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Book Fridays: The readathon is coming!

Dewey’s 24 hour readathon is coming up on Saturday the 17th! Have you signed up? If you’ve never participated I strongly urge you to do so. It is a fun event for readers of all ages and if you love to volunteer your time they could really use all the help they can get! You can sign up here and poke around to see how you can get involved if you’re into that ūüôā

I first heard about the readathon last October via Rincey of Rincey Reads on YouTube. I wasn’t sure I could participate but I ended up reading the entire day and had a lot of fun reading updates and blog posts from readers around the world. If you’ve never done a readathon I think Dewey’s is the perfect place to start because it’s all about having fun. You don’t have to read for the full 24 hours (although you certainly CAN) and there are lots of bookish activities and challenges going on for the full 24 hours. A celebration of books and reading is the best way I can describe the readathon.

How do you prepare for a readathon?

Personally, I like to prepare my stack in advance. My first readathon was spent with The Mists of Avalon. I devoted all of my reading time to just the one book and that’s a valid plan of action. The following readathon I lined up a variety of books of varying lengths which resulted in completing a couple of books. That made me feel accomplished. My advice would be to have a variety of books to choose from. You just never know what you’ll be in the mood for once you get going.¬†I’m firmly on team print books AND ebooks. I love my Kindle and I have a few books to choose from on there, too.

Visit your local library

If you have a¬†reading list bigger than your bank account you are not alone! If I were to purchase every book I wanted to read I would be broke. In planning your reading for the readathon I would suggest visiting your local library if you’re able to do so and if your library has Overdrive (or has some other way to loan ebooks) take advantage of that as well. I now have a to be purchased list of all the books I borrowed that I now want to own.

Don’t forget to shop your bookshelves and even your friends bookshelves. Just make sure to take excellent care of their books. Nobody likes to get dog eared copies back. There are also plenty of books in the public domain that are available in ebook format for free.

If you have some coin to spend check out thriftbooks.com. I recently purchased a few books from them and although visibly well loved they are still in great reading condition.

Plan ahead

This might sound like overkill to some but I like to plan for the readathon by making meals ahead and basically having nothing to do but read. Of course this is all relative as I have a toddler and so diaper changes and as of recently, potty visits will be happening throughout the day. I also think it’s important to take breaks, rest your eyes, stretch your muscles etc. And of course we need to eat! Snacks are a must and they can be as healthy or junk-y as you want.

Have fun

I think the most important aspect of the readathon is to have fun. Get your whole family involved. Pick up a comic or graphic novel. You aren’t limited to any format either, ebooks, print books and audiobooks are all readathon material.

I will be hosting a mini challenge on Saturday. There will be prizes! I am so excited to cheer, read and keep up with readathon happenings. I probably won’t finish a book but I sure will have plenty to read.

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Diego’s readathon stack!

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Book Fridays: I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Trevi√Īo

I had no idea who Juan the Pareja was before picking up this book. I found it while browsing the children’s section at the library. I read the blurb and thought it sounded interesting. The book, while a good read, is not without its problems. Juan de Pareja was slave to Diego Velazquez one of the most important painters of the Spanish Golden Age. This story is told from Pareja’s point of view which is both wonderful and problematic.

Juan de Pareja was born to a mulatto mother and Spaniard father. He was born into slavery. Diego Velazquez inherited him after his original masters succumbed to disease. I’m going to go ahead and discuss what I think the book has going for it before I delve into what I took issue with. Having a Newberry Medal winner be a book about a black protagonist¬†is significant. Almost 50 years later we still face diversity issues in publishing but it is important to note that the author of this book is a white woman. I’m not saying that she won because she was white but if you look at the list of Newberry Medal winners you will see which way it skews. One book about a 17th century slave does not change the reality of publishing.

When we talk about 17th century Europe many people overlook the fact that black people lived among all the white people we read about in books and see in movies etc. set in that time period. They are not often discussed or depicted but they were there because: slavery. This is why a book about and told from the point of view of a black man is significant.

The writing is good and the story engaging. There were a couple of scenes that stood out to me.

When I started reading the book the foreword bothered me and 40 pages in I declared the book garbage on my GoodReads status update. My feelings have mellowed somewhat but the main issue I have with the book is the handling of slavery and racism. The author doesn’t go as far as to justify it but she does almost excuse it. She doesn’t go as hard on it as I think she should have. The contempt for slavery is mild and Pareja is characterized as a docile slave who loves his station and his masters. Her foreword is basically a declaration of that’s just what was done back then rather than a condemnation.

Something else that I found disgusting was the way in which the white slave owners were heralded as kind, good people. Heroes even for treating their slaves with common decency. This is the kind of bullshit that I honestly cannot stand. A person who owned slaves is scum, I don’t care how well they treat their “property”. They are still in the ownership of human beings. I feel that the author went to great lengths to make the reader sympathetic to the slave owners. The idea that a slave and master can have a real loving friendship is a fallacy. There is too much power imbalance in such a relationship.

