Safiyya: For March’s buddy read, Hailey and I read Firekeeper’s Daughter, by Angeline Boulley, a YA mystery/thriller about an Anishnabe girl who gets pulled into a murder/drug investigation in her community.

 

After eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine witnesses her best friend’s death, she becomes determined to root out the drug ring that has taken hold over her town. After joining forces with an undercover FBI agent, she faces a series of increasingly dangerous challenges as she hunts down source of the drugs and the people masterminding the operation. To solve this case, Daunis will have to investigate her family and closest friends, test her own abilities, and come to terms with her identity as a biracial woman in a colonial world.

 

Readers, we loved it. Daunis is such an incredibly compelling main character, and I was rooting for her throughout the book. She is strong and brave, but that doesn’t prevent her from being vulnerable and flawed. I loved the side characters, from Daunis’s badass aunt to Lily’s badass grandmother. I loved that the adult characters were not infantalized, nor pushed to the margins, as happens in many novels with the YA Publisher’s Generic Gloss (TM). I loved the deeper insights into Anishnabe history and traditions. I loved most of the twists and turns of the mystery (more on that later).

 

Angeline Boulley spent several years working on this novel, and she chose to keep the setting in 2004. Blackberry phones are all the rage, the Internet is still a nascent thing, and meth is the biggest danger facing high school kids. None of this feels dated; the story is simply set at a specific time and place, and it is all the better for that decision. Some of the plot elements wouldn’t work as well in the age of the Internet and social media, and it was refreshing to revisit a different period that still felt contemporary and relatable. Boulley also drew upon her own experiences as an Ojibwe woman, and as such, the story is a fascinating blend of the mystery and coming-of-age genres, with deep dives into Anishnabe traditional history.

 

I am increasingly not a fan of first-person POV in the present tense, which seems to be the default for all YA novels these days. (I generally find this form of storytelling to have a kind of breathless, messy pacing. and I suspect the fell hand of publishers who are still trying to reproduce the Hunger Games series.) All that being said, the first-person, present tense actually worked for me in this book, and all credit should be given to Angeline Boulley for her deft writing style and pacing. I can hardly believe this was Boulley’s first novel; she writes with such confidence and smoothness.

 

If I had one complaint or criticism about the book, it would be that the resolution of the mystery fell a bit flat for me. (Vague spoilers for the ending here; skip to the next paragraph to avoid.) We have this big, corrupt gang of criminals who are in various positions of power within the society, and they are apparently taking orders from a teenager? It seems unlikely, given the specific characters involved, and the book needed a fuller explanation as to how this situation came about. Some of the villainous characters also seemed to regress in their complexity, becoming two-dimensional and uncomplicatedly evil for evil’s sake. On the other hand, the emotional resolution of Daunis’s character arc was handled beautifully, and the final chapters of the book are pitch-perfect. If I had to choose between a satisfying ending for the mystery or the coming-of-age story, I would much prefer the latter.

 

I look forward to reading whatever Angeline Boulley’s next project happens to be, and I would definitely encourage people to check out Firekeeper’s Daughter. Since Netflix has apparently optioned the rights for an adaptation, hopefully we will see an increased awareness and interest in the book.

 

Content Warning: Please be aware, this book portrays drug addiction, sexual assault, racism, suicide, and the effects of the residential school system.

Title page for Firekeeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My whole life, I’ve been seeking validation of my identity from others. Now that it’s within my reach, I realize I don’t need it.

Angeline Boulley

 

Safiyya: For February’s buddy read, Hailey and I read Magic for Liars, by Sarah Gailey, an urban fantasy/mystery set in modern-day America.

 

Private investigator Ivy Gamble is called in to investigate the mysterious death of a teacher at Osthorne Academy for Young Mages. Although Ivy claims to hate everything to do with magic, she secretly longs to be a magician like her talented sister. She decides to take the case, live out her inner fantasy of belonging to the magical community, and reconnect with her estranged sister. In the course of her investigation, she comes across snotty teenagers, prophecies, secret relationships, and impossible magic.

