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Posts Tagged ‘fantasy’

Book Review: She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

Image of a digital book cover. A yellow sky with an orange sun. In front of this on the rise of a hill is an army on horses with one leader in front. The title of the book is She who Became the Sun.

Summary:
In China in 1345, a little peasant girl barely surviving a famine hears her brother will have a great fate but she is fated to nothingness. When their father dies and her brother chooses to die with him, she lays claim to his fate, going to a monastery and pretending to be a boy for survival. When she grows up, she finds herself pursuing her brother’s great fate and clashing repeatedly with Ouyang – a man who survived an order to kill his entire male line by being forcibly turned into a eunuch. As the Mongols and the Nanren clash for dominance in China, Ouyang and the person known as Zhu Chongba find their fates clashing.

Review:
This is being marketed as the queer Mulan, and I just have to say that Mulan was already queer. Li Shang Mulan regardless of what gender she is presenting as. But there’s plenty of room for more than one queer ancient China war drama. ūüôā

I loved the beginning of this book. The famine and Zhu’s entire time in the monastery just spoke to me. I was engrossed. But then when Zhu leaves the monastery the tone and setting of the book changed, and it worked less for me. To me the beginning of the book is about choosing your own destiny, and the clash of desire and faith. The end of the book is about being the best warlord with your brains instead of brawn, which just was less compelling to me personally. Actually, I think this quote from the book sums up how Zhu is at the end of the book, even though this is actually Zhu describing someone else:

[T]he ferocious, irreligious joy of a man who has willingly cast aside any chance of nirvana for the sake of his attachment to life.

(location 843)

The fantasy elements of this book include that Zhu and some others can see ghosts – hungry ghosts specifically, which is a Buddhist concept. Leaders also have a mandate from heaven, which presents itself as a visible fire they can summon into their hands. Different leaders have fire of different colors. It’s interesting to note that many sides seem to have a real mandate of heaven. Why is an interesting question that I hope the sequel will explore.

The queer elements in the book include both gender and sexuality. Zhu seems to experience some gender dysphoria – this is not presented simply as a cis woman passing as a man. It’s more complex than that. However, I do wish this was explored more deeply. For example, the omniscient narrator refers to Zhu as “she” regardless of how Zhu seems to feel about their gender at any point. Ouyang is a eunuch, and eunuchs fall under the queer umbrella. Ouyang has romantic feelings for another man. It was unclear to me if these feelings were ever consummated. Zhu falls for a woman, and they have sexual relations onscreen. For me, Ouyang’s relationship was a classic queer tragedy. Zhu’s is more complex, and I’m interested to see where it goes in the sequel.

There is a character who loses a limb in this book. The moment of the limb loss is presented as a turning point for this character. It lets them become who they need to be. I felt negatively about this. It read to me as a bit like disability inspiration p*rn. I understand that, for this character, their relationship with their body is complex. But I wish another way had been found to help the character come into their own rather than this.

Overall, I really enjoyed that this fantasy was set in a culture steeped in Buddhism as a nice change of pace for fantasy. Queer characters are central, rather than as tragic sidekicks. The qualms I had did not keep me from enjoying the book as a whole, and I am interested in its sequel. Recommended to fantasy lovers looking for a change or to those who don’t usually read fantasy but might enjoy it for the representation.

4 out of 5 stars

Length:¬†416 pages ‚Ästaverage but on the longer side

Source: NetGalley

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Book Review: The Queen of the Cicadas / La Reina de las Chicharras by V. Castro

June 22, 2021 2 comments
Digital cover of the book The Queen of the Cicadas / La Reina de las Chicarras. A red silhouette of a woman is against a blue background. A quote reads "Dark, atmospheric, sexy, and dangerous, her fiction bringers readers her unfiltered Latinx essence and a unique pulpy flavor. Her work matters. Read it."   Gabino Iglesias, author of Coyote Songs.

Summary:
You’ve heard of Bloody Mary and Candyman but have you heard of La Reina de las Chicharras? The legacy says she’s a Mexican farmworker named Milagros who was brutally murdered in 1950s Texas then given new supernatural life by the Aztec goddess of death, Mictecac√≠huatl. In 2018, Belinda Alvarez arrives in Texas for a friend’s wedding on the farm that inspired the legacy of La Reina de las Chicharras. But is it just a legacy or is it real?

Review:

I’m a woman of a certain age. I know that shit isn’t always right.

Chapter 9

This struck me as a Latinx, female-led version of Candyman, only, over time, La Reina de las Chicharras comes to protect the downtrodden who call her.

Milagros’s life story that leads to her becoming La Reina is told in parallel with Belinda’s discovering her story and coming into her own realizations about Mictecac√≠huatl. I really resonated with the Milagros chapters but struggled to relate to Belinda. She needed more depth and roundness to seem as real as Milagros. Some additional chapter breaks could also help with the jumping perspectives. In general, though, the dual perspectives worked and the uniqueness of the storyline kept me quite engaged to find out what would happen.

In addition to the strong Latinx content, the Indigenous history of Mexico is present. Milagros’s relationship especially to the Indigenous people who were brutally colonized is drawn clearly. There is also relatively significant queer content here. Milagros is a woman who loves women. There are two important gay male characters, and Belinda exhibits fluid sexuality, although she never gives a label to this.

