Young Adult

A Magical Autumn: Five Amazing Books Featuring Magic

Almost as if on queue, the weather has turned cool and breezy with a touch of rain and the trees that were green just last week have begun to change into beautiful shades of orange, red, and yellow. Portland is quickly becoming a fall fairyland. I can smell the crispness of the breeze and almost taste the creamy deliciousness of pumpkin and other winter squashes. The transition from summer into fall has always been a magical time for me. It is a time of stunning transformation. A time of harvest and bounty. A time to enjoy, because it is fleeting, like the days of spring.

To celebrate this time and get you in a magical frame of mind, I have pulled together a list of magical titles for you to enjoy.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

This charming story was written by Salman Rushdie for his son while he was in exile. The story takes you on an adventure in the war torn world where all stories come from as the protagonist and his father try to get his father’s stories back.

The Diviners (The Diviners Book 1) by Libba Bray

Flappers, murder, and supernatural powers. You really can’t beat that combination. On top of that, Libba Bray writes in a way that makes the 1920’s come to life. Themes of friendship, duty, and acceptance are woven throughout this fun murder mystery.

Among Others by Jo Walton 

“Among Others” is a Hugo Award winning masterpiece that follows the life of a young Welsh girl who has suffered a great deal of tragedy in her young life and now finds herself in an English boarding school. She seeks solace in the pages of classic science fiction novels (which aren’t so classic at the time the story is set) and the magic in the world around her. Magic no one else can see. Jo Walton has a lyrical, character focused, style that drew me in right away.

The Alchemist by Paolo Bacigalupi

Don’t confuse this novella with the famous novel by Paulo Coelho of the same name (is that confusing or what?). I love Bacigalupi’s post-apocalyptic fiction, so I thought I would give his co-written fantasy novella a go. I was definitely not disappointed. In a world where magic has a price that the entire society must pay, what would happen if someone could create a machine that would save them all? This is a short read, but worth the time.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

I could go on and on about the “All Souls Trilogy” of which this is the first book, but I won’t. Soon I will have a review up with my thoughts on the final installment, and you can read a bit about the time I met the author here: Deborah Harkness at Powell’s Books. “A Discovery of Witches” is the first in a series of books set in a world like our own where vampires, witches, and daemons exist right alongside normal human beings. When witch Diana Bishop comes across a mysterious manuscript in the Bodelain Library, her entire life changes, for it is quite possible that she in her hands is a lost book that holds secrets every supernatural creature would like to know. The “All Souls Trilogy” has one of the most unique and intelligent takes on the supernatural that I have ever read.

Please note that I am a Powell’s Partner and All Night Reading will receive a small percentage of every purchase from the link above.

Book Review: A Thread Unbroken by Kay Bratt

4 Out of 5 Stars

I just laid my eleven month old son down to sleep. His moist little breaths gently brushed my skin. His tiny hand had a hold on my shirt, his fingers toying with the button on my blouse. I rocked him slowly back and forth, listening to the quite snorts that pass for snores most nights. Looking down on his peaceful little face, with chubby cheeks, full pouty lips, and eyelashes any grown woman would pay for, my heart was filled with so much love that it felt tight in my chest, as it does every day and  night when I have a quite moment alone with my son. It is with that feeling still so fresh, and my heart still so full, that I sit down to write this review.

The topics and themes presented in “A Thread Unbroken” are not easy ones to digest. There is almost nothing in my privileged American middle  class life that could help me understand the mindset that leads to human trafficking. I know that were my son to be a daughter I would still feel the same about her. Were he to be physically deformed, mentally disabled, or otherwise imperfect in the eyes of society, I would still love him and care for him with all my heart. I was raised in a world where children are cherished treasures rather than economic boons or burdens. Many Americans, and in fact, many of the reviewers that I have read, come from a similar background and feel that “A Thread Unbroken” is unbelievable. Unfortunately, while the larger Chinese cities have become increasingly more progressive, life in rural China marches on much as it always has with little regard to technological innovation. It is ruled by traditional values, those that see strong sons as a priceless economic treasure, and daughters as a burden until they are married and gone to produce strong sons of their own for the husbands that rule the household.

