Fantasy · YA

Across The Green Grass Fields – Seanan McGuire

5 Stars

I love this series so, so, so much. Across the Green Grass Fields is the sixth installment in Seanan McGuire’s Alex, Hugo, Nebula and Locus award winning Wayward Children series of novellas. In this story, we meet a brand new character and explore her origin story.

The image of a green meadow with a tree rising into a blue sky with the title "Across the green grass fields" across it in white text
Cover from Goodreads

“Welcome to the Hooflands. We’re happy to have you, even if you being here means something’s coming.”

Regan loves, and is loved, though her school-friend situation has become complicated, of late.

When she suddenly finds herself thrust through a doorway that asks her to “Be Sure” before swallowing her whole, Regan must learn to live in a world filled with centaurs, kelpies, and other magical equines―a world that expects its human visitors to step up and be heroes.

But after embracing her time with the herd, Regan discovers that not all forms of heroism are equal, and not all quests are as they seem…

Do you remember growing up and being absolutely obsessed with a topic? Cars, cats, dinosaurs, trains or horses? Do you remember when suddenly the things you loved became the things that made people “weird” and friend groups began to change? I certainly do, and I think a lot of other readers will as well. Across the Green Grass Fields is as much about Regan’s adventures in the Hooflands as it is about her childhood here in our world and the painful experiences of growing up in a world that demands conformity, when all the rules are ever changing and constructed by others. It’s about friendship and the value in finding friends who value you for you – and being unafraid to be yourself.

Regan is also intersex – and might be the first time I’ve ever encountered an explicitly intersex character on page. For that alone, this story is new and unique, but Across the Green Grass Fields isn’t “an intersex story” as much as any of the previous books in the Wayward series haven’t been “the fat girl story” or “the asexual story”. They’re stories featuring characters that just are, and are allowed to be, in all the glorious diversity we’ve been starved of for so long. I am not an intersex person, and cannot comment on how “accurate” the portayal is, though I have heard from several intersex folks on Twitter that they see themselves in this book. I also know the kind of care Seanan gives to her writing and development of characters, so I am excited to see how the book goes over more widely.

In Come Tumbling Down, the previous Wayward Children book, I noted that Seanan seemed to struggle with pacing and that I felt that the end just popped up and was somewhat anticlimactic and sudden. When I was 75% of the way through Across the Green Grass Fields and Regan hadn’t really begun her quest yet, I was concerned that I’d feel the same way about pacing. I am pleased to report that my fears did not come true. The ending is quick, but makes sense for the story and doesn’t feel abrupt or anticlimactic at all. It might be one of my favorite endings so far (though In An Absent Dream still reigns supreme).

Across the Green Grass Fields is the most standalone of all the Wayward Children stories – at the moment. Regan has not appeared in any of the previous novellas, and I will be very curious to see how her story intersects with the rest of them in the next book, which should take place at the school.

Across the Green Grass Fields releases on January 12, 2021. Be Sure to pick up your copy from a local bookstore near you, or online through Bookshop.org.

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Fantasy · YA

In An Absent Dream – Seanan McGuire Review and *Buddy Read Part 1*

5 stars

Welcome to part one of the fourth 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.

In An Absent Dream is the fourth in the Wayward Children series of novellas if you read the books in publication order, and is now the first book chronologically, as it takes place before Down Among The Sticks and Bones. We’re reading the books in publication order for this discussion.

38244358This is the story of a very serious young girl who would rather study and dream than become a respectable housewife and live up to the expectations of the world around her. As well she should.

When she finds a doorway to a world founded on logic and reason, riddles and lies, she thinks she’s found her paradise. Alas, everything costs at the goblin market, and when her time there is drawing to a close, she makes the kind of bargain that never plays out well.

For anyone . . .

In An Absent Dream is my new favorite installment in the Wayward Children series.

I identify with Lundy more closely than I have with any other of the Wayward Children so far, and the Goblin Market sounds like a world I could find happiness in. The Goblin Market has rules, and if you follow those rules, you can be at home in the Market. But breaking those rules comes at a very steep cost.

The Goblin Market reminds me a lot of my own relationships with friends, not that we are transactional but that we trade off on doing things for each other. The core of our friendship is that we are both willing to give to the other in roughly equal measure. The internal logic of the Market appeals to my sense of fairness in interactions. Those who do not give fair value are punished.

I understand and empathize with what drives Lundy. While my upbringing was less restrictive than hers, I (an many other avid readers) identified strongly with her escapism through reading. I would have found the door as irresistible as she did.

