Friday, August 27, 2021

A Discovery of Witches - Deborah Harkness

 
Title: A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy, Book 1)
Author: Deborah Harkness
Publisher: Penguin, 2011 (Paperback)
Length: 579 pages
Genre: Adult; Fantasy
Started: August 12, 2021
Finished: August 20, 2021

Summary:
From the back cover:

Deep in the heart of Oxford's Bodleian Library, Diana Bishop - a young scholar and the descendant of witches - unearths an enchanted alchemical manuscript. Wanting nothing to do with sorcery, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery has set a fantastical underworld stirring, and soon a horde of daemons, witches, and other creatures descends upon the library. Among them is Matthew Clairmont, a vampire with a keen interest in the book. Equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense, A Discovery of Witches is a mesmerizing and addictive tale of passion and obsession that reveals the closely guarded secrets of an enchanted world. 

Review:
Yeah, I know, I'm a little late to the party on this book, and no, I didn't pick this up because of the show (although now post-read I definitely want to watch it). I'm glad this recommendation came my way, it's a great fantasy read set in the modern world (at least this first instalment is) that appeals to the academic in me. 

Dr. Diana Bishop is the last of the Bishop witches, raised in New England and working as a science historian at Oxford. This is a world where creatures (vampires, witches, daemons) exist alongside humans, but humans aren't aware of their existence. Diana knows the rule: one group can't associate with the other or risk attracting attention; so when she unknowingly unlocks a secret tome that's been sought after for centuries, her safety is in jeopardy when all manner of creatures start stalking her, including Matthew Clairmont. Matthew and Diana then become embroiled in the mystery of the book and how it affects both their futures. 

Again, the academic setting of this novel appeals to me. There were so many points where Diana would do or say something very stereotypically academic and I'd be laughing in sympathy, she's a character after my own heart. Plus, the idea of a person bonding with an ancient creature over their shared scholarship in an ancient library (especially when said creature has first-hand experiences contrasted with the person's second-hand accounts) is probably the most nerdy meet-cute ever. The characters are well-developed and the pacing and world building are well-done too. 

Recommendation:
If you're a fantasy reader who likes a bit more academia and romance in your stories, give this series a try. There are two subsequent instalments which I have in my TBR pile that I hope are just as good as the first.

Thoughts on the cover:
I love the old-school celestial and astrological symbols with Oxford buildings lining the bottom of the image. The other covers in the series are done in a similar style, and I always appreciate continuity in series covers. 

Monday, August 9, 2021

Divergent Mind - Jenara Nerenberg

 
Title: Divergent Mind: Thriving in a World That Wasn't Designed for You
Author: Jenara Nerenberg
Publisher: HarperOne, 2020 (Hardcover)
Length: 244 pages
Genre: Adult; Nonfiction
Started: August 6, 2021
Finished: August 8, 2021

Summary:
From the inside cover:

A paradigm-shifting study of neurodivergent women - those with ADHD, autism, synesthesia, high sensitivity, and sensory processing disorder - exploring why these traits are over-looked and how society benefits from allowing their unique strengths to flourish.

As a Harvard- and Berkeley-educated writer, entrepreneur, and devoted mother, Jenara Nerenberg was shocked to discover that her "symptoms" - only ever labeled as anxiety - were considered autistic and ADHD. 

Nerenberg's not alone. Between a flawed system that focuses on younger, male populations, and the fact that girls are conditioned from a young age to blend in, women often don't learn about their neurological differences until they are adults, if at all. As a result, potentially millions live with undiagnosed neurodivergences, obscured by anxiety and depression. Meanwhile, we all miss out on the gifts their neurodivergent minds have to offer. 

Sharing real stories from women with high sensitivity, ADHD, autism, misophonia, dyslexia, SPD, and more, Nerenberg explores how these brain variances present differently in women and describes practical changes in how we communicate, how we design our surroundings, and how we can better support divergent minds. When we allow our wide variety of brain makeups to flourish, we create a better tomorrow for us all.

Review:
As an adult neurodivergent woman, with a majority of my family members being neurodivergent (including my children), and a teacher to both neurodivergent and neurotypical children, I've been trying to seek out the most recent books on neurodivergence to recommend to parents or folks just trying to understand a new concept that many aren't familiar with yet. 

