Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

Genre: YA dystopian
Format read: audiobook
Content warnings: violence, death
Rep: disability
Series: Not a Drop to Drink vol 1
Rating: planchet-3

In a world where water is a limited and valuable commodity, Lynn has had to do hard things since she could walk. Hunt. Steal. And defend the pond that keeps her and her mother alive.

But when her mother dies suddenly, Lynn has to do all this on her own. That’s fine–she’s always been on her own to some extent.

But hard than all her chores–harder than hauling and purifying water, harder that shooting at trespassers and killing coyotes, might be learning to lean on others.

When a group of violent newcomers threatens not just Lynn but the entire area, she’ll have to make alliances if she wants to live.

Can she risk those alliances turning into actual friendships?

This was Mindy’s first book, and one of the few she’s written I hadn’t read yet. Dystopian isn’t really my bag, but it was still quite good. I haven’t decided if I want to read the second book in this duology, In a Handful of Dust. Have you read it? Should I give it a go?

Trial by Fire by Josephine Angelini

Genre: fantasy
Format read: audiobook
Content warnings: Abelism, poor rep for Native American, POC, and LGBT+ communities, misogony
Rep: Chronic illness
Series: Worldwalker vol 1
Rating: planchet-3

Lily is allergic to everything. At any given moment, she could break out in hives, throw up, pass out, or even have a seizure because of them. It’s so bad that it’s unclear if she’ll be able to graduate high school, as more and more of her time is spent in sterile hospitals going through round after round of useless tests and experimental treatments. But despite all of it, no one can figure out what is wrong with her or why her health continues to deteriorate.

With an ever shrinking circle of friends, an unstable family situation, and no future in front of of her, it’s somewhat understandable for a fight with her best-friend-turned-boyfriend to feel like the end of the world, to feel like she has nothing worth living for.

Until a tiny voice asks if she wants a way out–a way to another world.

And the voice is coming from inside her head.

In a flash Lily finds herself transported to an alternate reality, a parallel universe where the witches at Salem didn’t burn–they took over.

Now America–which isn’t even a country–has been abandoned by Europe. White settlers live in thirteen walled cities run by witches who use magic to provide transportation, food, medicine, and everything the people need.

Outside the walls, is chaos.

Wild beasts–magically bred–rule the forests. The only people brave enough to live outside the walls are those who can’t gain citizenship: the Outland peoples who have banded together to fight off the monsters and the witches alike. Originally made up of native tribes, the Outlanders have “adopted” anyone who has been exiled for fled from the cities.

Salem, the largest and most fear city, is ruled by Lilian, the most powerful witch in the thirteen cities, who runs things with an iron fist. But here’s the crazy part–Lilian and Lily are two flavors of the same person.

When she realizes her doppelganger has instigated murder and torture in the name of “purity” Lily makes a run for her life. Captured by Outlanders, it takes time to explain that not only is the not the evil queen, but she’s not even supposed to be in this universe. But there’s more; the resemblance between Lily and Lilian isn’t only skin deep. Lily also develops magical powers. According to Rowan, the handsome man training her, her constant fever and “allergies” are her body trying to channel the energy around her into magic, and failing due to lack of training.

Lilian put a price on their heads. If Lily wants to get home, she will have to help Rowan and the other Outlanders defeat Lilian in all-out war. And it still remains unclear why Lilian brought her otherworldly twin to this universe to begin with.

As you might have gathered from the summary, this book has a lot of aspects that are downright problematic, from the repeated use of “painted savages” for Outlanders, to the ableism in Lily’s illness being turned into an expression of her magic. While I can’t speak with authority on the latter, I have heard the majority of disabled people dislike it when their disability is used in this way, though I’ve also heard of some who find it empowering. It depends on how they identify with their particular illness or disability. Personally, having read similar takes on chronic illness and mental illness, it makes me uncomfortable.

This book made me so angry because despite the many problematic elements, I wanted to keep reading. I really enjoyed the story and the drama. At this point, I can’t say if the problematic bits are meant to be social commentary to point out problems in our society by driving them to an extreme, or if they are actually as problematic and socially blind as they appear.

I may need to read the second book to find out.

