The Tea Dragon Society

The Tea Dragon SocietyThe Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How could I not love this, when it combines dragons and tea and keeping old traditions alive and wonderful artwork? Each “chapter” represents one of the 4 seasons. The artwork in this large picture-book sized hardcover is mostly earth tones with lovely vines and flowers. This is a gentle read for younger readers, perhaps 6-12. It includes 7 pages of “extracts from the Tea Dragon Handbook” giving us facts about tea dragon societies, tea dragons and what they eat and the kinds of flowers and herbs they produce, with drawings and specifics on 8 different tea dragons: Jasmine, Rooibos, Chamomile, Ginseng, Earl Grey, Hibiscus, Ginger, and Peppermint. I can think of at least two that should be added: Lavender and Calendula. The author is an illustrator and graphic novelist from New Zealand. I can see the Maori influence in her characters. There is also a card game based on this book, and I just might have to get it!

Description from School Library Journal: Greta is a young blacksmith apprentice who wonders whether her mother’s craft is still relevant in contemporary society. When she rescues a little lost dragon in the marketplace and returns it to its owners, Greta learns about another fading art form—the care of tea dragons, small creatures who grow tea leaves out of their horns and antlers. She becomes fascinated with the enchanting dragons and their caretakers, and begins to appreciate how traditional crafts can create their own kind of magic by enriching lives, including hers. This book is wonderfully inclusive, and depicts a distinct and expressive cast of LGBTQIA characters and people of color.

The Outcasts of Time

The Outcasts of TimeThe Outcasts of Time by Ian Mortimer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A little slow to start, and the time travel IS the plot. The joy of this book is in the observations, social commentary, philosophical and existential musings of our main character John of Wrayment (“Everyman”). The author knows history well, and each vignette through history is well done. Although material progress is made through the centuries, one might despair that the human condition does not seem to have kept pace. It would seem that humanity as a whole has not evolved at all. At the risk of a slight spoiler, I’m going to say that it was evident quite early on that John was meeting his descendants as he traveled. We could see his legacy in their words and in their kindness even if John could not. I did wonder that language was not more of a problem after two or three hundred years, but that would have interfered with the story.

Book description: With the country in the grip of the Black Death, brothers John and William fear that they will shortly die and suffer in the afterlife. But as the end draws near, they are given an unexpected choice: either to go home and spend their last six days in their familiar world, or to search for salvation across the forthcoming centuries – living each one of their remaining days ninety-nine years after the last. As they find themselves in stranger and stranger times, the reader travels with them, seeing the world through their eyes as it shifts through disease, progress, enlightenment, and war. But their time is running out―can they do something to redeem themselves before the six days are up?

The Witch’s Daughter

The Witch's Daughter (The Witch's Daughter, #1)The Witch’s Daughter by Paula Brackston
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I ended up liking this, but it took me forever to get it read. Almost two months… If you can suspend belief and go with it as a fantasy novel, it’ll be fine. My problem is, I wanted it to be more of a historical novel with supernatural elements. It didn’t work that way for me. I don’t like historical made-up witchcraft depicted as modern-day Wicca. It just never rings true as “historical.” But take it as a fantasy, as a world unto itself, and then you have a pretty good story of good versus evil. I might even read the sequel, which is actually #4 in the series, I think.

Book description: In the spring of 1628, the Witchfinder of Wessex finds himself a true Witch. As Bess Hawksmith watches her mother swing from the Hanging Tree she knows that only one man can save her from the same fate: the Warlock Gideon Masters. Secluded at his cottage, Gideon instructs Bess, awakening formidable powers she didn’t know she had. She couldn’t have foreseen that even now, centuries later, he would be hunting her across time, determined to claim payment for saving her life. In present-day England, Elizabeth has built a quiet life. She has spent the centuries in solitude, moving from place to place, surviving plagues, wars, and the heartbreak that comes with immortality. Her loneliness comes to an abrupt end when she is befriended by a teenage girl called Tegan. Against her better judgment, Elizabeth opens her heart to Tegan and begins teaching her the ways of the Hedge Witch. But will she be able to stand against Gideon―who will stop at nothing to reclaim her soul―in order to protect the girl who has become the daughter she never had?

 

The Underground Railroad

The Underground RailroadThe Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to admit I was underwhelmed by this book after all the hoopla and press and a Pulitzer Prize. It’s not exactly fantasy, and it’s not exactly magical realism. So I’ve settled on alternate history. The Underground Railroad is imagined as an actual underground railroad, built in some mysterious past by unknown builders but in a time period before the railroad even existed in the United States. Likewise other events, like the section set in South Carolina with white doctors encouraging black women to have tubal ligations long before such a thing was historically available. So the “railroad” is something of a time machine as well. Those things didn’t bother me. I give it 4 stars because this movement through time and space made the plot feel disjointed at times. Or it has no plot in the traditional sense. There was also no character development. What makes this a compelling book, though, is the way it removes the “black experience” from time and place, making the reader a vicarious traveler on this same journey regardless of race. In that sense, perhaps the reader is actually the main character – hopefully a character that has learned something and gained in understanding of that experience.