A few months ago, I read Neurotribes by Steve Silberman, but didn't post a review because it was still during the school year, we were under yet another lockdown, and I was suffering from existential dread, so reviews weren't happening. Neurotribes is considered by most in the community to be the neurodiversity Bible, especially since it's still considered a recent publication (2016). Although I did enjoy the book and it is incredibly well-researched, one criticism I had of it while reading was that it seemed to approach neurodiversity from a mainly male perspective (granted the author acknowledges this and states that neurodivergent women and girls are under-diagnosed). Thankfully, this book nicely balances the former, discussing how neurodiversity presents in AFAB (assigned female at birth) individuals. 

In Divergent Mind, the author is wonderfully concise, essentially stating that those with diagnoses such as ADHD, autism, synesthesia, SPD and more have sensitivity as the root cause. That essentially even though every neurodivergent person presents differently, it all boils down to sensory sensitivity: everything is either "too much" or our bodies need more stimulation than we're getting (I still remember "too sensitive" thrown at me often as an insult during my childhood). 

In the first section of the book, the author makes the assumption that anyone reading this book will have some base knowledge of the various diagnoses she speaks of, spending little time on them in general and moving straight into the signs that women (and AFAB people in general) with these conditions might exhibit as opposed to males (especially in regards to ADHD and autism where the stereotypical symptoms everyone looks for are primarily present in males). 

For anyone who already knows they are neurodivergent and their respective diagnoses, the second part of the book might be of more interest. There, the author outlines various coping strategies and tips to help neurodivergent women improve their overall well-being, as well as specific strategies for the home and at work. 

Throughout the book, the author reinforces that neurodivergent minds have gifts that are essential to society's ability to thrive, and that ignoring the needs of the neurodivergent means to miss out on all we have to offer, which is a message that bears frequent repetition. 

Recommendation:
Are you a woman (or AFAB individual) who often feels different and out of place? Do you struggle inwardly despite your outward success? If so, you might be divergent; come to the dark side, we have cookies! And you should also read this book. 

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the use of shards to form the outline of the bust, it's a nice design choice. 

Friday, August 6, 2021

The Starless Sea - Erin Morgenstern

 
Title: The Starless Sea
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Publisher: Doubleday Canada, 2019 (Hardcover)/Anchor Canada, 2020 (Paperback)
Length: 494 pages (Hardcover), 570 pages (Paperback)
Genre: Adult; Fantasy
Started: July 31, 2021
Finished: August 3, 2021

Summary:
From the inside cover (Hardcover):

Far beneath the surface of the earth, upon the shores of the Starless Sea, there is a labyrinthine collection of tunnels and rooms filled with stories. The entryways that lead to this sanctuary are often hidden, sometimes on forest floors, sometimes in private homes, sometimes in plain sight. But those who seek will find. Their doors have been waiting for them.

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is searching for his door, though he does not know it. He follows a silent siren song, an inexplicable certainty that he is meant for another place. When he discovers a mysterious book in the stacks of his campus library, he begins to read and is entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, lost cities, and nameless acolytes. Suddenly, a turn of the page brings Zachary to a story from his own childhood, impossibly written in this book that is older than he is. 

A bee, a key, and a sword emblazoned on the book lead Zachary to two people who will change the course of his life: Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired painter, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances. These strangers guide Zachary through masquerade-party dances and whispered backroom stories to the headquarters of a secret society, where doorknobs hang from ribbons, and finally through a door conjured from paint to the place he has always yearned for. 

Amid twisting tunnels filled with books, gilded ballrooms, and wine-dark shores, Zachary falls into an intoxicating world soaked in romance and mystery. But a battle is raging over the fate of this place, and though there are those who would willingly sacrifice everything to protect it, there are just as many intent on its destruction. As Zachary, Mirabel, and Dorian venture deeper into the space and its histories and myths searching for answers and one another, a timeless love story unspools, casting a spell of pirates, painters, lovers, liars, and ships that sail upon a Starless Sea. 