I also loved the Archivist and Moon. These are the other two main characters in In An Absent Dream that add depth and richness to the Goblin Market and made me feel as though I had fallen through the door behind Lundy.

Once again, Seanan has written the words that speak to hidden parts of my soul.

Read on below for part one of our Buddy Read discussion!

***THERE WILL BE SPOILERS***

Continue reading “In An Absent Dream – Seanan McGuire Review and *Buddy Read Part 1*”

Fantasy · Mystery

The Mortal Word – Genevieve Cogman

3.5 stars

The Mortal Word is the fifth in Genevieve Cogman’s lovely Invisible Library series. A classic who-dunnit murder mystery with a large dose of portal fantasy and magic.

A corrupt countess31690153 (1)
A spy in danger
And an assassin at large

Peace talks are always tricky, especially when a key diplomat gets stabbed. This rudely interrupts a top-secret summit between the warring dragons and Fae. As a neutral party, Librarian-spy Irene is summoned to investigate. She must head to a version of 1890s Paris, with her assistant Kai and her detective friend Vale, where these talks are fracturing. Here, she must get to the bottom of the attack – before either the peace negotiations or the city go up in flames.

Suspicions fly thick and fast and Irene soon finds herself in the seedy depths of the Parisian underworld. She’s on the trail of a notoriously warlike Fae, the Blood Countess. However, the evidence against the Countess is circumstantial. Could the killer be a member of the Library itself?

The first time I read an Invisible Library novel I enjoyed the first book, but bounced off the second. It took me a while to come back to the series, but when book #5, The Mortal Word was given to me to review, I was able to dive into book 2 again and absolutely binged books 2-5. The first book had a serious issue with clunky world-building as info-dumps, and the rest of the books still suffer from the same issues, but to a lesser degree.

This series is supposedly about Irene, but her world’s unpleasant Sherlock Holmes stand-in Vale takes altogether too much page time and is too often the key or the focus of a story. It is so, in The Mortal Word as well. Vale and Irene are invited to help solve a high-profile murder that could derail a fragile peace-treaty negotiation between the Fae and Dragons.

Vale causes as many headaches as the murder itself does with his refusal to follow any kind of social expectation despite being literally in a different world than his own. He fails to respect any kind of authority and insults both the Dragons and the Fae, making Irene run around smoothing things over for him so nobody takes TOO MUCH insult and the peace talks don’t derail over his behavior. It’s a lot of traditional women’s emotional labor, smoothing things over for irritable men that refuse to play by the rules. I find Vale exasperating.

The ultimate resolution of the story felt a little predictable and unoriginal. Anyone familiar with Holmsian or Agatha Christie Who-dunnit mysteries that have been popular for a long while would have worked out the killer fairly early on.

All that being said, I didn’t want to put the book down. There’s something about Cogman’s writing and immersive world that makes me want to speed through the books as fast as I can because I want to know what happens next.

Irene is a fun character, and I just wish she’d stop letting Vale boss her around. I am so curious about her parents and her past! I want to know more!

I really loved getting to learn a lot more about Dragon society and relationships in The Mortal Word as well. Up to now, the Dragons had been quite secretive and even Kai remained quite tight-lipped about many aspects of their society. I live for the details about the Dragons and the Fae societies and hierarchies.

The Mortal Word is on shelves now!

Thank you to Berkley Publishing Group for providing me with an eARC in exchange for my honest review.

Fantasy · Mystery · YA

Beneath The Sugar Sky *Buddy Read Part Two*

4 stars

Welcome to part two of the third 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.

Beneath the Sugar Sky is the third in the Wayward Children series of novellas if you read the books in publication order, and the third book chronologically (for now). We’re reading the books in publication order for this discussion.

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Beneath the Sugar Sky returns to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. At this magical boarding school, children who have experienced fantasy adventures are reintroduced to the “real” world.

Sumi died years before her prophesied daughter Rini could be born. Rini was born anyway, and now she’s trying to bring her mother back from a world without magic.

I think this might be the fluffiest thing Seanan has ever written. It’s a delightful story, with lots of disturbing little details that are signature Seanan, but it’s significantly lighter than most of what she writes, and I struggled with that. I particularly loved Every Heart a Doorway and Down Among the Sticks and Bones, the previous two Wayward Children novellas, because they were heavy with emotional weight. Even beneath the sugary surface of Beneath the Sugar Sky I found a fluffy cotton candy core, a bit too light for me.

