Wrap-Up: October

  • The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorani (★★★★☆)
  • Now I Rise by Kiersten White (★★★★☆)
  • Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (★★★★☆)
  • The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin (★★★★☆)
  • Roar by Cora Carmack (★★☆☆☆)

MONTHLY TOTAL: 5
YEARLY SO FAR: 65

A solid reading month. Nothing really got me in the gut, but I loved most of these books! Roar was the only one I really detested.  Look at that cover, though! I really love how it looks in this graphic. If I ever get published I would kill to have a cover like that.  Alas.  I’m also not quite sure how I read only five books this month when last month I read four including War and Peace.  Maybe it’s because I had been reading one of those books from last month forever…

Anyway! I’m still reading the same non-fiction book from last month, which is Before They Were Belly Dancers: European Accounts of Female Entertainers in Egypt, 1760–1870 by Kathleen W. Fraser.  Again, I’m only reading from this like an hour a week, so it’s slow going. Plus I’m savoring it.  It’s literally giving me thrills as I read it (yes, I am a nerd).  I just started Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie Dao yesterday! I can’t believe I managed to get it out of the library so quickly.

This month I’m also buddy reading Wuthering Heights with Rachel.  And I just bought Jane Eyre, so I hope to read that as well.  I hope I continue to enjoy my foray into the ~classics.  Finally, I also recently acquired The Bloodprint by Ausma Zehanat Khan, which I’m really excited to read.

Happy Halloween!

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Book Review: Roar by Cora Carmack

29939048Title: ROAR
Author: Cora Carmack
Release Date: 2017
Pages: 380
Publisher: Tor Teen
My Rating: ★★☆☆☆(1.5/5)
Review on Goodreads

Never in my life have I seen such a fantastic concept executed so, so terribly.

The first few chapters had me hooked. We are introduced to a world ruled by storms, forces of nature like hurricanes or tornadoes that attack randomly and can only be controlled by Stormlings, who are normally the ruling families (this reminded me a bit of the world in N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, but it veered off in another direction at the end). The mythology behind storms and Stormlings is so utterly fascinating too, and there’s even a creepy cult that worships them! The book hits the ground running, with protagonist Aurora preparing for her arranged marriage to Cassius Locke, a Stormling prince. It is revealed that Aurora is powerless, with no ability to temper storms, and so she must be married off to Cassius so that her kingdom can have a Stormling’s protection.

It’s a fantastic premise. I even was fascinated by Cassius; it seemed like he was being built up to be a super problematic dude but possible ally and anti-love interest. From the get-go he was domineering and controlling and just plain gross, but it almost seemed like the author was gearing up to deconstruct the trope of this kind of YA love interest, since Cassius was built up as the villain. I was even more fascinated when it is revealed that Cassius may have an ulterior motive for wanting to marry Aurora. So, one night, Aurora follows him to try to learn something, and this is where everything went downhill, and a promising fantasy devolved into an eye-rolling, nauseating romance. (This makes so much sense now that I know this author has previously only written romance.)

Basically, Aurora learns that Stormlings are not the only people with storm abilities, that in fact you can gain abilities by acquiring the heart of a storm (at least I think – the explanation on this was a bit shaky). So she joins a band of “hunters” – people who hunt storms – in order to acquire magic for herself so she doesn’t have to marry Cassius. What follows is a bunch of pointless, boring chapters of Aurora “training” to fight storms and falling in love with Locke, one of the hunters.

The romance is sickeningly heteronormative and misogynistic. Locke is possessive and domineering, frequently making references to how much he wants to “own” Aurora and how he wants her to belong to him. There are also several instances where he talks about being unable to control himself around her and forcing decisions on her. He’s a moody asshole a lot, with changes in temper that remind me strongly of abusive behavior. When they’re training, there’s a scene where he becomes sexually aroused when he physically overpowers her (yeah, I’m serious). At so many points I literally stopped reading and said aloud, “That is so fucking gross.” One example that nearly had me retching was when Aurora tells Locke she’s a virgin, and he says, verbatim:

“I’m the first to touch this mouth? To taste it?…That means it’s mine. My territory. And I’m prepared to protect it, every hour of the day if I must.”

If I hadn’t been reading on my Kindle, I think I would have physically hurled the book away at that point.

Just as disturbing are the constant references to Aurora’s body by the men around her. I feel like I know more about what she looks like than anything else in this world, and what she looks like is the embodiment of a traditionally beautiful thin white woman. There is so much emphasis on her thinness, her slim fingers, the curve of her waist, her hips, her perfect white skin, her gorgeous blue eyes, her red lips…and this happens constantly, to the point of being fetishistic. It’s fucking creepy, almost like a horny teenage boy was writing this. It constantly took me out of the narrative to roll my eyes.