Review:
"We are all stardust and stories" (373) so this story says, and oh, this book has already developed a tale that I will re-tell to my children and grandchildren to highlight the lengths I will go to for a book. I was reading people's opinions about my previous read, The Midnight Library, and one reader mentioned that they had hoped The Midnight Library was going to be like The Starless Sea and was disappointed that it wasn't. That intrigued me, and down a few rabbit holes later I was reading a sample of the novel on Amazon and didn't even reach the end before I knew I needed this book. Like yesterday.

Reserved a copy from the library, but then realized it wouldn't arrive for several days. That simply would not do. Cue quick trip to neighbouring bookstore after checking that it was indeed in stock. Frantic, immersive reading sessions ensues. Feelings of regret occur upon realizing the paperback I bought had a crappy glue job along the spine, which leads to the last twenty pages of the book falling out before I finish reading it, it's beyond saving. By this point I knew I was going to be buying a hardcover version, because I was already in love with it, but the only place that had a hardcover available was Book Depository (which is a great UK site I've used before, and they have free worldwide shipping). So close to $75 and several copies later (one which will have travelled across several countries by the time it gets to me), all for one book. 

That's how much I love this story.

However, I fully admit this book is only going to appeal to a very specific group of readers. 

The Starless Sea is laid out in six parts. The chapters within each part alternate between narrating a piece of the main story following Zachary, or presenting a fable or alternate narrative not from Zachary's perspective. Those interspersed fables come from the books Zachary reads within the novel, and are actually integral to the plot. For example, we the reader read about the contents of Sweet Sorrows, the book Zachary finds in his campus library, before we even meet Zachary himself. At first it can seem as if the main storyline is being interrupted by narratives that make no sense, until you realize that every detail in those interludes does eventually show up within the main storyline, everything is connected. So anyone who is not fond of the "story within a story" types of plots will probably not like this novel. That stuff's totally up my alley though, so I welcome it gladly. 

This novel is also quite meta, which some people will also dislike. If you're looking for a story that explains things definitively where nothing is left up to interpretation, this might not be the book for you. Even I had to go back to sections and reread parts in order to follow along with the parallel storylines that eventually converge. Though I was able to follow along pretty well, some people will find this confusing and get turned off of the story. 

Onto the good things though. This novel is a love letter to books and stories, an ode if you will (the writing even has a beautiful poetic quality to it). The fables interspersed with Zachary's story weren't really distracting for me because I loved them as much as Zachary's main story. The novel speaks of the nature of stories and the people who find refuge in them, and the descriptions of the library itself are like something from any of my wildest dreams. 

The characters are endearing, even the ones that are a bit flat at first because their full stories aren't revealed until close to the end. I have to give the author credit for making Zachary explicitly BIPOC and LGBTQ in the text, plus there's also some LGBTQ content mentioned in passing in some of the fables, which I appreciated too.

The writing is phenomenal, it sucks you in and immerses you completely in this world to the point where I almost caution people to read this over a few days where you don't have anything pressing to do, because you will be not be able to put it down. There's also a ton of quotable lines here, and this is a novel that will likely need multiple readings to fully catch everything. 

Some of my favourite excerpts include:

"There is no fixing. There is only moving forward in the brokenness" (378).

"This is not where our story ends, he writes. This is only where it changes" (476).

"Spiritual but not religious," Zachary clarifies. He doesn't say what he is thinking, which is that his church is held-breath story listening and late-night-concert ear-ringing rapture and perfect-boss fight button pressing. That his religion is buried in the silence of freshly fallen snow, in a carefully crafted cocktail, in between the pages of a book somewhere after the beginning but before the ending" (125-126).

And Dorian's "Once, very long ago, Time fell in love with Fate" fable that he whispers in Zachary's ear at the masquerade (pgs. 70-73). 

Recommendation:
If you're a reader at your core, love stories, and still believe in magic (to the point where you check wardrobes for portals to Narnia like Zachary), you need to read this book. I'm not even doing the story justice here, so just trust me and give it a go. 

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the hardcover version (pictured above) with the keys in a black and gold colour scheme. But this little beauty, a UK exclusive that is sadly no longer available, is so. freaking. pretty:
(Image found here).