What saved this book for me was the character of Brother Isidro who finally lays down some truth when he says, “They look at a black boy and they see only a slave who is capable of doing work. They do not see what I do.” and adds, “Well, I see a person.” He is the only character that acknowledges Pareja’s personhood. Another character that tempers the complacency depicted throughout most of the book is Loli, a fellow slave who later becomes Pareja’s wife. She is the opposite of Pareja. She hates being a slave and she resents the white people. Her anger is not dwelled upon but it is expressed in a conversation she has with Juan. These two characters have a minor presence in the story but the fact they were there gives me hope that¬†Trevi√Īo was a sincere detractor of racism and slavery.

The bottom line: this is definitely a worthwhile read. It’s a good book and for all the faults I found I still enjoyed it. Being critical of something doesn’t mean you can’t also like¬†it. I think it’s important to read critically. To consume all things critically. It’s not always comfortable but it is necessary. ¬†There is a lot more I could say about this book and the issues but I have dinner to prepare and so I must end it here.

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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: El cumplea√Īos de Baldomero by Isabel M. Febles Iguina

This book caught my eye during our last library visit and I was pleasantly surprised when I got it home and read through it. I’ll be honest, I picked it up because it was published by the University of Puerto Rico. Currently, I am on a mission to find children’s books in Spanish. Diego’s library is pretty large but he’s got more books in English than in Spanish. This isn’t a huge issue, I often translate for him or simply talk about the book. Pictures can be discussed in any language after all. I try to balance story time so that it favors Spanish but includes English so I read to him in both languages almost every day. I just try to read an extra book in Spanish. Anyway, these aren’t hard and fast rules and quite honestly I have no idea what I am doing.

But back to the book, this book is a two in one. It is printed in both English and Spanish. I really like that it’s two books in one. Instead of printing the different texts side by side the book starts over in English after the Spanish language text. The story is about Baldomero’s birthday party. We start out with Baldomero and his parents coming up with the guest list. His parents allow him five guests but he has trouble with his fifth guest. When his parents probe him he explains that he really wants to invite his classmate Tito but he’s deaf and Baldomero doesn’t know sign language. His parents are very supportive and tell him that the fact that Tito is deaf is no obstacle to being his friend.

There are many things about this book that I loved. Firstly, I loved that these characters were not whitewashed. I find that even in texts that are written by and for a Latinx audience the illustrations favor fair skinned, green/blue eyed characters with straight hair. And while there are Latinx who do look like this failing to include people of color is erasure. Afro-latinx people exist! Puerto Rico in particular is inhabited by people of all ethnicities. There is diversity in our community even though media does not often represent that. And just in case there is a person of Latin or Hispanic descent that feels misrepresented when we talk about brown and black peoples because “we aren’t all dark!” please take a seat. I don’t have time for you, go away.

Anyway, the illustration of this book stood out to me in a good way. The inclusion of a child with a disability also adds to the diversity. Diversity is not just about representing people of different colors, races, etc. it is also about representing those who are not able-bodied. The message of the book is a positive one: people who are disabled/different in some way are still people. Tito was humanized throughout the story and he was not reduced to his hearing impediment.

You don’t have to be bilingual to enjoy this book and I encourage you to seek it out for your children!

Lastly, I always try my best to use correct language when discussing communities of which I am not part of. If I have expressed myself incorrectly or offensively please let me know.

Thank you for reading.

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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 Jos√© 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: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

I feel as though it’s been a while since I wrote about the books I’ve been reading. Part of the reason is that I’ve been busy reading but also because I had prewritten about 6 Book Friday posts and once I ran out I was not motivated to write more. Writing about books is not something I spend too much time on. Depending on the book I might devote more time to researching the author etc but I am no professional book reviewer. I don’t analyze books based on themes, prose and the like. I might make mention of it if it pops out at me but I am just a reader who likes to write a few lines about what she’s been reading.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent is a debut novel that apparently made quite the splash when it was first published due to the hefty six-figure advanced received by Ms. Kent. An interesting bit of trivia in my opinion.

The story is set in 1830 I believe, in a small rural town of Iceland. Agnes, our protagonist, has been sentenced to death and is awaiting execution. The story is told during her last winter as she awaits her fate. I found the writing to be lovely. I enjoyed the descriptions which are so well done that I found myself feeling slightly chilled as I read about an Icelandic winter. I loved it. Agnes is sent to live on a farm against its occupants wishes but they were charged with taking in this prisoner and caring for her. It was interesting to see how her presence created such upheaval in the lives of her host family and those around them.

It is important to note that the story on which this book is based is true. This woman existed and she was killed. In fact, she was the last executed person in Iceland. We learn her story, her crime, and her life through her conversations with her chosen confessor, Father Toti.

I spent some¬†of the book conflicted about whether or not Agnes was guilty but in the end I think I knew…

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Book Fridays: Reading priorities and July TBR

I don’t think I have ever shared my¬†monthly TBRs but since I have a few books lined up and no scheduled post for today I am sharing what I plan to read this month.¬†I have always frequented¬†my local library but between last year and this one I have really amped up my library use. I go to the library almost weekly whether it’s to browse, pick up holds, or return books. I also make use of their Overdrive service for e-books. It turns out I do not have the funds to buy as many books as I read. I actually like borrowing books first because if I love a book I can always purchase it knowing that I really want it in my collection. Reading borrowed books has helped me knock out ¬†a lot of books I’ve been meaning to read since once I bring them home I actually read them. See, I used to buy a lot of books and they tend to sit for a while before I get around to them. With library books I am forced to prioritize my reading.

