All Our Hidden Gifts

All Our Hidden Gifts by Caroline O’Donoghue

Genre: fantasy

I read it as a(n): paperback

Length: 374 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Maeve is a typical teen – she likes hanging out with friends, doesn’t like school, occasionally has behavioural problems, and mainly just wants to fit in. When she randomly unearths a deck of tarot cards while cleaning out a room in detention, she discovers that she has a strange affinity and skill for reading the tarot. Maeve finds herself suddenly popular, her highly accurate tarot readings wildly in demand among her fellow students. But when a reading goes badly wrong and a girl disappears, Maeve once again finds herself on the edges of society. She finds herself assisted in some surprising ways as she struggles to fix what she broke, find the missing girl, and bring balance again to cosmic forces well beyond her understanding. 

This was a pretty fun read, though at times fairly standard. I liked that it was set in Ireland and had a plot involving some of the tensions between Catholics and Protestants. The way the author worked that into the story was nicely done. It invoked some historical elements that added some extra depth to the plot. I also liked how it seemed she was making a commentary on Christianity and how so often they are nowhere near as loving or whatever as they claim to be. 

The author also explored how being a teen is hard, yes, but it is also when you get new life experiences and the chance to have a lot of personal growth. A lot of the story revolved around this and other normal teen issues like learning how to navigate changing relationships. I think a big takeaway from it was that, even when things turn out fine in the end, that doesn’t mean they stay the same or even that they work out well. Sometimes you have to take life lessons with outcomes you don’t want. That isn’t bad, even if things hurt sometimes. It’s just the way it is. 

I read this because my daughter loved it and wanted me to read it as well. I try to read at least a few of the same books as her throughout the year. Most of the stuff she likes is sort of fluffy fantasy and this wasn’t really an exception. I like that she loves reading so I am always happy to share her books if there’s one she really enjoyed. It is one thing that I hope we will always have in common, a love of reading.

A Song of Flight

A Song of Flight by Juliet Marillier

Genre: fantasy

I read it as a(n): paperback

Length: 446 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

In this third instalment of Marillier’s Warrior Bards series once again gives readers several separate but connected plots, woven together as skillfully as any Celtic knot. In one, Prince Aolu and his bodyguard Galen are attacked simultaneously by humans and Crow Folk. Galen is badly injured and Aolu disappears. As a result, Dau leads a team from Swan Island, the elite and secret warrior training site, to aid in the search for Aolu. Liobhan is excluded from the initial team because of her relationship with Dau but also because Galen is her brother; she can’t be unbiased as a Swan Island warrior ought to be in this case. Adding to the intrigue is Brocc, the half-fey brother of Liobhan and Galen, who is exiled from the Otherworld and Eirne’s side, along with their daughter Niamh. Brocc’s crime, according to his Elf Queen wife, was trying to understand and help the Crow Folk, whom Brocc believes are not evil but are lost and damaged in some way. 

This one was interesting because we got to see Liobhan in a leadership role unlike anything else she’s done so far. Initially, she is the warrior primarily in charge of training a new recruit, Elka, to Swan Island. Later, she is put in charge of her own team on a mission. Liobhan being who she is, though, she quickly takes the mission on a whole new path after she and Elka see a vision in which Brocc is attempting to turn the Crow Folk into an army that he can control. Liobhan changes the mission without giving the full details to her elders, risking her position on the Island entirely. 

Dau is also growing as a person. He, too, was placed in charge of the initial team to be sent from the Island to search for Aolu. When they arrive at Winterfells, the prince’s home, Dau finds Galen, who is being tended by his and Liobhan’s healer mother Blackthorn, ready to tear off on his own to search for Aolu. Galen believes – rightly as it turns out – that the prince is in the Otherworld and he is determined to find him, with or without help. 

Brocc, meanwhile, is in shock from being banished by his wife, the Elf Queen Eirne. She exiled their infant daughter with him, so Brocc is struggling to care for her in the middle of nowhere and while still attempting to connect with Shadow, one of the Crow Folk he had helped rescue in the previous novel. Brocc knows there is more to the Crow Folk than mindless violence and evil. His actions highlight the optimism and compassion displayed by the best of humanity. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, though it didn’t grip me as strongly as the previous one, A Dance with Fate, did. I liked the scenes with Brocc a lot more in this one since he mainly wasn’t dealing with Eirne, a character I really dislike. It’s good when characters are varied enough that there is a fairly central figure that you just can’t stand, but I found Eirne to be so irritating that I caught myself skimming the sections set in the Otherworld too quickly if she was in a scene. That wasn’t an issue in this book. 