Saturday, July 31, 2021

The Midnight Library - Matt Haig

 
Title: The Midnight Library
Author: Matt Haig
Publisher: Harper Avenue, 2020 (Paperback)
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Adult; Science Fiction
Started: July 29, 2021
Finished: July 30, 2021

Summary:
From the inside cover:

Between life and death there is a library. 

When Nora Seed finds herself in the Midnight Library, she has a chance to make things right. Up until now, her life has been full of misery and regret. She feels she has let everyone down, including herself. But things are about to change. 

The books in the Midnight Library enable Nora to live as if she had done things differently. With the help of an old friend, she can undo every one of her regrets as she tries to work out her perfect life. But things aren't always what she imagined they'd be, and soon her choices place the library and herself in extreme danger. 

Before time runs out, she must answer the ultimate question: What is the best way to live?

Review:
Yet another recommendation courtesy of TikTok, never say social media is completely useless. This book is insanely popular, with two million sold worldwide, and after reading it I can say the hype is well deserved. However good it is though, this could be a very triggering read for some people due to the subject matter (suicide).

Nora is thirty-five and has regrets over her life choices. As a teenager, she had the potential to become an Olympic-level swimmer but didn't. The band she formed with her brother could've been huge, but she left it. She could've been a scientist or a professor, but never pursued it. She was supposed to marry her fiancee Dan, but called it off. She just lost her job at a music store, her elderly neighbour doesn't need her help anymore, and her cat just died. After attempting suicide, she wakes up in a library reminiscent from her school days, complete with a figure who resembles the librarian from her youth. 

Mrs. Elm tells Nora that she is between life and death, and has a chance to undo the regrets she has in her current life by exploring one of the infinite alternate universe versions of herself, represented by the never-ending books on the library's shelves. She can explore the lives where she did become an Olympic swimmer, married Dan, became an internationally known singer, and many more. When she finds the life she likes most, she can become part of it and her journey will end. As Nora moves through numerous versions of herself, she comes to a few realizations that literally brings the library crumbling down around her. Nora's final choice will seal the fate of not only the library, but herself too. 

I'll admit that based on the summary I was expecting something a different story from what I actually got. Granted, I still enjoyed it, but I envisioned a tale based in magical realism with a magical library as the setting, some sort of ode to literature and stories in general. And this book is not that. However...

This book is perfect for anyone who's ever questioned their choices and wondered, "what if I had done this instead?" I think all of us have done that, to a degree. I know I have, though on a much smaller scale and with less consuming regrets than Nora. The author himself is very open with his struggles with depression and mental health in general, you can tell he poured a lot of his personal experiences into Nora and her story, so I give him tons of kudos for that. 

Long ago, I came to the same realizations that Nora hits at a few different points in the story (don't want to go into too much detail to avoid spoilers), so I knew exactly how the book was going to end before hitting the hundred-page mark. This didn't make the story any less enjoyable in my opinion, I had a really fun time exploring the philosophy from Nora's point of view. Other enlightened people might not feel the same though, and might find the story boring if they don't connect with Nora as a character. 

Recommendation: 
If you enjoy the premise of a person exploring alternate-universe versions of themselves, then you'll enjoy The Midnight Library. Anyone triggered by suicide will want to skip this book, though. 

Thoughts on the cover:
Simple, yet effective. I really like how this version has a little tiny Voltaire (Nora's cat) in the lower corner. 

Thursday, July 15, 2021

The House in the Cerulean Sea - TJ Klune

 

Title: The House in the Cerulean Sea
Author: TJ Klune
Publisher: Tor, 2020 (Paperback)
Length: 396 pages
Genre: Young Adult/Adult; Fantasy
Started: July 12, 2021
Finished: July 15, 2021

Summary:
From the back cover:

A magical island.
A dangerous task.
A burning secret. 

Linus Baker is a by-the-book caseworker in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records for company. But his quiet life is about to change. 

Linus is summoned by Extremely Upper Management and given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to an orphanage on a distant island and determine whether six dangerous magical children are so dangerous, in fact, that they're likely to bring about the end of days. 

When Linus arrives at the strangest of islands he's greeted by a series of mysterious figures, the greatest mystery of which is Arthur Parnassus, the master of the orphanage. As Linus and Arthur grow closer, Linus discovers the master would do anything to keep the children safe, even if the world has to burn. Or worse, his secret comes to light. 

