Book Review – Those Who Run in the Sky by Aviaq Johnston

Those Who Run in the Sky by Aviaq Johnston

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Those Who Run in the Sky by Aviaq Johnston

Those Who Run in the Sky is a middle grade, fantasy novel about a young Inuk man, Pitu, who learns that not only is he to be the next leader of his igluit, his village, but also is to become a powerful shaman. But when he is swept into the spirit world, he has to struggle with more than he bargained for.

This novel is, to my unlearned mind, a great first representation of Inuit culture and mythology, told by an author who is herself Inuk. She also uses this story to teach Inuk words, which is part of the reason I enjoyed and plan on keeping this book. The other reason is that the story, while not so plot-oriented, is full of imagery, culture, and tons of character development, making this the ideal coming-of-age story. I could see the Northern Lights in the sky, and imagine the harsh cold of the arctic winter. I could feel the emotion as Pitu becomes lost in many ways.

I have only a few criticisms of this book. The main one is that the writing and language tend to be a bit juvenile, but that is expected in many middle grade books. The other, less prominent criticism is that there are no real turns or climaxes to the plot, making the story feel more like a journey than a singular, linear tale. Which is not a bad thing, just different from what I am used to.

I recommend this book to everyone, even if it’s only to learn some Inuk words.





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Book Review – And The Ocean Was Our Sky by Patrick Ness (day 5 of the 2020 Reading Rush)

And the Ocean Was Our Sky by Patrick Ness

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

And the Ocean Was Our Sky by Patrick Ness


And The Ocean Was Our Sky is a retelling of Moby Dick, though the hunters we see are both humans and whales. Whales hunt humans to protect themselves, and humans hunt whales for the same reason. Bathsheba is an apprentice of a ship of whales, whose captain is obsessed with hunting down the almost mythical whale and human-hunting man, Toby Wick. But when Bathsheba has the chance to speak with a human herself, she realizes that the hunts and destinies of whales and men always prophesied to her may not be as fixed in fate as she thought.

First I want to talk about the illustrations by Rovina Cai. They are simply beautiful. Cai uses a palette of greys, blacks, and reds to make the images of the hunts and depths of the sea starkly stand out and draw the eye to the brutality of the story. Her style reminds me very much of the art by Emily Carroll in her book Through The Woods, which I also love.

For those who loved The Deep by Rivers Solomon, this is a logical choice for your next read. Patrick Ness also writes about humanity through the perspective of an endangered sea, and writes about characters going against the destinies that have been thrust upon their unwilling selves. It is interesting that both of these authors chose the sea as the perspective of their respective books. Is it because things are darker in the sea and contrast with the brightness of the air and land in which humanity lives? Is it because the vast sea allows for more room to grow? There are so many possibilities that I cannot answer or choose – only the author can do that – but the setting of the deep see keeps drawing me in, and is why I loved And The Ocean Was Our Sky so much.



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Book Review -Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire


After reading and loving Every Heart A Doorway, I was eager to read more of Seanan McGuire’s other works. So when I saw she had written prequels to that first book, I jumped right in. This prequel is about Jack and Jill, who went through a chest into another world. The former became a scientist’s apprentice, the latter the adopted daughter of a vampire as mysterious and powerful as the legendary Count himself.

I won’t say too much about the plot of Down Among the Sticks and Bones, as a lot of it is explained in Every Heart A Doorway. The reason for this is also because I wasn’t too keen on the story. It explained the background of why Jack and Jill were the way they were in the first book, but other than that it was nothing special. What really had me hooked to this book, though, was McGuire’s writing, which continues to be amazing. It is poetic, full of wonderful imagery, and her characters seem almost alive.

I listened to this book on Scribd for day 3 of this year’s Reading Rush.



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Book Review – The Changeling Sea by Patricia A. McKillip

This is the first book I read for the 2020 Reading Rush, happening this week!

The Changeling Sea by Patricia A. McKillip

The Changeling Sea by Patricia A. McKillip

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


The Changeling Sea is about Peri, a girl who hates and fears the sea, and yet finds herself entwined in its movements and intentions. She meets a prince who longs for the sea, a sea-dragon that longs for the land, and a wizard that, along with Peri, knows more secrets than they care to tell.

McKillip was inspired by classic changeling stories to write this tale, and she does it magnificently. In this case we meet two changelings, one trapped on land that belongs in the sea, and one trapped in the sea that belongs on land. Peri acts as the liaison between the land and sea, herself almost a changeling, though enchantress is more like it, especially since she follows patterns of enchantresses that McKillip often engages, like Sybel from The Forgotten Beasts of Eld.