Marillier left plenty of room for more books in the series, and I hope she does continue it! I think my favorite single book of hers is Daughter of the Forest, but my favorite overall series was Blackthorn and Grim. I love that they are still woven into the Warrior Bards stories as well. I look forward to whatever she decides to give her readers next!

A Dance with Fate

A Dance with Fate by Juliet Marillier

Genre: historical fantasy

I read it as a(n): paperback

Length: 491 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The second installation in Marillier’s Warrior Bards series begins with a fighting competition and tragic accident. Liobhan, daughter of Blackthorn and Grim, and Dau, both Swan Island warriors, are participating in a training exercise when Dau slips, hits his head hard, and wakes up blind. Dau’s father, a local chieftain, blames Liobhan and demands that she serve a year as a bonded servant in his household as payment, along with a handsome sum of silver coins. Liobhan readily agrees to that, even though she knows Dau’s blindness was an accident. Dau’s father insists, too, that he be returned to his family home to be cared for. This is a problem since Dau’s family, in particular his older brothers, are sick twists who love to hurt people. Going to his family’s home is the very last thing on earth Dau wants to do. But his chieftain father prevails and Dau is packed off home along with Liobhan, who is already being treated like a slave. During their time there, Dau and Liobhan have to learn to navigate the family dynamics, survive their abuse, and in the process, uncover a deep and dangerous secret involving the Crow Folk.

I have yet to read a book by Juliet Marillier that I don’t like. There are some I like more than others but I unreservedly recommend all of her books to anyone who likes the historical fantasy genre. This one was another hit for me. I liked the way the character development happened, especially with Dau. I thought it was interesting how he learned to adapt to his new circumstances and how his Swan Island training carried him through even the worst times. Seeing very strong characters like him and Liobhan become more vulnerable is always a thought provoking experience for readers. 

This novel was told from the POV of Liobhan, Dau, and Liobhan’s brother Brocc, who lives in the Otherworld, married to the queen of the fae. I generally enjoy when stories alternate perspectives like that, and this was no different. I didn’t like the parts with the Otherworld as much as in the “real” world, I think because I just don’t like the queen, Eirne, at all. I do think Brocc is an interesting figure and love that his voice can be a weapon or a balm. I like, too, Rowan and True. But unless the Otherworld time was primarily with those three, I didn’t care much for those characters or what happens to them, mainly because Eirne is such a dick. I suppose that is a sign of good writing, though, that I feel so strongly about a fictional character! 

I’m off to read the third book in this series, A Song of Flight. I hope Marillier writes a new book soon. I get so happy when I get to read her work!

Catch-up Lightning Round: The Language of Hoofbeats, Hellworld, The Broken Kingdoms, and The Kingdom of Gods

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The Language of Hoofbeats by Catherine Ryan Hyde (Website | Twitter)

Genre: contemporary fiction

Setting: Easley, CA (fictional podunk town)

I read it as a(n): audiobook

Narrator: Kate Rudd and Laural Merlington

Source: my own collection 

Length: 10:27:00

Her Grace’s rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

I liked it more than the typical 3-star book but not as much as a 4-star. So, 3.5 stars! I’m so smrt. 🤪 A lesbian couple, Jackie and Paula, moved to a small town with their adopted son and two foster children. Across the road from their new digs lives Clementine, the town shrew. She hates everything and everyone and blames it on her daughter’s suicide which, frankly, I think is totally valid. I would hate everything and everyone, too. But she apparently was always like that and she ends up driving her husband away and her treatment of Comet, her daughter’s horse, causes Star, Jackie and Paula’s troubled foster girl, to run away with him. Various dramas ensue and in the end, Clementine decides to be nice, just like that, and everything turns out bright and shiny.

For a piece of fluff, this was good. I liked the kids and their histories and I think it was nice that they weren’t written as all escapees from Hell or a mental asylum, nor that they automatically fit right in and adapted to being a foster kid. I thought Jackie and Paula were well developed enough that they were different on the page, but overall they were fairly one-dimensional. Clementine had development, but I didn’t find it all that believable. Still, she was the most richly-depicted adult in the book, a character you love to hate. I would read more by this author, though I’d probably get it from the library rather than spend my own money on it.