The House in the Cerulean Sea is an enchanting love story, masterfully told, about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place - and realizing that family is yours. 

Review:
I have TikTok to thank for a massive surge in my reading recommendations, this being one of them. So many people have posted about this particular book with the description that it "made your cold dead heart feel something for the first time in years" and "simply brought joy to your soul." I concur with both of those statements wholeheartedly. 

Linus Baker lives in a world (reminiscent of 1984 and X-men combined) where those born with powers are kept under control and monitored by the government. Many of these magical children are orphans and live in government-controlled institutions. Linus is his world's equivalent to a children's aid caseworker, visiting these orphanages and determining whether they should remain open or be shut down. Linus genuinely cares about his work and the children he's tasked to look in on, but his life has otherwise become a bit stagnant. 

He's ordered by the higher ups of his organization to observe the Marsyas Island Orphanage due to the unique abilities of the six children that live there. When they include the literal Antichrist, a wyvern, and a child that defies all explanation, he's not sure what to expect. This is made even more confusing when the master of the house, Arthur, doesn't always abide by the organization's rules. As Linus learns more about the house's inhabitants and bonds with them, he has to decide what should become of the place, and what to do when his one-month stay is over. 

Reading this book is like being wrapped in a cuddly blanket. There are some pretty dark and relatable themes of government control, prejudice, abuse, and hatred towards the "other", but those are tempered with humour and some of the most adorable moments that will just make your heart melt. 

The plot of the book is not overly complicated and it's pretty clear early on how the story will play out, but that's not the point of reading this book. The beauty is in the details. 

The characters are immediately relatable and endearing. Linus is just precious in how he cares about people in spite of his adherence to rules. Arthur is soft and fatherly, you just want to hug him. The kids are both adorable and hilarious, my favourite being Lucy, the devil himself, because his lines made me laugh so hard. All the other characters are amazing too, there honestly wasn't one that failed to capture my interest. 

The writing is simple, but nonetheless beautiful. The setting is described evocatively to the point where I, like Linus, was enchanted by the beauty of the island. There are so many beautiful quotes in this story that will make you laugh and cry, possibly at the same time.

Recommendation:
I can't recommend this book enough. It's become an instant favourite of mine, similar to everyone else who's read it (there's a reason it's so popular). If you want a book to enrapture you, go read this. 

Thoughts on the cover:
Simple, but good. The art style almost makes this seem like a children's book, but I find it charming.  

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Breaker: Tales of the Outlaw Mages - Amy Campbell

Title: Breaker: Tales of the Outlaw Mages (Book One)
Author: Amy Campbell
Publisher: Independently published, 2021 (Paperback, ebook)
Length: 433 pages 
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Started: June 30, 2021
Finished: July 5, 2021

Summary:
From the back cover:

Walking Disaster. Ruiner. Spook. Sorcerer. The reason we can't have    nice things. 

The citizens in the of Bristle have called Blaise every name in the  book. Born a Breaker, his unbridled magic wreaks havoc with a touch. As his peers land apprenticeships, Blaise faces the reality that no one wants a mage who destroys everything around him. When enemy soldiers storm the town hunting for spellcasters, he has no choice but to escape and rush headlong into the unknown. 

A chance encounter with a pegasus sets Blaise on the path to a new life. Despite the machinations of a surly gunslinger, he finds a place to belong in the hardscrabble world of the outlaw mages. 

But even an outlaw mage can't outrun his past, and Blaise's returns with a vengeance, threatening his chosen family. Can Blaise find the grit to harness his volatile magic into a saving grace, or will his most dangerous challenge be his last? 

Review:
Now that the school year is done and I can finally breathe, it's time to read for pleasure once again and thanks to TikTok I have plenty of recommendations to rebuild my TBR pile. This one was the first and it was a great way to kickstart my summer reading. 

In Iphyria, those with magical abilities are rounded up and controlled by the Salt-Iron Confederation, and there's very few places where mages can live without being forced to use their powers against their will. Blaise lives with his family in Desina, one of those few few hold-outs. Although he hasn't had to worry about the Confederation, Blaise still struggles because his magic isn't supposed to exist. Blaise is a Breaker, an untrained one at that, destroying everything he touches. 

