Tag Archives For: fiction

03 Mar, 2017

The Hate U Give

/ posted in: Reading The Hate U Give The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
on February 28, 2017
Genres: Young Adult
Format: eBook
Source: Owned

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Goodreads

This was one of the most anticipated books of the year.  I preordered it and started reading as soon as it downloaded.  It is worth all the hype.

I think a large part of the effectiveness of this novel is the complexity of the characters.  No one is a stock character with only one relevant character attribute or motivation.  This allows a lot of discussion among the characters on a huge range of topics.

Starr – She is 16 and lives in a neighborhood that she thinks of as the ghetto but she doesn’t want anyone else to call it that.  She witness her best friend Natasha get killed in a drive by shooting when they were 10.  After that her mother sent her to a private school in a safer neighborhood.  She feels like she is living a double life at home and at school.  She’s not sure she fits into either place.  She has a white boyfriend that she’s too afraid to tell her father about.

Khalil – He grew up with Starr but they don’t talk much any more.  His mother is a drug addict.  After he is killed, he is described as a drug dealer and a gang member but the truth is harder to come by.

Maverick – He’s Starr’s father.  He was a gang member but is out of it now.  He was in jail for three years when Starr was young.  He owns a grocery store in the neighborhood.  He is adamant that they are not going to move to a safer neighborhood because they need to help remake the one they live in.  He’s drilled Black Panther quotes into his children to teach them to survive.

Uncle Carlos – He is a policeman who grew up in the neighborhood.  He helped raise Maverick’s kids when he was in jail and there is still some tension between them.

Add in Starr’s mom and her brothers and the rest of the extended family in addition to the friends from the neighborhood and her school and this is a rich cast of characters with multiple points of view.


Khalil is driving Starr home from a party when they are pulled over.  He is pulled out of the car and then shot while standing beside the car.  The police and the officer’s family describe it as a shooting of a thug who was going for a gun.  Starr knows there was no gun.  Khalil looked into the car to ask if she was ok.  Now she’s dealing with the grief and trauma of witnessing his murder.

At first no one knows that she was the witness.  She wasn’t named because she is a minor.  She is unable to talk about it to her friends at school even though it is a major news story.  There is even a walkout supposedly in protest of his killing but mostly was just as an excuse to get out of class.  As she sees people around her react to the story of Khalil’s death she is forced to face racism in her friends that she had been ignoring before.

Should she break her silence and talk about what happened?  She talks to the grand jury but should she go public?  What will the repercussions be for her family and her neighborhood?  Talking publicly will bring up issues like gang violence that no one talks about for fear of retaliation.

This is a vibrant and layered story about life in a poor community in an inner city.  It shows an intact African-American family with open love and affection between the parents.  That’s rare to find in books.  I’ll leave all the analysis of black representation to others but I thought it was amazing.

I would love to hand this book to any white person who has ever thought All Lives Matter was an appropriate response to Black Lives Matter or who thought that a police killing was justified because the person was probably up to no good.  I doubt they would read it but this book needs to be out in the world being read by everyone.

The title comes from Tupac.  This clip was referenced in the book.  He explains what THUG LIFE means to him.

 

About Angie Thomas

“Angie Thomas was born, raised, and still resides in Jackson, Mississippi as indicated by her accent. She is a former teen rapper whose greatest accomplishment was an article about her in Right-On Magazine with a picture included. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from Belhaven University and an unofficial degree in Hip Hop. She can also still rap if needed. She is an inaugural winner of the Walter Dean Meyers Grant 2015, awarded by We Need Diverse Books. Her debut novel, The Hate U Give, was acquired by Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins in a 13-house auction and will be published in spring 2017. Film rights have been optioned by Fox 2000 with George Tillman attached to direct and Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg set to star.”   from Goodreads

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • POC authors
02 Mar, 2017

My Favorite Magical Land

/ posted in: Reading My Favorite Magical Land Unquiet Land by Sharon Shinn
on November 1st 2016
Pages: 400
Series: Elemental Blessings #4
Genres: Fantasy
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

Leah Frothen has returned home. But she can scarcely catch her breath before she is summoned by regent Darien Serlast, the man who made her a spy. Leah is reluctant to take on a new assignment, but Darien has dangled the perfect lure to draw her in…
Leah finds she enjoys the challenges of opening a shop catering to foreign visitors, especially since it affords her the opportunity to get to know Mally, the child she abandoned five years ago.
But when the regent asks her to spy on ambassadors from a visiting nation, Leah soon learns that everyone—her regent, her lover, and even her daughter—have secrets that could save the nation, but might very well break her heart.

Goodreads

Years ago Leah left Welce under mysterious circumstances.  She fled to a neighboring country where she was recruited to spy for Welce.  In this series we first meet her in book three.  Now, because of the events in that book she is going home, but she isn’t able to escape spying as easily as she thought.

