Welcome to part one of the second buddy read of Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series! For this read, I am teaming up once again with Marzie’s Reads and guest commenter and friend of the blog, Janelle.
Down Among the Sticks and Bones is the second in the Wayward Children series of novellas if you read the books in publication order, and the first book chronologically (for now). We’re reading the books in publication order for this discussion.
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 tom-boy. 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 a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices.
Down Among the Sticks and Bones is Jack and Jill’s story as you’ve never seen it before. It’s a prequel to Every Heart a Doorway – the story before they arrived at Eleanor West’s, and oh is it a heartbreaking story.
The origin story begins with their parents – parents we can all imagine – manicured and polished, more in love with the idea of children than the actual children themselves, and that is of course, the beginning of the end.
Down Among The Sticks and Bones is a lyrical exploration of what happens to two young women when they’re finally given the opportunity to forge their own paths without the weight of parental expectation. A tale of sisters, of labels, of boxes, and the choices children make when offered an escape from the roles they’ve been forced into, Down Among the Sticks and Bones is as delightful and moving as Every Heart a Doorway was.
Seanan McGuire’s prose is wry and melancholy, a tone that pervades the entire book to haunting effect.
Read on below for part one of our Buddy Read discussion!
In The Phoenix Empress we finally learn what happened to O Shizuka in the eight years that she and her wife Shefali were separated.
Since she was a child, the divine empress O Shizuka has believed she was an untouchable god. When her uncle, ruler of the Hokkaran Empire, sends her on a suicide mission as a leader of the Imperial Army, the horrors of war cause her to question everything she knows.
Thousands of miles away, the exiled and cursed warrior Barsalyya Shefali undergoes trials the most superstitious would not believe in order to return to Hokkaran court and claim her rightful place next to O Shizuka.
As the distance between disgraced empress and blighted warrior narrows, a familiar demonic force grows closer to the heart of the empire. Will the two fallen warriors be able to protect their home?
Shizuka and Shefali are together at last, but they’ve both changed so much. Shefali wonders if Shizuka has changed too much, and struggles with Shizuka’s imperial duties. Shizuka haltingly, painfully shares her story with Shefali who grows to understand that her wife did not live eight years in pampered safety while Shefli was exiled from the Empire. She learns just how strong her wife is, for all that their strengths are opposite.
The Phoenix Empress expands upon and fleshes out the racism that was first introduced in The Tiger’s Daughter between the Hokkarans, Xianese and Qorin. It’s pretty violent and bloody and The Phoenix Empress explores those feelings from all sides. Shizuka is a benevolent ruler who tries to improve things by breaking up the Empire and allowing conquered lands to become sovereign again, to the horror of the Hokkarans.
Unfortunately for the reader, Shizuka is not as interesting a storyteller as Shefali so the story dragged on somewhat during her retellings. The Phoenix Empress bounces between the past and present struggles better than The Tiger’s Daughter did, and the present-day struggles were are more compelling than those of drunk Shizuka from the first novel which almost makes up for Shizuka’s storytelling style.
This book won’t be for everyone, but I enjoyed it enough that I’m looking forward to the third book.
The Phoenix Empress was released October 9 and is on shelves now.
Thank you to Tor Books for providing me with an eARC in exchange for my honest review.
It’s a rare thing to come across an anthology where every story is as strong as the last. Toil & Trouble is a witchy YA anthology packed with 15 stories as strong as the young women contained within the pages.
Scorn the witch. Fear the witch. Burn the witch.
History is filled with stories of women accused of witchcraft, of fearsome girls with arcane knowledge. Toil & Trouble features fifteen stories of girls embracing their power, reclaiming their destinies and using their magic to create, to curse, to cure—and to kill.
A young witch uses social media to connect with her astrology clients—and with a NASA-loving girl as cute as she is skeptical. A priestess of death investigates a ritualized murder. A bruja who cures lovesickness might need the remedy herself when she falls in love with an altar boy. A theater production is turned upside down by a visiting churel. In Reconstruction-era Texas, a water witch uses her magic to survive the soldiers who have invaded her desert oasis. And in the near future, a group of girls accused of witchcraft must find their collective power in order to destroy their captors.
This collection reveals a universal truth: there’s nothing more powerful than a teenage girl who believes in herself.
Toil & Trouble is an anthology that feels necessary. It fills a gap I didn’t know was there, and it fits in with today’s young adult culture as if it were custom made (which of course it was.) Toil and Trouble is full of stories of different kinds of love, power and women. No two stories are alike, but they’re all cut from the same cloth of strength.
Each story explores a different problem, magical and mundane and through those issues, explores power both figurative and literal and the relationships our protagonists have with those powers. Each story is exquisite.
Even in an anthology as strong as this, I can’t help but have favorites. My two favorites were “Death in the Sawtooths” by Lindsay Smith and “The One Who Stayed” by Nova Ren Suma. Both of these stories spoke to me in different ways.
