I realize that I missed that halfway point of the#CybilsReadDown on May 15, but I thought I’d do a quick check-in while it’s still May.
I started off with 13 books on my already-read, need to review pile, 12 books on my primary to be read pile, 9 on my ebook/Libby holds list, and 13 books on my backup TBR. I’ve been trying to review books as I read them and catching up as I can in reverse order, so I still have quite a few from that first pile left to review, even though I’ve been writing lots and lots of reviews. I have read 10.5 of the books on my primary TBR, leaving just Mask, which I might put off a little longer as it’s not due out until August. I’ve read 4 of the books on my ebook/audiobook list, and just started The Starless Sea on audio. I’ve read just one book from my back-up TBR, and I bought a rather large pile of books from local bookshops because I want to support them and also I am feeling deprived of regular library access, though I’ve only read two of them so far. My book log tells me I’ve read 23 books since April 15, so I must have added some in there somehow! As far as reviews go, I’ve written 22, including 6 of the books from my original need-to-review list.
Anyway, on to the books to be reviewed today! Um, none of these are from my official lists above. The first is one that I bought from the bookstore, based on Betsy Bird’s recommendation, while the second two are pre-quarantine reading. I’m pulling them all together because of their LGBTQ themes. Representation is so important! I’m especially happy to see books like this being written for middle grade.
The Deep & Dark Blue by Niki Smith. Little, Brown, 2020. 978-0316486019. Read from purchased copy.
As the story opens, two brothers sneak into a tree to watch the secret solstice ritual of the Communion of Blue, women who follow the will of the Goddess and spin the threads of the world. (They even hold their spindles right, as seen on the cover!) But the peaceful mysticism is shattered almost immediately, as Hawke and Grayson witness a cousin killing their grandfather, the Lord, and his presumptive heir, their cousin Reyden. They flee to the Communion and dress as girls to save their own lives. But can they stop their cousin Mirelle’s lies, told to put her in power? And, as time goes on, Hawke longs to return to his regular life, while Grayson finds Grayce an identity that feels more true than Grayson. (That feels like a large spoiler, but is on the back cover… which I hadn’t read before starting, so I was still not expecting it.)
This had lots of good things going for it! Fiber arts, female-centered religion, and a gentle trans coming-out story that’s set within a more active plot are all big pluses for me. Both siblings’ skills – traditionally male and female – are needed. Real murder – especially of sympathetic characters – is rare in middle grade, and not for every kid, so I’m mentioning that it’s a major plot point here. We see fighting, but not the actual killing here. There’s also a disturbing scene of magic used for evil near the end. But overall, this is an exciting fantasy adventure in a Scottish-feeling world. One quibble is that it says it’s the 15th century, and the clothing really isn’t, but I am choosy. My own kids are rather inexplicably refusing to read it, but I have multiple friends with trans kids their ages, so I’ll be passing this along to kids who need to see themselves in a story like this.
Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy by Rey Teciero and Bre Indigo. Little, Brown, 2019. 978-0316522885. Read from library copy, then purchased.
This Cybils graphic novel finalist is a modern retelling of Little Women, with a blended family – Meg and Jo both children from the parents’ previous relationships, while Beth and Amy were born after their parents married each other. This hits many of the plot points of the original, while also changing some things for modern life and sensibilities. I love the original, so I was thrilled to recognize the sisters and think about things that had changed or stayed the same. Jo’s reasons for not winding up with Laurie have been shifted as part of that, and I have to say, make a lot more sense than the original, which always felt awkward. My daughter, who has not read the original, fell in love with this, so much so that I ordered it for her as part of our first local bookstore order. I think she’s read it at least 10 times. Give to readers who enjoy family stories and strong women.
Mooncakes by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker. Roar, 2019. 9781549303043. Read from library copy.
This one we shelve in the teen section of the library, as the characters are young adults of college age. Young witch Nova, who wears hearing aids, lives with her grandmothers in a loving Jewish-Chinese family. She’s thrilled when her friend, werewolf Tam, now using they/them pronouns, returns to the woods near her house. But Tam is in trouble, battling a literal demon in the woods and the still real but less magical demon of an abusive stepfather. Despite the battling of evil, this is a warm and cozy romance, clearly an attraction based around personality rather than gender. The art is adorable – overall, I just want more of this.