Two things in this book were at ethical odds with me. First, Belinda is written as a woman in addiction who then never overcomes it (or even tries to) in spite of her character arc seeming to indicate that she has been transformed in a positive way. I’m ok with a realistic depiction that not everyone finds recovery, but it bothered me that it comes across as a positive transformation when she remains in addiction. It’s relatively clear that this is a bit of a vengeance fantasy. I understand the importance and role of having a place for anger at injustice to go. But my own spiritual beliefs uphold forgiveness over vengeance, so my world view differs.

If you like urban legend style horror and want to see women in the lead, then you will likely enjoy this read. Those offended or disturbed by the idea of the universe holding multiple gods and religions simultaneously should likely look elsewhere.

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 224 pages ‚Ästaverage but on the shorter side

Source: NetGalley

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Book Review: The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

Digital image of the cover for The House in the Cerulean Sea. A cartoon drawing of a Victorian style home on a cliff over the ocean with two trees blowing in the breeze. A yellow bar on the side advertises that this is a New York Times and USA Today bestseller.

Summary:
Linus leads a solitary life with his cat and his records and an ethical commitment to his job as a Case Worker for the Department in Charge of the Magical Youth in the UK. When his long-time commitment to investigating cases precisely according to the book by Extremely Upper Management with a highly classified case, he finds himself Marsyas Island Orphanage. Here six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must put aside his own fears and decide if they’re likely to bring about the end-times, all while keeping a particularly special eye on their mysterious caretaker, Arthur Parnassus.

Review:
When I picked this up, I expected to read a cheery tongue-in-cheek book about the end times. What I got instead was a cheery book, yes, but one about taking the risks that allow you to actually live your life in a fulfilling way. It inspired me and made me teary-eyed.

Klune simultaneously depicts the soul-crushing horror of working for a bureaucratic organization and makes it funny. This is evident just by the name Extremely Upper Management. It is just so relatable to see Linus working for a government organization that clearly has some nefarious tendencies and, at the very least, creates a terrible work environment, yet that Linus has convinced himself is him doing an ethical job. He clasps to the idea that he is making a good impact on the world, and therefore allows his life to be the horrible and depressing way it is. It takes going to Marsyas Island to snap him out of it.

Just as Linus’s depressing London life is drawn (the depiction of his commute alone is just so on point to a city commute), Maryas Island is depicted to beautifully that even now, weeks after finishing the book, I can send my mind back there for a mini-break. It’s not that it’s perfect, there are, of course, infuriating aspects to small town life (like the ferry) but! Linus can see the sun again. And he can see what can happen when people are encouraged that there is good in them they just need to draw out. My favorite of the children is the gnome, a little girl with a beard who loves her garden and threatens to kill with her shovel anyone who seems like a danger to it. But instead of focusing on the negative (the shovel threatening) Arthur focuses on encouraging her to show people her garden and guide them through what there is to appreciate about it and how to appreciate it respectfully.

I was surprised but thrilled by the blooming attraction between Linus and another adult male at the island (I somehow didn’t know that Klune is a Lambda Literary Award winning author). When I realized that a potential change for Linus might include finding love after 40 as well, I was thrilled. I would be hesitant to call this a romance, because I felt like it was really a book about living your life in a way that is authentic to who you really are and makes you happy, Loving someone who loves you back is part of that for Linus. But it’s not the focus. His life calling is the focus.

I want to encourage readers who might be distressed by Linus’s initial disappointment in his own body size and commitment to dieting that this is not a story where pounds magically fall away on an island and only then can our character find love. No, this set-up is part of making room for Linus to learn to love his body and care about other markers of health (like having a healthy glow).

This is a delightful fantasy about breaking out of your routine to find the life you really want to live. About helping children and adults find the good in themselves and draw it out. About a gay man learning to love his body and finding love in his 40s. It was so beautifully written it left me speechless, and I pre-ordered Klune’s next book. Recommended to those wanting to find inspiration to living a life that brings joy.

5 out of 5 stars

Length: 394 pages ‚Äď average but on the longer side

Source: Library

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Book Review: Wild Seed by Octavia Butler (Series, #1)

Digital image of the cover of the book Wild Seed by Octavia Butler. A woman's body is in silhouette against the moon. She appears to have wings. Another body is superimposed over hers. A pull quote from Viola Davis is featured stating, "A book that shifted my life...epic, game changing, moving, and brilliant."

Summary:
Anyanwu is a shapeshifter who is immortal who has so far largely passed without notice. But when Doro, a being who maintains his immortality by stealing others’ bodies, discovers her, everything changes. He considers her to be wild seed for his project of gathering together all humans with special powers to breed them to try to create those who can match him. But is Anyanwu already a match for him? And can they ever produce children who are like them?

Review:
The simplest word to describe this book is unexpected. That’s something that’s difficult to achieve in fantasy about immortality, so I was pleasantly surprised.

