Book Review: Across the Green Grass Fields (Wayward Children, #6) by Seanan McGuire

Title: Across the Green Grass Fields (Wayward Children, #6)
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: January 12, 2021
Length: 176 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: ARC via Netgalley; hardcover purchased

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

A young girl discovers a portal to a land filled with centaurs and unicorns in Seanan McGuire’s Across the Green Grass Fields, a standalone tale in the Hugo and Nebula Award-wining Wayward Children series.

“Welcome to the Hooflands. We’re happy to have you, even if you being here means something’s coming.”

Regan loves, and is loved, though her school-friend situation has become complicated, of late.

When she suddenly finds herself thrust through a doorway that asks her to “Be Sure” before swallowing her whole, Regan must learn to live in a world filled with centaurs, kelpies, and other magical equines―a world that expects its human visitors to step up and be heroes.

But after embracing her time with the herd, Regan discovers that not all forms of heroism are equal, and not all quests are as they seem…

A new Wayward Children book is always cause for celebration, and Across the Green Grass Fields is no exception.

In this book, the 6th in the series, we’re introduced to a young girl named Regan. She has lovely, loving parents, and is crazy about horses and riding lessons. At school, she originally had two best friends, Heather and Laurel, but when Heather dared to express interest in something Laurel deemed un-girl-like, Heather became shunned — and Regan learned her lesson. To retain her place as Laurel’s best friend, conformity is all that matters. She has to embrace Laurel’s strict rules about what girls do and don’t do and do and don’t like, if she wants to not end up like poor Heather.

Laurel was one of the “lucky ones,” according to the girls who flocked around her in their ribbons and flounces, praising her developing breasts like they were something she’d accomplished through hard work and personal virtue, not hormones and time.

But when Regan learns an unexpected truth from her parents, she makes the awful mistake of confiding in Laurel, and then realizes that she’s just blown up her own world. Distraught, Regan runs away into the woods, where she sees an unusual door, with the words “Be Sure”. In that moment, Regan is sure that anything would be better than where she is now, and she steps through into an entirely new world.

In the Hooflands, Regan is the only human in a world peopled by different hooved species — unicorns, centaurs, kelpies, and more. She is taken in by a family of centaurs, who adopt her as one of their own and love her fiercely. With the love of the centaurs, Regan grows and thrives — missing her parents, of course, but feeling more and more that she’s finally found a place to just be herself, a place that feels like a real home. And it’s Chicory, the centaur daughter, who shows Regan what a real friend can be:

In Chicory, she had finally found a friend who liked her for who she was, not for how well she fit an arbitrary list of attributes and ideals.

The only downside is that everyone in the Hooflands believes that humans have a destiny. Humans show up rarely, but when they do, they’re meant to save the world…. and then they disappear. No one really knows the how and why of it all, but all believe that sooner or later, Regan will have to confront the Queen of the Hooflands and do whatever it is that’s needed to save the world.

Destiny wasn’t real. Destiny was for people like Laurel, who could pin everything they had to an idea that the world was supposed to work in a certain way, and refuse to let it change. If these people said her destiny was to see the Queen, she would prove them wrong. She wasn’t their chosen one. She was just Regan, and as Regan, she ran.

Through her years in the Hooflands, Regan learns about listening to people and seeing beyond their surfaces, about true friendship and family, among making choices and remaining true to oneself, and about accepting and appreciating oneself, putting aside the unrealistic notions of “normal” and “destiny”. Regan learns to be Regan, and sees that she can be strong and pursue the people and activities that make her feel whole and good.

Across the Green Grass Fields is the first book in the Wayward Children series that does not include the Home for Wayward Children at all, although I imagine that that’s where Regan will be headed next. None of the characters from previous books pop up here either, so this book really can be read as a stand-alone. Still, it fits into the great world of the Wayward Children series, with its portal worlds and missing children and quests for meaning and one’s true place. Obviously, as a fan of the series, I’d recommend starting from the beginning and reading them all!

Across the Green Grass Fields includes illustrations by the amazingly talented Rovina Cai, and although I haven’t received my hard copy of the book yet, I’m already enchanted by the images available on Tor’s website, including this one of the centaur family:

Illustration by Rovina Cai; from Tor.com

The Wayward Children series as a whole is a delightful, magical experience, and Across the Green Grass Fields introduces a wonderful new world and heroine. Highly recommended.