 

I will get straight to the point – I did not particularly enjoy this book. It had an engaging mystery plot, side characters whom I found interesting, and fascinating world-building with regard to the magic. Nonetheless, I almost DNF’ed Magic for Liars because I was so utterly exasperated with the main character Ivy. Since everything after the prologue was written in first-person POV from Ivy’s perspective, there was really no way to escape her. As such, I mostly spent the book quietly seething at this annoying brat and her increasingly poor decision-making.

 

Just to be clear, Ivy is a fully adult woman in her mid-thirties, with a fairly good life:

 

  • She is a white, American, heteronormative, upper-middle-class woman. As far as we know, she has never experienced abuse, oppression, or discrimination or any kind.
  •  She has never been deprived of anything for her basic needs. She didn’t have any worries about food or shelter through her childhood, and her parents apparently paid for her college education.
  • Speaking of which, she has a loving family, and if she was ever in need support, or a home, or really anything, she could always go to her father or sister for help.
  • She has no physical or mental health conditions that would potentially restrict her abilities or life choices.
  • She seems to like her work as an investigator, and it seems to pay well enough that she still doesn’t have any concerns about money.

 

Ivy has more than most people will ever have, and yet she spends twenty-seven chapters of a twenty-seven-chapter book complaining that her life is ruined forever because she doesn’t have magical powers.

 

(Incidentally, Ivy doesn’t actually need magical powers. Most of the people around her don’t even believe in magic. She just wants to have magic powers, because her sister Tabitha got to have magic powers, and it’s not fair that Ivy can’t also be gifted, and she deserves to have magic powers too. Basically, this book felt like it was all about Petunia Dursley from the Harry Potter series.)

 

Aside from Ivy’s constant obsession about not having magic powers, she pursues a relationship by constantly lying to her romantic interest, tries to reconnect with her sister by accusing the latter of de facto killing their mother, and just generally spends a lot of time complaining about how teenagers are so ungrateful for all of the things they have. Blegh.

 

Protagonists are not always likeable, and I don’t need a protagonist to be likeable in order to appreciate a book. But a protagonist should at least be compelling enough to draw the reader through the story. I think the author meant to portray Ivy as a compelling and somewhat sympathetic character, and I think the reader is meant to root for her success. Unfortunately, I was not able to do so, and that is why I would struggle to recommend this book.

 

In spite of my overall feelings about Magic for Liars, there were some positive points:

  • Sarah Gailey has a good writing style and sense of pacing
  • She sets up the murder mystery and revelation of suspects quite well. She also plays with some classical fantasy tropes in an interesting way.
  • I liked several of the side characters, including Ivy’s sister Tabitha, the school nurse Mrs. Webb, and the practical magic teacher Rahul. I rather wished the book had been told from Tabitha’s POV, in fact.

As such, I would certainly be interested in reading some of Sarah Gailey’s other novels.

 

It is also worth noting, Magic for Liars has a pretty high Goodreads score, so a lot of people were able to connect with the story and the main character. If you aren’t sure where you stand after reading this review (which is fair, the ambivalence vibes are strong), I would suggest that you try the first three or four chapters, and see how you feel about the rest from there.

 

For my part, if you want to read a fantasy/mystery story featuring a compelling female protagonist who is determined to solve a mysterious murder, I would recommend Olivia Atwater’s Longshadow.

Title page of Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This time was going to be different. This time was going to be better. This time, I was going to be enough.

Sarah Gailey

Cover page for Madeline Miller's Circe

Hailey and I fully intended to do a buddy read and review for Madeline Miller’s Circe. Unfortunately, we hated it. After a long and cathartic ranting session, neither of us felt much like getting into it all over again in a written format. Well, it’s been some time since then, and I am ready to discuss this book in a calm and rational manner. Mostly.

 

Content Warning: this review discusses violence against women and sexual assault. We have to address these topics, as they are present within the book.

 

Circe is an amalgamation and retelling of the Greek myths around the mysterious witch-nymph Circe, famously prominent in Homer’s Odyssey. Miller follows Circe’s life from her early childhood to the end of her days, as she encounters heroes, fights monsters, and comes into her magical powers as a witch whom even the other gods fear.

 

I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open.

– Madeline Miller

Dear readers, she was exactly that dull.

 

 

Safiyya: This month, Hailey and I read Mary Hoffman’s Stravaganza: City of Masks, a childrens’s lit/YA novel filled with fantasy adventure, parallel worlds, and political intrigue.