This book immediately asks the reader to identify with and understand Anyanwu at least a little bit. Unlike in some other fantasies about immortality, she is already immortal when she meets Doro. So the challenge isn’t does she want to be immortal but rather what is it like to be truly seen by someone else? Doro is somehow more frightening than Anyanwu. The reader thus sides with Anyanwu, even though she is also a little bit scary. Anyanwu also says she goes with him to protect her children from him, an emotion it is easy to understand. Thus, the reader develops an ability to see Anyanwu’s viewpoint. When Anyanwu later does certain things that would have seemed shocking, this ability to see her perspective remains.

It is also interesting to see Doro and Anyanwu’s lives placed against a backdrop of slavery. Anyanwu is African. Doro can take the body of anyone he chooses, but he does state his original human body was in Africa. They are aware of slavery and even pull some seed away from being slaves to live in Doro’s villages instead. Doro breeds people regardless of their race. What he is interested in is their abilities. However, slowly the book comes to ask if this is in a way another form of slavery? Doro says the people view him as a god and that is their relationship, but Anyanwu feels differently. That sets up the reader to ask how free are these people in these villages really?

I was also pleasantly surprised by an appearance of queerness in the later half of the book. Anyanwu makes some interesting discoveries about her shapeshifting that leads to some pregnancies and relationships that are decidedly queer in nature. I was glad the book went there but surprised because so often books about shapeshifting and body inhabiting never do cross the line of gender.

Although this is the first book in a series, I felt it stood strongly on its own yet, simultaneously, propelled me to read more. The immortality angle is what makes it work this way. This is a solid chapter in the lives of Anyanwu and Doro. Yet clearly their story isn’t over, and there are new people who are going to encounter and challenge them. It was fantasy that felt possible and challenging simultaneously. Recommended to fantasy readers looking for a fresh take on immortality.

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 320 pages ‚Ästaverage but on the longer side

Source: Library

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Book Review: Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon

Cover of the book "Sorrowland."

Summary:
Vern desperately flees the strict, religious, Black Power compound she was raised on while she is heavily pregnant with twins. Giving birth shortly thereafter and raising her babies in the woods, she finds herself transforming inexplicably. But what is she transforming into? Why? And can she protect her children from both the compound and the world?

Review:
Another Rivers Solomon book was my favorite read of last year (An Unkindness of Ghosts, review), so when I saw their new book come available on NetGalley – featuring a religious, Black Power compound – I requested it immediately and was thrilled to receive a copy. Like all of Rivers Solomon’s work this book is a gorgeous, intertwining mixture of compelling and challenging.

I was startled by the focus on pregnancy and mothering at the beginning of the book. It hadn’t been the focus of the other Rivers Solomon books I’ve read, and I must admit as a person who has never been pregnant or a mother myself, I always struggle a bit more to connect to these characters. And, indeed, by the end of the book it was not Vern as mother I connected to but rather Vern as a person caught in a complex web of the world as we know it with her ability to right wrongs and change the future limited. That twist in the gut of being caught inside of something much bigger than yourself, that I was able to relate to.

Who cared who knew if the knowing didn’t prevent future occurrences?

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The fantastical elements are immediately engaging – beautiful and grotesque. I don’t want to give anything away, but suffice to say her transformation took my breath away in a manner that reminded me of my feelings watching Season 1 of Hannibal. I mean that as a complement. It’s a fantasy that both feels like a fantasy and also real and leaves one wondering if Vern is right in the head or not? Can the world really work like this? What is happening to her?

The social commentary in this book is astute and apt without being preachy. Characters say what they say because their very lives have lived it – these are their experiences and real feelings. What may to some readers seem the most out there about the book can easily be traced to real occurrences in US history. It’s not far-fetched but one hopes its realness will reach more people because of how it is couched in fantasy.

There is rich queer content in this book, both in the sense of gender and in the sense of sexual relationships. There is two sex scenes, one of which I would consider explicit with people of multiple genders participating. However, contrary to how some booksellers are listing it, I absolutely would not call it “er*tica.” This is a serious fantasy book about issues of justice that just happens to have queer characters have sex “on screen” twice. Queer sex is not automatically “er*tica.”

With regards to other representation, there are many Black and two Indigenous (Lakota) people. Two characters have albinism, and this book eloquently depicts the visual impairments that come with that.

Overall, this book delivers what I have come to expect from a Rivers Solomon book – an engaging fantastical imagining with queer content and different abilities represented that draws attention to social issues. Readers who are able to keep an open mind to the book potentially not going the places they were anticipating or hoping for but who are willing to let the book lead where it may will enjoy this one.

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 368 pages ‚Äď average but on the longer side

Source: NetGalley

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May 2018 Book Reviews – Confessions of a Prairie Bitch (#memoir), The Couple Next Door (#thriller), Final Girls (#thriller), The Wife Between Us (#thriller), Maggie for Hire (#fantasy), Never Stop Walking (#memoir), My Best Friend’s Exorcism (#horror), The Marriage Lie (#thriller)

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A selection of books on display at De Cordova Sculpture Park and Museum. For more shots check out my bookstagram.

So I thought I read a lot in April with 6 but holy cow I read 8 books in May! What even? Honestly I barely remember May. What happened in May? Who knows. I need to do a better job of bullet journaling. I do remember my husband and I did our first motorcycle ride of the season and saw the De Cordova Sculpture Park and Museum and I thought that day was hot but oh boy did I not know what was coming. (#bostonheatwave #icouldfeelmyskincooking) I do sense a theme in my May reading which was thrillers and memoirs. I knew I’d read a lot of thrillers because my husband suggested I take a break from thrillers which he only does when I’m suddenly having trouble sleeping from reading thrillers. (This usually happens at about the third thriller in a row and oh look I read three thrillers in a row).