Each of the countries in this world have specific religions and magical systems.  I love the Welce system.  It is based on elemental affiliation.  If I had to pick one magical land from any book I’ve ever read to live in, it would be Welce.  It is fairly calm and peaceful and I love the magical system.

The Karkans are on a diplomatic mission to try to find an ally in Welce.  They have a very strict system of morality.  They believe that they need to atone for any wrongdoing.  However, they believe that if they atone properly and even in advance, there are no consequences to any behavior.  This leads to huge acts of charity that they feel allows them to do anything evil they want.  The ruler of Welce thinks that they are up to no good when huge anonymous donations start to show up in temples.  Leah is in charge of finding out what they are doing to do.

If you are interested in the series don’t start with this book.  This is a series that you should read in order from the beginning in order to properly understand the world and all the people in it.

If you could pick any magical place to live, where would it be?

About Sharon Shinn

“I mostly write my fiction in the evenings and on weekends. It requires a pretty obsessive-compulsive personality to be as prolific as I’ve been in the past ten years and hold down a full-time job. But I do manage to tear myself away from the computer now and then to do something fun. I read as often as I can, across all genres, though I’m most often holding a book that’s fantasy or romance, with the occasional western thrown in.” from her website

27 Feb, 2017

A Criminal Magic

/ posted in: Reading A Criminal Magic A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly
on February 2nd 2016
Pages: 422
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Published by Saga Press
Format: eBook
Source: Owned

Magic is powerful, dangerous and addictive - and after passage of the 18th Amendment, it is finally illegal.
Joan Kendrick, a young sorcerer from Norfolk County, Virginia accepts an offer to work for DC's most notorious crime syndicate, the Shaw Gang, when her family's home is repossessed. Alex Danfrey, a first-year Federal Prohibition Unit trainee with a complicated past and talents of his own, becomes tapped to go undercover and infiltrate the Shaws.
Through different paths, Joan and Alex tread deep into the violent, dangerous world of criminal magic.

Goodreads

Prohibition in the 1920s recast as a ban on magic instead of alcohol?  Yes, please.

Magic has been driven underground.  After a person does magic they are able to focus their energy into liquid to make a magical brew called shine.  The more complicated the magic, the stronger the shine.  Speakeasies pop up where people can watch an illegal magic show and then buy the shine that the sorcerers make after the performance.  Shine can’t be bottled.  It doesn’t keep past a few hours.  The person who learns how to bottle it stands to make a fortune.

A group of powerful sorcerers are brought together to compete for the chance to be part of a high end speakeasy.  As the profits and the magic soars, the sorcerers find themselves kept captive by the criminal bosses that own the club.

This book had so much promise that I don’t feel like it fully lived up to.  It was good but at the end there was a vague feeling that it should have been more.  It might be The Night Circus effect.  Every book that involves setting up magical venues is going to pale a bit in my mind when compared to that book.

Read this book if you are more into 1920s stories with gangsters than urban fantasy.  It much more of a criminal story than a magic-first story.  Magic is the illegal substance that fuels the crime, not an end unto itself.

There are times of great imagination and other times the grand spectacles that the sorcerers are supposed to be making fell a little flat for me.  I mean, I’m sure making a sunset out of thin air would be cool in person but this is fantasy so I’d expect something grander for the highest-end club in Washington, D.C.

 

About Lee Kelly

“Lee Kelly has wanted to write since she was old enough to hold a pencil, but it wasn’t until she began studying for the California Bar Exam that she conveniently started putting pen to paper.

An entertainment lawyer by trade, Lee has practiced law in Los Angeles and New York.

She lives with her husband and son in Millburn, New Jersey, though after a decade in Manhattan, she can’t help but still call herself a New Yorker.”  from Goodreads

13 Feb, 2017

Her Nightly Embrace – Fun but oh so problematic

/ posted in: Reading Her Nightly Embrace – Fun but oh so problematic Her Nightly Embrace (Ravi PI #1) by Adi Tantimedh
on November 1st 2016
Pages: 320
Series: Ravi PI #1
Genres: Fiction
Published by Atria/Leopoldo & Co.
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Setting: England

Ravi Chandra Singh is the last guy you’d expect to become a private detective. A failed religious scholar, he now works for Golden Sentinels, an upmarket London private investigations agency. His colleagues are a band of gleefully amoral and brilliant screw-ups: Ken and Clive, a pair of brutal ex-cops who are also a gay couple; Mark Chapman, a burned-out stoner hiding a great mind; Marcie Holder, a cheerful former publicist; Benjamin Lee, a techie prankster from South London; David Okri, an ambitious lawyer from a well-connected Nigerian immigrant family; and Olivia Wong, an upper-class Hong Kong financial analyst hiding her true skills as one of the most dangerous hackers in the world—all under the watchful eye of Roger Golden, wheeler-dealer extraordinaire, and his mysterious office manager, Cheryl Hughes.
Thrust into a world where the rich, famous, and powerful hire him to solve their problems and wash their dirty laundry, Ravi finds himself in over his head with increasingly gonzo and complex cases – and the recent visions that he’s been having of Hindu gods aren’t helping. As Ravi struggles to stay ahead of danger, he wonders if the things he’s seeing are a delusion – or if he might, in fact, be an unrecognized shaman of the modern world...