Hellworld by Tom Leveen (Website | Twitter | IG)

Genre: horror

Setting: mostly Tucson, AZ

I read it as a(n): hardback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 297 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This was a fast read. I like to support local authors and I bought this one and another of Leveen’s books at a local book festival a couple years ago. So that was fun. He is a delightful human being from what I could tell. And I did enjoy this one, but I generally have a very hard time with most horror. Not because I get spooked – I don’t. It’s because I can’t suspend my disbelief. It’s why I don’t like werewolf or zombie or even sexy vampire stories all that much. They simply aren’t believable to me. Why I have a hard time suspending disbelief for horror and not for the billions of SFF books I’ve read over the years, I have no fucking clue. 

That said, I really liked the vast majority of this book. It was told in a sort of back and forth timeline, the same characters living in the moment for one chapter and then the next chapter being set X number of days, weeks, or months ago. I thought the characters were nicely developed for a genre novel. That’s not shade – genre novels don’t focus as much on character development, but these characters all felt like they had a history and experiences that made them people, not just templates of people like you find in a lot of genre novels. The crux of the plot is that four teens lost their parents a number of years ago while filming a show that sounds similar to Ghost Hunters. They were exploring a cave in the Arizona desert and never came out. The kids go gallivanting off to find them, but whoops! Instead they accidentally open an ancient ark of some kind that lets out gigantic monster bug things that can shoot lasers and fireballs and they start annihilating nuclear power plants, hospitals, schools, and news organizations. You know. Kind of like the Republicans want to do.

I’m not entirely sure the whole story isn’t actually an analogy about the GOP, in fact…

The Broken Kingdoms and The Kingdom of Gods by NK Jemisin (Website | Twitter)

Genre: fantasy

Setting: The city of Shadow, in the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

I read it as a(n): audiobook

Narrator: Cassaundra Freeman

Source: my own collection

Length: 11:25:00 / 16:58:00

Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

(The Broken Kingdoms) A blind artist called Oree takes in a homeless man who glows. She can see some things like magic and the homeless man, who Oree names Shiny since he won’t tell her his name, throws magic all over. Also, someone is murdering godlings and now Oree is smack in the middle of it thanks to her act of kindness. Shiny happens to be Itempas, so you know things are going to get weird.

(The Kingdom of Gods) The gods of the Arameri are finally free and now they’re pissed, but they’re also all that is keeping the world from descending into unending war and annihilation. Good times. This one is told from the perspective of the godling Sieh, who has been changed into a mortal and is aging in leaps over time.

As always, crazy rich world-building and awesome characters in both of these books. I will want to read them again one day, only with my eyeballs, because the narrator was what kept these from being 4 star books. Her voice was too calm and unchanging and I found myself bored of listening to her. Once, someone ripped a heart out of someone else’s chest with their bare hands – and I missed that at first because there was just no emotion or anything to indicate exciting action in her voice. 

I really love Jemisin’s writing. It’s so complex and descriptive. She takes familiar fantasy tropes and turns them on their head. Some people might think that is heretical but I think it’s brilliant and it makes for a wholly new reading experience. One should never assume she will let the good guys win or allow a happily ever after in her books. I really, really appreciate that. She has said that she set out to subvert the genre and she has been successful in doing so.

Spinning Silver

spinning silverSpinning Silver by Naomi Novik (Website | Twitter )

Genre: fantasy

Setting: someplace very like Russia

I read it as a(n): hardback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 466 pp

Published by: Del Rey (2018)

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Miryem’s father and grandfather are moneylenders. Her grandfather is good at it; her father, not so much. Tired of living in poverty and seeing her parents be taken advantage of, Miryem takes it upon herself to begin collecting the debts her father is owed. She is so good at it that the people of her town grumble that she can change silver into gold. This, unfortunately, draws the attention of the Staryk king, a being from a snowy alternate world where gold is precious. He takes Miryem and commands that she change all his silver into gold.

Irina is the daughter of a duke, not beautiful and viewed only as a pawn by her father. Through a set of jewelry with magical properties, Irina becomes beautiful to all who see her, except to the tsar, a young man she’s known since childhood and who is cruel. Naturally, her father contrives to marry her to the tsar.

