bookfridays

Book Fridays: January Wrap-up

I managed to read 10 books in January which is a personal best. It’s a meaningless stat and I don’t place much value on it but I’m still excited to have accomplished that goal. Here is what I read in January along with some thoughts on each book.

  1. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling – I am working on reading the entire series and since my husband got me the set for Christmas I am well on my way to doing just that. With every book I read I realize just how good the film adaptations were. They stayed true to the books and even though changes were made it all still works. I especially love reading the book and getting all the information and nuances left out of the films. I can’t wait to continue my Potter journey soon! My rating: 4 stars
  2. Uprooted by Naomi Novik – I heard about this book via booktube and picked it up from my library. I really loved the premise and found it to be an enjoyable read. It made me feel like I was in a world of fairy tales. The story centers around Agnieszka, a young girl chosen by an immortal wizard to apprentice with him. My rating: 4 stars
  3. Midnight Taxi Tango by Daniel José Older – Ever since I read Resurrection Blues last year I was eager to get back into the world that Older crafted. I was not disappointed with this latest installment in the Bone Street Rumba Series. I will be writing a separate post on this book. Suffice to say it’s filled with badass characters and diverse cast that kicks ass. My rating: 5 stars
  4. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls – After a friend recommended this book another friend seconded the rec and even sent me a copy as a gift! This book was a difficult read but a good one. It’s difficult because unlike fiction memoir gives us a glimpse into a person’s life. Real life. These awful things happened to real people. Real people made these shitty choices. Overall, it was a powerful read that will stay with me forever. My rating: 4 stars
  5. Low by Mary Elizabeth – My friend wrote and self-published this book and she very kindly shared an ARC with me. I cannot be unbiased about this so I will forgo a star rating on this one, haha. This book is possibly the best she’s written so far. So much growth in the writing style. The story is about Low, a bad boy criminal and Poesy his loving sidekick. They’re a modern day Bonnie and Clyde. If you’re looking for romance and thrills this might be the book for you.
  6. Negro: Este color que me queda bonito by Benito Masso – I picked up this book from El Candil in Ponce during my visit to Puerto Rico last year. One of my goals this year is to read more books in Spanish. I picked up this book because I was excited to hear from a black Puerto Rican about his experiences with racism. Puerto Rico is diverse but the fact remains that black puerto ricans are disadvantaged and oppressed by white puerto ricans. There is no Kumbaya on the island. Racism is rampant and insidious, however, I seldom see it addressed. I more often see people pretend it doesn’t exist. This memoir was poignant in that the author not only recounted his encounters with racism both on the island on on the U.S. mainland but he also detailed his journey of healing and talks openly about internalized racism. My rating: 5 stars
  7. The Martian by Andy Weir – I had been meaning to read this book last year but the wait list at my library was a mile long so I finally caved and bought a copy in December. Naturally, as soon as I bought it I was notified that a copy was on hold for me at the library. Go figure. Anyway, I was excited to read the book especially after watching the movie. I was not disappointed. The book was nothing short of thrilling. The end especially had me on edge even as I knew how it ended! Some changes were made and a lot of detail was left out of the movie. Both incarnations of this story are worth checking out. If you love space travel then I suspect reading about an astronaut stranded on Mars is right up your alley. My rating: 5 stars
  8. Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce – When I visited my parents last year I rummaged through the bookcase in my childhood bedroom and found a few books to take with me. This was one of them. I remember reading it and loving it. The idea of a magic garden that appears out of nowhere and that only Tom is privy to was very appealing to me. It still is. Reading children’s books as an adult is such a joy. I will continue to seek out kid lit. My rating: 4 stars
  9. Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit by Daniel Quinn – I read this book for the first time during my freshman year of college. It was a required reading for my World Civ class. I remember being blown away by this book after my first reading but my second reading left me underwhelmed. I still think it’s an interesting book but something about it just didn’t resonate with me as much as it did the first time around. I was slightly disappointed but glad I read it all the same. The book is about a man who answers a classified ad that states: Teacher seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person. From here he embarks on a journey and so too does the reader. My rating: 3.5 stars
  10. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan – A mysterious bookstore filled with strange books and a new clerk who is determined to figure out what’s going on. This book was a fun read. The ending was kind of underwhelming to me but overall I really enjoyed it. My rating: 4 stars

Conclusion:

I had a great reading month and I stuck to my #readmyowndamnbooks challenge! I did not purchase any books. Out of the 10 books I read 2 of them were library books, 1 was an ARC, 1 was a gift and the rest were books I already owned. My pile of books to be read is greatly reduced and after purging my shelves my house is a lot more organized.