Goodreads

I loved this story of a private eye handling high profile cases while the Hindu gods watch him and text on their phones.  There are several cases discussed here and they were well done.  I want to read more in this series to see what happens with the gods.

BUT….

The first case in the book is super problematic.  It only covers maybe the first 1/3 of the book so discussing it isn’t going to going spoil the whole thing but here’s your warning.

A politician comes to the agency because he says that his dead girlfriend is having sex with him at night.  It turns out that the politician takes a lot of sleeping pills at night so he isn’t fully aware of what is going on.  His former girlfriend was a transwoman and he didn’t know.  She was mid-transition when she got sick and then met him.  Instead of talking to him about, you know, her life or anything, she would have her twin sister switch places with her at night.  Her sister had sex with him.  Then the girlfriend died of her illness and the sister kept sneaking into the house and having sex with the drugged guy because she was a sex addict.

(Go ahead and pick all the nonsense out of that paragraph at your leisure.)

Ok, so no matter how you dress that up, that’s a rape case.  But, the word rape is never uttered.  I think the closest they get is saying assault.  I believe you are meant to feel bad for the woman who might get prosecuted if the politician decides to go public.  I didn’t.

But then ….. wait for it…..

The woman who should be in jail for rape not only starts dating the main character but she gets a job in the agency.

via GIPHY
I kept listening in hope that something was going to happen to get them to all see that this was wrong. They don’t. The rest of the book is so much better than this.  This story could easily have been gotten rid of and not affect the rest of the book.  I would love to think that when they adapt this for TV that they will live this case out but these things never work out the way I’d like.

About Adi Tantimedh

Adi Tantimedh has a BA in English Literature from Bennington College and an MFA in Film and Television Production from New York University. He is of Chinese-Thai descent and came of age in Singapore and London. He has written radio plays and television scripts for the BBC and screenplays for various Hollywood companies, as well as graphic novels for DC Comics and Big Head Press, and a weekly column about pop culture for BleedingCool.com. He wrote “Zinky Boys Go Underground,” the first post-Cold War Russian gangster thriller, which won the BAFTA for Best Short Film in 1995.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Books Set in Europe
  • POC authors
10 Feb, 2017

The Littlest Bigfoot

/ posted in: Reading The Littlest Bigfoot The Littlest Bigfoot by Jennifer Weiner
on September 13th 2016
Pages: 304
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Published by Aladdin
Format: ARC
Source: From author/publisher
Setting: New York

Alice Mayfair, twelve years old, slips through the world unseen and unnoticed. Ignored by her family and shipped off to her eighth boarding school, Alice would like a friend. And when she rescues Millie Maximus from drowning in a lake one day, she finds one.
But Millie is a Bigfoot, part of a clan who dwells deep in the woods. Most Bigfoots believe that people—NoFurs, as they call them—are dangerous, yet Millie is fascinated with the No-Fur world. She is convinced that humans will appreciate all the things about her that her Bigfoot tribe does not: her fearless nature, her lovely singing voice, and her desire to be a star.
Alice swears to protect Millie’s secret. But a league of Bigfoot hunters is on their trail, led by a lonely kid named Jeremy. And in order to survive, Alice and Millie have to put their trust in each other—and have faith in themselves—above all else.

Goodreads

I picked up this book at BEA last year because I like Jennifer Weiner’s adult fiction.  I don’t read a lot of middle grade so I would have missed this one otherwise.

Alice is the neglected child of wealthy New Yorkers who don’t know what to do with her. She doesn’t fit into their vision of what a child of theirs should be.  She’s messy and clumsy and too big.  For some reason she never fits into the schools she’s attended.  Now she is being shipped off to boarding school in upstate New York.  The school is populated by other misfits who Alice keeps her distance from.  She knows they will eventually reject her too.

Millie is a Yare.  They are known as Bigfoot to No-Furs.  They are quiet and meek.  Millie is not.  She wants to meet a No-Fur so much.  Eventually Millie and Alice meet which brings the Yare tribe into danger from the local humans.

After I read this I thought that my stepdaughter would enjoy it.  She refused to even look at it so we read it out loud during a road trip.  She got mad and put her ear buds in so she didn’t have to hear a stupid story.  We did notice her listening every so often though.

Alice believes that she is fat and ugly and that her hair is a disaster.  She judges herself and everyone around her very harshly.  These judgements are presented as facts in the book.  She mocks people in her mind over any difference.  She learns to bully people to gain acceptance.

Eventually this all backfires on her and she is an outcast again.  She learns to accept people for their differences by the end of the book. But I can see people being uncomfortable with the mocking and harsh judging of other characters and viewpoints before this point.