Wanda is a peasant in Miryem’s town. When her father is unable to pay his debt, Miryem allows Wanda to come work for her family to help repay it. Over the course of the months, Wanda and her brothers become family to Miryem. Their love and aid help Miryem and Irina to rid their land of a horrible demon that is hell-bent on feeding on Irina – unless she can bring him a snow king.

I loved this book. I don’t know why it took me so long to get around to reading it, but I’m glad I did at last. I liked Novik’s earlier novel, Uprooted, well enough, though I remember not being thrilled with the verbal and mental abuse the dragon put the protagonist through. This book didn’t have that. What it does have are three very strong young women who are each, in their own ways, selfless and put the needs of their loved ones, whoever they may be, before themselves. Naturally, I like books that show women banding together for a common goal. Sometimes, it goes overboard and shows them being selfless to the point of overwriting their own needs or personalities, but that didn’t happen in this novel. I think it showed a good and necessary balance between helping others and helping oneself. 

The plot with the tsar and how he got his demon was a great twist. I didn’t see that coming and it added a lot of dimension to his character. He wasn’t just a flat character that is so common in folktales, purely good or purely evil. 

I liked, too, how Novik wove in a lot of Jewish culture and stories with this. I think it was a great blend of cultures and tales – Jewish culture, the girl who could spin straw into gold, and Russian Baba Yaga and Chernobog folktales. I definitely recommend this one. I should check out Novik’s Temeraire series one of these days!

Favorite lines (potential spoilers!):

  • (Irina considering political marriages): But he wasn’t a fool, or cruel. And more to the point, I was reasonably certain he wasn’t going to try and devour my soul. My expectations for a husband had lowered (229-230).
  • I had never seen any Jew but Miryem’s family before except the woman on the line and her son. Now I did not see anyone else. It was a strange feeling. I thought that when Miryem had to go to the Staryk Kingdom maybe it was like this for her. All of a sudden everyone around you was the same as each other but not like you. And then I thought but it was like that for Miryem already. It was like that for her all the time in town. So maybe it hadn’t been so strange (303).
  • But I won’t ever tell you what it is (466). [My favorite last line of a book in a good long while.]

Binti: The Complete Trilogy

BintiBinti: The Complete Trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor

Genre: sci-fi

Setting: Earth, Ooma Uni, and spaaaaaaaaace!

I read it as a(n): paperback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 358 pp

Published by: Daw

Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Binti is a young woman from Earth, a member of the Himba people of Namibia. She is what is known as a master harmonizer, a person who has a skill in bringing balance to all, usually through math. Her role is to succeed her father as her tribe’s master harmonizer. However, that is upended when Binti is accepted into the prestigious Oomza Uni, an entire planet devoted to learning. Binit runs away against her parents’ wishes to study, but while her ship is en route, it is attacked by the warlike Meduse, leaving her the traumatized only survivor. Binti eventually forms a bond with Okwu, one of the Medusae from the attack, and a link is created between their two peoples, paving the way for an unusual peace.

I read these novellas in the form of an omnibus paperback, so I can’t really separate the three stories in my mind. To me, they’re all one story. But, as always, I am impressed with Okorafor’s skill in creating such rich characters and culture in a relatively short span of pages. The Himba people are not fictional; they have a long and complex culture from which Okorafor could draw. But she fleshed out the people in ways that made them entirely real. I cared about every character on the page, which is a rare thing for me. 

I loved Binti’s search for herself, her bravery in leaving the only home she’d ever known in an attempt to create a different life for herself. The act of leaving home, becoming independent, learning new things about yourself is one of the best gifts we can give ourselves. I feel bad for people who never experience that in any way. 

The ways that humans and the Medusae were at conflict and how they resolved their problems is sadly still a relevant metaphor for human society as a whole. We seem plagued with people, whether groups or individuals, who only care about enriching themselves or enforcing their agenda and worldview. There isn’t enough peace anywhere. So much can be said about this but, as I’ve said for years, SFF is an ideal medium in which to discuss real-world issues. Binti is no different. There were many themes that made me think: home, community, identity, conflict, colonialism, friendship. I’m sure examinations of these themes and more could be made, and wind up longer than the book itself. I love that; books that make me think while also providing a good story are to be treasured.

