“Across the Green Grass Fields” by Seanan McGuire

book cover

Recommended to me by: Reading Every Heart a Doorway

This is book 6 in the Wayward Children series. Young Regan ends up in the Hooflands world, and has adventures. The book starts out full of drama, and also has quiet parts full of good fellowship. It seemed all too predictable for a while, but the ending was unexpected. I liked how Regan handled it.

Highly recommended.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking” by T. Kingfisher

book cover

This is young adult book with a fourteen-year-old protagonist opens with a dead body on the bakery’s floor. Young Mona is a baker with an ability to magically affect dough, and her power becomes crucial to save her city. The book is plot-driven, and also emphasizes Mona’s relationships with others (without a romance!) and her embodied experience.

This quick read resonates with current events and also provides a satisfying distraction. Recommended!

Available at Powell’s Books.

“In an Absent Dream” by Seanan McGuire

book cover

Recommended to me by: Reading Every Heart a Doorway

This is book 4 in the Wayward Children series, and it stuck with me more than the others. Katherine Lundy finds a doorway to the Goblin Market world, where everything has its price, but unlike in our capitalism, the Market ensures that the bargains are fair. Children find their way in, and the rules are more gentle for the younger ones.

To me, the ending does not seem fair. Of course, a lot of things happen to children and young adults in this world that are horrifically unfair, and sometimes we also make it look like the children had a free choice, when they did not fully understand the consequences of their choices.

Thought-provoking. Highly recommended.

I also read “Beneath the Sugar Sky” and “Come Tumbling Down” in this series. They were more plot-driven.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Catfishing on CatNet” by Naomi Kritzer

book cover

Recommended to me by: Marissa Lingen

This book is based on the short story Cat Pictures Please, which touches on serious issues but is basically lighthearted and positive.

The book, less so. Yes, there’s a benevolent AI (artificial intelligence) who loves cat pictures. There are delightfully depicted internet friendships, and in-person friendships. Some of the characters are non-binary, and (almost) everyone is respectful about pronouns.

There’s also an 11th grader whose mom moves them all the time to keep away from her stalker dad, and some just barely off-screen domestic violence. It all comes right in the end, and I’m glad the book addresses those topics. At the same time, it felt jarring to me to have these deadly serious issues juxtaposed with a lighthearted cat-picture-loving AI who can fix all the problems.

It’s well-written. Recommended if you don’t mind fictionalized, simplified domestic violence. For me it was too realistic to be fun but not realistic enough at the end of the book about how difficult it is to escape.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Minor Mage” by T. Kingfisher

book cover

Recommended to me by: Redbird

This novella has a similar structure to T. Kingfisher’s The Raven and the Reindeer. A young person sets off on a mission through empty countryside, encounters a solitary farmhouse whose inhabitants are dangerous, has or acquires a talking animal companion, acquires a human companion, encounters a bandit camp, and eventually succeeds in the mission.

In this book, the twelve-year-old titular minor mage Oliver sets off with his armadillo familiar to bring rain to his drought-stricken village. The underlying theme of his adventures is the ethics of power and responsibility. There is some violence, which is considered and regretted afterwards, not simply ignored or taken for granted.

It’s a quick, enjoyable read. Recommended!

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Raven and the Reindeer” by T. Kingfisher

book cover

Recommended to me by: Redbird

A slant-wise retelling of the Snow Queen story originally by Hans Christian Anderson. It’s been a long time since I read the original, but I remember a sense of heavy oppressiveness. The beginning of this book has the same feeling to it, but fortunately veers away from that after the first few (short) chapters.

Young Gerta thinks of Kay as her best friend, and Kay barely notices her. That’s a big part of the oppressiveness. It’s a great depiction of the shame that arises from associating with a narcissist. The book does not use the word narcissist (“frost in his eyes and frost in his heart”), but Gerta does name the shame she feels, and she breathes through it until it passes.

As in the fairy tale, Kay gets taken by the Snow Queen and Gerta goes after him. First thing, she gets caught by a milder kind of narcissist who is kind, but delays Gerta for her own purposes. “Gerta’s desire to be useful was an open road down which nearly any magic could walk.”

After she gets away, she still has difficulties and there is some violence, but she has more agency and less shame and the book is more comfortable to read. Her relationships with the allies she finds are delightful and kind.