 

The city-state of Bellezza lives peacefully under the reign of the Duchess Silvia, and her magician-advisor Rodolfo intends to keep it that way. But when a young boy named Lucien travels through space and time from the 21st century England into Bellezza, he inadvertently sets off a series of events that count change the future of Bellezza. Meanwhile, Lucien discovers a strange notebook, and to his amazement, it carries him to a whole different parallel world, where Italy is Talia, Venice is Bellezza, gold tarnishes and silver is prized, and magic is in the air. He befriends a Talian girl named Ariana, falls under the mentorship of Rodolfo, and embarks on the adventure of a lifetime.

 

I really enjoyed City of Masks, and I’m curious to see where the rest of the Stravaganza series goes. I loved following all the parallels between the two worlds — de Medici becomes di Chimici, etc. — and I loved all of the elaborate political intrigues. Fantasy and historical fiction are individually book-catnip for me. As such, the combined genres in this book were tremendously fun.

 

Mary Hoffman’s world-building, writing style, and characters were all incredibly compelling. In particular, I was impressed with the complexity and agency of the adult characters. Many authors of children’s literature or YA novels have a tendency to focus entirely on their young protagonists, relegating adults to two-dimensional stereotypes or inactive background décor. By contrast, Silvia and Rodolfo are fascinating, active, and awesome characters, propelling much of the plot with their endless machinations. I also really liked Lucien as a protagonist. He was warm-hearted and curious, quick-witted and compassionate. It’s very easy for the audience-proxy character to become a very boring means of exposition, but Lucien remains compelling throughout the novel.

 

Pretty much the only major issue I had with this book is the character of Ariana. When she is first introduced, I absolutely loved her. She was ambitious! She was clever! She was a rule-breaker! She saved Lucien’s life before she even knew his name! Unfortunately, the character peters out to a two-dimensional damsel in distress from then on. I kept waiting for Ariana to take charge and demonstrate her agency again, only for her to burst into tears and wait around for a rescue, or forgive Lucien for some trifling annoyance without even telling him about her concerns. It was an annoying and jarring note in a book filled with fascinating women — the duchess Silvia, the lace-making grandmother, Lucien’s mother, the decoy girl Giuliana. When even the midwife who appears for a single scene is more interesting than one of the book’s lead characters, that’s a problem. On the other hand, Duchess Silvia more than makes up for it. She is deliciously devious, brilliant, witty, charismatic, and altogether wonderful.

 

I would encourage anyone to read this book, regardless of age. Although the book is aimed toward a 9-12 or YA market — and to be clear, I enjoy reading 9-12 or YA books as well — it is a fun adventure that any reader could enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some time ago, a traveller came from your world to mine. It was hundreds of years ago in your time, though not in mine. He was the first to discover the secret, the first member of the brotherhood I belong to. He was the first Stravagante.

Mary Hoffman

 

 

An Indigenous Canadian boy with a streak of white paint on his cheek against a dark blue background

Safiyya: In July, Hailey and I read Cherie Dimaline’s The Marrow Thieves, a dark, dystopian novel about a Canada which we are chillingly close to seeing in real life.

 

Content Warning: this review discusses the Indian residential schools, sexual violence, child abuse, and institutional racism.

 

The Marrow Thieves is set in Canada, about a hundred years in the future. Earth has been ravaged by diseases, earthquakes, rising sea levels, and wars for scarce resources. People have been experiencing a strange illness which affects their ability to dream, and eventually drives them to madness. Yet for some reason, this disease does not seem to affect people of Indigenous descent. As such, government officials in white vans have been taking Indigenous people away to “schools” and subjecting them to unspecified horrors, alleging it is for the good of humankind.

 

Frenchie, aka Francis, a sixteen-year-old boy of Métis descent, is on the run from government Recruiters in this rundown version of Ontario. Alone after his brother Mitch sacrificed himself, Frenchie joins a ragtag group of survivors making their way north, including:

  • Miig, an older man and one of the group elders
  • Minerva, another senior member, a gentle and sweet-natured elderly lady
  • Chi-Boy, a seventeen-year-old boy
  • Tree and Zheegwon, twelve-year-old twin boys 
  • Slopper, a nine-year-old boy
  • Wab, an eighteen-year-old girl
  • Riri, a little girl somewhere between five and seven
  • Rose, a sixteen-year-old girl and the group’s newest addition

Together, these people create a foster family: protecting each other, passing on skills and knowledge, sharing stories, and holding true to their cultural heritage. Frenchie and his companions hope to escape the government’s reach in the far north, but they will first have to survive the wilderness, the government’s vicious Recruiters, their own past horrors, and betrayal.

