Book Review: Beneath the Sugar Sky

Beneath the Sugar Sky
By Seanan McGuire

My Edition:
Hardcover, 174 pages
2018, Tor
ISBN: 9780765393586

When a girl wearing a dress made of cake falls from the sky and lands in the turtle pond at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, some of the students find themselves on a quest to help the new girl save herself and find her mother. But the group will have to travel to the underworld because the girl’s mother died before she was even conceived.

The third novella in the Wayward Children series, this book continues where Every Heart a Doorway left off, but also touches on the world one of the students, Sumi, came from. As usual, this book didn’t disappoint.

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Book Review: Every Heart a Doorway

Every Heart A Doorway
By Seanan McGuire

Not My Edition:
Hardcover, 176 pages
2016, Tor
IBSN: 9780765385505

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children caters to those children who have returned from elsewhere – gone missing, somewhere strange, unbelievable perhaps, and come back changed. Their parents struggle to deal with this new version of their child, and so Ms. West offers a home and her services to these children, to help them adjust to their life now that they’ve returned.

I really knew nothing about this story going in – I just know I like McGuire’s sci-fi (under the name Mira Grant) and when I saw this at the library, I couldn’t resist. At first, based on the description of how Eleanor West handles the parents who bring their troubled children to her boarding school, I thought perhaps she was evil. It was clear she was hiding the true nature of her school from parents and I was picking up a sinister vibe, but that was not the case.

Eleanor runs this home for children who have disappeared into magical lands, some fantastic, some dangerous, some completely ridiculous. Eleanor, having traveled to her own magical world several times, understands how hard it is for these children to adjust to “normal” life after their journeys. She knows that many of them will look for a way back into their world and will never find them. She provides a school and a sanctuary for them to live in, for as long as they need to.

This novella focues on Nancy, the newest boarder at Ms. West’s home. She’s returned from the Underworld, a land that may seem cruel to others, but a place where Nancy learned stillness and order. Unlike the others she meets at the home, Nancy doesn’t feel she was kicked out of her land – she says the Lord of the Underworld wanted her to be sure she wanted to stay in his realm, so sent her home to make her decision.

The cast of characters in this book is pretty diverse (as diverse as the magical worlds they’ve discovered) considering the length. These teens are not only culturally diverse, but sexually as well. What do I mean by that? Well Nancy describes herself as asexual. Her roommate is lesbian or maybe bi, and another friend of Nancy’s is trans. This is not something I can recall encountering in other books, especially with a fantasy element. It was refreshing. And while the teens made a point of bringing up their preferences, these preferences were only minor aspects of who they were, rather than focal points that could have easily turned cliché.

At first, when it came to the descriptions and the dynamics of the worlds these teens have been spirited away to, I was a little lost – much like Nancy on her arrival at Ms. West’s. There are four main characteristics of the worlds: Logic, Nonsense, Wicked and Virtue. Many worlds are a combination of either Logic and Wicked/Virtue or Nonsense and Wicked/Virtue. For example, Nancy’s Underworld was Logical because there were a lot of rules in place, and Wicked due to the inherent cruelty of many of those rules. But Nancy only knew of it as the place that felt right for her and she didn’t understand the way the other teens spoke about their own worlds and the terms they used.

I won’t say much more than that – there is a plot to this novella, aside from Nancy coming to terms with the current state of her life, and it involves murder. Ooh!

This being my first foray into McGuire’s fantasy writing, I have to say I’m impressed. I liked the modern setting and the variety of her characters. I can’t wait to read more from this universe!

And hey, I suppose this could be considered YA, so here’s some proof that I don’t always dislike YA! If you’re interested in modern fantasy with a little LGBT spice (though it is light…no real romance here), or if you like McGuire’s other work, I suggest you pick this up!

Here’s Seanen’s website and if you like cat pictures, I highly recommend her Twitter.

Book Review: Press Start to Play

Press Start to Play
Edited by Daniel H. Wilson

My Edition:
Paperback, 507 pages
2015, Vintage Books
ISBN: 9781101873304

From the back of the book: You are standing in a room filled with books, faced with a difficult decision. A distinctive cover catches your eye. It is a groundbreaking anthology of short stories from award-winning writers and game-industry titans who have embarked on a quest to explore what happens when video games and science fiction collide.

I bought this collection for a friend for Christmas and almost didn’t give it to him because I really wanted it for myself. With authors like Andy Weir, Seanan McGuire, Holly Black, Cory Doctorow, Hugh Howey and a forward by Ernest Cline, how could I not be intrigued? Not to mention the video game theme. And the blurb is right, the bold colors and simple font do make the cover distinctive.

I’ve said it before (and I’ll probably say it every time I review a short story anthology), collections are hard to review because each story is often so different. And I’m not the type to sit down and write something about each story, especially as this collection has 26 stories.

In short, I’ll just say I absolutely loved this collection. I liked some stories more than others, but I enjoyed them all! Some of my favorites were:

<end game> by Chris Avellone – someone is playing an old text-based game, but there appears to be a game within the game. Or perhaps one of those games is real? Or neither? If you’ve read this, I’m interested on your take.

NPC by Charles Yu – this is a funny little take on what it feels like to go from being a NPC (non-player character) in a game, to a main character with a name and personality.

Save Me Plz by David Barr Kirtley – what happens when someone figures out life is a game and can be cheated and changed the way video games can.

The Relive Box by T.C. Boyle – if you could buy a device that would allow you to play, replay, fast forward, pause and rewind any part of your past (but not alter it!), would you? I think this was an especially telling piece about how many of us might end up “living” if such a thing were possible.

Creation Screen by Rhianna Pratchett – a look at what video game characters feel and think while we create them, tweaking them to perfection, and what they think about the world around them.

A friend on Instagram asked me if I thought this collection was suitable for non-gamers. Now, I consider myself a casual gamer – we have a lot of video game systems in the house, and while I play a lot less than I used to, I still love games – but this book isn’t just about stories based on or in video games. Like most sci-fi, there are a lot of deep questions here, and a lot of “what if” situations that made me think about how I would react to certain situations, or what humanity might do with certain technology. I would say that if you’re not a gamer, as long as you’re interested in sci-fi, you’ll enjoy these stories. Picking up on all the gaming aspects is a bonus!