Speaking of purchased books, this year I am reading my shelves and so far I’ve read several books I had purchased years ago but never read. I am also purging my bookshelves of books I am not longer interested in owning because my reading tastes have changed a lot over the last few years.

But back to prioritizing my reading, this week, Daniel Jose Older’s Shadowshaper was released and I am dying to read it. I planned to start it the day it came out but I hadn’t finished the book I was in the middle of and with another two library books still in the wings¬†I know that I have to wait. I am not the type of reader who likes to read multiple books at once unless they’re non-fiction, or a collection of stand alone stories. It’s not a hard and fast rule for me but I much prefer to read one book at a time. In fact, I seldom ever have multiple books going at once. Reading mostly library books¬†has really challenged me in that I have had to begrudgingly put down a book for a few days because one of my library holds has come in.

Here is what I plan to read this month:

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings by James Baldwin

Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older

I will probably read other books but I’ll pick those out depending on what I feel like. I’ll either borrow hard copies from the library or e-book format from Overdrive. My husband has Amazon Prime so I could also borrow books from there.

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Book Fridays: La ultima noche que pase contigo by Mayra Montero

It has been a while since a book angered me this much. I picked up this book on a whim on a recent library trip. I happened upon their collection of Spanish literature and this book caught my eye. I had no idea what I was in for. Because I will be quoting this book I will be writing this post in Spanish. For those interested, this book is racist and I don’t mean there is a racist character set straight by another character that speaks sense. This book has some of the most blatant, despicable depictions of casual racism. It is not something new, Latino culture is rife with racism and this book is a perfect example of it. Of note is the author’s disregard for the harmful and historically racist depiction of black people as monkeys. In the book the female protagonist has sex with a black man and upon returning to her stateroom her husband remarks that she “smells like a monkey”. That the author chose to describe her smell as such after sleeping with a black man should tell you everything you need to know.

I do not make it a habit to write about books that I rate very poorly. Mostly because I am very diligent in my selection process but also because most of the time not liking a book is subjective. This is not one such instance. I can’t keep silent about this book.

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No suelo escribir sobre aquellos libros que no me han gustado pero es necesario hablar sobre este libro porque presenta un gran problema en nuestra cultura Latina. Como tal, la historia que leemos en este libro se trata de una pareja de crucero y la infidelidad que existe entre ambas partes. En si la historia es una sobre personas poco agradables pero eso no es lo que me dio asco.

Este libro expone muchas ideas racistas. Les explícito y lo voy a mostrar con ejemplos del texto.

“Tenia unos ojos achinados y perversos, un negro chino, una¬†fisonom√≠a¬†diab√≥lica, un cuerpo tenso y duro, puro nervio y puro¬†m√ļsculo, un negro y renegro, me¬†recorri√≥ un¬†escalofr√≠o: estaba segura de que¬†√≠bamos a zozobrar.”

Veamos el lenguaje, hombre negro es reducido a algo del diablo. La manera en la cual la autora se refiere a las personas de color negro es despectiva durante todo el libro. Aquí jamas encontramos a un personaje que le llame la atención al personaje racista. Por ello considero a la autora cómplice en ello.

Nuestra protagonista le teme al hombre negro pero este temor se convierte en excitación sexual y luego de seducirlo se encuentra enredada con el mismo hombre a quien mira despectivamente por su raza.

“…puso sus manos sobre mis muslos, sus manos que afuera parec√≠an tan grandes y que ahora dentro del agua, se tornaban enormes, descomunales manos de patron de bote, de negro proscrito, de monstruo marino.”

Nuevamente el lenguaje, las palabras seleccionadas, en particular la palabra “monstruo” es violenta porque deshumaniza al patron del bote. Lo iguala a un animal. Esto es racista.

En otro instante la protagonista se refiere al patron del bote como un “animal de amor” que es un estereotipo com√ļn sobre los hombres negros.

Una vez su encuentro con el botero llega a su fin la protagonista regresa al barco donde su esposo (sin saber de donde ella venia) le reclama . La asociaci√≥n entre las personas de color y los monos no es nueva. Hist√≥ricamente es solo una de las muchas maneras a trav√©s de las cuales se le negaban derechos a estos ciudadanos. Que la autora escogiera esta frase para comentar sobre el olor de la protagonista luego de tener relaciones sexuales con un hombre negro ignora la historia da√Īina¬†¬†de esta asociaci√≥n y solo sirve para perpetuar estereotipos raciales.

Podria dar otros ejemplos pero creo que basta con los que he compartido aquí. Considero este texto extremadamente racista. Los cuerpos negros no son un fetiche pero así lo consideran los protagonistas. Otros problemas a discutir es la representación de violencia entre los hombres y las mujeres especialmente durante la intimidad.

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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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