Short Story Friday

short story friday

In my attempt to become a writer, I’ve taken to writing short stories.  One of them was recently published.  In an effort to improve my craft, I try to read as many short stories as I can.  I’m…rather picky when it comes to short stories, much pickier than when it comes to novels (which is rather contrary, but what can I say), so it’s not often that I find a short story that truly speaks to me.  I’ve realized that I would like to keep track of those stories that touch me or teach me something, and so that birthed a new idea: Short Story Friday.

On certain Fridays, I will share with you three short stories I have read that engaged me in some way.  This will also be a great way for me to encourage myself to read more short stories! I definitely don’t read enough.  And so, without further ado, I present my choices for this Friday:

TheDarkJuly2016-220x340Postcards from Natalie by Carrie Laban (The Dark, July 2016): I’m not too sure I entirely “got” this story (I mean, I think I did, but I’m not sure) because it’s one of  those that ends with a twisty bang, but a very subtle twisty bang. It doesn’t tell you outright what’s going on, but if what I think happened happened, then it’s a pretty cool story! Plus, it got me hooked from the start and built up the suspense so well I couldn’t stop reading, which for me is a difficult thing with short stories.


35712604Queen Aster Who Dances by Tina Connolly (Fireside Fiction, July 2017): Can you tell just from the title how cool this short little piece is? It’s a high fantasy and it’s written kind of like a soliloquy.  It’s about royalty and power and sacrifice and sisterly bonds.  It gives you delicious hints of a much broader, richer world that I would love to read more about.  I’m definitely going to check out this author’s novels!


51moM5lrNdLDon’t Turn On The Lights by Cassandra Khaw (Nightmare Magazine, October 2017): This is a delightfully creepy little tale – or is it several tales? Khaw begins by informing you that stories are mongrels, that many different versions of tales will always exists, and then proceeds to tell the same story several different ways.  Each version is creepier than the last.  The line “the air was the stink of piss and flayed meat” will haunt my nightmares for a very long time.

 

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Book Review: Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker

33574211Title: EMMA IN THE NIGHT
Author: Wendy Walker
Release Date: 2017
Pages: 320
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
My Rating: ★★★★☆(4/5)
Review on Goodreads

It’s difficult to find a thriller that doesn’t rest its laurels on the shocking twist at the end. Don’t get me wrong, shocking twists are great, and Emma in the Night certainly came through with that. However, I also found it to be quite an introspective book, detailing the harm inflicted on children by terrible, narcissistic, and incapable parents.

Emma and Cassandra Tanner’s lives are a medley of dysfunction and sexual impropriety, due not only to their narcissistic mother, but their gross stepfather and stepbrother, both of whom are sexually attracted to Emma. It is this dysfunction that seemingly leads a pregnant Emma to run away, with her younger sister Cass in tow. Three years later, Cass, and only Cass, returns, with a story about being held captive on an island with her sister Emma and Emma’s baby daughter. With the help of Dr. Abby Winters, a forensic psychologist with a narcissistic mother of her own, Cass’s story unravels and is put back together, and Emma is found in an unlikely place.

Like any good thriller, Emma in the Night is compelling, forcing you to ask questions and try to figure out what the heck is going on. But it is a sort of character study as well. Emma, the titular character, is a kind of vulnerable seductress, an insecure teenage girl utilizing the only power she thinks she holds. Her relationship with her narcissistic mother becomes is revealed to be more and more horrific by the second. Hunter and Jonathan Martin, the aforementioned stepbrother and stepfather, are both arrogant, privileged, and misogynistic men whose presence in the girls’ lives screws up their family even more. Their biological father, despite genuinely loving his daughters, is weak and cannot fight for them like they deserve. The girls’ mother, Judy, suffers from narcissistic personality disorder, and therefore is not a mother at all to her daughters, more like a rival.

And finally, Cassandra, the narrator, is a very quiet character, a young girl who has been fractured by the trauma in her past, but healed and became stronger because of it. I liked Cass way more than I thought I would. She is clever and manipulative, stoic and calculating, loving and loyal. Her relationship with her older sister Emma is frustrating and heart-breaking; it is at times sweet, at times utterly cruel, but the blame is to be laid at the feet of their mother, who does her best to break the girls apart so that they are not united against her.