Not all of the issues are resolved at the end so I hope this means that we will be reading more of Alice and Millie.

07 Feb, 2017

I Almost Forgot About You

/ posted in: Reading I Almost Forgot About You I Almost Forgot About You by Terry McMillan
on June 7th 2016
Pages: 368
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction, Love & Romance
Published by Crown
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Setting: California

In I Almost Forgot About You, Dr. Georgia Young's wonderful life--great friends, family, and successful career--aren't enough to keep her from feeling stuck and restless. When she decides to make some major changes in her life, quitting her job as an optometrist, and moving house, she finds herself on a wild journey that may or may not include a second chance at love.

Goodreads

Georgia’s life is turned around when she finds out that a person she loved in college has died.  She decides to get in touch with the men she has loved to tell them that she appreciated them.

I decided to download this book on a whim before a long road trip.  It was fun and laugh at loud funny in parts.  Georgia is trying to decide what to do with her life.  Her children are grown.  Her job is boring her.  She wants to make a change but isn’t sure what that will look like.  In the meantime, she is dealing with her mother’s remarriage, her daughters’ marriages and pregnancies, and her friends deciding that they too will be making big changes.  Facing the men from her past feels like too much at times.

The first thing Georgia wants to do in her new life is to take a solo train trip from San Francisco to Vancouver and then across Canada.  That’s something I’ve always wanted to do too.  I’d love to just look at the scenery and read for a week.  It sounds like the perfect introvert trip.

The women  in her life are very against her traveling solo.  They even imply that she shouldn’t go on her trip unless she can take a man with her, even though Georgia isn’t in a relationship and hasn’t dated in years.  That annoyed me.

Bad rep alert:

There is a minor storyline about a man leaving his wife for his boyfriend.  This is discussed as the man being gay now. Bisexuality is never discussed.  That’s a missed opportunity.  The wife doesn’t want him to discuss this with their children until they are older.  It seems to imply that homosexuality/bisexuality has to remain an adults-only conversation.  This is refuted later when the kids talk about it very matter of factly. They obviously aren’t traumatized at all.

There is a man in Georgia’s life who seems to me to be very smug.  He routinely overrides what Georgia says she wants.  This is portrayed in the book as romantic and him knowing Georgia better than she knows herself.  I found it a bit creepy.


Despite its issues, I really enjoyed this book.  The depictions of female friendships are very well done.  I love her friend Wanda and her outlook on Georgia’s life.  This is a great light read when you want a book that will make you laugh.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • POC authors
24 Jan, 2017

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

/ posted in: Reading Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
on February 21st 2012
Pages: 359
Genres: Young Adult
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Setting: Texas

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

Goodreads

Aristotle and Dante is a book that I have been hearing about for a long time but just finally listened to. This is a coming of age story of two Mexican-American boys set in El Paso Texas in the 1980s.

Ari is a loner with many questions about his family. He has a much older brother who went to jail when Ari was four. He doesn’t know why and his family refuses to talk about it. Ari’s father is a Vietnam veteran struggling with PTSD who is having difficulty communicating with his family.

Dante is the extroverted only child of expressive and loving parents. He loves poetry. He offers to teach Ari to swim when they meet at a public pool. Over the summer they become friends and then very gradually start to realize that they may be falling in love.

This is the story of Ari and Dante’s lives through one summer, the school year, and the next summer. There are everyday milestones like getting a driver’s license and having your first job in addition to larger issues.

  • How do you stand up to your parents so they start to see you as an adult?
  • How do you deal with unrequited love?
  • How do you most effectively face homophobia, including violence?
  • How do you learn to let yourself learn to feel and act on your emotions?
  • How do you deal with being too American for your Mexican relatives and too Mexican for other Americans?

Lin-Manuel Miranda reads the audiobook and does a very good job.  (There is a nice moment when Ari complains about learning about Alexander Hamilton that gets a bit meta when you hear Lin-Manuel Miranda read it.) This book is a bit slow on audio for my tastes.  In fact I set it aside for a few months after about the first hour.  I’m glad I came back to it because the story picked up but this is one that might be better in print form if you like a lot of action in your audiobooks.

In whatever format you decide this is a great book for everyone to read.

About Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Benjamin Alire Sáenz (born 16 August 1954) is an award-winning American poet, novelist and writer of children’s books.

He was born at Old Picacho, New Mexico, the fourth of seven children, and was raised on a small farm near Mesilla, New Mexico. He graduated from Las Cruces High School in 1972. That fall, he entered St. Thomas Seminary in Denver, Colorado where he received a B.A. degree in Humanities and Philosophy in 1977. He studied Theology at the University of Louvain in Leuven, Belgium from 1977 to 1981. He was a priest for a few years in El Paso, Texas before leaving the order.

In 1985, he returned to school, and studied English and Creative Writing at the University of Texas at El Paso where he earned an M.A. degree in Creative Writing. He then spent a year at the University of Iowa as a PhD student in American Literature.

