The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
Maturity Level: 4ish
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In 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.
But when the Eastwood sisters–James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna–join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote-and perhaps not even to live-the sisters will need to delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.
There’s no such thing as witches. But there will be.
I liked the concept for this book quite a bit more than I ended up enjoying to content, which was too bad because Harrow is an EXCELLENT writer. Her characters, her settings, and her world-building all leap off the page in a way that is (theoretically) completely captivating. But I ended up just not *liking* her characters or her setting all that much.
Continue reading “Review: The Once and Future Witches”
Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros
Genre: Middle Grade, Fiction
Maturity Level: 3
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Efrén Nava’s Amá is his Superwoman – or Soperwoman, named after the delicious Mexican sopes his mother often prepares. Both Amá and Apá work hard all day to provide for the family, making sure Efrén and his younger siblings Max and Mía feel safe and loved.
But Efrén worries about his parents; although he’s American-born, his parents are undocumented. His worst nightmare comes true one day when Amá doesn’t return from work and is deported across the border to Tijuana, México.
Now more than ever, Efrén must channel his inner Soperboy to help take care of and try to reunite his family.
WOW. Wow wow wow. This book is so outstanding, so timely, so sensitive, and also still so accessible for young readers. I just. Wow. Will definitely be on the lookout for more from Cisneros. And I realize this is the shortest review of all time, but I don’t see anyone talking about this book, and I don’t know why, and I don’t know what else to say other than wow. Go read it.
***HEADS UP*** For non-Spanish speakers, there is an extremely comprehensive glossary in the back.
A Tip for the Hangman by Allison Epstein
Genre: Historical Fiction
Maturity Level: 4
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England, 1585. In Kit Marlowe’s last year at Cambridge, he receives an unexpected visitor: Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster, who has come with an unorthodox career opportunity. Her Majesty’s spies are in need of new recruits, and Kit’s flexible moral compass has drawn their attention. Kit, a scholarship student without money or prospects, accepts the offer, and after his training the game is on. Kit is dispatched to the chilly manor where Mary, Queen of Scots is under house arrest, to act as a servant in her household and keep his ear to the ground for a Catholic plot to put Mary on the throne.
While observing Mary, Kit learns more than he bargained for. The ripple effects of his service to the Crown are far-reaching and leave Kit a changed man. But there are benefits as well. The salary he earns through his spywork allows him to mount his first play, and over the following years, he becomes the toast of London’s raucous theatre scene. But when Kit finds himself reluctantly drawn back into the uncertain world of espionage, conspiracy, and high treason, he realizes everything he’s worked so hard to attain–including the trust of the man he loves–could vanish before his very eyes.
OHMYGOSH THIS BOOK THIS BOOK THIS BOOK! I *loved* this book!
A Tip for the Hangman is The Scarlett Pimpernel meets Wolf Hall meets Hamilton. It’s irreverent, exciting, sexy, and utterly heartbreaking. I was in love with Kit as both a narrator and a character, delighted by his quick wit and sarcastic sense of humor, engrossed in his adventures as a spy, and desperate for the book to end, somehow, happily. But if you know Marlowe’s story you know a happy ending was never in the cards. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.
I know, I know, what a ridiculous hot take. But hear me out!
So I was scrolling through Instagram, like you do, when I saw an ad (does anyone else get SO MANY ADS these days???) for Nike. It was a super cool video of girls playing football in the dark and rain, exciting music, and so on. The final message was that Nike is spending some large sum of money to promote having women’s flag football in every school in America by 2023. Cool! I would totally have played! I opened the comments, curious if anyone else was annoyed they weren’t all pushing for the boys to play flag football too. Well. I should have known better.
“You make football better?! I dont understand why they dont just give ’em pads and put them on the field with the boys then.”
“If they’re so tough and they sacrifice just as much, make them play real football, where men sacrifice their memory and their body sometimes.”
“How does flag football makes football better?”
“Why flag and not tackle ???”
These are the tame version of the comments, after the platform has taken down some of the most offensive offerings. But the attitude is the same. It ain’t football unless they’re hitting each other.