Emma in the Night is a tragedy, the sad tale of two young girls’ whose lives are destroyed by their parents. It will keep you guessing until the end, and the final twist is maddening in its simplicity. There are certainly criticisms that can be levied at this book: the plot is somewhat convoluted, the actions of some of the characters at the very end are unbelievable and were moved only by plot, the story is conveyed through a lot of literal telling and very little showing, but ultimately those flaws work in the story’s favor, elevating it to wildly dramatic heights. With its colorful cast of characters, its dramatic twists and turns, and Cassandra’s soliloquy-like narration, and the allusion to the mythical Cassandra at the very beginning, this book nearly reaches Shakespearean levels of tragedy.

Top 5 Wednesday: Favorite Fancasts

Top Five Wednesday was created by Lainey from gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Check out the goodreads group to learn more.

This week’s Top 5 Wednesday is Favorite Fancasts, an awesome topic!

Y’all don’t know how much I struggled with this! I tried to think as outside of the box as I could.  Here goes!

JASMINE CEPHAS-JONES AS NINA ZENIK

I know the ages don’t match, as Jasmine is almost thirty, but Rachel and I were literally just talking about how amazing it would be to see Six of Crows turned into an aged-up gritty Starz/HBO show with Cillian Murphy playing Kaz.  If that ever did happen, there’s no one I’d rather have play Nina, who is my favorite character in Six of Crows.  Known mostly for her roles as Peggy Schyler and Mariah Reynolds in the musical Hamilton, Jasmine has also has some bit parts in TV shows here and there. She’s freaking gorgeous and has that spark of fire needed to play Nina.

ANYA TAYLOR-JOY AS AGNIESZKA

Ever since I discovered Anya Taylor-Joy in the rather terrible film Split, she has been my Agnieszka.  I wasn’t feeling up to changing hair colors in Photoshop, which is why she’s blond here, but have her dye her hair dark brown and she’d be perfect. In the book, Agnieszka is described as plain, and while Anya is anything but, I think she is not traditionally pretty and has a haunting, striking quality that would be perfect for this creepy fairy tale.

ANNA POPPLEWELL AS LADA DRACUL

And speaking of not being traditionally pretty! Personally, I think Anna is absolutely gorgeous, but she’s definitely unique looking.  Lada, a gender-bent alternate universe version of Vlad the Impaler, is described as ugly and hard-looking. I think that were Anna to go without makeup she would actually pull off Lada spectacularly.  She’s also got those clear, depth-less eyes that are more than a little creepy.  I’ve always wanted to see her play someone evil or morally ambiguous, and I think Lada could be a great, meaty role for her.

GOLSHIFTEH FARAHANI AS BARU CORMORANT

I don’t even remember what Baru looks like at this point, but I know I want Golshifteh to play her.  If you know me you know The Traitor Baru Cormorant is one of my favorite books, and it is one of the most heart-breaking things I’ve ever read.  Golshifteh always has this perpetually sad, pensive look to her that would make her excellent for Baru, an accountant turned rebel and spy fighting against the Empire that colonized her home.  I’ve always pictured Baru as somewhat serious and sharp-looking and I think Golshifteh embodies that aesthetic nicely.

GEORGIE HENLEY AS SAFIYA “SAFI” FON HASSTREL

Before anyone asks, I’ve actually never watched Narnia films, and it is by pure coincidence that Anna and Georgie both ended up on this list.  Anyway, when looking for someone to play Safi, I knew I wanted something different than the generically pretty blonde actresses I tend to see fancast as her.  Above all Safi is fiery, contrary, and mischievous, so I wanted an actress who could be very pretty but could also look just as comfortable plotting a heist.  For that I thought Georgie suited this role very well.

What are your thoughts on my choices? I loooove talking fancasts so please let me know in the comments!

Book Review: Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

25062038Title: LITTLE & LION
Author: Brandy Colbert
Release Date: 2017
Pages: 336
Publisher: Little, Brown
My Rating: ★★★★☆(4/5)
Review on Goodreads

Little & Lion is a sweet but hard-hitting story about a young black, Jewish girl coming to terms with her bisexuality while also struggling to do the right thing regarding her brother’s mental illness.

Suzette is back home from boarding school for the summer, after her parents sent her away in the wake of her brother Lionel’s diagnosis of bipolar disorder. She wants desperately to integrate herself back into her brother’s life, for things to be the way they were before, but Lionel is struggling to – he’s still adjusting to his mental illness and being on medication. Suzette is also fresh of a messy break-up at boarding school, and the guilt of it plagues her.