He continues to teach in the Creative Writing Department at the University of Texas at El Paso.

from his website

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Backlist Books
  • LBGTQ authors/characters
  • POC authors
07 Dec, 2016

The Chocolate Apothecary

/ posted in: Reading The Chocolate Apothecary The Chocolate Apothecary by Josephine Moon
on June 24, 2015
Genres: Fiction
Format: Paperback
Source: Owned
Setting: Australia
Goodreads

“Christmas Livingstone has formulated 10 top rules for happiness by which she tries very hard to live. Nurturing the senses every day, doing what you love, sharing joy with others are some of the rules but the most important for her is no. 10 – absolutely no romantic relationships!
Her life is good now. Creating her enchantingly seductive shop, The Chocolate Apothecary, and exploring the potential medicinal uses of chocolate makes her happy; her friends surround her; and her role as a fairy godmother to her community allows her to share her joy. She doesn’t need a handsome botany ace who knows everything about cacao to walk into her life. One who has the nicest grandmother – Book Club Captain at Green Hills Aged Care Facility and intent on interfering – a gorgeous rescue dog, and who wants her help to write a book. She really doesn’t need any of that at all.
Or does she?”


I hardly ever find any Australian books to read.  I’m not sure why.  I was so excited when this turned out to be set in Tasmania!  I don’t know that I’ve ever read a book set there.

Christmas owns a chocolate store that reminds me a lot of the one in Chocolat, without the magical realism.  Her goal is to combine chocolate and medicine.  She started to store after a heartbreak on the mainland.  Now she is content in her life.  There are two big opportunities for her coming up.  She has a chance to go to an eccentric chocolate making week-long course in France and she is asked to co-write a book on chocolate with a botanist.  Both of these are exciting on their own, but her friends and family are interfering.  They think she should look up her long lost father in France and they think that she should see the botanist as a romantic opportunity.  Christmas is fine without either complication, thank you very much.

This book is mainly about the characters.  Christmas and her family are all unique personalities as are the residents at the Aged Care Facility who decide to work as matchmakers.  That distracts them from the cut throat competition to be in charge of the book club.  There isn’t a lot that happens in the story but getting to know the people is the real joy of this book.

 

foodiesreadsmall

Linking up with Foodies Read and I will have a copy of this book available as a prize for people linking up with us.

 

05 Dec, 2016

Fatima’s Good Fortune

/ posted in: Reading Fatima’s Good Fortune Fatima's Good Fortune: A Novel by Joanne Dryansky, Gerry Dryansky
on June 22nd 2005
Pages: 336
Genres: Europe, Fiction
Published by Miramax Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: France
Goodreads

“Freshly arrived from a beautiful Tunisian island to work for the exacting Countess Poulais du Roc, Fatima finds herself in a city where even the most mundane tasks like walking the dog and buying the groceries prove baffling. But her natural compassion ensures her survival, and-unexpectedly-brings good fortune to those around her.”


Fatima’s younger sister, Rachida, moved from the Tunisian island of Djerba to Paris to make a better life for herself.  She was working as a maid for the Countess when she was killed in an accident.  The Countess remembers that Rachida had a sister and imperiously sends for her to take her sister’s place.  She considers this a mission of charity but doesn’t think about the impact on Fatima’s life.  That is the major character flaw of the Countess.  She is so self-centered that she doesn’t think about the needs of anyone other than herself and her dog, Emma.  She moves through other people’s lives like a battering ram oblivious to the damage that she is causing.  She takes credit for good deeds that others have done and never gets called out on her casual racism.

She is shocked to find out that Fatima is nothing like her sister.  Fatima went to work in a resort as a cleaner as a child.  This income allowed Rachida to go to school.  Fatima is illiterate.  She is not as worldly as Rachida.  Life in France is overwhelming to her.

Fatima enlists the help of others in her building to help her learn the skills that she needs to survive in France.  She has a warmth that draws others to her and makes them want to help her.  The reader sees this slice of Paris through the eyes of a North African immigrant who isn’t always welcomed.

The ending is mostly an immigrant fairy tale.  Everything works out wonderfully and not that realistically.  This book tries to make a light and fun tale out of some serious subjects – immigration, class inequality, the death of a family member – so even as you root for the characters it feels jarring like no one is taking this as seriously as is merited.

I have really mixed feelings about this one.  While reading it, I wanted to know what was going to happen in the story but wasn’t sure about the tone.  Was the racist and classist representation of the Countess meant to point out the bad behavior of French people?  With everyone around her not commenting on it I wasn’t sure if it was that or if the book was somehow trying to condone it – “Oh, that’s just how rich old ladies are.”  All the Africans are wonderful, amazing people who improve the lives of everyone they interact with.  There is no nuance.  It made me thing of the magical negro trope.