Continue reading “American Sports: Basically The Hunger Games”
Welcome to Favorites February! This month I am re-reading The Hunger Games trilogy for the first time in a long time, and then taking some time to discuss and celebrate each book when I’m done. This is the final week, and I’m of course going to discuss Mockingjay.
I feel like I should start by saying I actively disliked the final book the first time I read it. I think the plot is objectively less strong than the firsts two books, and I still hate how the last third played out. It all seemed so pointless and unnecessary. However, every time I read this book I enjoy it a little bit more. This is also probably the most thought-provoking book in the series, so there should be plenty to discuss!
As always, spoilers ahead.
Katniss Everdeen, girl on fire, has survived, even though her home has been destroyed. Gale has escaped. Katniss’s family is safe. Peeta has been captured by the Capitol. District 13 really does exist. There are rebels. There are new leaders. A revolution is unfolding.
It is by design that Katniss was rescued from the arena in the cruel and haunting Quarter Quell, and it is by design that she has long been part of the revolution without knowing it. District 13 has come out of the shadows and is plotting to overthrow the Capitol. Everyone, it seems, has had a hand in the carefully laid plans—except Katniss.
The success of the rebellion hinges on Katniss’s willingness to be a pawn, to accept responsibility for countless lives, and to change the course of the future of Panem. To do this, she must put aside her feelings of anger and distrust. She must become the rebels’ Mockingjay—no matter what the personal cost.
Why I Love This Book
Continue reading “Favorites February: Mockingjay”
- Katniss’s PTSD is extremely intense and compelling, and I think important for young people to read in this bloody series.
- Man, Snow is EVIL.
- When they play “crazy cat” with Buttercup ❤
- The ethical and moral questions brought up by the war.
- What happens to Peeta is so terrible, but for some reason so unputdownable?
This week Krysta and Briana at Pages Unbound are hosting the discussion: Do you think genre books receive the respect they deserve, even if they are considered classics?
I think this is such an interesting question, and I’m really looking forward to hearing some of the discussion around it. The short version of my answer is: sometimes.
Classic science fiction tends to get a lot more respect than classic fantasy, but only if it’s not *too* science fiction-y. Romantic mysteries and adventures get taken much more seriously than the gothic adventure novels of the Regency era. Classic romance novels get taken seriously until about the19th century.
Examples. Fahrenheit 451 is generally taken seriously as “literature,” and is even studied in school by most American students. It was written around the same time as The Lord of the Rings, which is generally dismissed by the literary folks as perfectly fine to read for fun, but not on par with, say, Catch-22. Frankenstein, widely regarded as the first science fiction novel, is likewise beloved and respected. Dracula (which, to be fair, was never meant to be “serious”) and the stories that inspired it are not. Isaac Asimov’s work is generally well-regarded, whereas HG Wells is an oddity. Brave New World has successfully made the literary canon, Dune has not.
Continue reading “Classic Remarks: Are Genre Classics Respected?”
The Hunger Games is a pretty explicit commentary on reality TV and sensationalized news stories in America. It’s disturbing how much Americans enjoy seeing people’s suffering play out in real time, whether it’s their failing love stories (Married At First Sight, *cringe*), physical challenges (Survivor), or even death (George Floyd’s murder being broadcast repeatedly on the nightly news). Even when it’s horrible, we just can’t look away.
But what really stood out to me as I re-read The Hunger Games this past month was the subtle way in which Suzanne Collins would relate me, the reader, with the viewers at the Capitol. Especially poignant to me was this quote close to the end of the book:
Well, Foxface died almost a day ago, so there’s been plenty of time for the audience to place bets and get bored.
The audience, i.e. the reader, has had a pretty “boring” couple of chapters. Nobody has tried to kill anyone, it’s just been Peeta and Katniss snuggling in a cave trying to not die. Presumably Cato and Thresh are fighting it out off-screen, but YA readers who like a fast plot are probably starting to wonder when something is going to happen to our protagonists.