While this seems like your run-of-the-mill book on the surface, I thought it was a really powerful and emotional exploration of mental health, sexuality, racism, microagressions, and sibling relationships. But the best thing is that while the book does delve into all of these heavy subjects it never feels heavy-handed, like it’s preaching or trying to teach me something. It never feels artificial. It’s just this group of teens trying to deal with some very real issues while living their lives.

Brandy Colbert’s writing is lovely – too often in contemporary YA authors will rely on the plot itself to carry the book through, but it is clear Colbert has put careful consideration into her writing. Her words fly fast, and the book is engaging, but it’s not simplistic or juvenile. The many characters are all given ample room for self-expression; Suzette in particular feels so very real, a young girl trying her best to do the right thing while fighting off the way the world sees her. I also appreciated that her love interests were so different from each other – Rafaela in particular felt very realistic and actually inspired feelings of dislike in me. Not that she was a bad person, but her personality clashed with my own, which I enjoyed! I love it when characters make me feel something, even if it’s dislike; it means they’re well-fleshed out.

Something else that greatly affected me is the setting. The book takes place in Los Angeles, and perhaps this is this is the romantic in me (I…idolize California in a weird way though I’ve never been), but I thought Colbert did a spectacular job capturing the vibe of living in LA. The weather, the mountainous setting, the strip malls with their neon signs, the lazy summer nights. This book is hella atmospheric, and it made me feel like I was right alongside the characters in LA.

Creating atmosphere like that is difficult to do in general, but it’s especially difficult to capture in a huge, thriving city like LA. The way Colbert framed this story it was almost as though it were taking place in a separate, intimate pocket of reality, and that made me feel like I was a part of the story.

The End of the Year Book Tag

Saw this on Rachel‘s blog!

Are there any books you started this year that you need to finish?

Well…not this year, but there is a book that I started one or two (or three) years ago that I still need to finish.  It’s The World Since 1945 by T.E. Vadney and it’s a really, really good historical overview of world events with a focus on the Third World.  I read like half of it and really enjoyed it but it’s also straight-up history so it does get a little dry.

Do you have an autumnal book to transition into the end of the year?

I don’t usually do this seasonal reading thing, but this year I thought I might read Rebecca for the month of October! Since it’s supposed to be ~atmospheric~ and all. But I also need to read The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin before the end of October because I’m going to the Sirens Conference in Colorado and she’s the keynote speaker! Not that I think she’ll spoil her book, but I’m sure there will be people in attendance keen to discuss it.  All  this, of course, is if I finish reading War and Peace, Little and Lion, and The Library of Fates by the end of September.

Is there a new release you’re still waiting for?

What am I not waiting for, honestly? There are so many great books coming out. I’m especially looking forward to Madeline Miller’s Circe, Fonda Lee’s Jade City, Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone, and Julie C. Dao’s Forest of a Thousand Lanterns.  There’s way, way more, but those are the ones that stick out.  (A couple of these come out next year, but alas.)

What are three books you want to read before the end of the year?

So I mentioned Rebecca, there’s that.  Oddly enough, I also really want to read Wuthering Heights.  Maybe that can be one of my November books.  I’ve also heard great things about Amanda Foody’s Daughter of the Burning City so I want to get my hands on that.

Is there a book you think could still shock you and become your favorite book of the year?

I have read so many great books this year, from Saints and Misfits to The City of Brass that I think it will be difficult for another book to top them, but we’ll see!

Have you already started making reading plans for 2018?

Nope! I don’t really plan out my reading schedule far in advance.  At most I have a sense of the next 3-4 books I want to read, but otherwise I just generally go by my mood.  The only thing I know is that I want to continue expanding my horizons.  Reading War and Peace was something I never thought I would do in my lifetime, and yet here I am, 60% of the way through and on my way to finishing! It was certainly not as daunting as I thought.  So I want to read more classic literature, mainly by women.  There are also some authors I keep seeing that I hope to get into, like Aliette de Bodard and Kate Elliot.

Go for this, y’all! Pingback to me if you do this.