Aurora, the protagonist, is bland as hell. She could have been likeable! In fact I was intrigued by her at the start, a bookish and shy princess trying to put on a brave face for her husband-to-be. She’s naive and extremely sheltered and idealistic, but it makes sense given her upbringing, and it works well. I got Sansa Stark vibes, and Sansa Stark is one of my favorite characters of all time! But Aurora’s personality development falls victim to the romance, which completely overtakes the book. There are entire chapters (chapters! plural!) devoted only to Locke and Aurora flirting and talking about how much they want to get in each others’ pants. In between these chapters Aurora spends a lot of time doing absolutely nothing but traveling aimlessly (I’m really starting to hate ~quest~ novels).

There are some scenes that take us back to Aurora’s home, where Cassius and his family have taken advantage of Aurora’s absence. Aurora’s childhood friend Nova, who helped Aurora fake her kidnapping, is imprisoned by Cassius after being suspected of having helped kidnap her. These scenes of Nova and Cassius were ten times more interesting than anything happening with Locke and Aurora. Nova is a fascinating character with her own secrets and her own power. Her scenes with Cassius were some of the most engaging in the whole book.

And a technical issue: the dialogue. Oh, the dialogue. Besides being peppered with laughably dramatic declarations, it constantly lacks contractions. Perhaps this is a personal annoyance, but nobody speaks without contractions; it’s stiff and stilted and just plain weird. And why would common people in particular be speaking it? Not that I like it when authors do this to try to differentiate upper-class from lower-class, but at least then it would make some sense. Instead, in this book, dialogue switches between super casual and super formal, to the point of being disorienting.

Everything about this plot is bland and cliche, which is such a shame, because this concept is too good to waste like this! I’m literally sitting here grieving about how this book decides that two horny teenagers are more interesting than potentially sentient natural disasters! At least if the romance were well done it might have been bearable, but instead we have a boring caveman male love interest who falls head over heels for a mysterious beautiful girl at first sight and then constantly talks about how he wants to possess her. No thanks.

Book Review: The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin

31817749Title: THE STONE SKY
Author: N.K. Jemisin
Release Date: 2017
Pages: 396
Publisher: Orbit
My Rating: ★★★★☆(4.5/5)
Review on Goodreads

I will begin with my one complaint, which is not even completely a complaint. But I spent nearly the entire book feeling vaguely lost, unsure if I was lost because I didn’t remember enough of book two or because things were just getting confusing. For in the conclusion to The Broken Earth trilogy Jemisin does give you all the answers you want about the origin of the world and the Seasons and the stone eaters – I’m just not sure I understood all of it. That is a testament to the complexity of Jemisin’s worldbuilding. It is the type of book that, once you finish, you want to begin all over again just to absorb it properly. In fact I feel like I want to re-read the whole trilogy, making highlights and annotations and using post-its to connect things and truly understand. That is what I mean when I say my complaint isn’t really a complaint, but rather an appreciation for the richness of the story. But I do think there could have been a way to make things more clearer, more straightforward and blunt, to help hammer in understanding.

Like the first two books in the series, The Stone Sky deals in tragedy, in exploitation and cruelty, justice and injustice. There are so many themes and incidents and characters in this book that resonated so strongly with me; they so powerfully mirror the current state of the world that I was utterly mesmerized. Essun and Nassun are finally reunited, in the last chapters, and it is as heartbreaking as you might imagine. Mother and daughter have both been through unimaginable horrors, and come out the other side hardened. But underneath all the tragedy, there is a tide of furious, fierce hope, a hope that things can be better if you force them to be.

The worldbuilding is spectacular. I know this even if I didn’t completely understand it. Jemisin showcases a society rooted in biotechnology, that uses the Earth’s magic to create tech that will grants convenience, a strong metaphor for our world’s use of fossil fuels and the like. It is an impressively creative way to combine science and magic. Like all of Jemisin’s books, and the reason why she is heralded as one of today’s best fantasy writers, The Stone Sky’s worldbuilding borrows little from existing societies or histories. It is wholly original, fresh, truly fantastical, the sort of fantasy that isn’t just faux-(insert historical civilization here), but completely unique.

At the close of the trilogy, the story wraps up beautifully, in a way that explicates the series’ narrative style, which, as I have come to understand, is Hoa weaving a complex story. It’s absolutely brilliant. The entire series is a masterful achievement of epic, that quality in fantasy that makes chills run down your spine from the awe of it all. What a grand, epic adventure.