 

Sometimes you risk everything for a life worth living, even if you’re not the one that’ll be alive to see it.

– Cherie Dimaline

 

As you might imagine, this book hit me like a gut punch. In our real world, we are dealing with cataclysmic effects of climate change, a widespread, mysterious disease that took out a huge portion of the global population, and the exposure of mass graves at the sites of former Indian residential schools. The Marrow Thieves was written in 2018, pre-pandemic, but it could not have been more prescient.

 

In our discussion of this book, Hailey pointed out that this book defies categorization. The story follows a teenage boy, but it does not follow the conventions of the YA category. It is a dystopia, but it draws on real, historical events as its background. It is incredibly accessible, a book that could be read by anyone of any age group or background, but it is also rich with symbolic meaning and layers of fascinating detail that could be analyzed for days.

 

I’m currently in the midst of an online class on Indigenous Canada, and I think that made a huge difference as far as being able to pick up on some of the deeper meanings and references that Dimaline wove into her story. For instance, here are some of the things that struck me on my first read-through:

 

  1. Oral Traditions: Dimaline very deliberately places a higher value on oral evidence over written words. For some context, certain Indigenous nations within Canada have a deep-rooted tradition of oral history and storytelling. This became a real challenge when various Indigenous peoples tried to establish their legal rights in court, because a hearsay story passed down through generations was considered less credible than a written document dating back several centuries. (Check out the Delgamuukw decision here and here for more information on that front.) But Dimaline flips the script in her novel. Oral narration is given a primacy and value through traditions like Story, whereas written words prove to be unreliable.
  2. The Role of Elders: Dimaline has no interest in restraining herself with YA conventions. The adult characters are as significant to the story as the teenagers, having just as much agency, value, and (without getting too spoilery) playing as central a role in the major plot events. Just as importantly, the teenage characters respect and admire their little group’s elders, valuing the well of knowledge and experience that they can provide.
  3. Real Traumas: Dimaline incorporates several past and current traumas faced by Indigenous people into her fictional world’s horrors. Residential schools, mass graves of children, resources stolen and stripped from Indigenous peoples, over-criminalization, gendered violence – each of these issues is reproduced within the world of the book. You cannot visit this world and then step back into our own, having had a nice feeling of escape; not when our own world has all the same horrors.

 

I could go on and on about The Marrow Thieves, but I will leave off with three more things for now. First, I alternated between reading a text version of the book and listening to the audiobook version. The latter experience was a fantastic way to really immerse myself into the oral storytelling tradition woven into the fabric of the story, so I would recommend that format for readers who’d enjoy that kind of experience. Second, Cherie Dimaline is releasing a sequel to the book later this year. If you are worried about starting an as-yet-incomplete series, in my opinion, the first book stands on its own well enough to satisfy the reader.

 

Finally, and this is a very important factor to consider — it was very difficult to read this book. In fact, there were a few times where I had to stop and set it aside before I could continue. Some people may find it too disturbing to read through The Marrow Thieves, and that is okay; you have to take care of your own mental health and comfort level. However, if you can handle it, you will find a brilliant, rewarding, rich text about family, and society, and the everyday dystopias that we do not question enough.

 

 

PS: As a disclaimer, neither of us are experts on Indigenous literature or on the Indigenous cultures of Canada. If you want a list of recommended Indigenous literature by more informed people, you can try here, or here , or here. I also highly recommend the American Indians in Children’s Literature blog, established by Dr. Debbie Reese, which provides detailed discussions on the representation of Indigenous peoples in children’s literature; you can find it here.

 

If you want to learn a bit about some of the Indigenous cultures and history of Canada, there is a free course online through the University of Alberta, which you can check out here . You can also see the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s reports on the residential schools and some of the horrors faced by Indigenous peoples in Canada here.

 

 

 

Hello, readers!