I Dare You Book Tag

This weekend, I was supposed to finish off a book at home, considering War and Peace is taking up all of my subway reading time. Unfortunately, I instead got caught up watching Peaky Blinders (maybe I’ll post about that at some point).  So, instead, I figured I would do a book tag I saw floating around! Not sure where it originated from, so let me know if you know, so I can pingback to them.

RULES:
You must be honest
You must answer all the questions
You must tag at least 4 people

1. What book has been on your shelf the longest?

Yikes. I’m seriously guilty of buying books and telling myself I’ll read them but never getting around to them.  Maybe…The Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe? I bought it way back in high school when I was seriously emo.  I realized too late that I wasn’t actually all that into Poe.

2. What is your current read, your last read, and the book you’ll read next?

I am currently reading War and Peace, a beast of a novel, which is why I haven’t been posting reviews lately. My last reads were The History of White People and This Savage Song. As for what I’ll read next, it will likely be either Little & Lion or The Library of Fates.

3. What book did everyone like, but you hated?

I think I just talked about this in the last book tag I did, but I didn’t really hate The Wrath and the Dawn. A book I did hate is Marie Lu’s Legend.  I thought it was awful on just about every level, which is strange because I really loved her other series, The Young Elites.  Maybe I’m just not into dystopia.

4. What book do you keep telling yourself you’ll read, but you probably won’t?

Oh man. A whole bunch of classic/literary books, probably.  I’ve had The Odyssey on my bookshelf for years and keep telling myself I’ll read it, but…who am I kidding.

5. What book are you saving for retirement?

Well, perhaps not retirement, but I really want to have a lot of time and mental energy on hand when I start Steve Erickson’s Malazan series.  It’s such a dense, gigantic series with so many characters and so much rich world-building that I want to be certain I have enough time to devote to it.

6. Last page: read it first, or wait ’til the end?

Oh my goodness, I avoid this like the plague.  Even if I’m gonna check for a glossary or to see how many pages there are in a book, I will literally cover up the rest of the page. You see, I was scarred as a youngster. When Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince came out, I accidentally read a page towards the end and was spoiled for Dumbledore’s death. It was traumatic. Now I am always extra careful when flipping through a book.

7. Acknowledgement: waste of paper and ink, or interesting aside?

I loooooooove reading acknowledgments; I legit look forward to them.  As an aspiring writer, I really enjoy seeing how authors sum up their work and the effort that went into it. And some authors can be quite witty in their acknowledgements.  It’s also very useful to see authors thank their agents, because when you start querying you might want to go find those agents and/or their literary agencies!

8. Which book character would you switch places with?

Probably Morgan Rowlands from Cate Tiernan’s Sweep series. Like, that series was absolutely formative for me as a teenager. I loved seeing Morgan go from shy high school teenager to powerful and respected witch.  Tiernan captured the beauty of Wicca and magick so effortlessly that I couldn’t help but want to be immersed in all that.

9. Do you have a book that reminds you of something specific in your life? (Place, time, person?)

Well, I do have a copy of The Stone Sky signed by N.K. Jemisin. I didn’t meet her or talk to her, but I did attend the book launching event for the book, where pre-signed copies were on sale. It was an awesome event; it felt so cool to be in the same room as so many Jemisin fans!

10. Name a book that you acquired in an interesting way.

An ARC of The City of Brass! I was just browsing in and around the author’s Twitter when I saw the publisher had tweeted asking if anyone wanted an ARC! They DM’ed me for my address and a couple of weeks later I had the book!

11. Have you ever given a book away for a special reason to a special person?

Not a special reason, but I’ve given away some books that I know I won’t be reading again.  Mainly old Jodi Picoult books (I was obsessed with her books for a long time).

12. Which book has been with you most places?

Harry Potter, though not the same copies.  I’ve lost HP copies to flood and travel throughout the years, so in 2014 I bought a brand new set. But HP, particularly Sorcerer’s Stone, tended to come along with me if I was embarking on any brand new part of my life. So my first day of middle school in Egypt, my first day of junior year back in New York, my first day of college, my first day of work…it brings me comfort. It’s like having a friend with me.

13. Any “required reading” you hated in high school that wasn’t so bad two years later?

Hmm, I actually didn’t hate most of my required reading in high school! I remember liking The Great Gatsby, The Color Purple, The Bell Jar, Pride and Prejudice, and Ethan Frome.  What I did loathe was The Scarlett Letter and a whole bunch of short stories.