Anyway, this is gonna be a long post, so let’s get down to it.

I started off the month with a book I picked up on BookBub (a service that emails you alerts when books in certain genres you like/by authors you like go on sale).¬†Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Olesen and Learned to Love Being Hated by Alison Arngrim. Like many girls of the 90s I grew up watching Little House on the Prairie and had always heard Alison was ironically the nicest girl on the set while playing the meanest. I’d also heard she grew up to be an advocate and had overcome some personal difficulties so I was intrigued. This book was the perfect combination of personal story and behind the scenes of Little House. Alison is gut-wrenchingly honest while being incredibly witty. Her advocacy work includes fighting for harsher punishment of proven sexual abusers of children and working to help those with HIV. Be warned she overcame sexual abuse in her household so if that would be upsetting for you, you may want to skip over this one.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Amazon)

Next was¬†The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena a¬†thriller involving the kidnapping of a baby. I read this in audiobook format, and so I had to keep finding excuses to go listen to it. While this kept me motivated to find out what happened, there were things I really didn’t like about it. All of the women were incredibly catty with each other, there was a lot of judgmental tone used for the neighbor next door for how she dresses (it’s fine to be judgey of her for other reasons), and representation of mental illness (particularly dissociation) was near bunny boiling levels of fear-mongering. Even if you are ok with these elements, the ending was over-the-top ridiculous and dissatisfying. I still gave it 3 stars because I was motivated to find out the ending but all of these things really soured it for me, and I doubt I’ll ever read anything else by the author.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Audible)

Next another¬†thriller:¬†Final Girls by Riley Sager. This one imagines a world where over the last few decades three mass murders have occurred with each leaving one sole survivor. The media has dubbed them the final girls. Well now someone seems to be coming after the final girls to finish the job. There’s not too much to say about this one beyond the fact that I liked the concept, there were just the right amount of twists and turns, and I thought it was well-done. I’d say this has a feminist slant, which meant the whodunnit was a bit predictable but how we get to that was still twisty enough I didn’t mind too much. Sager has a new book out this month, and it’s on my tbr.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Audible)

Next another¬†thriller and you guys this one is a rare 5 star read:¬†The Wife Between Us by¬†Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen. This one sounds cheesy and (sorry) it has a cheesy cover too. When the book starts out it appears to be about an ex-wife jealous over a new soon-to-be wife but prepare to have your assumptions blown out the window. This reminded me of Big Little Lies only (dare I say it) I liked it better. This book has more than one twist. I thought I had it figured out when the first major twist happens but you guys there are more twists and one had me so shook that I actually gasped out loud on my train. It’s exactly what I want out of relationship-based thrillers. Loved it loved it. Their next co-authored book is out in January, and I am hype.
(5 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Audible)

I picked up a book that had been languishing on my kindle forever – the urban fantasy¬†Maggie for Hire Kate Danley. You could probably write the plot summary if you’ve read an urban fantasy in your day. The main character hunts monsters that make it to our world from the parallel fairy universe etc…. I think this is just proof that books are best read close to when they make it onto your tbr pile. This book would have suited me at a certain time in my life. At this time in my life it did not. I thought it was ok but I thought the main character was annoyingly immature and the plot too predictable. I won’t be continuing on with the series.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Amazon?)

Soon I got the monthly email from Amazon’s First Reads program for Prime members where you can select one book from a list to read for free pre-release. I picked up¬†Never Stop Walking: A Memoir of Finding Home Across the World¬†by Christina Rickardsson. This intrigued me because it concerns Christina’s experience as an inter-racial adoptee (from Brazil to Sweden). She was also adopted at an old enough age (7) to remember her life before Sweden, which included living in a forest and then in the favelas (essentially shantytowns or slums).¬†¬†Christina (her Brazilian name is Christiana) does a phenomenal job loving and understanding both of her mothers. Her Brazilian mother with a mental illness and her Swedish mother who does her best to love and understand her in spite of cultural and personality differences. Christina shows a remarkable ability to see the best in people who have good intentions and to make the best of difficult situations. She also shows a passion for helping the children still living in the favelas now. Recommended to anyone with an interest in or considering inter-racial adoption.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Amazon)

Next I picked up a horror¬†My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix. Set in the 80s with a Spotify playlist to go with it (I learned I cannot be bothered to go pull this up on my phone while reading) this tells the story of a girl’s best friend getting possessed by a demon and her exorcism of course. As someone who was brought up very religious and saw the actual strongmen of Jesus perform, I loved seeing them in a book (just as cheesy as I remembered) but with the added bonus of one of then actually spotting the demonic possession of the best friend. That said. I felt horribly queer-baited by this book, particularly with how the ending almost goes there but doesn’t quite. Don’t go into this expecting it all to ultimately be about accepting your same-sex attractions. It hints and teases at that a lot but it is not.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Amazon)