 

July is gone, but its spirit lives on! Below is a compilation of some of the additions Hailey and I made to the Page and Prose website over the month of July.

 

Hailey has been building out our Instagram page, which you can find here. Come for the lovely monochromatic bookstack photography, stay for the fun Question of the Day in the comments section!

 

We finished our second monthly buddy read, on Cherie Dimaline’s The Marrow Thieves. Our full review can be found here, and you can also find a short review on our Instagram page (which again, is right here). We chose this book as part of our stated goal to read books by and about Indigenous peoples of Canada throughout the month of July — more on that later!

 

We weathered our first major technological crisis this month, which incidentally, is why our July wrap-up has been posted in August. It was all very exciting — the White Screen of Death! Critical error messages! Terror and mayhem! Anyway, let’s never do that again.

 

Hailey and I began the 2021 Indigo Reading Challenge, because we both had soooo much free time (she sobbed into her TBR list). Anyway, you can track how well we are doing here, and do feel free to join in!

 

This July, Hailey and I wanted to highlight Indigenous storytellers all month. It has become more important than ever to educate ourselves and to seek out #OwnVoices stories. While we are by no means authorities on Indigenous literature or cultures, here are some books we have read and would recommend:

 

 

  • This Place: 150 Years Retold, by various authors: An anthology that gathers ten stories from the perspective of Indigenous Canadians, reclaiming the narrative of the past 150 years of history. Lush, beautiful artwork accompanies these poignant stories that range from true biography to futuristic science fiction.

 

  • The Inconvenient Indian, by Thomas King: A non-fiction summary of the atrocities faced by Indigenous peoples across North America. This book is both incredibly funny and emotionally devastating, and it is an excellent place to gain a background understanding of Indigenous history in Canada and the United States.

 

  • The Marrow Thieves, by Cherie Dimaline: Dark, dystopian, but also disturbingly familiar, the story follows a rag-tag group of Indigenous survivors trying to stay one step ahead of government agents who are intent on harvesting their marrow as a medical resource.

 

  • Canada’s Indigenous Constitution, by John Borrows: Another non-fiction book, this one discusses legal systems that existed in Canada long before European settlers ever arrived, through to modern Canadian/Aboriginal law. I found this book through my law school reading lists, and while it is definitely more technical than The Inconvenient Indian, the book undertakes the much-needed project of reframing Indigenous peoples’ relationship with Canadian law throughout history.

An Indigenous Canadian boy with a streak of white paint on his cheek against a dark blue background

 

 

 

 

If you have your own recommendations, send them over to us, or post them in the comments!

 

Once again, I should let you know that I am no expert on Indigenous literature or on the Indigenous cultures of Canada. If you want a better list by more informed people, you can try here, or here , or here. I highly recommend the American Indians in Children’s Literature blog, established by Dr. Debbie Reese, which provides detailed discussions on the representation of Indigenous peoples in children’s literature; you can find it here. And if you want to learn a bit about some of the Indigenous cultures of Canada, there is a free course online through the University of Alberta, which you can check out here . You can also see the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s reports on the residential schools and some of the horrors faced by Indigenous peoples in Canada here.

 

In some book-related news: it has been the month of Neil Gaiman around here. First, we got an announcement that Good Omens is getting a second season. Then, we heard that Anansi Boys is getting its very own adaptation. Most importantly of all, my mother read The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and she loved it so much that she now wants to read all of Neil Gaiman’s other works.

 

Happy reading, friends!

 

 

 

 

Hello, readers!

Over the past month, Hailey and I have made a lot of additions to the Page and Prose website, and what better way to keep track of them than in our blog? Mind you, this post is not meant to be a formal, structured log of activities. Instead, consider it a kind of news report/summary of things that you might want to explore.

 

First off, we finished our first monthly buddy read on T. Kingfisher’s A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, and our respective thoughts on the book can be found here.

 

Hailey and I also plan to complete the 52 Book Club’s 2021 reading challenge over the course of this year. You can follow our progress as we meet the various reading goals here. Feel free to join the reading challenge, and let us know of your progress!

 

Hailey set up our Instagram account, and you can check out her beautiful photography  and bookshelf compositions here. Our handle is @pageandprosereviews. We would love to chat with you on Instagram, so feel free to jump into our comments sections or send us a message!