14. Used or brand new?

Both! I absolutely love used bookstores, wandering the aisles and discovering a steal! But I really enjoy new books as well; I love the smell of brand new books.

15. Have you ever read a Dan Brown book?

Oh, man. He was another one I was obsessed with when I was younger.  I was really into The Da Vinci Code. Like, to an unhealthy extent.  This was my conspiracy phase, so I got really obsessed with all the history and secret groups mentioned in the books, as well as cryptography.

16. Have you ever seen a movie you liked more than the book?

Twilight, oddly enough. I’m also reasonably sure that I’ll like the movie IT better than the novel. I mean, I’ve never read the novel, but that’s only because I really struggle to get into anything by Stephen King.

17. Have you ever read a book that’s made you hungry, cookbooks included?

Hmm…probably Game of Thrones! GRRM is so descriptive when it comes to food! I know some people are annoyed by that, but I enjoy it.

18. Who is the person whose book advice you’ll always take?

My friend Rachel @ pace amore libri because I think she really gets my likes and dislikes, and Chelsea @ Spotlight on Stories because we like a lot of the same things!

19. Is there a book out of your comfort zone (e.g., outside your usual reading genre) that you ended up loving?

Well, I’m about halfway through War and Peace now, and that is definitely miles out of my comfort zone, but I wouldn’t say I love it. I like it well enough to continue reading it, but…I definitely have a lot of frustrations with it too.  I guess a better answer would probably be Sister of my Heart by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.  It’s very literary fiction of a cultural bent, a coming of age story, about two girls growing up side by side in India.  Not something I would ordinarily pick up, but the fact that it was about India specifically drew me to it, since India tends to share a lot of cultural similarities with the Middle East, which is where I’m from. I ended up absolutely loving it mainly because of the bond between the two main characters. I’m a sucker for intense, sisterly female friendships (particularly ones that evolve into more than that, although that doesn’t happen here), and this book delivers.  Unfortunately I thought the sequel was terrible and unnecessary, but one day I will go back and read this book, since I read it for the first time way back in 2013.

I’m actually gonna tag some folks, hurray!

I tag:

Pace amore libri
Spotlight on Stories
Lost Purple Quill 
Perspective of a Writer
Words With Bri

The Unpopular Opinions Book Tag

I’ve been wanting to do a tag like this for a long time, so thanks Rachel @ pace amore libri for tagging me!

1.) A popular book or book series that you didn’t like. 

18798983First one that comes to mind is The Wrath and The Dawn by Renee Ahdieh.  I didn’t absolutely hate this (I gave it a three-star rating, but it was definitely on the lower end of the spectrum, more like 2.5).  I thought it suffered from flat characters, meandering plot, terribly written romance, and a protagonist who keeps being referred to as super special.  I liked the book enough to finish it quickly, but I remember rolling my eyes a lot and not being the least bit interested in picking up the sequel.

Also, shout out to Alexandra Bracken’s The Darkest Minds and Marie Lu’s Legend.

2.) A popular book or book series that everyone else seems to hate but you love. 

6296885I don’t think people hate The Necromancer Chronicles, but I definitely think that they don’t get the love they deserve (and more criticism than I think they should).  I love these books.  I’m not saying they’re without some technical problems, particularly in terms of pacing and characterization.  However, I think they feature some of the best fantasy worldbuilding I’ve ever seen.  The world of the Necromancer Chronicles is essentially gender-neutral, with women on equal footing as men, and it was a beautiful thing to read.  The magic system is unique.  The cities and countries described are based on real countries (and you can guess which) but they’re well-developed and atmospheric. The writing is lush and lyrical and lovely (though some may find it too purple, but I’m known to like that).  The second book is the apex of the series, featuring excellent romance, a trans character, polyamory, and political intrigue.

3.) An otp that you don’t like.

18006496Aelin/Rowan.  So, Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series always seemed like it would be right up my alley, and indeed, I loved the first and second books, despite their many problems.  However, by the time the third book came along, the books dipped noticeably in quality, and started to lag. Eventually I quit the series.  And I think a big part of the reason for that is Rowan and his relationship with Aelin.  Maybe it’s because I liked her better with Chaol (a relationship that was so slow burn and then ended like a week after it began), maybe it’s because Rowan’s a territorial weirdo, but I just really dislike them together. I think they bring out the worst in each other and they’re boring, frankly.

4.) A popular book genre that you hardly reach for.