23 Nov, 2016

Kiss and Spell

/ posted in: Reading Kiss and Spell Kiss and Spell (Enchanted, Inc., #7) by Shanna Swendson
on May 17th 2013
Pages: 284
Genres: Fantasy & Magic
Published by NLA Digital Liaison Platform LLC
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: New York
Goodreads

“With great power comes great danger…
When a freak accident leaves Katie Chandler with magical powers, it seems like a wish come true for the former magical immune. But it also means she’s vulnerable to magic, just when the dangerous Elf Lord is cooking up another scheme in his bid for power. Anyone who gets in his way disappears–including Katie and her wizard boyfriend, Owen Palmer.
Now Katie’s under a spell that obscures her true identity, living a life right out of a romantic comedy movie in a Hollywood set version of New York. Will she be able to find her true Mr. Right in time to break the spell with a kiss and warn everyone, or will she be trapped forever, unaware of the doom facing her world?”


This is the seventh and last book in this series from Shanna Swendson.  Katie Chandler is from Texas.  She decided to move to New York City even though everyone told her things were weird there.  So when she got there and started noticing some very odd people, she wasn’t surprised.  It turned out that Katie was immune to magic so she saw through the spells that magical people used in New York to keep themselves hidden.  Eventually she got a job at a magical company because she could tell if people were trying to use magic to steal trade secrets.

At the end of book six an accident gave her some magical powers.  She loves this but it allows her to get caught up in a magical trap when she is investigating some bad guys.  People are disappearing and they are all in a fantasy New York in the elven lands.  You know the New York.  It is the one from the movies were people dance in the rain on rooftops and meet in perfect coffee shops and book stores.  As Katie’s magical powers drain she starts to see through the illusion and recognize people from her real life now living in her fantasy world.  It up to her to wake them up and get them back to the real world.

This is a really cute series.  The descriptions of how magic works (or fails to work) on people are original.  There is a slow burn romance through the series.  The characters are fun.  I’d recommend this for anyone who wants a magical escape from their non-magical day to day life.

About Shanna Swendson

Shanna Swendson is the author of the Enchanted, Inc. series, the Fairy Tale series, and Rebel Mechanics.

04 Nov, 2016

Becoming Naomi Leon

/ posted in: Reading Becoming Naomi Leon Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Muñoz Ryan
on September 1st 2004
Pages: 246
Genres: Regional & Ethnic
Published by Scholastic Press
Format: Hardcover
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads

“Naomi Soledad León Outlaw has had a lot to contend with in her young life, her name for one. Then there are her clothes (sewn in polyester by Gram), her difficulty speaking up, her status at school as “nobody special.” But according to Gram’s self-prophecies, most problems can be overcome with positive thinking. Luckily, Naomi also has her carving to strengthen her spirit. And life with Gram and her little brother, Owen, is happy and peaceful. That is, until their mother reappears after 7 years of being gone, stirring up all sorts of questions and challenging Naomi to discover who she really is.”


Naomi and Owen were left with their great-grandmother in Southern California when their mother decided that she didn’t want the responsibility of caring for them anymore.  Owen was born with physical disabilities and this was too much for their mother to handle.  Now, seven years and several surgeries later, Owen is thriving but he still has some obvious disabilities.  Naomi is happy at home in the trailer with Owen and Gran and their close community of neighbors.  Then their mother reappears with a new name, Skyla, and a new boyfriend. She wants to take Naomi to live with her.  Just Naomi.

Naomi and Owen are half Mexican but they have no connection to the Mexican side of their family since their mother refused to let their father see them after they divorced.  He has sent money to Gran to help out though. Now, to help bolster support for Gran to be able to keep the kids they head to Mexico to try to find him.  They know that he always attends the Oaxaca Radish carving competitions around Christmas so they head there.  (Yes, that is a real thing.)

This story highlights the world of a young girl who doesn’t realize how much her family turmoil has affected her until it is time for her to stand up for herself and her brother.  Her world is widened by meeting her Mexican relatives and by finding out more about her parents.  Kids whose parents have left them imagine all kinds of scenarios about them returning.  When it doesn’t work out in the way they expect, it can be devastating.  Gran has tried to shield them from the truth but it is coming out now and they have to deal with the consequences.  Gran has always been their rock and now they see her scared and unsure of what to do.  Naomi and Owen react differently which accurately represents their ages and personalities.

This is a middle grade book.  I’d recommend it for any kid who doesn’t know quite where they fit in the world.  Also, seriously, radish carving –  that is a weirdly interesting competition.

 

03 Nov, 2016

Can You Afford Your Life? The Invoice

/ posted in: Reading Can You Afford Your Life?  The Invoice The Invoice by Jonas Karlsson
on July 12th 2016
Pages: 204
Genres: Fiction
Published by Hogarth
Format: Hardcover
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Sweden
Goodreads

“A passionate film buff, our hero’s life revolves around his part-time job at a video store, the company of a few precious friends, and a daily routine that more often than not concludes with pizza and movie in his treasured small space in Stockholm. When he receives an astronomical invoice from a random national bureaucratic agency, everything will tumble into madness as he calls the hotline night and day to find out why he is the recipient of the largest bill in the entire country.”