Book Review: Dear Miss Kopp by Amy Stewart

Title: Dear Miss Kopp (Kopp Sisters, #6)
Author: Amy Stewart
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: January 12, 2021
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher and author
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The indomitable Kopp sisters are tested at home and abroad in this warm and witty tale of wartime courage and camaraderie.

The U.S. has finally entered World War I and Constance is chasing down suspected German saboteurs and spies for the Bureau of Investigation while Fleurette is traveling across the country entertaining troops with song and dance. Meanwhile, at an undisclosed location in France, Norma is overseeing her thwarted pigeon project for the Army Signal Corps. When Aggie, a nurse at the American field hospital, is accused of stealing essential medical supplies, the intrepid Norma is on the case to find the true culprit.

The far-flung sisters—separated for the first time in their lives—correspond with news of their days. The world has irrevocably changed—will the sisters be content to return to the New Jersey farm when the war is over?

Told through letters, Dear Miss Kopp weaves the stories of real life women into a rich fiction brimming with the historical detail and humor that are hallmarks of the series, proving once again that “any novel that features the Kopp Sisters is going to be a riotous, unforgettable adventure” (Bustle).

The Kopp Sisters are back! In Dear Miss Kopp, we follow the sisters into war, as each of the characters has her own mission to follow, each serving the country in her own way during the years of World War I.

The sixth book in the series, Dear Miss Kopp is the first to be told exclusively through letters, which makes sense: Constance, Norma, and Fleurette find themselves on very separate paths, far from one another geographically, and they must rely on their letters to keep in touch and to continue to support each other as they always have, even from a distance.

Constance has started her work with the Bureau of Investigation (the early FBI), one of the only women serving as an agent. She uses her unique talents to chase down and apprehend saboteurs, and her adventures in this book illustrate the threats faced domestically during the war years.

Norma is in the thick of things in France, where she applies her prickly, stubborn ways to making sure her messenger pigeons are able to serve the US armed forces. Norma being Norma, she manages to rub just about everyone the wrong way, but is ultimately instrumental in solving a spy mystery in the small French village where she’s stationed.

And lovely youngest sister Fleurette is on the go, touring the country with a vaudeville act, entertaining soldiers at army bases all across the US. Fleurette too has her share of challenges, and she always adds a bit of levity to any situation.

As always, a Kopp Sisters book is an utter delight. I love seeing the sisters’ dynamics, and also getting to see them each in action, deploying their varied talents and fighting for the chance to make a difference in a man’s world. At this point in the series, I feel that we readers know the characters so well, and it’s a treat to see them in these new settings, standing up for what they believe in and making unique contributions to the war effort.

Through the sisters’ adventures in Dear Miss Kopp, we also get an inside look as aspects of World War I that don’t necessarily get a lot of attention, including the support efforts abroad, away from the front lines, the devastating war injuries suffered by the soldiers, and the intense work at home to combat sabotage aimed at impeding the war efforts.

As a whole, the Kopp Sisters books are wonderful, and I loved this new installment. Can’t wait for more!

_________________________________

The series so far:
Girl Waits With Gun
Lady Cop Makes Trouble
Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions
Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit
Kopp Sisters on the March

Book Review: Outlawed by Anna North

Title: Outlawed
Author: Anna North
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Publication date: January 5, 2021
Length: 272 pages
Genre: Western/speculative fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Crucible meets True Grit in this riveting adventure story of a fugitive girl, a mysterious gang of robbers, and their dangerous mission to transform the Wild West.

In the year of our Lord 1894, I became an outlaw.

The day of her wedding, 17 year old Ada’s life looks good; she loves her husband, and she loves working as an apprentice to her mother, a respected midwife. But after a year of marriage and no pregnancy, in a town where barren women are routinely hanged as witches, her survival depends on leaving behind everything she knows.

She joins up with the notorious Hole in the Wall Gang, a band of outlaws led by a preacher-turned-robber known to all as the Kid. Charismatic, grandiose, and mercurial, the Kid is determined to create a safe haven for outcast women. But to make this dream a reality, the Gang hatches a treacherous plan that may get them all killed. And Ada must decide whether she’s willing to risk her life for the possibility of a new kind of future for them all.

Featuring an irresistibly no-nonsense, courageous, and determined heroine, Outlawed dusts off the myth of the old West and reignites the glimmering promise of the frontier with an entirely new set of feminist stakes. Anna North has crafted a pulse-racing, page-turning saga about the search for hope in the wake of death, and for truth in a climate of small-mindedness and fear. 

Hey, look! I guess feminist westerns are a thing now? After reading Upright Women Wanted earlier this year, I was excited to get my hands on yet another revisionist/feminist western adventure.