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Book Fridays: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

I finally started my Harry Potter journey. I am a fan of the movies, loved them and for as long as I’ve been a fan of the movies I’ve told myself I was going to start on the books. I can now declare myself Harry Potter trash, officially. Haha. But seriously, this has been a long time coming. I wanted to read the UK versions of the books but those are hard to come by here in the States. This frustrates me to no end. I refused to read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone! It was by lucky happenstance that I came upon this UK Edition at my local Library. See? Visiting the library pays off. It had never occurred to me to look for the books there. I am only sorry that I could not keep the copy forever. Now I want the full set.

I won’t go into the story because these books have been reviewed and written about to death. I just want to share that I loved the book and I loved that the movie adaptation was so faithful. I was honestly shocked. I can say with all sincerity that of all the book to movie adaptations I have watched and then read this one has been the most true to the book. Of course I noticed a few changes etc but overall it was really, really good. I hope that I can say the same about subsequent books in the series but so far color me impressed.

Have you read Harry Potter?

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Book Fridays: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

It’s been a few months since I read this book and I have slacked on keeping notes or writing about what I’ve read soon after reading it. All I have are some quotes I took pictures of (I was too lazy to write them down and I don’t own the book). I decided against looking at any reviews or summaries as I don’t want to be influenced. In fact, I generally do not read reviews until after I jot down my own thoughts.

The story takes place in Nigeria during their civil war when Biafra was trying to take over. There was tension between the Yoruba and Igbo tribes and many lost their lives in the conflict. The story follows several characters during this time and their stories intersect each other for the entire book. One of these characters is Richard, an expatriate who begins to write a book about the conflict. At the end of the story he reveals that he gave up on that book as it was not his story to tell. I thought that this was such a powerful statement. And one that white people need to take heed. Too often we see white characters portrayed as knights that somehow rescue people of color. This character addresses that. It subverts that too common narrative and sets it right.

I had many favorite scenes but I especially loved the part where Richard gets called out when he states his surprise at Igbo-Ukwu bronzes: “It is quite incredible that these people had perfected the complicated art of lost-wax casting during the time of the Viking Raids.” he says.

When he goes home to his girlfriend Kainene (who is Nigerian and black) he immediately makes the interaction about his feelings. This is a great example of white fragility:

“I do love the art. It was horrible of him to accuse me of disrespect.”

I couldn’t help but notice how he doesn’t even try to see how his statement was telling of his bias that African culture was far too primitive to accomplish such art. He only thinks of his hurt feelings and how he truly does love the art. This brings to mind the recent comments that Kelly Osborne made when she asked Donald Trump who would clean his toilets if he were to get rid of the immigrants. She immediately got in her feelings stating how she is not a racist! But you see, the thing is that you don’t have to be consciously racist in order to hold and express all manner of fucked up biases. That’s a fact and this scene from the book is a good example of it.

Kainene responds: “And it is wrong of you to think that love leaves room for nothing else. It’s possible to love something and still condescend to it.”

I thought her comment was perfect and it applies to real world issues. Many times we see people appropriating a culture under the guise of loving it but if we look closer we see the condescension and contempt held for that very culture they claim to love.

Going into this I had very limited knowledge of Nigerian history. Adichie writes a compelling story that kept me interested and invested throughout. She is currently one of my favorite authors and I don’t see this changing any time soon.

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Book Fridays: Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

Sierra Santiago planned an easy summer of  making art and hanging out with her friends. But then a corpse crashes the first party of the season. Her stroke-ridden grandfather starts apologizing over and over. And when the murals in her neighborhood begin to weep real tears… Well, something more sinister than the usual Brooklyn ruckus is going on.
With the help of a fellow artist named Robbie, Sierra discovers shadowshaping, a thrilling magic that infuses ancestral spirits into paintings, music, and stories. But someone is killing the shadowshapers one by one — and the killer believes Sierra is hiding their greatest secret. Now she must unravel her family’s past, take down the killer in the present, and save the future of shadowshaping for generations to come.
Full of a joyful, defiant spirit and writing as luscious as a Brooklyn summer night, Shadowshaperintroduces a heroine and magic unlike anything else in fantasy fiction, and marks the YA debut of a bold new voice.  (from Amazon.com)

I really feel that in 2015 reading a book about a Puerto Rican female protagonist who kicks ass shouldn’t be a big deal. Except that it is. Older has given us a wonderful book full of awesome characters that speak to a lot of our current realities. This book addresses big issues casually without beating  you over the head with them but while still making a point and telling a complex, nuanced story.