Our hero lives a small life.  He doesn’t pay much attention to the outside world.  He works part time at a video store that specializes in obscure foreign films that no one wants to rent.  He had a girlfriend once but she left him to go marry the man her family chose.  He has one friend.

When the bill comes it is a shock.  Why would he owe 500,000 kronor (about $55,000)?  Who does he owe it to?  He calls the number on the bill and finds out.

Everyone in the world is being charged a fee for the happiness in their lives.

He has the largest bill in Sweden.  He’s sure there has to be a mistake.  He is allowed to appeal and this starts an investigation about whether he truly is the happiest man in Sweden.


I related to the man in this story.  He doesn’t have a life that anyone would objectively describe as great from the outside but he is satisfied with his situation.  As much as I come across as sarcastic and cynical at first glance, I’m actually a happy person.  It pains me to say it.  I don’t want to be an optimist but it seems to be a fact.  I was told this in no uncertain terms by my ex-husband.  In fact, he listed it as one of my major flaws.  “You’re happy in whatever situation you’re in,” he spat at me in true anger.  He took that to be a character flaw that led to my lack of desire for social climbing.  Recently, I had lunch with a former coworker.  At one point she said to me, “You don’t like to seem like it, but you’re nice” in a tone usually reserved for statements like, “You are a horrible racist pig.”

Another thing that raised the hero’s bill was his ability to see the best in situations and to learn from them.  I’m afraid that in both of the above situations I was thinking as they happened that each was going to make a wonderful story.  When my husband complains about the time in St. Thomas when I almost had us fall off a cliff into the ocean at night I always respond, “We had an adventure!”  Oh, I am so screwed when my happiness bill comes due.

This is a great short story about finding out what is truly valuable in life.

What do you think that your happiness bill would be?

 

 

02 Nov, 2016

The Whole Town’s Talking

/ posted in: Reading The Whole Town’s Talking The Whole Town's Talking by Fannie Flagg
on November 29th 2016
Pages: 224
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Fiction
Published by Random House
Format: eARC
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Missouri
Goodreads

“Elmwood Springs, Missouri, is a small town like any other, but something strange is happening out at the cemetery. “Still Meadows,” as it’s called, is anything but still.”


I love Fannie Flagg’s books.  You know what you are going to get with them.  They will be funny and heartfelt stories of small towns.

This is the story of the founding of Elmwood Springs, Missouri.  It is settled by Swedish farmers who decide that they need to carve out a town to support their farms.  The first white settler in the area was named Lordor Nordstrom.  Eventually the women of the surrounding farms decide that he needs a wife.  He advertises for a bride and finds a nice Swedish woman in Chicago.  Their romance is sweet and charming.

The town grows through the years and eventually the founding settlers begin to die.  This is where the story takes a turn.  In Elmwood Springs the residents of the cemetery are still involved in town life.  They keep up on the local gossip from interviewing new arrivals and from listening to what visitors to the cemetery say.

I liked the beginning of the book but most of the cemetery section was less interesting for me.  The action skipped over years at a time.  It was hard to keep track of the family trees as time passed.  The epilogue of the book redeemed it for me though.  It ties together what appeared to be major plot holes in the story in a satisfying way.

This was a quick read. I read it in one setting.  This is a great book for a cozy night of comfort reading when you don’t want anything too challenging.

 

Book received from NetGalley in exchange for a review
20 Oct, 2016

Karen Memory

/ posted in: Reading Karen Memory Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
on February 3rd 2015
Pages: 350
Genres: Science Fiction, Steampunk
Published by Tor Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Washington
Goodreads

“Set in the late 19th century—when the city we now call Seattle Underground was the whole town (and still on the surface), when airships plied the trade routes, would-be gold miners were heading to the gold fields of Alaska, and steam-powered mechanicals stalked the waterfront, Karen is a young woman on her own, is making the best of her orphaned state by working in Madame Damnable’s high-quality bordello. Through Karen’s eyes we get to know the other girls in the house—a resourceful group—and the poor and the powerful of the town. Trouble erupts one night when a badly injured girl arrives at their door, begging sanctuary, followed by the man who holds her indenture, and who has a machine that can take over anyone’s mind and control their actions. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the next night brings a body dumped in their rubbish heap—a streetwalker who has been brutally murdered.”


Oh my God, I loved this book.  Loved it as in I started it Tuesday at 8 PM, finished it Wednesday at 3:30 PM, and am posting this review on Thursday.

It grabbed me from the first page where it explains that prostitutes are taxed as seamstresses. They even have sewing machines — a regular one and one that you get inside and use your body to control.  I don’t understand how that would work but I want it!