 

June is Pride Month, and I really wanted to do something special to honour LGBTQIA+ stories and literature. As such, I have compiled a (short!) list of book recommendations across various genres, featuring LGBTQIA+ relationships and characters:

 

 

  • The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller: A beautiful retelling of the Trojan War cycle through the eyes of Patroclus, and centering on his love story with Achilles. (Greek mythology; YA literary fiction)

 

  • Red, White and Royal Blue, by Casey McQuiston: An own-voices new adult story about a grudging friendship that turns into something more, between the son of the American president and the grandson of the British queen. (New adult; coming-of-age)

 

  • A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine: A deeply philosophical and also thrillingly adventurous story about a young woman who is sent to a foreign planet as an ambassador, only to find mysteries and intrigue at every turn. (Science fiction)

 

  • The Will Darling Adventures, by K. J. Charles: A (now completed!) trilogy set in post-WWI era England, wherein former soldier Will Darling must deal with danger, secret societies, conspiracies, and murder. (Mystery; thriller) ***Note: contains explicit content!

 

  • Banner of the Damned, by Sherwood Smith: A young scribe travels from her peaceful, art-loving home to a brusque warrior society, where she must decide whether to break her vows and interfere in political events or sit by and watch the world plunge toward destruction. (High fantasy; political intrigue)

 

  • Starless, by Jacqueline Carey: A gender-fluid young warrior, soul-bound to a differently-abled princess, navigates assassination attempts and machinations as the two seek a a way to defeat an ancient evil. (High fantasy; adventure/quest)

Cover of The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Cover page of Red, White & Royal Blue, by Casey McQuiston

Cover page of A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine

Cover page of Slippery Creatures, by K. J. Charles

Cover page of Banner of the Damned, by Sherwood Smith

Cover page of Starless, by Jacqueline Carey

 

 

Have I sold you on any of them?

 

By the way, I am by no means an expert on LGBTQIA+ literature. If you want a more informed selection, I’d refer you to some curated lists by the CNN (here), CBC (here), The Guardian (here), and Penguin Random House (here).

 

I’ll end June’s post with a piece of book-related news: one of my favourite authors, Sherwood Smith is releasing a new book through her brand-new Patreon account (here). Sherwood has been through some exceptionally difficult times lately, what with perfidious agents, publication delays, and unpleasant vaccination side effects, so if you are a fan of her works, you may want to send some support her way.

 

We wish you well, in all your bookish endeavours!

 

 

Cover page for A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher; gingerbread man holding a sword

Safiyya: This month, Hailey and I read T. Kingfisher’s A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, which is about as delightfully kooky as it sounds.

 

The story follows Mona, a teenage girl with a very unique gift: she can make baked breads come to life. Unfortunately, after Mona stumbles across a dead body in her aunt’s bakery, her special talent draws unwanted attention from a serial killer who is targeting magical people in her city. Mona is unwillingly launched into an adventure of political intrigue, prejudice, heists, murder and mayhem, along with her sidekick gingerbread man, her sourdough starter Bob, and a street-wise urchin named Spindle.

 

When you’re different, even just a little different, even in a way that people can’t see, you like to know that people in power won’t judge you for it.

– T. Kingfisher

 

You may or may not have noticed that the world is on fire, and indeed, it has been in this sad state for quite some time. I have a large extended family living in India, and the daily barrage of horrible news is….a lot to deal with. All of which is to say, for whatever reason, I was in exactly the right headspace to read an absurdist fantasy-comedy about a teenage girl with a gingerbread man sidekick.

 

Reader, I really enjoyed it. I liked Mona, and Spindle, and Bob. I liked the army of evil gingerbread men. I liked the creativity with which Mona used her unusual gift to resolve her problems. I liked the deeper themes about prejudice and scapegoating against a minority group, institutional violence, adults’ responsibilities toward children, and social inequity in a society of plenty. I liked the way that Mona came to understand and cope with the fact that societal institutions and people in power are not always interested in protecting the ones they rule.