Sirens 2017: Women Who Work Magic

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You may have noticed I’ve been MIA for a while, and that’s because I was attending this year’s Sirens Conference! What is Sirens, you ask? Sirens is a conference dedicated to women in fantasy literature. From their website:

In fantasy literature, women are revolutionary.

They wield swords, courageous. They battle monsters and are, themselves, monsters. They conjure love and hate and glory. Their intrigues are legion; their military campaigns tactically brilliant; their rule incomparably powerful. These women inhabit worlds different from our own because women authors have given them extraordinary opportunities: to grow, to love, to fight, to fail, and, sometimes, to save the world.

Sirens is a conference dedicated to the diverse, remarkable women of fantasy literature: readers and authors, certainly, but just as importantly, scholars, librarians, educators, publishing professionals, and even characters. Sirens is a place where a woman can, without shame or irony, declare herself a queen, a dragonmaster, a general. A place where women aren’t constrained by what our real-world society demands. A light in a world that frequently expects too much and offers too little.

The 2017 theme of the conference was women who work magic, with guests of honor N.K. Jemisin, Victoria/V.E. Schwab, and Zoraida Cordova, who each gave a keynote speech. In addition to that were multiple author-attended panels and presentations given by members of the Sirens community.  As a brief snapshot of the types of presentations given: I attended a paper presentation on the history of fantasy literature, a presentation on the witch trials in 15th century England, a re-writing workshop, and a roundtable discussion of f/f works in fantasy.  In one short weekend I learned so much!

The Sirens experience is unique for a fantasy conference because it is a woman-majority space. I think there were maybe like ten dudes there? And they were either gay or attached to their wives, which made for a very welcoming and low-stress environment. I never had to worry about being “on” or being hyper aware. For the entire weekend I was the most relaxed I’ve ever been; I felt like myself. The women there were progressive, open-minded, friendly readers, writers, librarians, and introverts. I felt like I was with my tribe.  And my book haul? SPECTACULAR.

The one downside, in my opinion, was the location.  The conference was held in Beaver Creek, Colorado, a resort town with a staggering altitude of 8100 feet! Coming from sea-level NYC, this was a difficult adjustment for me. For the whole weekend I was either physically ill or physically exhausted.  I was constantly out of breath, I had trouble sleeping, and I just felt very out of it the whole time. Plus the town itself, as a resort town, felt artificial. Though pretty, it was enclosed and somewhat claustrophobic.

But that’s only a tiny downside! Being among so many kind and accomplished women was so inspiring. Victoria Schwab’s keynote speech nearly made the audience burst into sobs.  N.K. Jemisin’s presentation on world-building was so useful I can’t wait for her to open up her own school of writing.  I had such an excellent time! (As soon as they hold it in a location that isn’t at a death-defying altitude, I’ll go again, LOL.)

Has anyone here ever been to Sirens?

Top 5 Tuesday: Top 5 Quotes

Autumn Backgrounds with Watercolor Orange, Yellow and Green Leav

Top 5 Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the lovely Bionic Bookworm.

This prompt was a struggle for me! I can never remember quotes even if I thought them super profound at the time.  So, basically, I went through some of my favorite books looking for quotes…which is to say that these are not especially comprehensive. They don’t cover the range of every single quote I’ve appreciated because I simply cannot remember and I certainly did not go through all my books on Goodreads. Alas.

Unsurprisingly, N.K. Jemisin features quite a bit.  Also, there’s actually 6-8 quotes here because that’s just how I roll (it was really hard to pick okay).  Oddly enough, a lot of these seem to tie in with the current political situation in some way or another. That was not planned.

 

22817331“Do not lose that hunger. You will always have to fight for everything. Even when you already have it, you will have to keep fighting to maintain it. You will have to be more ruthless, more brutal, more everything. Any weakness will undo everything you have accomplished. They will see any crack as evidence that they were right that a woman cannot do what you do.”

— Kiersten White, Now I Rise


11774295“There was no peace in continuing to do what had already proven unworkable. Sometimes tradition itself disrupted peace, and only newness could smooth the way.”

— N.K. Jemisin, The Shadowed Sun

 


26228034“But if you stay, no part of this comm[unity] gets to decide that any part of this comm[unity] is expendable. No voting on who gets to be people.”

“Everyone shouldn’t have a say in whose life is worth fighting for.”