Finally I wrapped up the month with another thriller –¬†The Marriage Lie by Kimberly Belle. A plane crashes and Iris’s husband was on it and she suddenly finds herself a young widow. Only he was supposed to be on a flight to Florida but the flight that went down was on its way to Seattle. This is when the mystery begins. I was so into this book right up until the end (why does this happen so much in thrillers?). The way a certain character was written and described in the end of the book (not earlier or I would have stopped reading entirely) struck me as racist. I just am not down with the only black character of note in the book suddenly being described as hulking and scary with a police situation where the narrative wants the reader to root for the black man to be shot. I just. Am not. (There is one other minor black character and he makes the grieving widow take him out for dinner to give her information, which struck me as sinister as well). I still gave this 2 stars because it was readable and not completely riddled with awfulness but it really left a gross taste in my mouth.
(2 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Amazon)

Well that wraps up my month! My total for May 2018:

  • 8 books
    • 6 fiction; 2 nonfiction
    • 7 female authors; 2 male authors (remember one book had two authors)
    • 5 ebooks; 0 print books; 3 audiobooks

 

April 2018 Book Reviews – Kushiel’s Avatar (#fantasy), Please Forgive Me (#romance), The Song of Hiawatha (#poetry), A River in Darkness (#memoir), The Spy Who Came In from the Cold (#espionage), Pennterra (#scifi)

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Reading poolside in Florida.  For more shots check out my bookstagram.

Wow what a busy month! After only completing one book in March, in April I finished a walloping six! Let’s get right to it.

I read quite a bit of¬†Kushiel’s Avatar by Jacqueline Carey while on a business trip to Orlando, Florida in April (um, where I got to wrestle an alligator YES THAT HAPPENED). Ahem, anyway, this fantasy chunkster finishes up Phedre’s Trilogy and it was the perfect companion for a business trip since I was definitely not going to find the time to finish it while on the trip so it could keep me company throughout. Anyway, if you’ve heard of the trilogy and have been intrigued by it, suffice to say that I found the conclusion to be an improvement on the second book but didn’t live up to the first. I appreciated the artistry of the ending but I personally wasn’t a fan of how Phedre’s life ended up, which I think soured it a bit for me. But not enough to not put the first book in the next trilogy in this world on my tbr list.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Paperbackswap? Maybe? I bought it somewhere)

Next I picked up Melissa Hill’s romance¬†Please Forgive Me. This piece of modern Irish literature follows our heroine from Ireland to San Francisco where she tries to outrun her problems. I found the Irish interpretation of California (not least of which the idea of how the main character can just show up and work under the table and that’s fine) to be pretty hilarious. Three couples are ultimately presented where someone did something “wrong” but no one seems to think all of the running away is particularly wrong? This was one of those classic there would be no problems if everyone would just act like adults instead of impulsive children types of chick lit books. If you’re ok with that and the idea of an Irish take on California appeals to you, you may have found your next read.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Amazon)

Next something possessed me to finally get around to reading the copy of¬†The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow which is I believe out of copyright and has been hanging out on my kindle forever. By “something possessed me” I mean like many other New England children I was forced to memorize (and PERFORM) “Paul Revere’s Ride” (read it in its full glory) and I was curious if the other Longfellow epic poem lives up to Paul Revere. Um. It does not. Here’s the thing. Longfellow’s style works great for a piece about a time very close to his own and his own people in a short form. It does not work great in a full length book based on his interviews with Native Peoples and his attempts at writing down the language. It basically consists of Hiawatha telling the different nations to stop warring and unite or they’d be over-run by white people. It felt a bit…victim blamey to me. Also then in the final chapter missionaries arrive, Hiawatha welcomes them, tells his people they have a very important message and to be nice to them, then sails off in what I think is a metaphor for his death. So Hiawatha is a hero for telling those silly Native nations to unite to fight off white people but also recognizing the salvation message. Okayyyyy. I kept reading it because I thought it must get better. It did not. Stick to Paul Revere’s Ride.
(2 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: no idea anymore)

I received my next read free from Amazon thanks to the Kindle First program, and I feel like I caught it just at its popularity wave – Masaji Ishikawa’s memoir¬†A River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North Korea. Masaji Ishikawa is half-Japanese and half-Korean. His Korean father moved the family to North Korea based on promises of a better life when he was 13 years old. Masaji’s life has been incredibly hard – not just in North Korea but also in Japan. When he was a child, he faced racism in Japan because he was half-Korean, and when he escaped back to Japan he faced many difficulties repatriating (for instance, they housed him in a half-house with recovering addicts, while that is a home, you can imagine it would be difficult to repatriate in such a situation). Masaji has lost so much family; it’s overwhelming. I think he’s brave for telling his story, and I encourage anyone interested in helping North Koreans to check out the well-rated charity¬†Liberty in North Korea. While this story is incredibly important, to me personally the pacing was a bit off. Maybe it wasn’t in the original Japanese.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Amazon)

While I was reading these other books, I was also reading my audiobook¬†The Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John le Carre. I picked this up because it’s supposed to be a classic involving the Berlin Wall. This is about a British spy and basically the whole book is the question of is he loyal to the West or not? The book begins and ends at the Berlin Wall. I found the beginning very engaging and the end was exciting, but the middle dragged. I’m glad I stuck with it for the end, though. Also there’s a love interest who is a librarian in this, which was exciting for me! Recommended if you like spy novels.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Audible)