That’s not to say that Beneath the Sugar Sky is without emotional weight or an important story – Seanan carries on her tradition of making the Wayward Children series inclusive and the characters, both familiar and new, are diverse in myriad ways. This book might resonate more strongly for others than it did with me. In the first two stories, I saw a lot of myself in Nancy and in Jack. In Beneath the Sugar Sky, I just didn’t have that same emotional connection with any of the characters (though it only made my desire for Christopher’s story that much stronger!).

The Wayward Children series is for all of us who felt like the world didn’t quite fit us, in one way or another.
Beneath the Sugar Sky is a sneaky book – a lot like Confection, it has a fluffy, sugary exterior, but when you think about it a bit more, you find a solid core hidden in the center of the story.

If you haven’t read part one of our discussion at Marzie’s Reads, click over and be sure to come back and read part two below!

Continue reading “Beneath The Sugar Sky *Buddy Read Part Two*”

Fantasy · YA

Down Among The Sticks and Bones – Seanan McGuire *Buddy Read Part 1*

5 stars

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.

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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!

Continue reading “Down Among The Sticks and Bones – Seanan McGuire *Buddy Read Part 1*”

Fantasy · YA

Every Heart a Doorway – Seanan McGuire *Buddy Read Part 2*

5 stars

Welcome to part two of the first buddy read of Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series! For this read, I am teaming up once again with Marzie’s Reads and a new guest commenter, and friend of the blog, Janelle.

Every Heart a Doorway is the first in the Wayward Children series of novellas if you read the books in publication order, and the third book chronologically. We’re reading the books in publication order for this discussion.

Head over to Marzie’s Reads for part one of our discussion and  be sure to come back and read part two below!

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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 her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.

No matter the cost.

Every Heart a Doorway is one of those books that crept up on me. The first time I read it, I thought it was nice, a good story, enjoyable enough – but then I kept thinking about it. And finding reasons to recommend it to people. And flinging copies at people. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Every Heart a Doorway is the book that everyone needs.

Starting at about 8th grade I became painfully aware of how dissonant the world is from how I feel the world *should* be. Every Heart a Doorway embraces that feeling fully, acknowledging that for some people, our world just doesn’t fit. Every Heart a Doorway says to us “It’s okay if it doesn’t fit. It’s okay to imagine another place that does fit, and it’s okay to long for that place.” Not only does Every Heart a Doorway acknowledge this, but it also acknowledges the reality of our world by featuring a diverse cast. There are characters of color, old characters, young characters, queer characters, nice characters, mean characters, shy characters, exuberant characters and characters of many different backgrounds. Every Heart a Doorway reflects our world where so many of the books we encounter erase and ignore diversity, or include token characters to tick boxes. In this, it offers people a chance to be seen, to be represented in fiction and that is a powerful thing just by itself. It resonates deeply within us and for me, created a burning longing for a place I can’t ever go….unless I find my door.

There’s a reason Every Heart A Doorway has won just about every literary award it’s eligible for.

If you haven’t read part one of our discussion at Marzie’s Reads, click over and be sure to come back and read part two below!

Continue reading “Every Heart a Doorway – Seanan McGuire *Buddy Read Part 2*”

Fantasy

The Hazel Wood – Melissa Albert

2.5 Stars

The Hazel Wood is a standalone dark portal fantasy by Melissa Albert. The book has a *gorgeous* cover that I couldn’t resist!

 

hazel wood
Cover image from Goodreads

 

The synopsis from Goodreads:

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: Her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

I love portal fantasies, and I love retellings of Alice in Wonderland. I love dark fantasy, and stories that mash together things that are familiar and produce something surprising and fresh with them.

Based on the synopsis from Goodreads/the publisher and all those things that I love, I should have loved The Hazel Wood. Instead, I finished the book and thought to myself “Thank god that’s over now.”

I have mixed feelings about the book. On the one hand, I liked some of the relationships in the book. Alice and her step-sister Audrey, Alice and her mother – those were interesting, flawed relationships. On the other hand, The Hazel Wood felt like a manic-pixie-dreamgirl version of the synopsis. It was both dark and fluffy, with no real emotional impact and predictable even with some hidden surprises along the way.

I was hoping for another Uprooted or something that made me feel like the Wayward Children series does – but instead, I just felt disappointed.

The Hazel Wood hits shelves January 30, 2018.

I received an eARC of The Hazel Wood from Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.