What I love as well as the changeling themes and the poetic descriptions of the sea, are the fairytale references. Images of Swan Lake and the Seven (sometimes Six) Swans come to mind when looking at the changeling princes, and Peri fits the well-known trope of hermit witch who guides heroes on their journeys. Peri does find love in the end though, through romance, friendship, and the love between a mother and a daughter.

McKillip once again did not disappoint, and I may like this book even better than the last one I read. I recommend to all who love and fear the sea with all its mystery, depth, and magic.



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Book Review – Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Every Heart a Doorway is about a girl named Nancy who gets sent to a boarding school for youths who have been to different worlds and come back. Like all those at this school, Nancy cannot get back through the door that led to her particular world, in this case the underworld, and so must learn to cope and live in the ‘real’ world. She makes friends, and bonds with others like her when a number of grisly murders happen at the school. Together, Nancy and her friends must find out who would commit such crimes.

I had no idea what to expect when I first started listening to this book on audio, but I absolutely fell in love. The way Seanan McGuire writes her characters is so detailed and wonderful, I wanted to know and be friends with all of these people. In addition, McGuire has created characters who represent those who do not receive much attention – Nancy herself is asexual, and there are nonbinary and gay characters as well.

This book made me feel like I did when I was a child, perhaps even how I feel now. I believed I could enter secret worlds that were entirely made for me, and like the young people at Miss Eleanor’s School, I find myself looking back to those days of whimsy and adventure, even if they were only in my head. And, much like the doors of those worlds, Every Heart a Doorway is itself like a door into a world where people can understand you. There’s so much folklore and fairytale in it as well that I now know that it is no wonder I was so enthralled with the story.

This is probably my favorite book this year, and I have read some amazing books. I recommend to anyone who wants a door back to whimsy.



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Book Review – The Deep by Rivers Solomon

The Deep by Rivers Solomon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Deep by Rivers Solomon

The Deep by Rivers Solomon is absolutely a five-star read. The premise is that the African slaves who were dumped off the side of slave ships gave birth to water-breathing children who then became mermaid-like creatures called the wajinru. In this group of people there is what is called the Historian, who holds all of the memories and, of course, history of the wajinru as a whole. Only the Historian remembers. The Deep is about one such Historian, Yetu, who breaks from tradition to find herself, and ultimately reconnect with the history of her people.

This book is about memory and who holds memories, whose job it is to remember. It is also about how remembering keeps a people and a culture alive, something I have personal experience with. I am not only a classicist, someone who keeps alive literature from the ancient world, but I am also Jewish. The latter causes me to relate to this book the most, as the wajinru, and ultimately those of African descent, try to keep memories and histories alive, so have the Jewish people after their own demise – and like Yetu, this is what I feel has been handed down to me in certain ways.
Rivers Solomon does a fantastic job depicting what they call “Rememberings”, not only represented by the Historian, but also by the ocean that keeps the wajinru safe and their memories secure. The depth of the ocean parallels just how deeply their memories go, and us readers see how much of it gets lost when Yetu abandons the deep for a fresh start.

I recommend this book to those who keep memories alive, especially in times of turmoil like these.
Black Lives Matter, and so do their experiences and memories.



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Book Review – The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is a high fantasy tale that I am so fortunate to have found. A wizard woman who commands animals and learns, along with others she loves and who love her, to be a real and genuine person. Sybel the wizard woman is the link between the hidden world of magic and that of men, two of which are fortunate to be able to enter into her world.

McKillip has written a deep and real character that is Sybel, a complicated woman who learns about herself, even in the midst of the worst experiences a woman could have. She writes a mythology that I want to delve deeper into, and I hope that it exists further in her other novels. The writing is slow and contemplative, and, while the lack of action may deter some readers, I found the story to be wonderfully meditative and atmospheric.

McKillip has turned the Arthurian legends upside down, and made women and the legends of nature those that change not only the fate of the world, but also how the world chooses to live. The Arthurian king to Sybel’s Merlin-like character has yet to grow into a fine man, but he has grown with love, and that is what Sybel has had to learn to give and receive.

I’ve felt I can relate very strongly with Sybel, in terms of strength, both in possession and in wanting; of wanting to love and be loved; of wanting to know who I am and why; of learning that being is complicated and yet the most wonderful thing to be.

Readers who loved books like The Chronicles of Prydain and A Wizard in Earthsea will absolutely love The Forgotten Beasts of Eld.



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Book Review – The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo

The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This novella is a deep, fantastical read, full of myth and history, which I believe is based on Chinese history and myth. It is also about stories and storytelling; memory; female companionship in all senses of the term; the role women play. The last one is really what makes this novella. The women in this book define their own roles, from the Empress herself, to Rabbit, the Empress’ confidant and teller of her story. In the end it is Rabbit’s listener, Cleric Chih, who will go on to remember and retell the stories.