I finished out the month with a 1987 female written scifi –¬†Pennterra¬†by Judith Moffet. Basically there’s an alien planet colonized by Quakers (because Earth is dying and spaceships of groups of people who have something in common are leaving Earth looking for places to live). Of course there’s an indigenous people who resemble large insects and communicate both vocally and through emotive telepathy. I’d read this book was an exploration on the power of pacifism for resolving conflict, BUT I didn’t find much pacifist negotiation. They just do what the locals tell them to do and obey the rules put upon them. That’s pacifist, sure, but is that negotiation? I thought the planet being alive in and of itself and resisting invaders was fascinating. I thought seeing how children who arrive on the planet at the age of 7 are different and able to adapt was fascinating. I did not think that human children going through puberty and proceeding to behave like the locals sexually in ways that involved the adult humans who never adapted to the planet themselves to be logical (beyond the gross factor). Basically the locals have sex with everyone who’s hit puberty. The human children who hit puberty do the same with adults who don’t feel the natural inclination to go native and so feel guilty about it. What this ultimately means is the author ends up equating bisexualty and polyamory with incest and bestiality. No scenes are particularly graphic but the idea is that it’s ok for the human kids to do it because that’s how the local planet works. But it’s…..not. And it was very uncomfortable for me to see these things being equated. That said that is a minor plotpoint that I was able to skip over easily enough and I was interested in how the planet was going to defend itself, and I found it hilarious how the planet ultimately defends itself. I just wish the author had had going native in the human adolescents to just be bisexuality and/or polyamory and stopped short of the rest. Because they are still HUMANS even if they’ve had to adapt to the environment.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Paperbackswap)

Phew, what a month! My total for the month of April 2018:

  • 6 books
    • 5 fiction; 1 nonfiction
    • 3 female authors; 3 male authors
    • 3 ebooks; 2 print books; 1 audiobook

 

February 2018 Book Reviews – The Lakota Way (#nonfiction), The Empty Room (#alcoholism), Before We Were Yours (#historic), The Gravity Between Us (#newadult), The Nonborn King (#fantasy)

April 11, 2018 3 comments

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Some breakfast reading at my in-laws’ in Michigan. For more shots check out my¬†bookstagram

Hello my lovely readers! I’m a bit behind in my book reviews (as usual) because life just keeps happening. But I’ve still been finding time to read (obviously). Looking back on it, I’m kind of amazed I got so much reading done in February seeing as I had the flu and also took a trip to Michigan to see my in-laws and had a very busy work month. (When I’m busy at work I often find myself too brain tired to do much reading). But obviously I did get a lot of reading done! Let’s take a look at what I read.

The Lakota Way: Stories and Lessons for Living by Joseph M. Marshall III was a gift from my husband when we were first dating. I had been trying to read it mindfully and slowly a chapter at a time but clearly I kept forgetting about it instead. This happens to me when I read digital books sometimes. So I decided this month to just pick it up and finish it off. The author of this nonfiction is a member of the Lakota nation, and here he shares the wisdom of his people for us all to benefit from. I am honored and humbled by the fact that he chooses to do so when so much was wrested away from the Lakota by colonization. Reading this book was like sitting down with a wise older uncle who tells stories that may seem disconnected at first but ultimately all revolve around a theme (like love). The stories are also connected with the history of the Lakota people (before and during colonization). I found the entire collection to be moving, and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in the Native Peoples of the Americas.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: gift)

Next, I tore through my first 5 star read of the year – The Empty Room by Lauren B. Davis. This is a fictional telling of one day in the life of a woman with alcoholism. Davis is in recovery herself, and her first-hand experience is obvious here. I tore through this in just one day. It’s the most realistic depiction of alcoholism in women I’ve seen. Gritty and dark yet compassionate and hopeful.

She was always 5 minutes away from being the person she wanted to be.
(location 14%)

Alcohol, the man said, had first given him wings then taken away the sky.
(location 55%)

Just writing about it now makes me want to pick it up and read it again. If you’ve ever struggled with alcohol yourself or struggled to understand someone who does, give this read a chance.
(5 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Amazon)

Throughout the month I was working on my audiobook – Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. I call this a historic fiction but really it’s one of those dual setting books with a narrator both in the present and in the past. If you’ve been on book blogs at all in the past year you’ve heard of it. This book looks at a dark history of adoption in the United States, with children being snatched from their families under the guise of the law in the name of eugenics (in this case, the idea that beautiful children are better raised by the rich). I very much appreciate the importance of this history being presented and how well-researched it is, but I must admit that both of the main characters rubbed me the wrong way, which wasn’t something I was able to get past.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Audible)

Next I picked up The Gravity Between Us by Kristen Zimmer. This book was at the disadvantage of being my first read after having my soul touched by The Empty Room. I often find that after a read that touching I struggle to enjoy my next read, so keep that in mind when considering my thoughts. This new adult romance looks at two best friends who fall in love with each other but struggle to admit it to each other. Complicating factors include they’re both women, in their late teens, and have just moved to LA. Oh and one is a break-out movie star. It’s a great premise but the execution didn’t work for me.¬†Alternating chapters between the two main character’s perspectives took a lot of the tension out and sometimes left me confused about who was feeling what and who was talking. I also felt like both Kendall and Payton really mistreated their friends around them (a straight guy and a bisexual gal who help them keep the relationship under wraps) and while people make mistakes they never really apologize for this or make up for it to them.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Amazon)