Overall, I liked this story, though I think I enjoyed Okorafor’s other works that I’ve read a little more. This trilogy (plus the short story included in the omnibus edition) seemed to focus more on how to fit in social issues than how it impacts the plot, so I think there are some gaps that need to be filled. But still, the Binti trilogy is a terrific story and one I definitely recommend. 

Favorite lines:

  • Will his happiness kill him? (Okwu asked this without a hint of irony or sarcasm. Me, too, Okwu. Me. Too. Deeply suspicious of happiness.)

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

the hundred thousand kingdomsThe Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by NK Jemisin (Website, Twitter)

Genre: fantasy

Setting: the city of Sky

I read it as a(n): audiobook

Narrator: Cassaundra Freeman

Source: my own collection 

Length: 11:47:00

Published by: Daw 

Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Yeine Darr is the daughter of a disgraced noblewoman of the Arameri, the rulers of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Their seat of power is in the city of Sky. Yeine is summoned to Sky by her grandfather, her mother’s father, who is also the ruler of the Arameri. To her utter shock and horror, he names her as one of his three heirs to the throne. Now she will be expected to compete against two cousins she never knew for the throne. While she is learning the ways of Sky, rife with political machinations and corruption, Yeine also learns that several gods are held by the Arameri as slaves after they lost to the god Bright Itempas in the Gods’ War. Now those gods are bitter, unsurprisingly, and they have a plan to help Yeine win in her struggle for the throne.

This first instalment in Jemisin’s The Inheritance Trilogy is, in many ways, a pretty typical fantasy narrative: a young warrior woman loses her family, is named an heir to the kingdom, falls in love with a god, is used as a pawn by a variety of people, and eventually is victorious. But Jemisin sort of upends a lot of traditions as well, which was her stated goal in writing her novels. 

The people who were the ruling class, the Arameri, were the highest class because the high priestess of the goddess Itempas was an Arameri when the Gods’ War occurred millennia ago. So that part makes sense within this story. I really like how Jemisin then creates a society that is more and more corrupt the closer one gets to the gods. I don’t think it is untrue at all here, but it is certainly not what most people want to believe. This story tackles it head-on. 

The world building in this novel is amazing. That is one of the best things about Jemisin’s writing. I did find it a little hard to keep track of at times, which might be partly because I listened to the audiobook rather than eyeball reading this one. Sometimes the dialogue was not well marked that I could tell, so I wasn’t sure who was speaking for kind of big sections of discussion. But I’m not sure, again, how much that is a function of listening to the book instead of reading it. 

In line with the rich world building are many, MANY different themes. Off the top of my head, there is slavery, colonialism, racism, power, tradition, and religion. These are intricately woven throughout the entire narrative in ways that are sometimes startling or subversive. It’s a great way to get readers to think about many things we believe and hold dear without really knowing WHY we do. So many traditions in this novel were followed simply because that’s what has always been done, which is of course why something is a tradition. But if a tradition blows, then you should change it or abandon it. Columbus Day, for example, isn’t a traditional holiday we should still be observing in the 21st century. It is being replaced in many states by Indigenous Peoples Day, which is far better. Change can be a good thing. 

Every single character in this book is richly nuanced and complex with the exception, I think, of Scimena Arameri, Yeine’s cousin and another potential heir. She was all hate and bitterness, all the time. I’m not too sure why this one character was so one-dimensional but I’m sure Jemisin has her reasons. I may have just not picked up on what it was. She was an easy character to despise, though. Otherwise, the rest of the cast was really interesting, even those who you don’t like. 

Looking forward to getting into the second book!

The Second Blind Son

the second blind sonThe Second Blind Son by Amy Harmon (Website, Twitter, IG)

Genre: fantasy

Setting: Saylock

I read it as a(n): audiobook

Narrator: Rob Shapiro

Source: my own collection 

Length: 15:58:00

Published by: Brilliance Audio (2021)

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The Second Blind Son is a sequel of sorts to Amy Harmon’s earlier novel, The First Girl Child. I say of sorts because this story ran concurrently to the events of TFGC, rather than portraying a continuation of that story. In this, the focus is on Hod, a blind man who is raised to be a Keeper of the Temple by Arwin, a cave keeper. Arwen has taught Hod how to listen, smell, feel in ways that are uncanny to help him compensate for his blindness. As a result, Hod is adept at hunting and fighting through the use of his heightened senses. He can identify the heartbeats of individual people, their specific scent, and so forth. And then one day, he rescues a girl who washes up near his cave from a shipwreck. Ghisla is the sole survivor from her people, the Songers, whose voices are ethereally beautiful, and she wants to die. Slowly, she and Hod become the best of friends and, when she uses a rune carved upon her hand, Hod is able to see. Their paths are often separated but they retain their connection through the years, through political upheaval, and across vast distances.