And that’s the moment that got me thinking. Why is it so appalling to us that the Capitol would enjoy the spectacle of children killing each other, but it’s totally fine for us as readers to enjoy the same thing?
Continue reading “Thoughts from The Hunger Games: Not so Different from the Capitol”
Welcome back to Favorites February 2021! This year I’m re-reading the Hunger Games trilogy for the first time in (maybe) a decade. And here you are, just in time for the sequel that actually lived up to it all! I didn’t love Catching Fire the first time I read it, but the more I read it the more I love it.
As always, spoiler alert.
Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the Hunger Games. She and fellow District 12 tribute Peeta Mellark are miraculously still alive. Katniss should be relieved, happy even. After all, she has returned to her family and her longtime friend, Gale. Yet nothing is the way Katniss wishes it to be. Gale holds her at an icy distance. Peeta has turned his back on her completely. And there are whispers of a rebellion against the Capitol—a rebellion that Katniss and Peeta may have helped create.
Much to her shock, Katniss has fueled an unrest that she’s afraid she cannot stop. And what scares her even more is that she’s not entirely convinced she should try. As time draws near for Katniss and Peeta to visit the districts on the Capitol’s cruel Victory Tour, the stakes are higher than ever. If they can’t prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that they are lost in their love for each other, the consequences will be horrifying.
Why I Love This Book
Continue reading “Favorites February: Catching Fire”
- Finally getting to know Peeta and Haymitch as people.
- Seeing the other districts.
- The revolution themes, especially because they are obscured and uncertain.
- Cinna’s amazing design for Katniss’s opening ceremonies outfit.
- How Collins explores that killing a person never really leaves you and Kanitss’s PTSD.
- Seeing Katniss fall in love with Peeta in the arena, and watching everyone else figure it out even though she doesn’t.
- Even though it’s longer and the Games don’t even start until the last 75 pages, it’s still so compulsively readable.
This week Krysta and Briana at Pages Unbound are hosting the discussion: Who are some of your favorite classic couples?
Thank you, Krysta and Briana, for asking who are “some of” my favorite couples. Because I could just tell you all about Elizabeth and Darcy for a whole blog post, but I’m assuming that isn’t what anyone wants to read, lol.
No surprise that most of my favorite classic novels have great romances at the center of them. The only question will be whether I can keep this list to a reasonable length…
Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy
Is there anything more cliche? But I admit, Pride and Prejudice is probably my favorite book in the whole world. I love watching Elizabeth fall in love with Mr. Darcy. I love watching Mr. Darcy pretend to be indifferent. I love all the ridiculous characters. I love how they become better people for one another. But mostly I love Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth. *sigh*
Continue reading “Classic Remarks: Favorite Couples”
Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Genres: Fiction, Chick Lit
Maturity Level: 4
Content Warning: Miscarriage
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At the age of twenty-nine, Hannah Martin still has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She has lived in six different cities and held countless meaningless jobs since graduating college. On the heels of leaving yet another city, Hannah moves back to her hometown of Los Angeles and takes up residence in her best friend Gabby’s guestroom. Shortly after getting back to town, Hannah goes out to a bar one night with Gabby and meets up with her high school boyfriend, Ethan.
Just after midnight, Gabby asks Hannah if she’s ready to go. A moment later, Ethan offers to give her a ride later if she wants to stay. Hannah hesitates. What happens if she leaves with Gabby? What happens if she leaves with Ethan?
In concurrent storylines, Hannah lives out the effects of each decision. Quickly, these parallel universes develop into radically different stories with large-scale consequences for Hannah, as well as the people around her. As the two alternate realities run their course, Maybe in Another Life raises questions about fate and true love: Is anything meant to be? How much in our life is determined by chance? And perhaps, most compellingly: Is there such a thing as a soul mate?
Hannah believes there is. And, in both worlds, she believes she’s found him.
Maybe in Another Life is entertaining enough, but compared to some of Reid’s more recent books was just kind of lackluster.
Continue reading “Review: Maybe in Another Life”