In “A Thread Unbroken” we have three families affected by the girls’ abduction. father Jun adores his daughter. He has never seen his two little girls as anything but strong and capable individuals. He encourages their education and is unwilling to allow the search for a husband to decide his daughters’ futures. Josie on the other hand, physically disabled and not fit to be a bride, is responsible for caring for her father’s pigs, taking care of her young siblings, and helping her mother care for the house. The third family is a traditional fishing family living in near seclusion from the modern world. The people of their village openly purchase girls stolen from other parts of China to become brides for their sons, as there are few women around.

Through each family we get a glimpse of how China feels about their girls, and the economic and social reasons behind why human trafficking exists,  and what can be done to stop it. Chai is strong because her father has empowered her to be so.  Her father never stops searching for her, and she never stops searching for a way to get back to him. Josie relies on Chai to find the answers, to rescue them. She is timid and emotionally immature. Her father gives up the search quickly, merely lamenting that there is no one there to care for the pigs and help take care of the small children. The family the girls find themselves forced to become a part of is ruled by their father and the eldest son. Nothing is done without their permission.

Despite such a heavy topic, the story is not dark. I would go so far as to say it is sugar coated. The girls are not beaten, and for the most part are not abused. There are many girls, and boys, around the world who have it worst. The general smoothness and ease of the story, and the narration makes it an excellent introduction to trafficking for mature middle grade students (eighth grade) and younger high school students, though it is also a good read for adults. Be warned, though, that there is one graphic scene late in the book. It reads well for an adult as well. If the prose are simple, and the ending a fairy tale, it can be forgiven. “A Thread Unbroken” shows a gentler version of a dark and violent world making it more accessible for younger readers, and those who don’t often read dark fiction. The story opens up the floor for conversation, but leaves the reader feeling like there is hope, like things can change.

Kay Bratt lived in China for nearly five years and advocates for Chinese children and girls. Her passion shows in her writing. She has penned several novels around these subjects and I look forward to circling back and reading some more of them in the future. I can recommend one other book if you read this and found the story interesting. Sold by Patricia McCormick is the story of 13-year-old Lakshmi who is sold into prostitution to pay off her family’s debts. Please feel free to write you suggestions or thoughts in the comments. Human trafficking is an important issue, and the more literature can do to help get the message out, the better.

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Hugh Howey’s Half Way Home

3.5 Stars out of 5

Howey strikes again with a unique futuristic world colored with shades of dystopia. In this world, life is cheap. Interspatial exploration is driven by corporate needs, and patents are are so highly valued that they are worth killing for. His world is engrossing and unique. I don’t think I have seen one quite like it before. And there, I think, is the biggest problem I had with this book. I found “Half Way Home” to be an easy read. I sped through it. But, I wanted more. I wanted to intimately understand the motivations of a society who would spend millions of dollars mounting an expedition that more often than not would result in the total and deliberate destruction of all equipment and human capital associated with the mission. Instead, the story focused mostly on the main character, Porter, and his group of friends as they struggled to find  the reason for their existence.

I normally love a good character driven space drama. Unfortunately, the characters in “Half Way Home” fell a bit flat for me. I never felt connected to Porter or his cohorts. Their vocabulary and actions were at odds with circumstances of their birth and creation as explained at the beginning of the novel. They seemed almost too contemporary. There was also some uncomfortable gender stereotyping peppered throughout the novel that also did not seem to fit into the world Howey created.

Overall, the problems I had were not enough to completely diminish my enjoyment of the book. I wanted to keep reading. I wanted to know what happened in the end. Most of all, II wanted an answer to the mystery. I enjoyed the setting. And, as usual, I enjoyed Howey’s writing style. Fans of Wool and Sand might be underwhelmed. Young adult readers, and those looking for a quick and enjoyable sci-fi that they don’t need to think too much about will find it right up their alley.

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