I loved this book so much. I really liked the way it wove into the earlier story of TFGC and made you remember events from that story alongside this new one. I hadn’t realised it was that sort of timeline, so I kind of wish I had reread TFGC before jumping into this one, but it in no way hindered the ease of following the story. It is just a thing I would have done to refresh my own memory. And yes, it can probably be read as a standalone, but I truly think readers are short-changing themselves not to read TFGC first. Not only will you become familiar with the world of Saylock, but the characters from that book who make appearances in this one are familiar and welcome. You’d miss out on that if you only read TSBS as a standalone.

The narration was excellent as well. The narrator did some different voices for various characters, but only enough to differentiate them within the scene. He didn’t go crazy with melodrama, he just read the story in an engaging way. There were times when he sounded just like Tuvok, though, so that was a bit of cognitive dissonance. I kept expecting Star Trek. 

The character development throughout was decent, though I would have liked to get more scenes with the other Daughters of the Temple. They were an important part of the story but I feel like I didn’t get to know them very well. Maybe future Saylock books will focus on them more in some way. Ghisla becomes one of the Daughters when she is forced to leave Hod’s cave and is given in lieu of a clan chieftain’s daughter to the Keepers. There, she is known as Liis of Leok and no one learns her true identity. Hod is the only one who knows her real story. Also, YAY for the book sample on Amazon having the spelling of characters’ names! I would not have gotten some right from just listening to it.

I thought it was interesting how King Banruud was a hateful, horrible person but Ghisla could help keep him from raging too much with her music. I don’t remember his madness at all from TFGC, but here it struck me as horrific, persistent tinnitus. I know that can make people crazy – mine sometimes wakes me up – but if one is already crazy and cruel to begin with, what new horrors could the condition bring about? Doesn’t make his actions at all ok, but I thought it was an interesting reading of madness. 

Keeping Hod and Ghisla apart in distance but giving them the means with which to communicate with each other was a great touch. It allowed them to grow and mature, and their relationship did likewise. The rune magic that helped them speak to one another really keeps things humming along for readers so we can sense their desire to be together but we don’t get bored by the separation. 

Probably there is a message in there about how true love doesn’t need to see to recognize one’s beloved. Or something. Ick. I don’t really do romance, though I find this sort of non-melodramatic, non-bodice-ripping romance within many fantasy novels to be entirely acceptable. 

Overall, a thoroughly lovely story, nicely paced, and I can’t wait to read more of Harmon’s fantasy novels!

Elatsoe

elatsoeElatsoe by Darcie Little Badger (Website, Twitter, IG)

Genre: MG fantasy

Setting: slightly different America/ Texas

I read it as a(n): audiobook, then switched to a physical book

Narrator: Kinsale Hueston

Source: public library 

Length: 09:01:00 / 360 pp

Published by: Dreamscape Media (22 Sept 2020)

Her Grace’s rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Elatsoe “Ellie” is a Lipan Apache who is able to raise the ghosts of dead animals. She comes from a long line of family members with this talent, back to her great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother, who her family calls Six Great, also Ellie’s namesake. Ellie’s constant companion is the ghost of her dog, Kirby. When Kirby freaks out, Ellie soon learns that her cousin Trevor was killed in a car accident, but it was a cover-up to his murder. When Trevor’s ghost visits Ellie and asks her to help take care of his wife and baby son, Ellie and her best friend Jay try to figure out what really happened to Trevor, and how a white man called Abe Allerton from Willowbee, TX is involved. Dark, ancient secrets then threaten to consume Ellie and all her family as she digs deeper to uncover the truth about Trevor’s death.

There was a lot to like about this book. For one thing, I think it’s good that Ellie identifies as asexual and not one person in her circle gives a toss or makes a big deal out of it. It is just pure acceptance and it is part of who she is, no questions asked and no one trying to tell her she’ll change her mind once she’s older. 