Romance.  I’ve never been a huge fan, personally.  I tend to dislike it even in my other genre fiction, but I don’t think that’s the fault of romance itself.  I really like romance if it’s well-written and well-incorporated into a novel (see: The Shadowed Sun by N.K. Jemisin) but normally romances are terribly written.  And romance as a genre tends to be very standardized: there’s a particular formula publishers know will sell, and so the plot keeps recycling itself.  I’m not fond of that formula.

5.) A popular/beloved character that you do not like.

I started thinking about characters I don’t like, and I realized there is a very particular type of character I tend to dislike: male YA love interests.  So Noah Shaw (Unbecoming of Mara Dyer), Po (Graceling), Dorian (Throne of Glass), Mal (Shadow and Bone), and I could probably keep listing them.  Most of them tend to be bland and forgettable, an amalgamation of ideal male traits made to cater to our heroine’s needs and desires. A nice fantasy, to be sure, but it means we end up with an archetype rather than an actual character.

6.) A popular author that you can’t seem to get into.

618241Terry Goodkind.  See, I really loved the TV show Legend of the Seeker, so I thought I’d read the high fantasy series it was based on, Sword of Truth.  As it turns out, the TV series has little in common with the books and the books are <i>the worst</i>.  Not only do they suffer from comically terrible writing and dialogue, they’re also full of misogyny so horrifically terrible it’s almost satirical – only it’s not.  Unsurprisingly, his books are popular with high fantasy fans, as they’re that sort of old school white farmboy misogynistic fantasy that used to be popular.  But it’s mediocre bullshit.

7.) A popular book trope that you’re tired of seeing.

YA is full of  tropes that I can’t stand.  I think the one that takes the cake is when you have a heroine who is established as super special and better than other girls, who are obviously beneath her. I don’t know why this is so popular considering YA is a genre mostly written by women (haha just kidding I totally know why), but so many YA fantasy novels fall into this trap of isolating their heroines from other women.  Not only is it misogynistic, it’s also unrealistic considering most of these fantasy novels take place in psuedo-medieval times when relationships between women were varied, complex, and important! No, instead these books would rather give the heroine a pasty cardboard dude to fall in love with while all other girls are evil/shallow/vain/insipid.  From what I’ve been seeing, though, YA writers seem to be taking steps away from this!

8.) A popular series that you have no interest in reading. 

13455782Shatter Me by Tahera Mafi.  People seem to love this, but I’m really not interested.  Aside from my general disinterest in YA dystopia, the weird writing format is really throwing me off (random sentences are crossed out) and I know I won’t be able to get into it. Plus the summary sounds suuuuuuuper generic.  (I am purposely using the paperback cover here because the hardcover version is…Y I K E S.)

And shout out to anything Cassandra Clare has written.  I actually really enjoy the TV show Shadowhunters based on her work, but I would never read it.

9.) The saying goes “the book is always better than the movie,” but what movie or tv show adaptation do you prefer more than the book? 

This is probably a weird answer, but I’ve always kinda liked the Twilight films? I read the first book when I was a teenager and didn’t like it, but when I watched the film I remember enjoying it. Probably because I didn’t have to suffer through the writing.  This is a terrible answer but I can’t think of anything else! The book really is always better than the movie!

 

I’ll tag:  Anne Reads Them, Perspective of a Writer, and She Reads at Past Midnight!

What do y’all think of my answers? Agree, disagree? Let me know in the comments!

Book Review: The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter

6919721Title: THE HISTORY OF WHITE PEOPLE
Author: Nell Irvin Painter
Release Date: 2010
Pages: 396
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
My Rating: ★★★☆☆(3/5)
Review on Goodreads

This is a difficult book for me to accurately assess, since I am trying to be objective regarding the book’s content while also expressing my disappointed expectations.

Objectively speaking, this book is a powerful scholarly work, a history of whiteness as determined by White Europeans. Painter delves into obscure European anthropological and sociological tomes on racial classification. This is part of why my interest started to wander; Painter spends way too much time on these European scholars and their works. In excruciating detail, she chronicles the lives of these European racists (I use this term more as a shorthand than anything), their relationships with each other, the circles they ran in, and the impact of their work. It results in a very rich historical tome, but not exactly what I was looking for.