In Outlawed, we meet 17-year-old Ada at what should be the start of a happy future. Newly married, she loves her husband and is enjoying a robust married life with him. Except she’s not getting pregnant. As the months go by, the pressure mounts, until finally, after a year of marriage, she’s kicked out by her in-laws.

Being barren is considered the utmost failure for a woman, and failing to conceive is always considered the woman’s fault. Maybe it’s her family background? Maybe it’s punishment for sin? Or worst of all, she could be a witch, and most likely to blame for all the miscarriages and other tragedies in her town.

In the world of Outlawed, a terrible Flu years back wiped out 90% of the world’s population. In the pandemic’s aftermath, a new religion has blossomed, teaching the gospel of the Baby Jesus, who promises healthy futures to people — so long as they go forth and be fruitful, to repopulate the Earth. Barrenness, therefore, is not just a personal misfortune, but a sin against Baby Jesus. Barren women are outcasts, and once facing accusations of wrong-doing, are more likely than not to be hanged or imprisoned.

Ada, the daughter of the town’s only midwife, has been trained all her life by her mother to follow in her footsteps, and she understands that there must be scientific reasons for why some women get pregnant and some don’t. This conviction doesn’t save her when she’s accused of witchcraft, and she’s forced to flee for her life, eventually ending up with the Kid and the Hole in the Wall Gang, a group of outcast women who band together for survival. As Ada is given a place with the gang, she begins her days as an outlaw.

From this point, we follow Ada and the gang as they plot a daring heist that should enable them to provide a haven for other outcast women, but their plans are risky, the group faces divisions about their mission, and the Kid, their leader, suffers through bouts of depression that leave them unable to lead at a critical moment.

I mostly enjoyed Outlawed, but a few elements hold me back from giving this book a rave review. The pacing sags in the middle, once Ada arrives at the Hole in the Wall’s hideout, as she struggles for acceptance and to learn their ways. At this point, the plot slows down and becomes mainly focused on arguments and resentments within the group. Also, Ada’s transformation into a western outlaw seems a little too abrupt, and given her vocation as a healer, she appears to accept the more violent aspects of their lives without too many qualms.

My other complaint, which may just be a “me” thing rather than an issue with the book, is that the gang’s members are introduced all at once. We see them all as Ada first approaches, with physical descriptions of the people she sees around a campfire. Later, we learn their names as Ada does too. And for the life of me, I could not match the names and the people — while a few were distinct, for the most part, I could not really distinguish the characters as individuals or figure out who was who. It was annoying, and I gave up trying after a while.

Still, there’s a lot to love about Outlawed. The Western setting is familiar, but it’s turned upside down in this new version of the Old West, with fertility being the highest measure of a woman’s worth and a belief in witchcraft that seems like it should already be a thing of the distant past. I liked the sense of inclusion among the outcasts — any woman in trouble is welcome, and as we see later, there are plenty of reasons for people to end up ostracized, cast away, and forced to seek sanctuary among the outlaws.

I also loved Ada’s devotion to healing and to learning. The desire to learn what causes barrenness is what drives her, not only for her own sake but for the purpose of helping other women who suffer.

Once I’d picked up Outlawed and read the author bio, I realized that I have an earlier book by this author (America Pacifica) on my shelves. While I wouldn’t say that Outlawed was a complete hit for me, it intrigued me enough that I’ll definitely want to read more by this author.

And PS – is that cover amazing or what?

Top Ten Tuesday: Top ten books on my TBR list for winter 2020/2021

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is about our winter reading plans.

There are so many new books on the way that I can’t wait to read! My list this week is focused on upcoming new releases — some stand-alones, and a few new books in ongoing series. Here are the top 10 books I’m most excited for:

1) Across the Green Grass Fields (Wayward Children, #6) by Seanan McGuire: I love this series so much, and I was thrilled to see a recent announcement that there will be at least 10 books in total, if not more!

2) Calculated Risks (InCryptids, #10) by Seanan McGuire: Yes, another by my favorite author, who seems to release new books every time I blink. The InCryptid series is so much fun, and I’m excited for this next adventure.

3) Wild Sign (Alpha & Omega, #6) by Patricia Briggs: A new book in the Charles and Anna saga, which is a spin-off from the awesome Mercy Thomspon series. I love these characters so much! Can’t wait to see what happens next.

4) Dear Miss Kopp (The Kopp Sisters, #6) by Amy Stewart: Hurray for our favorite lady detective (and her sisters)!