Sierra Santiago discovers a secret about her family that was kept from her because of the rampant machismo in Latino culture. Suddenly she is thrown into a situation that she barely understands but must make sense of quickly if she is to survive. Sierra is smart and resourceful and even though the odds stacked against her she manages to save herself repeatedly. I really liked her personality. I especially enjoyed the scene where she hands Rosa’s ass to her and calls out her colorism. I love that Older brought this up because it’s something that needs to be discussed,doused in gasoline, and set on fire. Colorism is a scourge within our community. In my own family we are a mixed bunch. My family on my maternal grandfather’s side is Afrolatino and I’ve seen first hand the derisive commentary hurled their way because of their hair, skin, etc. I have met a Rosa before so I was happy to see Sierra set her straight.

Something else that Older wove into his story beautifully was the inclusion of a lesbian couple among Sierra’s group of friends. What I loved about this is that the characters were not defined by their sexuality, it was just another fact about them like hair color etc. It was part of their identity to be sure but it wasn’t what drove who they were if that makes sense. The fact that they were present means so much. Teens that read this book will see themselves in it and that is a wonderful thing.

As I was writing this I took a peek at the reviews on Goodreads and stumbled upon this shit nugget:  “And finally, while I love reading books that involve people of diverse backgrounds, I think this one was a bit heavy-handed. It’s like every few chapters I was reminded again what she looked like and how it made her feel.” WHAT?! I have no doubt that this reviewer is a Wick sympathizer. I absolutely adored the way in which Sierra’s hair was described as an “unbothered halo”, I loved that she loved herself, how she looked, who she was. Considering that this is YA Urban Fantasy about a female of color I think it’s only appropriate that she’s feeling herself on every damn page.

Anyway, I loved this book (obviously) and as  Puerto Rican who grew up reading about everybody BUT me I can’t help but feel a great sense of gratitude towards Older for penning this treasure of a story.

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Book Fridays: Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler

I always go to the library with a list but I also go with a hunger to discover new books. Unlike grocery shopping hunger is a welcome companion here. I have Kindred on my TBR but I knew my library didn’t have it on the shelf so I wasn’t looking for it. On display at the end of the stacks was Fledgling and having not heard anything about it I picked it up, read the back and decided to take it with me.

I want to get the two issues I had with the book out of the way: firstly the editing was not very good. I found several typos and other errors that had me reading sentences over and over thinking there was something wrong with me. The other is the element of pedophilia. I can’t decide if Wright was a pedophile or not. I almost feel like this is a moral dilemma presented to the reader on purpose. Our protagonist, Shori, is a vampire. A species separate and different to humans. Her body is like that of an eleven year old girl. That is Wrights first impression as she doesn’t have breasts but later on we learn that female vampires don’t have breasts so the evaluation of her body in comparison to human development is incorrect. Shori and Wright have sex shortly after he picks her up on the side of the road thinking her a runaway child. I did not get the impression that he had any nefarious intent when he stopped to offer help. He did not become interested in her sexually until she bit him.

Her saliva, we learn, is a drug to humans. It gets them off and it gets them high. If they go without it they die. Vampires and humans have a special relationship and this turning them into junkies ensures that vampires have a willing supply of food at all times. Humans, or symbionts as they’re called once they’re paired up with a vampire, are under the vampire’s influence at all times once they’ve been bitten. Even if they don’t want to follow an order they do, because they have to. I can see where the initial ick factor presented by Shori’s apparent childhood would put readers off. She’s a 53 year old vampire and she never comes across as an innocent child despite her physical appearance. At all times she has the upper hand, in physical strength and consent.

Shori is a vampire-human hybrid. Her family successfully crossed vampire and human DNA in order to create a vampire who was able to stay awake during the day and able to go out into the sun with minimal issues. The magic indredient: melanin. Shori is of mixed race in terms of her coloring. Her human mother was black. Therefore, she looks markedly different to her full vampire counterparts. So in this book Butler subverts the idea of melanin and all of the negative associated with it. In her world melanin is powerful.

