-Harcourt, 1990.

Intended audience: Ages 10-12, Grades 5-7.

This review is not endorsed by Diane Duane, Magic Carpet Books, Harcourt, or Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which acquired Harcourt in 2007. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

December 2019 Picture Book Roundup: Big Names and Series Continuations

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Click to visit the publisher's site for links to order, summary, and author's and illustrator's bios.

Construction Site on Christmas Night by Sherri Duskey Rinker and illustrated by A. G. Ford. Chronicle, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

The characters from previous Construction Site books return. Each is gifted new equipment from an anonymous donor that I presume to be the company who thanks them for their work throughout the year. My anti-capitalist self found a great deal to be cynical about in this set up. The company provides their workers with something that they need to perform for the company but frames that equipment as a gift to make the company seem kinder? Hmmm….  I am almost certain that I am seeing an unintentional parallel between today’s corporate structures and those of this book; I don’t think that Rinker intentionally set out to write a pro- or anti-capitalist book, one that lauds the company’s gesture or reveals the manipulative behavior of the company in the mask of Christmas—especially, as I have said, since the company is never definitively named as the gift-giver. And certainly her intended audience isn’t going to consciously wonder or even consider the ethics of the company’s behavior.

The pattern to this book is similar to Mighty, Mighty Construction Site with each vehicle’s task for the day described before the truck is put to sleep with a “Goodnight.” The vehicles’ work is finally revealed in its finished form: a new fire station. I wonder if that signals an upcoming book in the same world. Mighty, Mighty Fire Station anyone?

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, and author's bio.

Where Do Diggers Celebrate Christmas? by Brianna Caplan Sayres and illustrated by Christian Slade. Penguin Random, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

This book was something of a disappointment. I liked the illustrations, and it fit well thematically with the required book for our story time, Construction Site on Christmas Night. The text… well, to start, it never answered the questions it asked. I expected an answer eventually, thought that I was going to get a book written stylistically like Jane Yolen’s How Do Dinosaurs series, questions then answers. This was the first book in this series (books that are titled in the pattern of Where Do X Sleep at Night?) that I had ever read. I’m guessing that this book is written in the style of the series, and if I’d known that and been prepared for it, I might not have minded it so. I did appreciate that this book seems to celebrate more than many others do that family and friends’ gatherings that mark the holiday. We had fun finding the little mouse in each of the illustrations.  This is definitely a book whose illustrations outshone its text.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, and trailer.

The Cool Bean by Jory John and illustrated by Pete Oswald. HarperCollins, 2019.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This has been I think my favorite by this duo. The POV bean used to hang out with a group of other beans, but as they got older, he grew apart from the other beans. They became “cool,” and he did not. He thinks that he’s lost his friends, but then when the not-cool bean gets into some embarrassing scrapes at school, dropping his lunch, falling on the playground, each time the cool beans help him out. He realizes that his friends haven’t changed so much, that they are still kind, still friends, even if their interests and wardrobes have diverged and if the cool beans have found new skills at which they excel. Their small gestures of kindness improve the POV bean’s outlook, give him self-confidence and confidence in the kindness of his friends. Kindness not clothes or special skills make beans cool. This was a story to which I related. I grew up in a small town and coolness only came as we hit upper elementary school. The old stereotypes of 80s and 90s movies didn’t hold up. One of the coolest girls in our school was also one of the most generous and softest, and her kindness did a lot to cheer me up on more than one occasion. That said, check out the band Smoke Season because while we haven’t kept up I hear that she’s been doing well for herself.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, audio sample, reviews, and author's bio.

The Serious Goose by Jimmy Kimmel. Penguin Random, 2019.  Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

This was a surprisingly fun book. The reader is asked to make a silly face (there is a mirrored surface in the book) to make the serious goose laugh. And that—not the silly hats or the tasty treat of the previous pages—is what turns the serious goose who won’t smile into a silly goose who is buoyantly happy and barks like a dog to be silly. The rhyming is a lot of fun. There is a good bit of adult humor with the narrator threatening the audience with lawyers for violating a direct commandment from the Order of the Serious Geese and Gooses. The proceeds for the sales of this book benefit children’s hospitals.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order and summary.

The Kindness Book by Todd Parr. Little, Brown-Hachette, 2019.

Although my opinion may be colored by having to rush through it as I’d lost two members of my audience entirely and the last’s attention was split between coloring and listening and waiting for her family to return, I read this one after reading Kindness Makes the World Go Round, and honestly it paled in comparison. There’s no plot. This is a good overview though of the kind things that a person can do for others, for the community, for strangers and loved ones, for oneself, for animals. There is actually a pretty strong emphasis on being kind to oneself; it’s mentioned thrice. I appreciated the inclusion of characters of limited physical mobility with the gray-haired woman whose wheelchair rests beside her bed and another whose cane rests by her chair. Todd Parr’s bright colors and simple drawings and simple text hide a deeper message as almost always.

***

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books. They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.