5) The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey: Sounds creepy and amazing!

6) The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan: Historical fiction from an author whose previous books I’ve loved!

7) In the Garden of Spite by Camilla Bruce: A novel about a real-life serial killer from the early 1900s. Sounds great!

8) Perfect on Paper by Sophie Gonzales: I need something bright and upbeat to offset some of these heavier reads, and this may be the one! It looks adorable.

And a couple that I already own, but haven’t read yet:

9) We Came Here to Shine by Susie Orman Schnall: This is my book group book for January, and I’ve heard good things already.

10) One by One by Ruth Ware: Look at that cover! Reading about an avalanche seems like a good winter choice for a year when I won’t be anywhere near a ski slope.

What books will be keeping you warm this winter? Share your links, and I’ll come check out your top 10!

Book Review: West End Girls by Jenny Colgan

Title: West End Girls
Author: Jenny Colgan
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Publication date: January 5, 2021 (originally published 2006)
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

They may be twins, but Lizzie and Penny Berry are complete opposites. Penny is the life of the party—loud and outrageous, while quiet and thoughtful Lizzy is often left out of the crowd. The one trait they do share is a longing to do something spectacular with their lives, and as far as these two are concerned, there’s no better place to make their dreams come true than London.

Presented with a once-in-a-lifetime house-sit at their grandmother’s home in a very desirable London neighborhood, it finally seems like Lizzie and Penny are a step closer to the exciting cosmopolitan life they’ve always wanted. But the more time they spend in the big city, they quickly discover it’s nothing like they expected. They may have to dream new dreams…but are they up to the challenge?

Jenny Colgan has become a go-to author for me for when I need something bright and uplifting to cheer me up or lighten my day. West End Girls, to be published in early 2021, is actually a re-release of a book from earlier in her career, and it shows.

Lizzie and Penny are non-identical twins who at age 27 live with their mother in a cramped apartment, work at dead-end jobs, and have no prospects. When their paternal grandmother, with whom they’ve had no contact since their childhood, moves into a care facility, she offers her Chelsea flat to the girls, provided they protect her stuff while she’s away.

Jumping on the opportunity, Lizzie and Penny show up at their swanky new address, only to discover that Gran was basically a hoarder. Still, while the inside of the flat is a mess, they’ve arrived in an exclusive London neighborhood and are determined to launch new lives.

Penny is obsessed with looks and landing a rich man, and sets out to do so by going to clubs, being outrageous, dressing provocatively, and throwing herself into a wealthy crowd. Lizzie, the shy one, just wants a job, and ends up being hired by a cafe owner who’s large, gregarious, and a true talent in the kitchen.

During their time in London, both Penny and Lizzie experience romantic ups and downs, disappointments, career opportunities, and awkward social scenarios. They’re often in opposition to one another, but when push comes to shove, they have each other’s backs.

West End Girls is a fairly predictable rags-to-riches story, with each sister getting what she needs by the end — which isn’t necessarily what she thought she wanted at the start. It’s cute and light, but not problem-free.

Some of the pop culture references are dated (which makes sense, considering this book was first published in 2006), but thankfully, there aren’t enough of these to be seriously distracting. The book is much less body positive than it would be if written today, I suspect. Lizzie is overweight at the start of the story and dresses drably to hide her pounds, having survived on microwaved dinners for two many years. As Georges, the cafe owner, teaches her how to find her way around a kitchen and appreciate quality food, she ends up slimming down and getting healthier, and toward the end, even gets a wardrobe, hair, and makeup makeover. Which, good for Lizzie if she feels better about herself, but I felt like I was hearing about Lizzie’s weight and how much better she looked slimmer a bit too often for my taste.

Jenny Colgan’s more recent books have a depth and richness that I love, with wonderful settings, quirky and funny characters, and some true emotional heft. Here, I got entertainment, but not that much more.

Still, West End Girls was a fun way to spend my weekend reading hours, and I had a good time with it. It just made me look forward to summer 2021, when Jenny Colgan next new book will be released!

Cover reveal: Wild Sign (Alpha & Omega, #6) by Patricia Briggs!

Few things make me as happy as getting to see the cover of the next book from Patricia Briggs!

The cover for Wild Sign, the 6th book in the amazing Alpha & Omega series, was just revealed today. As always, cover artist Daniel Dos Santos has done gorgeous work. The book is scheduled for release in March 2021.

Beautiful, right?

There’s no preorder link yet on Amazon, but believe me, I’ll be anxiously waiting for it. I love this series so much!