Finally I wrapped up the month by finishing my print read of the month: The Nonborn King by Julian May. This is the last in a fantasy trilogy with four disparate plots that ultimately come together in the end of course. I wasn’t into half of them, so that made it a bit of a slog. I also had read the previous two books in audiobook format with multiple narrators, and I wonder how much of my feeling of this being a slog was that it wasn’t being performed at me. I hadn’t realized how much the performance enhanced the books. I still very much enjoy the world of The Pliocene Exile but the direction it went here was puzzling.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: PaperBackSwap I think?)

It looks like the month started strong then went mediocre. Since I got the flu at the end of the month, I wonder how much of that vibe was just a bad flu mood? Hard to say! Regardless, I know I’ll be readingThe Empty Room again.

My total for the month of February 2018:

  • 5 books
    • 4 fiction; 1 nonfiction
    • 4 female authors; 1 male author
    • 3 ebooks; 1 print book; 1 audiobook

January 2018 Reads – #fantasy, #scifi, #nonfiction, #mystery

February 9, 2018 3 comments

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For more shots check out my bookstagram

Happy New Year everyone! I started my new year off with a reading bang reading a total of 6 books. I can’t say I’m too terribly surprised as the weather has been pretty…gross in New England. I’m not anti going outside in the cold but even I struggle to enjoy it when it’s so cold you’re at risk of frostbite if you’re out for more than 30 minutes. (It’s dangerously easy for me to tip over into that range with my commute using public transit). Anyway, nothing feels cozier than reading inside while it’s awful outside. While I had a range of reads this month, overall I read a lot of¬†fantasy.

I started off the month with Honeyed Words by J. A. Pitts. My husband picked it up for me at a used bookstore in the $1 pile based on the cover and the fact that it was an urban fantasy starring a queer woman. That man knows me. Unfortunately, it turns out it was the second book in the series, and unlike a lot of urban fantasy, not enough was explained for me to be able to follow along very well. Sarah, the main character, is a blacksmith who also has a magical sword and fights dragons who run the world but usually appear as people? It was very confusing but I did enjoy the different (for urban fantasy) main character.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: gift)

Next I read the audiobook version of Connie Willis’s new¬†scifi¬†Crosstalk. This is about a near future with a surgical procedure to let partners feel each other’s feelings but when Briddey has it she finds herself able to hear the thoughts of the company weirdo and nothing from her boyfriend. I loved Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog but I was disappointed in this one.¬†The plot was predictable in most ways. I didn’t actually like either of the main characters. The female main character in particular was disappointing…very little intelligence or self-starting. I did really like the little niece but I felt the adults who were supposed to be the heroes pushed her around far too much and refused to listen to her. Let’s put it this way: if this was my first Connie Willis read, I wouldn’t be seeking out more. So thank goodness I found To Say Nothing of the Dog first, or I’d have missed it.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: Audible)

I picked up a print book next, which I originally acquired from an indie publisher thanks to hearing good things about its YA¬†fantasy with LGBTQ content –¬†Valhalla by Ari Bach. Set in a near future where corporations run everything, a teenage girl finds herself with the opportunity to get vengeance for her parents’ death but only if she legally dies and lives with a group who work to keep the world in order.¬†This was a weird book. I really had trouble getting past the ability to resurrect a person in their entirety so long as you have their brain in-tact, and I also found the politics odd and the plot ridiculous. It was readable and action-packed but I did a lot of eye-rolling. I won’t be continuing with the series.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: PaperBackSwap)

Our trip in December to the Grand Canyon reminded me of a book I’d bought a while ago on the history of the US National Forest Service (not to be confused with the National Park Service) – The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America by Timothy Egan. I already knew a bit about the history the NPS and NFS thanks to my time in service in Americorps. While I enjoyed everything I learned in the book, it is confusingly organized and repetitive. It needed more editing. For instance, I thought I was reading a book about a fire but a large part of the book was about literally everything about the Forest Service surrounding the fire. While that was informative, it wasn’t what I thought I was getting. Similarly there were passages of the parts of the book about the actual fire that really dragged–how many times do I really need to read about what the burned corpse of a horse looks like? So while I did learn a lot, which I appreciate, I do feel like it could have been better organized and streamlined.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: Amazon)

One of my reading goals is to read two print books a month, so I picked up a second after finishing Valhalla. I have a bookshelf of all my print books and I use random.org to randomly generate a number to select one. So my next read wound up being¬†The Shadow Year by Hannah Richell a British¬†mystery¬†told in dual time-lines, one being modern day with a woman recovering from a horrific miscarriage and the other being in the 80s with five college friends sharing a cottage and trying to go off-grid basically. The women in the modern day dealing with her grief is given this same cottage, and the mystery is how the two timelines will intertwine.¬†While the ending did surprise me, everything leading up to it was boring and predictable and led to me skimming a lot. I’m glad I read to the end because I found the twist interesting but the experience leading up to it wasn’t fun for me per se. I also think that consequences weren’t explored enough.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: PaperBackSwap)