To give you an example of what I mean by this laborious detail, Painter spends three chapters on Ralph Waldo Emerson. These chapters certainly touch on the development of racial theory at this time, but the bulk of them is devoted to Emerson’s life, his impact, and the memory of him in American society. To me it read like a rather lengthy tangent that could have been adequately summed up in a single chapter.

One of the major strengths of this book is how well it elucidates just how much of racial “science” was actually pseudoscience – complete bullshit, in other words. Painter pulls direct quotes from these racial “scientists” that indicate that they had no understanding whatsoever of the scientific method, and their science was utterly flawed and nonsensical. Essentially, Painter is building up to an important face: race is not biological, and it never was. Race is, and always has been, a social construct. That is the crux of this book, the point it is trying to make by painstakingly detailing the work of European racial thinkers.

I was disappointed that European racial thinkers take up the majority of this book. I had been hoping to see, as a contrast, scholars from outside of Europe and how they thought of race and “whiteness.” And yet, this is hardly touched upon. There were other significant issues I thought should have been discussed in greater detail. For example, there is no mention at all of the pivotal trial of Bhagat Singh Thind, where an Indian man was declared racially ineligible for US citizenship. There is no mention at all of similar trials that followed, of Syrians and other Middle Easterners, whose classification at the time depended sometimes on their skin color, sometimes on their religion, and sometimes on the political classification of their origins. In other words, it was a complete mess that illustrates the fallacy of racial classification quite well.

Middle Easterners and North Africans are hardly mentioned, which I think is a serious detriment to the argument of the book. As a group, MENA are legally classified as Caucasians, but there is so much confusion regarding this classification that it is essentially worthless. MENA folks occupy a vague racial category that can sparks fierce conversations on the meaning of race and ethnicity, and yet that is never mentioned in this book. Painter spends more time talking about racial divisions among white people (or those that are today considered white, such as Slavs, Irish, Italians) than the racial categories we know today.

Again, I want to say that I am trying to balance what this book actually is versus my personal expectations. Objectively, it is an excellent, impressive work of scholarship that details centuries of European racial thinking. I just found it disappointing in its hyper focus on European thinkers and the details of their lives. I ended up skimming many of these parts, as I had no interest whatsoever where this particular European racist went to school or what he accomplished in his life.

In sum, this is an important, significant work of scholarship that needs to exist, certainly, but I probably should have adjusted my expectations of it sooner.

Guilty Reader Book Tag

Since I’m currently working my way through War and Peace, and have decided to DNF American War (my first DNF of the year!), I thought I’d spend some time doing a book tag.  My friend Rachel @ pace, amore, libri did this and I thought it looked like fun!

1. Have You Ever Regifted A Book That You’ve Been Given?

Well, I don’t know if this counts, but I’ve donated a book that I was gifted. Someone got me The Da Vinci Code back when I was obsessed with it, but as my tastes changed I wanted to clear up some space on my bookshelf, so it went off to the library. (Also, why is this the only question that has all the words capitalized?)

2. Have you ever said you’ve read a book when you haven’t?

Not really? Like, I’ll be specific about what I mean.  If I DNFed a book, I’ll say I DNFed it. If I read thorough reviews with screenshots (a la The Continent or The Black Witch), I’ll also say that. If I’m familiar with the story through cultural osmosis or SparkNotes, I’ll also say that.

3. Have you ever borrowed a book and not returned it?

I’ve actually never borrowed a book from another person.  My childhood friends were not big on reading, so usually they were the ones borrowing from me, if reading at all.  My best friend definitely still has some of my books at her house.

4. Have you ever read a series out of order?

Actually, yes! Harry Potter! So, here’s the story: after a lot of convincing, my mom basically forced me read The Sorcerer’s Stone. I liked it waaaaay more than I thought I would, so I headed over to the library to borrow Chamber of Secrets. Unfortunately, the copies were all checked out.  I loved the series so much, though, that I just couldn’t wait, and so I checked out the next available book in the series: Prisoner of Azkaban.  Then, once I was done, Chamber of Secrets was back, so I read it, and then I continued in order.  Back then, we didn’t have much money, so buying books when the library was right there was out of the question, and so all I could do was wait!

5. Have you ever spoiled a book for someone?

I loathe spoilers, so I’m very careful about only spoiling if someone explicitly asks me to spoil it for them.

6. Have you ever doggy eared a book?

I used to do this often, because, believe it or not, I didn’t realize bookmarks were a thing.