Overall the book is engaging and beautifully written and surprising and inclusive. Highly recommended.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Uprooted” by Naomi Novik

book cover

Recommended to me by: Eric Roberts

A fantasy novel based on Eastern European folk tales, but going in a direction all its own. The main character is a young woman, and there are other women with agency in the book. Unfortunately it is still a feudal social structure with a king and a male line of succession. Most of the people in power are men. There is a kickass black woman wizard, however!

There are two kinds of magic, and one of them is a follow-your-nose, do-what-feels-right, stay-in-connection kind of magic that feels as realistic to me as any magic can. I’ve never thought much of cookbook magic.

People care about each other and for each other. There is some attention to the need for rest and healing after wounds, although they do tend to be elided quickly as the action continues.

I found it entirely unbelievable that a 17 year old village girl would be completely sexually ignorant. Farm animals! Older friends! One room cottages! Listening to her own body!

The ongoing helpless suffering at the beginning of the book kicked me out, and I spent the rest of the book muttering about what the author was doing. But I did read the whole thing. There is a *lot* of violence. The narrator comments on it, is sickened by it, but the violence still continues.

I’ve been thinking a lot about evil, and where the responsibility for it lies, and where it originates. Whether there is an independent evil entity sowing evil in people. When and how we have to take responsibility for our own evil actions, and expect others to take responsibility for theirs. The book wrestles with those questions. The conclusion did not feel satisfactory to me.

I was having trouble finding words for this review, and it helped me to read this one. It’s comforting when others respond to the same issues I sensed, and can put words around them.

Recommended if story structure and plot, with some modern improvements on the social justice front, are more important to you than a lot of violence and suffering.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Voices” by Ursula K. Le Guin

book cover

Recommended to me by: adrian-turtle on dreamwidth.

This sequel to Gifts is much more comfortable to read. Rather than being about households polarized and divided by their powers, it is about a harshly occupied city where the people are known for “having peace in their bones.”

The city-dwellers are people of color, and the invaders are white. In the 17-year seige, many mixed-race children of rape have been born, including the protagonist, Memer. She seems to accept her mixed heritage matter-of-factly, while hating the invaders for their killing, destruction, and ongoing oppression.

It is reassuring to read about alternatives to retaliation and violence even with such apparently evil invaders. Sometimes annexation is a victory, or at least better than other available options.

A woman wants to take a risk and a man (caringly) tells her she shouldn’t. She takes the risk anyway – and nothing bad happens! I hadn’t realized how deeply I had internalized the moralistic unhappy ending that keeps women shut up in their houses, until I paused reading at the argument because I didn’t want to read about the woman being hurt for daring to be out in the world. I’m so glad that’s not how it went, this time.

Gender is relatively fluid in this book. Women and girls change their hairstyle and clothes, and easily pass as men or boys. Perhaps it is a skill learned out of necessity, or perhaps the invaders see so few women, in such limited circumstances, that they cannot recognize them in other environments.

And, it is lovely to see the main characters from Gifts again, grown into kind, powerful adults.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Gifts” by Ursula K. Le Guin

book cover

Recommended to me by: Referenced in The Opposite of Rape Culture is Nurturance Culture blog post.

This is not a comfortable book to read. At first it feels irritatingly simplistic and aimed at young readers, but with not enough happening. Then it feels irritatingly complex with not enough answers to hard questions.

What if the best we can do with destructiveness inside us is do nothing, hold still, for a really long time. What if we lose what really matters to us. What if the people around us are doing the best they can with their destructiveness and lack of resources. What if, eventually, there is less destructiveness and we have more options than we thought.

In her essay, Nora Samaran uses “Gifts” as an example of needing to look at something backwards, violence vs. nurturance. “Gifts” doesn’t talk directly about nurturance, although the two young people at its center are shown to be attuned to each other, and there is some gruffly attuned parenting as well.

An uneasy, thought-provoking read, with layers.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle

book cover

I clearly remember not wanting to turn the light out, the first time I finished reading this book, spooked by mind control. I was around 9 years old, new to having my own room, lined with bookcases of my parents’ books.

Rereading it now, it’s interesting to see which parts I could practically recite, and which parts I had forgotten, but then remember liking, like Meg being cared for by Aunt Beast. This 50th Anniversary Edition includes a biographical essay about Madeleine L’Engle, written by her granddaughter, Charlotte Jones Voiklis.

There was a discussion about how evil is defined in this book, whether it was removing people’s individuality. I think evil is more about control, erasing people’s power of choice. Pure evil is pure control, pure selfishness, pure disregard for the will of others.

Available at Powell’s Books.