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Genre: fantasy
Secondary genre: historical/political
Format read: audiobook
Content warnings: attempted sexual assault, violence, pet death
Series: His Fair Assassin vol 1
Rating: planchet-3

**This review contains major spoilers, which are marked below**

After being abused by her parents, Ismae is sold into a marriage contract. But when her new husband sees the mark on her back–a blood red scar leftover from her mother’s attempted abortion–he beats her, rejects her, and sends her fleeing into the night.

She finds refuge in a convent dedicated to Mortain, one of the old gods of death. Populated by women and girls that have led hard lives much like Ismaes, they train from dawn to dusk in every manner of death.

When Ismae finally reaches the point, some years later when she goes out on her first solo mission, her assignment is interrupted by a man determined to keep her victims alive.

After a second run in, the mystery man tracks Ismae back to the convent. After explaining that he works for the Dutchess–the country’s teenage ruler, in danger of loosing her power to the invading French army–Ismae and the mysterious Duval have no choice but to work together. With Ismae’s ability to not only see the mark of Death on a person, and her immunity to poison and magic-enhanced healing, she soon becomes close to the dutchess and secretly takes a role not only as her confidant, but also her body guard.

But Duval has secrets of his own and may not be trustworthy, no matter what the reverend mother and the convent’s patron say. If she wants to keep herself and the dutchess safe, Ismae will have to track down the leak in their security network.

But to do so may mean betraying everything she’s come to believe about herself, the world, and the convent that saved her life.

I’m honestly not sure how I feel about this book. On the one hand, it has great historical and political details that dovetail nicely with actual historical fact, but with an added fantasy element.

However, I found Ismae to be annoying, stubborn, and willfully obtuse at points, and I really didn’t like Duval. While he did have his good points, it’s clear almost from the first time he appears that he’s meant to be the love interest, and I really just don’t like him in that role.

There were some very funny bits, and some that were more heart wrenching. Honestly, my favorite scenes were the ones where Ismae killed someone she wasn’t supposed to (because ASSASSIN). She just can’t seem to help herself. 🙂

And then there’s the bit about Ismae’s powers. **spoiler** Ismae can literally cure poisoning by sleeping with people. That scene made me want to scream.

I don’t know if I want to continue with this series. I liked the beginning and the ending, but the bits in between left me somewhat cold, and there were still unanswered questions at the end.

What are your thoughts? Have you read the His Fair Assassin series?

The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee

Genre: historical
Secondary genre: adventure
Format read: hardback
Positive Rep: POC (multiple, including Middle Eastern and African), mixed race, epilepsy, LGBT+ (gay and aro/ace), autistic coding, Muslim
Series: Montague Siblings vol 2
Rating: planchet-5

Henry “Monty” Montague entered the literary world with a splash in 2017 in The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue. For fans of our rakish hero concerned about this second book following his somewhat dowdy and straight laced sister, Felicity, let me allay your fears: Petticoats and Piracy is just as funny, queer, and heart-wrenching as the first volume in the series.

One of my favorite bits about this book is that it ca be read as a stand alone. While the backstory and family relationships will make a lot more sense to those who have read Vice and Virtue, Felicity’s story is all her own and she makes that very clear from the beginning: She has left home, supporting herself with part-time work at a bakery while attempting to gain admittance to an Edinburgh medical school in the late 1700s, or at least obtain some sort of apprenticeship on the subject.

Unfortunately, the prevailing attitude at the time is that women are unfit for the medical field–despite the fact that Felicity has, under hazardous and far less than ideal conditions, performed surgery on multiple occasions–including stitching up her own brother’s head after his ear was sliced off in the first book. In fact, in the first ten pages we see her stitching up her boss’s hand after he cuts the tip of his finger off.

Alas, while they are good friends, Callum wants more. When Felicity tries to let him down gently, this “nice guy” accuses her of leading him on and taking advantage of his kindness. The argument, combined with her latest rejection from the medical field, finally helps Felicity reach a decision: it’s time to leave Edinburgh, and have an adventure of her own.

The book is full of plot twists and lively, eccentric characters with easily the most effortlessly diverse cast I’ve reviewed to date.

From start to finish, I loved this book. I related so hard to Felicity. While she can be narrow minded about some things–especially what it means to be female or feminine–through the course of the book she changes her opinions and grows and changes as a person. I loved seeing the development of the various characters.

And never fear–Monty and Percy also show up, and while they do feature prominently in some scenes, they are far from stealing the show.

Definitely pick up this book–and Vice and Virtue–if you have’t yet. In fact, maybe it’s time to give it a re-read.