As Shori looks for answers as to why her family was attacked and destroyed (she’s the sole survivor) Wright offers up his theory as to why she is being hunted and attacked:

“Chances are, this is all happening for one of three reasons.It’s happening because some human group has spotted your kind and decided you’re all dangerous, evil vampires. Or it’s happening because some Ina group or Ina individual is jealous of the success Shori’s family had with blending human and Ina DNA and having children who can stay awake through the day and not burn so easily in the sun. Or it’s happening because Shori is black, and racists — probably Ina racists — don’t like the idea that a good part of the answer to your daytime problems is melanin.”

When we first meet Shori she is recovering from the attack that killed the female side of her family. A head wound seemed to have affected her memory so that throughout the book she is learning about Ina culture along with the reader. Even so as her memory is jogged and she learns about how to be Ina (what the vampire species is called) Shori exhibits humanity. When one of her symbionts is killed off Shori intends to kill the vampire responsible but refuses to consider killing the symbiont who committed the murder because she found it despicable to use symbionts as though they weren’t people.

I really enjoyed this book and I am definitely going to read more of Butler’s work. It is unfortunate that she passed away shortly after publishing Fledgling. I would have loved to read more about Shori.

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Book Fridays: My Father’s Ghost is Climbing in the Rain by Patricio Pron

This book left me haunted. My knowledge of South American history, particularly that of Argentina is very slim but I knew enough to look up what I needed in order to delve into this book. In this story an unnamed narrator takes us through his murky rediscovery of his past. After spending eight years in Germany he returns to Argentina to see his ailing father who is in a coma. The beginning of the story feels foggy. The narrator has little to no recollection of his life in Argentina. He spent his time in Germany medicated out of his mind. And for good reason as he was a product of the Dirty War. As a child his dad would check their car for bombs before driving the kids to school.

The story is about the disappearance of a local man, Alberto Burdisso (a real person). Rather, the story is about our narrator finding his father’s news clippings on this disappearance and piecing together not just the story of that man but the story of why he repressed his memories. The writing is choppy and fragmented much like the narrator’s mind. I think that aspect worked really well. The newspaper clippings with their bad grammar and typos were a bit boring to read even though ultimately the information they contained was useful.

Overall this book was an interesting and haunting read both for what was on the pages but most notably for what wasn’t. The story is semi-autobiographical in that Pron is actually exposing his parent’s past as supporters of Juan Domingo Peron and all that came with it.

I did not know this book was a translation and I am disappointed to have read it in English as I prefer to read books in the language they were written in whenever I can. I will probably read it in Spanish at some point.

Book Fridays: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

A pandemic wipes out 99% of the human population. What happens afterwards? This is one of the questions that this book seeks to answer. The Georgia Flu hits fast and hard. Civilization collapses. Everyone is on their own. Apocalyptic stories scare me, mostly because they’re possible but also because I have zero faith in my surviving beyond the first few days if that. How does society make a comeback?

The story moves back and forth between pre and post apocalypse. You get to see the trivial and completely useless lives that people lived. The things that mattered but soon wouldn’t because Maslow’s hierarchy of needs would come into play before people knew what hit them. The story follows regular people on this journey and I think that is why I enjoyed this book so much. It was about survival but it was also about the human spirit and how it can be challenged but still manage to shine bright.

One of the characters, Clark is on an aeroplane when the pandemic reaches critical mass and is forced to make an emergency landing. The airport becomes his home. Fortunately none of the passengers are infected but a plane does land and is kept quarantined. All the passengers die inside that plane. The horror, the decision made to keep the flu contained inside that vessel is one that kept me thinking long after it happened. It wasn’t even a particularly important part of the story as it was not delved into but my mind delved into it.

“A rape on the night of Day Eighty-five, the airport woken after midnight by a woman’s scream. They tied the man up until sunrise and then drove him into the forest at gunpoint, told him if he returned he would be shot. “I’ll die out here alone,” he said, sobbing, and no one disagreed but what else could they do?”

Justice and safety are important and this passage illustrates that beautifully. That rapist broke the social contract and he faced consequences that sadly he might not have faced in our civilization. He was exiled and it most likely meant his death but order HAD to be maintained. And how awful would it have been for the woman he raped if he had been allowed to stay out of pity. Life inside the airport was fragile but good prevailed.

During a mission to gather whatever supplies they could from outside the airport a group walked by a hotel. Abandoned and reeking with death they did not enter but were later followed by a resident of the same. His sheer relief at finding people broke my heart. It once again brought to mind Maslow’s hierarchy of needs which are as follows: physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, self-actualization.