Book description: Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned—Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted. In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor—engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

Midnight Riot

Midnight Riot (Peter Grant, #1)Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A bit of a mix of a police procedural set in modern London, but with magic and ghosts. We have a new London constable who discovers he can see ghosts and is immediately recruited by the magical division of the Metropolitan Police. He begins learning how to do magic, while helping to solve a murder in London’s theatre district. Peter is mixed race, street-wise, pragmatic, but curious about things, and he has a wry sense of humor. DCI Nightingale is enigmatic, and who knows how old he really is. London itself is a strong element of the story – lots of slang. My main criticism is that I’m not at all sure what the sub-plot of the river gods and goddesses has to do with anything. There were several times in the story that I felt like I had missed something and didn’t really know what was going on. He also had a tendency to explain too much about things to his audience. Otherwise, I thought this was a riot (pun intended.) Nice world building, believable, fast-paced, and great understated sense of humor. I look forward to the next book.

Book description: Probationary Constable Peter Grant dreams of being a detective in London’s Metropolitan Police. Too bad his superior plans to assign him to the Case Progression Unit, where the biggest threat he’ll face is a paper cut. But Peter’s prospects change in the aftermath of a puzzling murder, when he gains exclusive information from an eyewitness who happens to be a ghost. Peter’s ability to speak with the lingering dead brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who investigates crimes involving magic and other manifestations of the uncanny. Now, as a wave of brutal and bizarre murders engulfs the city, Peter is plunged into a world where gods and goddesses mingle with mortals and a long-dead evil is making a comeback on a rising tide of magic.

Dogs and Goddesses

Dogs and GoddessesDogs and Goddesses by Jennifer Crusie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goofy, funny (the talking dogs are hysterical, and the narrator of the audiobook did a WONDERFUL job with them), interesting characters (although a couple of them were very similar) – just right for a beach read or when you need to clear your brain after a hefty/intense/intellectual read. Now I’m ready to tackle some of the medieval non-fiction I’m taking on for a library conference later this year…

Lots of explicit sex if you like that sort of thing. It didn’t make me cringe, so I guess that’s a plus. It’s a little disjointed with three different authors. I assume they each wrote one of the three main “goddesses.” My favorite was Shar, the middle-aged heroine and her dog Wolfie. The other two women and their romantic interests were not as well developed (and as I said, at times hard to tell apart.) The mythology was okay, but don’t expect anything historical (it was made up.) The romances really didn’t have enough tension (will they, won’t they?) to create a very satisfying ending (endings?) And the fate of Kamani Gula (the Mesopotamian goddess) and especially Mina (the evil priestess) was just silly. Like cotton candy – fun once in a while, but I wouldn’t want a steady diet of it.

Book description: Abby has just arrived in Summerville, Ohio, with her placid Newfoundland, Bowser. She’s reluctantly inherited her grandmother’s coffee shop, but it’s not long before she’s brewing up trouble in the form of magical baked goods and steaming up her life with an exasperating college professor. And then there’s Daisy, a web code writer, and her hyperactive Jack Russell, Bailey. Her tightly-wound world spins out of control when she discovers the chaos within and meets a mysterious dog trainer whose teaching style is definitely hands-on. Finally there’s Shar, professor of ancient history at Summerville College, who wakes up one morning to find her neurotic dachshund, Wolfie, snarling at an implacable god sitting at her kitchen table, the first thing in her life she hasn’t been able to footnote. What on earth is going on in this unearthly little town? It’s up to Abby, Daisy, and Shar to find out before an ancient goddess takes over Southern Ohio, and they all end up in the apocalyptic doghouse…

Miracle and Other Christmas Stories

Miracle and Other Christmas StoriesMiracle and Other Christmas Stories by Connie Willis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I will generously give this 3 stars. It was okay, but nothing special. I kind of expected more from Connie Willis. It’s an interesting variety of stories, and even styles, but I think I will be hard-pressed to remember any of them two months from now. My favorite was probably “Adaptation” in which a book-store clerk encounters the ghosts from Dickens’ Christmas Carol. “Inn” was interesting – the plight of Mary and Joseph displaced out of time to the parking lot of a modern-day church. And “Newsletter”, which was a fun spoof of both Christmas newsletters and movies like The Body Snatchers.

Book Description: Connie Willis capture the timeless essence of generosity and goodwill in this magical collection of Christmas stories. These eight tales-two of which have never before been published-boldly reimagine the stories of Christmas while celebrating the power of love and compassion. This enchanting treasury includes:

“Miracle,” in which a young woman’s carefully devised plans to find romance go awry when her guardian angel shows her the true meaning of love
“In Coppelius’s Toyshop,” where a jaded narcissist finds himself trapped in a crowded toy store at Christmastime
“Epiphany,” in which three modern-day wisemen embark on a quest unlike any they’ve ever experienced
“Inn,” where a choir singer gives shelter to a homeless man and his pregnant wife-only to learn later that there’s much more to the couple than meets the eye