 

This book is very much a classic coming-of-age story. I loved watching Mona’s character evolve as she has to step forward to save the city, when no one else was able or willing to do so. I also loved the weird specificity of her magical talent, which tapped into my unspoken musings about what happens to the X-Men who don’t have battle-oriented talents. (Hailey has informed me that there are, in fact, comic arcs about members of the X-Men who do not have the most tactically useful of abilities.)

 

I did have a couple complaints, the biggest of which relates to the tone of the writing. As mentioned above, this is an absurdist story, and it is very funny as a result. Unfortunately, the constant use of flippant humour also undercuts the story’s urgency. In theory, there are major consequences at stake here – for instance: the disappearance and death of people with magical gifts, corruption within the city’s highest levels of government, an impending invasion from an outside force. Yet it is hard to really take these issues seriously when the story’s narration doesn’t seem to take them seriously either.

 

Another complaint is the fact that some of the minor characters come across as somewhat flat, especially Mona’s aunt and uncle. These two characters serve a role in moving along the plot of the story, but they are quickly sidelined in order to generate higher stakes for Mona to overcome, and to allow her greater independence. A good example is what Hailey and I termed as the “Spare Room of Requirement”. Early in the story, we learn that even though Mona is only fourteen, she lives on her own because there is simply no room in her aunt’s house for another person to stay. Much later in the book, Mona drags Spindle back to her aunt’s place rather than leaving him to fend for himself on the streets. Mona’s aunt then insists that Spindle should stay in the never-before-referenced spare room, which was apparently sitting unused in her home while her fourteen-year-old niece lived alone in the city.

 

But at the end of the day, these complaints were not nearly enough to ruin my enjoyment of the book. It is also worth noting, T. Kingfisher intended to write this book for a younger audience of readers, maybe aged 9-12. She was thwarted by her publishers’ concerns about exposing children to discussions about serial killers, racial prejudice, and institutional injustice (which is nonsense, given that children aged 9-12 are very capable of understanding these things.) As such, it makes sense that the tone of the writing made light of some of the more disturbing material, and that the authority figures get short shrift so that the younger heroes have their moment to shine. In this manner, the book is closer to T. Kingfisher’s novel Minor Mage than it is to her more adult stories such as The Twisted Ones or The Hollow Places.

 

I found A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking to be a delightful, magical, and unapologetically absurdist journey, with some surprisingly deeper themes and ideas. I would particularly recommend it for readers who are looking for a magical adventure in the vein of Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain stories, or for anyone who just needs a fun and enjoyable break.

 

 

 

 

 

Hailey:  Ok, so difference in opinion here.  I really wanted to love this book but it fell a quite flat for me.  I felt a bit like I was reading a first draft of a potentially interesting story that hadn’t been “polished” yet.  There were so many brilliant ideas and social commentaries waiting to be further developed, it just didn’t reach the mark yet.  As Safiyya mentioned, many of the side characters felt one-dimensional which is always a pet-peeve of mine.  Also, at one point Mona’s uncle is referred to by a completely different name, so clearly a bit more editing was needed.  As for the “Spare Room of Requirement”, that nearly drove me … well, spare.

 

I love middle-grade books so that wasn’t the issue for me, I just felt like there was something lacking.  I really had to trudge through the book to complete it by our book discussion date – I was very easily distracted and did not feel immersed in the story in the way I’d want to with a fantasy book.  To me it felt a bit like a poor imitation of a Terry Pratchett novel, but in A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking the irreverent tone was more distracting than humourous.  Ostensibly, a storyline about a magician-targeting serial killer should be pretty riveting, but to me it didn’t really feel like there was much at stake and I was left fairly ambivalent. 

 

I did really enjoy Mona’s pint-sized gingerbread familiar and plucky street urchin Spindle, they kept me pushing through the story (to be honest, I was more concerned about the safety of the little cookie than any of the other characters!)  Bob was also one of the funniest parts of the book but he has certainly put me off sourdough bread for the foreseeable future (yikes!)

 

So at the end of the day, this definitely was a miss for me.  However, one book not resonating with me is not sufficient evidence for me to form an opinion on an author’s writing.  I’d actually been wanting to read Paladin’s Grace before Safiyya had picked this buddy read so I’m going to give T. Kingfisher another go in the future.

 

Until next time readers!

 

After a minute, I said, “I never wanted to be a hero.”

His face was solemn. “Nobody ever does.” 

– T Kingfisher