I finished up my month by finally picking up the third book in a series I started ages ago – the Riders of the Apocalypse series by Jackie Morse Kessler. This YA¬†fantasy series explores the four hoursemen of the apocalypse as beings who have to get replaced occasionally by new humans who take on the role and in this series each is being replaced by a teenager. Famine was replaced by a teenager with anorexia in the first book, and War by a teenager who self-injures in the second. The third horseman is Pestilence, and I wondered what mental illness would go with this. I thought maybe Factitious Disorder (previously known as Munchausen Syndrome) but it turns out the main character in Loss¬†is a victim of bullying and a partial caretaker for his grandfather with Alzheimer’s. I wanted to like this so much but I just didn’t. I¬†didn’t identify with the main character at all, and I also felt like the representation of sickness and health was overly simplistic (with a weird huge focus on the bubonic plague). Nothing felt as fully fleshed out as I would have liked it to have been, and I don’t think relating bullying to Pestilence works the way anorexia to Famine or self-injury to War did.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: Amazon)

Hm, turns out in spite of all the reading this was a bit of a mediocre month! Here’s hoping something strikes my fancy more in February.

My total for the month of January 2018:

  • 6 books
    • 5 fiction; 1 nonfiction
    • 4 female authors; 2 male authors
    • 3 ebooks; 2 print books; 1 audiobook

September 2017 Reads – #fantasy, #nonfiction, #chicklit

December 29, 2017 4 comments

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For more shots check out my bookstagram

The end of September was our second wedding anniversary, and I feel like you can see my romantic mood reflected in the last two books of the month. I started out the month, though, with a fantasy and a nonfiction.

The¬†fantasy was¬†Kushiel’s Chosen Jacqueline Carey, the sequel to Kushiel’s Dart that I read in May. In this entry the main character is now a noblewoman instead of a bondservant but she still ends up sucked into the schemings and plottings of the those who would change the course of nations. While I overall enjoyed this entry in the series I felt that the length and action weren’t as well-balanced as in the first book. There was too little plot for the sheer length of the book.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: purchased)

I’ve always been interested in learning more about how to manage money so I picked up a copy of the¬†nonfiction¬†Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki. This book seeks to compare and contrast the advice given by a rich mentor and a poor mentor and take the best of each world. While the initial concept is good what is lacking in the book is an ability to understand others and other life situations. There’s not one way that will work for everyone but the book presents the idea that everyone can achieve wealth in exactly the same way. And in all honesty the way presented, while it has some good ideas (such as to ensure you’re investing in assets rather than liabilities) it also relies a lot on other people not managing their money well (for instance in the case of being a lender to someone else or owning property and renting it out to others). While I’m not saying how the author achieved his money is wrong per se I will say that it’s not a way I personally would be comfortable running my own affairs from an ethical perspective. I would also say the book doesn’t necessarily age well. It reflects an ideal property investment market which we do not have currently. I did take away a few good tips from it though, such as the understanding what’s really an asset and what’s a liability tip mentioned before, so it wasn’t a total loss of time to read.
(2 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: library)

Next I decided it was high time I read the book one of my favorite chick lit¬†movies is based on–Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding. The basic plot of this is a 30-something in London keeps a diary for a year documenting both her attempts at self-improvement and her romantic exploits. I found Mark Darcy to be far more likable in the book than in the movie, and I understood Bridget’s attraction to him better. (In fact, reading the book version of him made me like him better in the movie version too. I was able to see the subtleties going on in the acting I’d missed before). I thought the plot with Bridget’s mother was much more well thought-out and a situation that made me have more empathy for Bridget than in the movie. I also liked how it’s very clear in the book that Bridget is obsessed with her weight but is actually a healthy weight and her friends will actually say something to her when she gets too thin. There was just something touching about her neuroticness in the book. As I said in my short initial review on GoodReads: v. good.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: purchased)

I rounded out the month with the Liane Moriarty chick lit from Australia –¬†What Alice Forgot. Interestingly, this made it onto my wishlist long before the¬†Big Little Lies miniseries hullabaloo. I just thought the plot sounded interesting. I didn’t even realize it was the same author until I had to wait in line for the book at the library. I decided to stick with starting with the book I was initially interested in, and I’m glad I did. It was such a hoot. Alice is 29, married/madly in love and pregnant with her first child. Then she wakes up and discovers she’s 39 and in the middle of a divorce. (Of course she has amnesia, she hasn’t actually time-traveled). What happened to make her marriage fall apart? It’s a giant mystery for her to solve. I really enjoyed this book. If you’re someone who really believes in marriage then the mystery of what happened to Alice’s really sucks you in. There’s also quite a bit in there about how you change over the course of your 30s and which of these changes are good or bad. I will say the ending was a bit meh to me. It felt kind of rushed and epiloguey and I’m just not sure how I feel about it in the long-run. It didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the experience of the read, though.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: library)

My total for the month of September 2017:

  • 4 books
    • 3 fiction; 1 nonfiction
    • 3 female authors; 1 male author
    • 3 ebooks; 1 print book; 0 audiobooks