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

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Tor
Publication Date: January 13th, 2021
Pages: 174, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

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… 

Across the Green Grass Fields is the sixth installment of McGuire’s Wayward Children series, touted as being a jumping off point for readers new to the series. I think perhaps this is why I felt so underwhelmed by it in the end — the novel follows the same basic set up as many of the others, where a child has a difficult time at home, then comes across a door and enters another world that seems perfect for them, only to wind up being sent back to their original world. As someone who has read the entire series, it just felt like taking a step back in how the stories have progressed from the first novel which introduced us to that set up. 

Usually I find McGuire’s imagination and creativity enviable, but here it fell flat for me. Maybe it’s because I never went through a horse phase as a kid — I think the closest I came was watching The Saddle Club on TV and maybe reading a few of the books — but McGuire’s worldbuilding was thin here. Regan spends most of her time hidden away by her centaur family, which is full of characters that are likable, but that causes the world to feel small. There’s a bit of worldbuilding at the end but it’s rushed, as is the third act of the novel. Regan doesn’t get to explore the Hooflands, so it doesn’t feel lived in. 

I do however like that there was representation of intersex people in this novel. This is still one of my favorite series and I’ll read whatever McGuire writes for it. Across the Green Grass Fields just isn’t my favorite of the series, unfortunately. 

Book Review: What Big Teeth by Rose Szabo

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Genre: Young adult Gothic horror
Publisher: FSG
Publication Date: February 2nd, 2021
Pages: 400, hardcover
Source: Edelweiss

Rose Szabo’s thrilling debut is a dark and thrilling novel about a teen girl who returns home to her strange, wild family after years of estrangement, perfect for fans of Wilder Girls.

Eleanor Zarrin has been estranged from her wild family for years. When she flees boarding school after a horrifying incident, she goes to the only place she thinks is safe: the home she left behind. But when she gets there, she struggles to fit in with her monstrous relatives, who prowl the woods around the family estate and read fortunes in the guts of birds.

Eleanor finds herself desperately trying to hold the family together — in order to save them all, Eleanor must learn to embrace her family of monsters and tame the darkness inside her.

Exquisitely terrifying, beautiful, and strange, this fierce gothic fantasy will sink its teeth into you and never let go.

NOTE: There are spoilers for this book in the review!

I almost gave up on What Big Teeth about 30% of the way in. The beginning was confusing, as it made me think I had missed a detail or an explanation of something that needed an explanation, when I hadn’t. Half of Eleanor’s mother’s body is covered in polyps, and she spends all her time in water. This is actually never explained and it’s never said why her mother is obviously part-fish. Eleanor seems to have gotten some traits from the fish part of her mother, such as webbed skin between her thumbs and enjoying being in the water, but it’s never followed through. More to the point, Eleanor keeps wondering why she’s so different from the rest of her family and why she never became a wolf, and it’s like… girl, you obviously took after your mother. What is there not to get? 

I suppose Szabo wanted to give her readers some credit and assume they were smart enough to put the pieces together themselves, but this doesn’t really work. Honestly, the character of the mother could have been cut out entirely and the novel wouldn’t have lost anything; her characterization is thin and she has no effect on the plot.

That was a big theme in What Big Teeth, actually: Eleanor never puts the pieces together until well after the reader has. The book is slowly paced and I’ve read that it’s more suited to older readers who have the patience to wait for answers, but I think that Eleanor’s inability to put the obvious together would cause older readers to get frustrated quickly. It’s very obvious what’s going on, but Eleanor doesn’t catch on right away, and when she does, she intentionally ignores it so the plot can continue.

Another big theme was introducing things and then just not following through on them. Eleanor’s maternal grandmother can force people to do things through verbal commands, such as “Go to your room and stay there”. This works on everyone, even Eleanor, but not her older sister Luma. Just like their mother’s half-fish background, this is never explained. I suppose some readers will be fine with this, but I personally wasn’t.

There’s also a reveal at the end that Eleanor is a reincarnation of her paternal grandparent’s first child who died young, but that was in no way foreshadowed at all through the novel. There was more support for her being a reincarnation of her maternal grandmother’s children than there was for that. 

The ending was pretty strong, to the point where I wondered if it was written as a short story first and then Szabo just built a novel around it. I will say it was a relatively fast read because the writing wasn’t overly purple-y; it was actually a little sparse, for a Gothic horror. 

I might come back for another novel by Szabo, as maybe the weak points here were just because she’s a debut author. I’m sad to say What Big Teeth was a miss for me, though.

Book Review: A Whisker of a Doubt (Cat Cafe Mystery #4) by Cate Conte

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Genre: Cozy Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date: December 1st, 2020
Pages: 324, mass market paperback
Source: NetGalley

The fourth in a mystery series from author Cate Conte, A Whisker of a Doubt is filled with felines and crime that’s purrrrfect for cat fanciers and mystery solvers alike!

Cat cafe owner Maddie James is trying to talk herself out of having a blue Christmas–relationship woes aren’t worth it, are they?–by throwing herself into work. The renovations on Grandpa Leo’s house-turned-cat-cafe are nearly complete, and she has a lot of organizing to do. Plus, she’s part of a volunteer contingency caring for a feral cat colony in one of the richest neighborhoods on the island. But not everyone has a soft spot for community cats, and lately things have been getting contentious between the neighbors and the volunteers.

Things take a turn for the worse when one of the residents, Virgil Proust, is found face-first in a snowbank after being bludgeoned with a Christmas gnome and Maddie’s rescue pal Katrina is blamed for the murder. Maddie doesn’t believe it, but to help her friend, she has to figure out who done it–before someone gets away with the purr-fect crime.

Maddie’s back in the fourth Cat Café mystery, A Whisker of a Doubt. Katrina, Maddie’s friend and the local animal control officer, has been accused of murdering one of the residents of a community where Maddie and other volunteers have been caring for a feral cat colony.

I want to like this series more than I do. The writing style is good, and I love most of the characters. Rescues are one of my causes, as well. But Maddie is just exhausting. She namedrops her retired police officer grandfather and hospital executive father in attempts to get her own way. She thinks a lawyer has control over a client’s bail, and should chip in to pay said bail. She whines about how things aren’t fair and demands that people do things that clearly won’t work. When her friends try to give her a reality check, she lashes out, even admitting she’s a jerk, but she does it anyway.

Other characters attribute qualities to her that she clearly does not possess. Her grandfather says that she would have made a good police officer, but Maddie is far too immature and her kneejerk reactions are all emotional. Her friend Cass says that Maddie can tell when people are lying, but Maddie mentions several times how she’s been lied to in relationships. 

Then there are the plot issues. There are several implausible scenes, and one that is only there to provide drama. No details, because of spoilers, but a local small-town cop is not going to have access to do a large-scale search in the records of jurisdictions in other states to find dirt on someone. Also, even assuming that you get only one phone call in jail, wouldn’t you have the sense to call someone who can handle things for you? It just felt contrived. 

The premise is good and, if Maddie would just grow up, the series would be enjoyable.