— N.K. Jemisin, The Obelisk Gate


6437061“In a child’s eyes, a mother is a goddess. She can be glorious or terrible, benevolent or filled with wrath, but she commands love either way. I am convinced that this is the greatest power in the universe.”

— N.K. Jemisin, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms


Traitor-Baru1

“Freedom granted by your rulers is just a chain with a little slack.”

— Seth Dickinson, The Traitor Baru Cormorant

 

 


17645“Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.”

— Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad


harper-perennial-edition“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

— Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Book Review: Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

594139Title: REBECCA
Author: Daphne Du Maurier
Release Date: 1938
Pages: 387
Publisher: HarperCollins
My Rating: ★★★★☆(4.5/5)
Review on Goodreads

I’ve never read any classic Gothic literature before, but if they’re all like this, sign me up. Du Maurier absolutely excels at atmospheric writing; the setting of this novel is so palpable I could feel the oppressive heat in my own room, could smell the grotesquely huge rhododendrons, could hear the ebb and flow of the waves. From the very first page of the book I could feel myself sinking into its cozy depths. I read it slowly, savoring the rich prose, wanting to curl up with a blanket and a cup of warm tea. It’s that type of book.

But lest you think that it rests on its pretty prose and succumbs to its own Gothic atmosphere by dragging on dully, I have to tell you that Rebecca is truly a thriller. Part psychological, yes, but part straight-up noir thriller! You could sense there was some big reveal coming up, and by the middle of the novel I was turning pages so fast I had to pause and make sure I was truly reading every line carefully, savoring the prose. Du Maurier builds plot tension as well as she constructs atmospheric tension, and I’m sure many an English major has written about how her descriptions of the weather parallel the plot. It’s brilliant, with reveals I did not see coming.

I was very frustrated with our nameless narrator for much of the book, and even more so after the reveal, which I shall not divulge here. What I will say is that I can understand why she feels so small in Rebecca, who looms larger than life over the narrator’s relationship with her new husband Maxim. She looms over Manderly, over the servants, over the town, over the acquaintances…and so the narrator, already shy, shrinks and shrinks and shrinks until she barely exists.

All that’s there is her love for Maxim, despite the way he treats her almost as an afterthought, and I’m not entirely sure the reveal explains all that away. She is infuriatingly passive, very shy, and rather a daydreamer. All this makes for an fascinating, if not particularly engaging, heroine, but she was certainly a change from the usual female leads I usually read. That was refreshing. I haven’t read enough classic literature to say if this is because of the book’s era, though.

Overall, a rich, atmospheric, and utterly thrilling read!

Book Review: Now I Rise by Kiersten White

22817331Title: NOW I RISE
Author: Kiersten White
Release Date: 2017
Pages: 471
Publisher: Delacorte Press
My Rating: ★★★★☆(4.5/5)
Review on Goodreads

One of the weaknesses of book one was that, being the first in a series, it had a lot of introductions to make. That lent itself to a lot of expository narrative that wasn’t particularly gripping, and as a result the plot was somewhat slow. This second book suffers no such issues

Picking up right where book one left off, Lada is back in Europe, trying to win back Wallachia, while Radu is by Mehmed’s side at all things. Alternating between both Lada and Radu’s perspectives, the narrative serves us two climaxes in paralleling story lines that leave us with a pair of disillusioned siblings.

From the get-go the plot races. Radu is sent to Constantinople to be a spy for Mehmed, while Lada tries to win alliances to get her throne back. Radu does so many things that weigh on his conscious that he grows disenchanted. Lada’s cruelty and viciousness grows even stronger, but in the process she also becomes jaded. The two siblings constantly think of one another, of how the other might do things, of how they need one another, and by the end I was longing for their reunion. Both of them also develop more complex feelings for Mehmed, still love, but mingled with other, more negative feelings as well, feelings that result from Mehmed’s actions as he himself grows in ambition and viciousness.

I’m also very pleased that all our characters continue to grow in complexity. I didn’t think I could love Radu more, but as we continue to learn more about him I find he’s quickly becoming one of my favorite male characters in literature. I appreciate Lada just as much, as well as Nazira, Radu’s wife, and the new character of Cyprian. White does such a fantastic job capturing the nuances of various characters. I’ve read a lot of books with forgettable characters so I love that the characters here are all so memorable and unique.

This is going to be a rather short review, as I don’t have too much to say other than that this book is just as well-written as the first only with a faster, more engaging plot. I will, however, say that the book ends with a spectacularly badass scene on Lada’s end, a scene that showcases how much her viciousness has grown. It was bloody beautiful. I’m so excited for the third part in this trilogy.