When the Confederation comes calling in Desina, Blaise is forced to flee. He finds himself, alone, in the Gutter, a harsh region populated by outlaw mages that the Confederation doesn't control. When he rescues a Pegasus named Emrys, he discovers a community in Itude that accepts and welcomes him. But when the Confederation tracks him down even there, can Blaise control his magic to protect his newfound family?

This author had me hooked with "Asexual magic cowboys." 'Cause if that's not a reason to read a book, I don't know what is. Add in the Pegasi characters and you really can't go wrong here. 

This book pulls you right in from the start, and I attribute that to the excellent characters. Blaise is a sweetheart and you just want to hug him and tell him everything's going to be okay. Jack is perfect and prickly, adding just enough conflict in the beginning to make his character development throughout the book nice and satisfying. And the Pegasi, oh, the Pegasi are the best part of this book, they totally steal the show. Emrys and Zepheus have a fair bit of range, their telepathic communications with their riders varying from sweet to sarcastic and a bit scathing, and their little business venture selling Blaise's baked goods to the other Pegasi had me laughing. I haven't even touched on the rest of the characters that populate Itude, but they're all endearing to say the least. 

The world building is nicely done throughout the book rather than all at the beginning, and the magic system is unique in that each person born with magic (not everyone is) having their own particular specialty, and I'm not talking basic elemental magic like your average fantasy book, there are actually some types described that are quite impressive in their originality. 

Recommendation:
When the book you're reading has subtle Community references and librarian humour, you know it's going to be good (go read this!). There's an intriguing universe and magic system, and the characters are just phenomenal. I've already put book 2, Effigest on my list to buy when it comes out. 

If anyone wants to check out the author and her works, you can do so here: Amy Campbell
If anyone wants to read the book, you can find links to various retailers here: Breaker
If anyone wants to check out the cover artist, you can do so here: EerilyFair Design

Thoughts on the cover:
It's so pretty. I never thought I'd say that about a cover with obvious western motifs (that usually aren't my thing) but it's so stinkin' pretty. 

Monday, February 15, 2021

Down Among the Sticks and Bones - Seanan McGuire


Title: Down Among the Sticks and Bones (Wayward Children #2)
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: Tor (Tom Doherty Associates), 2017 (Hardcover)
Length: 187 pages
Genre: Young Adult/Adult; Fantasy
Started: February 14, 2021
Finished: February 15, 2021

Summary:
From the inside cover:

Twin sisters Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way home and were packed off to Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children. 

This is the story of what happened first...

Jacqueline was her mother's perfect daughter - polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. If her mother was sometimes a little strict, it's because crafting the perfect daughter takes discipline. 

Jillian was her father's perfect daughter - adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tomboy. He really would have preferred a son, but you work with what you've got. 

They were five when they learned that grown-ups can't be trusted. 

They were twelve when they walked down the impossible staircase and discovered that the pretense of love can never be enough to prepare you for a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices.

Review:
After Every Heart a Doorway, the subsequent instalments in this series tackle the backstories of different characters from the first book. Twin sisters Jack and Jill were a favourite of mine from the first book (and apparently everyone else's too), so it makes sense that the next book focuses on them. 

I love these dark fairy tales, if for nothing else then to remind ourselves that children are living beings with preferences and needs that we can't necessarily shape and mould as we will. Pretty much all the damage done (at least so far in these first two books), comes from forgetting this. 

Chester and Serena are probably the last people in the world who should be parents, but all the men at his firm have perfect sons, and all the women on her committees have the most idyllic daughters. How hard could it be? When Serena gives birth to twin girls, it throws a bit of a monkey wrench into their plans of getting the perfect family all at once, but they work with what they have. Jillian is more daring and outgoing, while Jacqueline is more cautious and observant, so Jill becomes the tomboy stand-in for the son Chester always wanted, and Jacqueline becomes the quiet and proper daughter Serena always wanted.