People naturally sought to have their physiological needs met first as these are essential for survival. Food, water, and shelter are the first needs to be met. This is followed by safety and then love/belonging. Humans are social animals and this interpersonal need is important. It is why people were grouped together, not just for survival but because psychologically it hurts to be without company. A lot of the story follows characters as they meet these three needs first and slowly branch out to other things.

What I loved about this story is that it looked at humanity with hopefulness. Even in adversity there is good in people and good can win. That’s not to say that there weren’t any bad apples along the way but by and large there was a faith in humanity that came across loud and clear.

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Book Fridays: The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

This book was sitting on my shelf for a while and when I picked it up I was unsure as to whether or not I had read it. I bought this book in the days before I logged my reading on Goodreads so I had nowhere to look for clues. I decided to just read it and if it turned out I had already read it then it would turn into a re-read. The beginning felt a little familiar so I looked to Goodreads reviews for a refresher. What I found were very harsh, passionate reviews dissing this book to hell and back. Seriously, it was scary to read the bad reviews. I read it anyway and I really enjoyed it!

The book is long and a little slow-paced. Personally, the pacing was fine for me but I will concede that I can see how it would be a sticking point for others. The writing is beautiful and detailed. In all, this book is possibly not everybody’s cup of tea. The epilogue bugged me as I found it unnecessary and I wish it had been left out.

This story is about vampires, more specifically it’s about Dracula but it’s different. It’s an academic approach to the story. I was hesitant to use the word academic because it feels a bit stuffy but that’s the best way I can describe it. The amount of research that went into writing this book is significant and woven together beautifully. I am only sad that I didn’t read it sooner.

If you’re into vampire stories this is worth checking out.

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Book Fridays: The Thirteenth Tale

Last Saturday’s read-a-thon had me browsing my shelves and my Kindle for books to read. Since I was signed up to cheer I knew I wouldn’t do much reading so I picked this book knowing I likely wouldn’t finish it. I didn’t finish it during the read-a-thon but I am so glad I picked it up! I purchased it years ago (likely with a gift card) and it sat on my shelf mocking me ever since. I remember reading the blurb and thinking that it sounded interesting. I also liked the colors of the cover (likely, the reason I picked up the book in the first place).

The story is a complicated one. Our protagonist receives a letter from a well known and prolific author requesting that she write her autobiography. Vida Winter is a mysterious woman, having fed lies about her life to reporters for years. She’s finally ready to tell the truth and Margaret is the person she chose for the task. The story itself, the plot, was very engaging. I enjoyed the journey to finding out the sordid, yet fascinating life of Vida Winter. She is a mystery being unwound.

There were things I didn’t care for such as the much repeated descriptor of women as plain. There was also a lot of hot, sweet tea and Jane Eyre references. I almost wanted to tell the author, I get it! Regardless, it was a book I very much enjoyed. I won’t go into much more detail about it because I don’t want to give anything away and this is a book that I find difficult to talk about without potentially letting some plot point slip. At 406 pages it’s a pretty long read.

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Book Fridays: The Virgin

There is a way to prepare for the release of a highly anticipated book. Whenever I am desperate to read I tend to shirk some responsibilities. I think most readers can relate. The dishes pile up until I can tear myself away from my book long enough to wash them, meals are thrown together carelessly, and the living room is a mess of toys, blankets and couch cushions. This time I was prepared. Meals were planned and prepped, I woke up early so that I had a couple of hours of reading time before my son woke up, and I kept him entertained enough so that I could sneak in chapters while pretending to watch him intently (I’m an amazing mother). Nap time provided me with more reading time and then I finally took a break before diving right back into the book once everyone was fed, bathed, and put to bed.

I could not pace myself with this book. I read it in a day. Being back with these characters, learning new details about their stories was exhilarating and calming at the same time. Because this is the seventh book in this series I was already invested. There were a lot of things I loved, but there were also some things I did not like as much. For one thing, the relationship between Nora and Kyrie didn’t feel genuine. The whole time I felt as though Nora (Elle) was just pretending for Kyrie’s sake so it puzzled me when they parted ways and Nora was so heartbroken over it. I did enjoy learning about how Nora became a writer but Kyrie felt like a means to an end.

Having said the above, the writing is just as wonderful as it always is. I could read anything Reisz writes. She’s that good. I loved seeing our trinity so happy and carefree in the present, having gone through all that they have gone through together. I especially loved reading about Kingsley and Juliette. Their story is one of my favorites, possibly because King is my favorite. Overall, it was a solid addition to the series and I look forward to the next instalment.

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