There was also a lot of tradition and stories from Ellie’s Apache heritage. I know absolutely nothing about this, so I’m just going to assume that it is at least partially true, considering that Darcie Little Badger is Apache herself. The elders, the way they are so highly respected, and the various stories are all awesome.

Related to Ellie’s knowledge of her Native culture is her experience with racism. That is not a pro – for those sitting in the back, racism is bad! – but the discussions that came with her experiences are important and necessary. I liked that Jay was shown as a generally real, clueless white dude who has never had to experience racism of any kind. He means well and doesn’t have a mean or racist bone in his body, but he is utterly unaware of why he would have to convince a store clerk to sell him anything because “we haven’t done anything wrong.” Ellie’s response to him is somewhat amused eye rolling, which in real life doesn’t help much of anything, but in the story, it gets the discussion onto the page for readers to ponder over. 

Also, how can a story involving the ghosts of fossilized animals not be cool on at least some levels? Ellie brings back the ghost of a trilobite, for fuck sake! And there’s a wooly mammoth ghost! That is rad!

There was a lot, though, that I definitely did not like, and I mostly feel that it outweighed the good things that I did like. For one thing, this book was marketed as a YA. However, it read as way, way younger than that. Middle grade would have been far more accurate. I often had to remind myself that Ellie and Jay were both 17 and nearly through with high school. For example, when the ball at Allerton’s mansion was in swing and vampires were killing, Jay’s older sister wanted to keep Ellie from seeing. She responded that she and Jay were at least at a PG-13. Um, yes. Considering that you are actually 17, it would make sense that a PG-13 scene would be something ok for them to see. I mean, what? 

Also, Ellie and Jay are described as being best friends from birth, having met when their mothers were in the same birthing class. And yet they don’t know some very basic things about each other. Out of the blue, Jay tells Ellie he is a descendant of Oberon and that was a huge surprise to her. You wouldn’t know your best friend is descended from the most famous fairy king ever? Really? And Jay didn’t know “Ellie” is short for Elatsoe. Things like that are little facts about a person you learn when you are first becoming friends, not when you have grown up with someone. At one point, Ellie asked Jay if he had other sisters. The way it was written made it unclear if she was joking in that moment or if she was being serious. Given the lack of knowledge they have about each other, I think the confusion is understandable. Which leads me to the next reason I didn’t like this.

LAME DIALOGUE! OMG so lame. Ellie and Jay would literally be in media res and trying to fend off bad guys – and they engage in witty banter? Which isn’t actually witty? No. Just no. It might have worked if this was something like The Princess Bride or Indiana Jones but here? It just came across as immature. Also, one character made actual use of the phrase “meddling kids.” Like from Scooby-Doo. The dumb witty banter would have been fine in that children’s cartoon as well. But here, it kind of just smacked of the author needing to work on aging up her dialogue a lot more. 

And finally, the audio book. I had started this as an audio book. The narrator was so awful that, if I hadn’t been reading this for book club, I would not have bothered to continue. Since it WAS for my book club, I got a hard copy from the library and read that instead. It was better and far more interesting to eyeball read it. I would not listen to another book read by the same narrator. She made what was already a mediocre book for me almost unbearably boring. 

So ultimately, this was a solid meh for me. I didn’t hate it, I think it had some good things in it, but I definitely did not love it. 

All that said, I did find Little Badger’s short storyNkásht íí online. I thought it was pretty good.

Dark Matter

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch (Website, Twitter)

Genre: sci-fi

Setting: several different variations of Chicago

I read it as a(n): hardback

Source: my own collection / BOTM Club

Length: 342 pp

Published by: Crown (26 July 2016)

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Jason Dessen is a physics professor at a small college in Chicago. Years ago, he’d had a promising future as one of the brightest young scientists in the world. He gave it up, though, in favor of living a quiet life and making a family with his wife. Then, he gets abducted and ends up in an alternate Chicago, looking at an alternate life. Now he has to figure out how to get back to his actual life in his own reality – or decide if he even wants to. 