7. Have you ever told someone you don’t own a book when you do?

No?  Why would I do that?  /Rachel

8. Have you ever told someone you haven’t read a book when you have?

I repeat: why would I do that?  I guess this means for books that it’s ’embarrassing’ to have read like Twilight or something?  I read Twilight when I was 15 and I hated it so I didn’t read the rest of the series.  I don’t mind admitting to that.  /Rachel

9. Have you every skipped a chapter or a section of a book?

Not skipped, but I will sometimes skim portions if a book is particularly dull and I’m close to finishing it.  Or with something like War and Peace, where I’m currently slogging through the Battle of Austerlitz and skimming various paragraphs that are all about flanks and cavalry and vanguards.  Like, if I wanted to read about battles in excruciating detail, I’d pick up a textbook on military history.

10. Have you ever bad mouthed a book you actually liked?

Nope! I’m actually really particular about this, as nothing annoys me so much as literary snobbery.  This happens a lot to YA readers, as we’re often told YA books are not “real” books or they’re automatically worse in quality or something.

 

Like Rachel I won’t tag anyone since I wasn’t tagged, but do pingback to me if you do this so I can read your answers!

Book Review: This Savage Song by V.E. Schwab

23299512Title: THIS SAVAGE SONG
Author: V.E. Schwab
Release Date: 2016
Pages: 464
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
My Rating: ★★★☆☆(3/5)
Review on Goodreads

This Savage Song is an urban paranormal dystopia (which I did not realize going in, actually). It takes place in a post-War US that has split into several territories with weird names like Verity and Prosperity. After something called the Phenomenon happened, it seems that violent acts are now begetting monsters, of which there are three types: Corsai, Malchai, and Sunai. Corsai eat you alive, Malchai will drain you of blood, and Sunai…are more like avenging angels, who play a song to suck the life out of you, but only if you yourself have committed a violence that has begotten a monster.

It’s an intriguing premise, but one fraught with unnecessary add-ons. Why do the Sunai need music to bring forth a soul? It just seemed like window dressing to an already interesting concept…then again, this may just be a personal hang-up, as I tend to really dislike music in my stories. The dystopic US world was poorly explained, and I was left unclear as to what exactly the dangerous “Waste” is or whether these monsters exists everywhere in the world or just in the territory of Verity. I hope it’s not the latter, because if so, why doesn’t everybody just leave? Why even stay in a city that, if not beset by monsters, has already been literally split at the seams due to a territory war between two men with different ideas of how to lead it?

The crux of the story focuses the children of the two men fighting for control over the city: Kate Harker and August Flynn. August, however, is not really anyone’s son, but a Sunai created in the wake of a school shooting. Kate is desperate to win her father’s approval, so she returns to V-City and puts her best brutality on display. Her father, Callum, has the monsters of Verity under his control, and in his part of the city citizens pay for protection. How and why Callum has the Corsai and Malchai under his control is unclear…did I miss that in my reading? Also, is Callum the governor of this city? Is there any other government in place? I needed more from the worldbuilding here to truly get a sense of this world.

Speaking of worldbuilding, it was odd how this seemed to be almost a post-racial society. There is one mention of one character being “dark-skinned” but otherwise everyone is white, with standard Anglo-Saxon names. Apparently Verity is meant to be the aftermath of the Midwest, but that still doesn’t explain all this abundant whiteness. It’s rather strange especially given that the text doesn’t only hint at pre-dystopic US, it explicitly tells us about the former United States (which apparently disbanded after the Vietnam War, for reasons that are not explained very well), so I’m not sure why there are so few cultural markers left over.

I guess the story is meant to focus more on Kate and August; I would definitely say this book is more character-driven than plot driven. August wants to be more human, Kate wants to be more monstrous. I guess there’s meant to be poetry in that, but it just struck me as rather cliche. Their characters were fine, I suppose, though they struck me as washed-out versions of Lila and Kell (of Schwab’s other series), and I didn’t enjoy them as much.

This is shaping out to be a really critical review, so I do want to emphasize that I did enjoy this book! It was definitely intriguing enough for me to read through it rather quickly; at no point did I even consider DNFing it. Schwab is definitely a talented writer, and this book is decently constructed. It just left me cold and indifferent.

What do you guys think? Did I miss something here? Does the sequel improve?