When the girls are twelve and hating the rigid roles that have been thrust upon them, a doorway opens up at the bottom of a trunk in a closet, and what twelve-year-old with little freedom can resist the promise of adventure? They find themselves in the Moors with werewolves in the forests and a blood-red moon in the sky. Two men offer to care for them during their stay there...which will they choose? 

This instalment is just as engaging as the first book, even though we're only focusing on one set of characters. Jack and Jill's story is a good one; dark, but not to the point where it could turn readers off. If anything, I'm finding I want more of these stories and wish they were full-length novels rather than short novellas, but they're still excellent as they are.

Recommendation:
If you like dark fairy tales, give this series a try. I'm eagerly awaiting the arrival of books 3 and 4 as we speak. 

Thoughts on the cover:
Again, similar to the first book, the landscape with the doorway as the central image is a good strategy to appeal to adult readers (this is not your usual YA cover) considering the cross-over potential. 

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Every Heart a Doorway - Seanan McGuire

Title: Every Heart a Doorway (Wayward Children #1)
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: Tor (Tom Doherty Associates), 2016 (Hardcover)
Length: 169 pages
Genre: Young Adult/Adult; Fantasy
Started: February 10, 2021
Finished: February 12, 2021

Summary:
From the inside cover:

Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children

No solicitations
No visitors
No quests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions - slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells and emerging somewhere...else. 

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children. 

Nancy tumbled once, but now she's back. The things she's experienced...they change a person. The children under Miss West's care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world. 

But Nancy's arrival marks a change at the home. There's a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it's up to Nancy and and her newfound schoolmates to get to the heart of things. No matter the cost. 

Review:
As we enter another year of pandemic restrictions and stress for anyone working in education right now, my pleasure reading choices have reverted to favourite genres that are personally comforting. And what better way to take someone out of their own head than a good portal fantasy. I always liked these types of books as a kid: Narnia, Wonderland (though my least favourite out of the bunch), Oz, Hogwarts, you name it I ate it up. As kids though, we never gave any thought to what happened to these characters when they went back, which this series explores nicely. 

When seventeen-year-old Nancy comes back through her door from the Underworld silent and devoid of colour, her desperate parents send her to Miss West's school in the hope of getting their happy little girl back. But like the other kids at the school, Nancy wants to find her door again so she can return to her real home. That is, if she can survive the rash of killings haunting the school since her arrival. 

This novella is a nice, quick read; but thanks to good, concise writing it isn't short on plot or development. The story introduces not just Nancy and her door, but several students and their fantasy worlds, all of them  engaging.

The author makes some clever observations that she works into the narrative, the following being my favourite, when Nancy asks why there are more girls than boys at the school:

"Because 'boys will be boys' is a self-fulfilling prophecy...They're too loud, on the whole, to be easily misplaced or overlooked; when they disappear from the home, parents send search parties to dredge them out of swamps and drag them away from frog ponds. It's not innate. It's learned. But it protects them from the doors, keeps them safe at home. Call it irony, if you like, but we spend so much time waiting for our boys to stray that they never have the opportunity. We notice the silence of men. We depend upon the silence of women." (pg. 59)

And this one is from Miss West lecturing the children about supporting one another rather than treating each other as suspects, that could honestly be printed on the walls of classrooms everywhere:

"This world is unforgiving and cruel to those it judges as even the slightest bit outside the norm. If anyone should be kind, understanding, accepting, loving to their fellow outcasts, it's you. All of you. You are the guardians of the secrets of the universe, beloved of worlds that most will never dream of, much less see...can't you see where you owe it to yourselves to be kind? To care for one another? No one outside this room will ever understand what you've been through the way the people around you right now understand. This is not your home. I know that better than most. But this is your way station and your sanctuary, and you will treat those around you with respect." (pg. 100)

Recommendation:
If you're in the mood for a short but very satisfying fantasy read, give this a go and then get the rest of the books in the series: Down Among the Sticks and Bones, Beneath the Sugar Sky, In an Absent Dream, Juice Like Wounds, Come Tumbling Down, and Across the Green Grass Fields.

Thoughts on the cover:
The cover with a landscape and the door as the central focus is nicely suited to the content and targeted audience. This type of cover is nicely consistent with the other books in the series, so they look great on a shelf.