Popsugar Reading Challenge category: A book with a rabbit on the cover
I Shall Wear Midnight, by Terry Pratchett
Terry Pratchett's Discworld books are often very funny, and this one is considered "young adult," but there are also some very grim parts, including cruelty to children and animals. Pratchett doesn't shy away from the dark. 15-year-old Tiffany Aching, a rural witch, must defeat a supernatural creature called the Cunning Man. He has the power to stir up anger and suspicion toward witches, and many of the locals get caught up in it - including Tiffany's ex-boyfriend Roland, who has recently inherited the title of Baron - and suspects Tiffany of killing his father.
Tiffany is helped - and frequently hindered - by the Nac Mac Feegle, also known as the Wee Free Men. These tiny fairies are tougher than they look, and prone to drinking, brawling, "borrowing" items, and generally making Tiffany's life difficult in hilarious ways. The book includes a side trip to the city of Ankh-Morpork, so there are "cameos" by members of the City Watch, in addition to the witches who typically appear in Tiffany's stories. Apparently the wee Free Men have something of a reputation in the city, and the Watch members are anxious to be rid of them.
Although the other witches are able to help, it's made clear to Tiffany that they expect her to prove herself by coming up with her own solution to the Cunning Man problem. She does, of course, and manages to figure out a few other problems - including her own love life - along the way.
Popsugar Reading challenge category: A book becoming a TV series or movie in 2023
The Power, by Naomi Alderman
The premise to this story sounds like straightforward feminist wish-fulfillment: women and girls develop the ability to give a powerful (or even deadly) electric shock by touch. Suddenly it's men, not women, afraid to walk alone at night. Rapists find the tables turned, trafficked women rise up, and whole countries are overthrown.
But the book is really about power itself, and how it changes those who have it and those who don't, individually and societally. In one early scene, women at work are joking about using the power. The one man there says it isn't funny, and he's told to "calm down." Later, he has to worry about not seeming "too angry." Within a few years, an Eastern European country has decreed the same sorts of restrictions on men that we currently associate with Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan. There's a female-on-male rape scene that's absolutely horrifying and not even slightly sexy.
We follow several characters through the tumultuous ten years after the power emerges. Roxy is a British gangster's daughter. Margot is a rising American politician; her daughter Jocelyn has the power only intermittently. Tunde is a male journalist from Nigeria, trying to capture the story of a changing world. And Allie is a runaway who starts a goddess religion, renaming herself Mother Eve.
The book's framing device takes it to another level. At the beginning, there's an exchange of letters between a fictional "Naomi" and "Neil Adam Armon," who wants Naomi to read his manuscript for a historical novel called "The Power."
There are more letters at the end, and we learn that the world is now 5000 years past an event called the Cataclysm. Humans bombed each other back into the Stone Age, and civilization developed in a different direction. Naomi tells Neil that his story is fun but unrealistic; there's no reason to believe men were ever soldiers except in a few isolated cultures. Evolutionary psychology teaches that men are "naturally" gentle and nurturing, while women are warriors because they have babies to protect. As for the notion of men trafficking women for sex, the fictional Naomi giggles over the absurdity and "sexiness" of the idea. The things that are accepted as natural, inevitable gender differences are ultimately only a matter of power.
Thinklings: If you belonged to one of the alien species in your books, which would it be and why?
Laura: I wrote a whole quiz to answer that! I was surprised how much I had in common with Cygnoids, mostly because of their idealism. But I hope I have a little of the Jupiteran sense of justice, the Venusian extreme self-esteem, the Ursan sense of fun, and the Mercurian quirkiness. Wait, I left out Plutonians. Do I have anything in common with them? I share their view that Pluto is a real planet.
Read the rest on the website for Thinklings Books.
Popsugar Reading Challenge category: A book based on a popular movie
2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke
From the way the prompt is worded, I assumed that a book that was later made into a movie wouldn't qualify; the movie was supposed to come first. 2001 is a special case: the book and movie were created simultaneously.
It makes sense, then, that the writing is so visual. There's a long stretch where Dave, the ship's captain, has no one to interact with, but the vivid images of stars and planets keep it from feeling slow. The description of the iconic obelisk was so clear that I could hear the famous music in my head.
The AI computer having a nervous breakdown feels even more relevant today. We don't have true artificial intelligence, but Siri and Alexa make HAL easy to imagine.
The ending is kind of esoteric, and probably works better on the screen. But like the rest of the story, it leaps off the page, easy to picture if not entirely easy to understand.
What kind of alien are you in the Cosmic Turkey universe?
Take the quiz.
Popsugar Reading Challenge category: A book about a vacation
The Innocents Abroad, by Mark Twain
Normally I love Twain, but this book (his first) quickly got repetitious. It's a travelogue of a 6-month cruise he took through Southern Europe and the Middle East. A lot of the humor is just mocking the clothes or strange customs of whatever port they were in that day, along with frequent references to the women being "homely" and the locals trying to cheat the travelers out of money.
It's a bit surprising seeing Twain refer to "we Protestants," as he famously rejected religion in his later years. There's a sly running gag about the travelers' visits to various cathedrals, all of which seem to have the same relics from the same saints.
No doubt the book felt more fresh in an era when foreign travel was difficult and information about other countries wasn't available with a few keystrokes. And Twain's witty turns of phrase are there throughout the book, giving a glimpse of the great writer he would become.
Popsugar Reading Challenge category: A historical novel
A Lady for a Duke, by Alexis Hall
A Regency romance with a twist: the lady is trans.
After being presumed dead at Waterloo, she takes on a new identity as a woman, names herself Viola Carroll, and settles in the household of her genial-but-dim brother (who has taken over Viola's former title as Duke of Marleigh), and his wonderfully tart-tongued wife, Louise. Viola reconnects with her former best friend, the Duke of Gracewood, who is struggling with PTSD and misusing laudanum while raising a teenage sister. Gracewood is suffering greatly from grief over the "death" of his best friend, until he discovers Viola's identity and they fall in love.
Romance is an idealistic genre, and this one is decidedly free of angst (except over the horrors they witnessed in battle). Gracewood, his sister, and Viola's family accept her as a woman with a minimum of questions. Nobody slips and uses her deadname; we never even learn what it was. Gacewood has no hesitation or self-doubt about sex with Viola, even though he's only been with cis women before. The third-act crisis isn't a breakup; it's a scoundrel kidnapping Gracewood's sister in an attempt to arm-twist her into an unwanted marriage. Gracewood and Viola encounter obstacles on the way to their happily-ever-after ending, but they're mainly "us against the world" obstacles.
It's a romance worthy of a daring lady like Viola.
Kindle preorders here.
The paperback will be available for preorder sometime between now & December 5th.