The book starts off slow, and a bit confusing. The history is the core of the story, though we as readers, as well as Chih, do not understand this until well into the story. That is okay though, as it gives the reader the sense that we are indeed listening to a complicated past unfold itself, and that we are now the storytellers. It reminds us that all is stories, and we must continue such a tradition.

I recommend The Empress of Salt and Fortune to those who love historical high fantasy, similar to books like The Black Tides of Heaven and The Encyclopedia of Early Earth.



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Mooncakes – Extended Review

“Nova Huang knows more about magic than your average teen witch. She works at her grandmothers’ bookshop, where she helps them loan out spell books and investigate any supernatural occurrences in their New England town.

One fateful night, she follows reports of a white wolf into the woods, and she comes across the unexpected: her childhood crush, Tam Lang, battling a horse demon in the woods. As a werewolf, Tam has been wandering from place to place for years, unable to call any town home.

Pursued by dark forces eager to claim the magic of wolves and out of options, Tam turns to Nova for help. Their latent feelings are rekindled against the backdrop of witchcraft, untested magic, occult rituals, and family ties both new and old in this enchanting tale of self-discovery.” – Taken from the summary on Goodreads.

Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu has been recommended so much by the internet book communities, and I was not at all disappointed. The artwork is absolutely gorgeous and the story is as heartwarming as any story could ever get. The diversity included in this novel is amazing as well, including diverse characters both real and mythological.

Overall, there really wasn’t anything I didn’t like in this novel. However, there were elements which I thought could be expanded upon. I feel like some aspects were limited, such as the mythology included in certain parts of the story. We see mythical creatures that live in the nearby forest, though with no explanation as to what they are or where they come from – all we know is that they are friends of the heroes. In addition to this mythology, I would’ve liked to have seen more lore about werewolves, which admittedly the protagonists are not so learned in. This they did a good job with, creating a limited perspective in the narration so that readers are able to learn and go on this adventure along with the protagonists. In any case, I hope perhaps Walker and Xu will go on to expand this universe a bit more, as not only do I want to know more about the mythology of Mooncakes, but I just want to read more of Walker and Xu’s work!

While there is so much explained about Tam’s (the werewolf) fight for self-realization, but not so much for Nova’s (the young witch). We see Nova at some odds with her parents about her not having left home to find herself. In the end she does decide to leave to find herself, but we don’t get much insight into the decision making that went on in her mind. While this isn’t necessarily essential to Nova’s character, I’d still like to have seen some more about her character and personality.

The following are the elements of this book I absolutely loved. One thing this book did phenomenally is portray diverse characters in abundance and depth. Nova Huang comes from a half-Chinese half-Jewish family – portrayed wonderfully by the joint celebration of Chinese New Year and Sukkot. She is raised by two grandmothers. She is also in a queer relationship with Tam Lang who is also, I assume, POC, and is non-binary. Unfortunately we don’t get to meet too many other characters besides Nova’s family and the antagonists, but I have no doubt Walker and Xu would portray them with the same care and depth.

What can I say about Wendy Xu’s art in this book other than that it is amazing. The colors remind me of Autumn (no surprise as it is very themed for Halloween), and while they are simple drawings, they are colored and expressed so vividly. I especially liked the trees and the art of the mythical forest creatures – I just want a whole book of Xu’s mythical creatures!

It is clear from the beginning that Nova and Tam have a history as childhood friends (and perhaps more), and so it was no surprise that they fell together so quickly in the beginning of the book. In addition, the two from the start are willing to work on their relationship, it’s not star-crossed or fated, it’s simply made and worked on by two people who have a lot of love to give. Of course there is a grand kiss at the end, but instead of it being a kiss after a long slow burn, it is a kiss of relief that things can finally settle.

I recommend Mooncakes to anyone who needs a bit of love and magic in their life.

I know this is my first book of 2020, but I can already see it being one of my favorites.

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Book Review – Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu

Mooncakes

Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Mooncakes has been recommended so much by the internet book communities, and I was not at all disappointed. The artwork is absolutely gorgeous and the story is as heartwarming as any story could ever get. The diversity included in this novel is amazing as well: you have a non-binary character and their deaf girlfriend who is part of (what I believe is) a part Chinese part Jewish (etc.) family. Not to mention the diverse mythical beings, which I would love to see more of in Walker and Xu’s other works!

Most of all this is a story about love, family, and growing into one’s self.
I recommend Mooncakes to anyone who needs a bit of love and magic in their life.

I know this is my first book of 2020, but I can already seeing it being one of my favorites.



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