This was a fast-paced, fun read full of “what ifs” and hypotheticals. It makes you think about the choices you make in your life and ponder the consequences of having chosen one way over another. What happens if you, as Jean-Luc Picard once did, start pulling at the threads that make up the tapestry of your life? 

akata warrios

Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor (Website, Twitter, Insta)

Genre: fantasy

Setting: Nigeria

I read it as a(n): paperback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 477 pp

Published by: speak (3 Oct 2017)

Her Grace’s rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Sunny Nwazue is a Leopard Person, AKA Nigerian witch. In the aftermath of defeating the evil masquerade Ekwensu, Sunny is spending her time studying with her mentor and learning how to read her magic Nsibidi book. She soon learns of an existential threat to humanity, centered in the town of Osisi, which exists both in reality and in the invisible spirit world. Sunny goes on a quest to save mankind, aided by her friends, Orlu, Chichi, and Sasha, and her spirit face, Anyanwu.

Okorafor’s characters are ALL delightful and well developed. I fucking love Sunny and her friends, and am fascinated by the intersection of history, myth, and folklore that these books portray. The adventures and challenges Sunny faces are crazy fun to read and show kids overcoming obstacles, learning to be independent, becoming supportive friends, and strong leaders. Love it! Rumor has it that there’s a third book in the works for this series; I really hope that is true and that it will come out sooner rather than later. 

Eleanor Oliphant

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Genre: contemporary literature

Setting: London

I read it as a(n): hardback

Source: my own collection / BOTM Club

Length: 327 pp

Published by: Pamela Dorman Books (9 May 2017)

Her Grace’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Eleanor Oliphant is a woman struggling with other humans. She appears to be on the spectrum, is highly structured, dislikes being touched, and generally prefers her own company. Sometimes I wonder if I, too, am on the spectrum. I identified with Eleanor in some very uncomfortable ways. Anyway, a wrench is thrown into her routine when she meets Raymond, an IT guy at her work who insists on befriending her. They share a further connection when they both assist an elderly man who faints on the sidewalk. That connection impacts them both in ways no one could have predicted. I don’t mean romance. That’s boring and predictable in most books. This isn’t that.

I loved this book. One of my top reads of 2021 so far. Eleanor has a terribly sad history, which readers piece together slowly with tidbits of information parsed out over the course of the book. Raymond is a proper good guy you can’t help but like. The novel is about the various ways we can destroy ourselves but then usually we get by with a little help from our friends. 

Girls in the Garden

Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell (Twitter, Insta)

Genre: mystery, I guess

Setting: London

I read it as a(n): paperback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 313 pp

Published by: Atria (2 July 2015)

Her Grace’s rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

 

This was a solid meh for me. I enjoyed it well enough to finish it, the writing was fast paced and held my attention. But it maybe wasn’t a mystery? Especially since the answer is literally in the title? I figured this out like in chapter two; I think it would not come as a surprise to anyone who has been or lived with teenage girls at any point. Teen girls can be real assholes. 

That said, I didn’t hate this book at all. Just wasn’t surprised. I do plan to read other books by this author. Maybe if there are ones that aren’t centered on teenage girls, those will not be as easy to solve. Plus, if they’re all set in Britain, I’m down for that. I’ll read just about anything set in Britain.

Love After Love

Love After Love by Ingrid Persaud (Twitter)

Genre: contemporary literature

Setting: Trinidad and NYC

I read it as a(n): hardback

Source: public library 

Length: 327 pp

Published by: One World (4 Aug 2020)

Her Grace’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Betty Ramdin is a young widow raising her son, Solo, on her own. Like, solo. In need of a little extra income or help, she takes on a boarder, Mr. Chetan. The three of them become their own unique little family until one day, Solo overhears his mother telling Mr. Chetan her darkest secret. Solo, like the little shit he is*, takes off to NYC to live with his paternal uncle as an undocumented immigrant. Mr. Chetan becomes the glue that tenuously holds the family together, until his own secret comes to light.

I read this for my book club, which is good because on my own, there is no fucking way I would have even looked at a book titled Love After Love. It sounds like a romance. I do not do romances. I’m glad I read it because it is on my top books of 2021 now. All the characters were richly developed, even if they were little shits. It was also interesting – and sad, sometimes – to see a glimpse of life in the Caribbean. Would definitely read more by this author!

*Solo isn’t a shit because he is undocumented. I am in favor of granting amnesty and Social Security numbers to everyone who wants to be here who doesn’t otherwise break the law. Solo is a shit because he is a spoiled, myopic asshole who could use a good ass-kicking.