“Death in the Sawtooths” left me wanting so much more of the universe that Lindsay Smith has introduced. I found the world fascinating.
“The One Who Stayed” was perfection in length and completeness. This story’s strength is in its completeness and in the raw power of women supporting other women.
Toil and Trouble is on sale now and is not to be missed.
Thank you to Harlequin Teen for providing me with an eARC in exchange for my honest review.
Anger is a Gift is a book for now. Anger is a Gift (affiliate link) is a book that crystalizes what life in America is like for so many people of color, especially those living in urban areas. It is a necessary book. It’s not comfortable, nor is it comforting, but it is necessary and beautiful. This is easily one of the best books I’ve read this year.
Six years ago, Moss Jefferies’ father was murdered by an Oakland police officer. Along with losing a parent, the media’s vilification of his father and lack of accountability has left Moss with near crippling panic attacks.
Now, in his sophomore year of high school, Moss and his fellow classmates find themselves increasingly treated like criminals by their own school. New rules. Random locker searches. Constant intimidation and Oakland Police Department stationed in their halls. Despite their youth, the students decide to organize and push back against the administration.
When tensions hit a fever pitch and tragedy strikes, Moss must face a difficult choice: give in to fear and hate or realize that anger can actually be a gift.
I was lucky enough to get my hands on an ARC through a friend. While reading Anger is a Gift I frequently stopped reading, pressed the open book to my face and had to sit with my feelings. At times I was elated, so full of happiness that I thought I might dance into the sky. Other times I was so angry, so frustrated that I thought I might burst into flames. And once, I had to hold back tears. Anger is a Gift is a rollercoaster of emotion.
This book has two sides. On one side, it’s a love story. It’s a sweet, fluffy book that will make your heart soar because it is about friendship and relationships and all your dreams coming true. On the flip side, this is a book about social justice, systematic injustice and what one boy and his community do in response. It’s a heavy, unflinching book that feels like a punch to the gut and filled me with so much anger.
The main character, Moss is a sweet cinnamon roll, too pure for this world. He’s a sweet kid. He’s got a wonderful relationship with his mother – it’s so full of trust and love. Throughout the book, Moss struggles with the world reacting to his blackness, his gayness and his anxiety. Anger is a Gift is told 100% from his perspective, giving readers a look at Moss’s inner monologue. He’s such a kind kid. He wants to learn, he wants to love, he wants to be loved, but he also wants a world that hasn’t ever been fair to change. He’s polite and gentle and tries his best to be a good friend and a good person. He feels powerless against a system that has increasingly treated him and anyone even remotely like him as less than. He’s suffered injustice after systematic injustice in his life and Moss has finally had enough.
The supporting characters are equally interesting. Bits, a non-binary character, is one of my favorite side characters. They’re full of wisdom and kindness and sadness. I love Bits’ story and personality. Rawiya is my second favorite. As a former punk, it’s easy to see why a punk-rock Muslim girl would steal my heart. Moss’s mother Wanda is the kind of mother I wish everyone had. She’s patient, kind, supportive and absolutely there for her son when he needs her.
The remaining supporting characters are all fantastic as well. There’s a wide rainbow of diversity in the cast: many sexualities and gender identities, races, religions and abilities. Mark writes these characters so real and so believable that anyone who calls it forced or unbelievable hasn’t read the same book I have.
The social justice elements of the book were visceral. Anger is a Gift is unflinching in its portrayal of underfunded schools, full of cracks and peeling paint and mistrust (sometimes outright hatred) of the student body by administrators and empty of empathy, school supplies and basic human rights, with the exception of a small few bright spots of light in teachers who get it.
I grew up in an agricultural town in Central Washington. My school was 50% white and it wasn’t until I graduated and moved to another part of the state, a more affluent part of the state, that I found out having a dedicated school police officer wasn’t normal. It was to me. They’d always been there. Every school I attended had one. The officer at my high school singled kids out, including my sister. He pulled her out of class at the drop of a rumor. She missed more class because of him than because of illness. It’s no stretch of the imagination to believe the world Mark’s built in Anger is a Gift. Police forces around the country are already militarized on the streets, why wouldn’t they be in schools as well?
The ending was probably the least believable part of the book. It’s not a bad ending, but it felt a little abrupt and unrealistic. But it’s a hopeful ending, and one I’m satisfied with.
I’ve been a longtime fan of Mark Reads, support him on Patreon and had the pleasure of meeting him when he went on tour for Mark Reads a couple of years ago. Anger is a Gift is very different from the excerpt he read for us then, on tour, but is absolutely the kind of book I’d expect from Mark. My one big regret is that there’s no way for Mark to do a Mark Reads reaction video of his own book since he’s already been spoiled.