The story is told from Karen’s point of view. She has a great voice.  She is an uneducated sixteen year old who grew up with her father training horses.  After his death she ended up working as a “seamstress” in an upscale house.  The girls of the house are a family and protect and love each other in spite of their differences.  They are from many different races.  There is a trans woman. There are disabled women.  Some are lesbians who only serve male clients because it’s their job.  Karen accepts this all but sometimes still falls into the casual prejudices of white women in that time.  Sometimes she gets called out on it.  Sometimes she needs to learn her lessons a harder way.

The women of Karen’s house protect a prostitute escaping from a more disreputable house.  This fans the flames of a simmering rivalry into out and out war.  Karen gets grabbed by a thug at the market.

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Don’t worry though.  She hits him the face with a bag of onions.  She holds her own until the fight is stopped by the appearance of a U.S. Marshal.  He’s chasing a murderer who was in Indian Territory previously.  When dead prostitutes start showing up, the Marshal enlists Karen and her friends to help his Comanche deputy and him find the bad guy.

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This is a great read for any one who likes a fast moving adventure tale full of steam punk technology and daring ladies.  Karen is a great lesbian heroine who sees the world in her own unique way.

10 Oct, 2016

Radio Girls

/ posted in: Reading Radio Girls Radio Girls by Sarah-Jane Stratford
on June 14th 2016
Pages: 384
Genres: Historical Fiction
Published by NAL
Format: Paperback
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: England
Goodreads

“London, 1926. American-raised Maisie Musgrave is thrilled to land a job as a secretary at the upstart British Broadcasting Corporation, whose use of radio—still new, strange, and electrifying—is captivating the nation. But the hectic pace, smart young staff, and intimidating bosses only add to Maisie’s insecurity.
Soon, she is seduced by the work—gaining confidence as she arranges broadcasts by the most famous writers, scientists, and politicians in Britain. She is also caught up in a growing conflict between her two bosses, John Reith, the formidable Director-General of the BBC, and Hilda Matheson, the extraordinary director of the hugely popular Talks programming, who each have very different visions of what radio should be. Under Hilda’s tutelage, Maisie discovers her talent, passion, and ambition. But when she unearths a shocking conspiracy, she and Hilda join forces to make their voices heard both on and off the air…and then face the dangerous consequences of telling the truth for a living.”


I love historical fiction and especially British historical fiction.  I was thrilled to receive this book from my OTSP Secret Sister and had to read it immediately.

BBC radio was only allowed to broadcast during set hours and was not allowed to cover news.  One of their most popular departments was Talks, headed by Hilda Matheson.  It was unusual for a woman to be allowed to head a department.  The head of the BBC, John Reith, was a very conservative man who asked all (male) applicants for executive positions two questions – Are you a Christian? and Do you have any character flaws?

He thought that Miss Matheson was too liberal in topics she wanted to cover.  She also kept bringing in homosexuals to present topics.  He did not approve but did seem strangely up to date on who had rumors circulating around about their sexuality.  Their conflict was real and this novel examines their issues through the voice of Maisie, a secretary that they share.  Reith warns her about being too ambitious and being exposed to the wrong kinds of people while working in the Talks department.  Matheson encourages her to speak up and promote ideas for new shows.  Eventually Maisie is enlisted by Matheson to spy on some new backers of the BBC who have ties to an increasingly unstable Germany.

Hilda Matheson was a fascinating woman who I’d never heard of before.  She was a political secretary for Lady Astor, the first female Member of Parliament.  Then she went to the BBC and after that she worked on the Africa Survey.  She also became a radio critic and wrote a textbook on broadcasting. She was a lesbian who had relationships with several high society women in England.  A book on her alone would have been fascinating.

There is spying, burgeoning feminism, the evolution of new technology, and arguments about censorship.  What more could you want from one book?

04 Oct, 2016

Everfair

/ posted in: Reading Everfair Everfair by Nisi Shawl
on September 6th 2016
Pages: 381
Genres: Fantasy, Steampunk
Published by Tor Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Congo
Goodreads

“Everfair is a wonderful Neo-Victorian alternate history novel that explores the question of what might have come of Belgium’s disastrous colonization of the Congo if the native populations had learned about steam technology a bit earlier. Fabian Socialists from Great Britain join forces with African-American missionaries to purchase land from the Belgian Congo’s “owner,” King Leopold II. This land, named Everfair, is set aside as a safe haven, an imaginary Utopia for native populations of the Congo as well as escaped slaves returning from America and other places where African natives were being mistreated.”


Laurie Albin has a complicated home life.  He has a wife named Daisy with whom he has children.  He has a secretary/mistress named Ellen living in his house with whom he also has children.  He has just brought home Lisette, another mistress.  He has also decided to move his whole family to Africa to help set up a new country.  He promptly then abandons Daisy, Lisette, and most of the children when he heads back to England with Ellen and one son forever.  They don’t really miss him though.  Daisy and Lisette have been lovers since Laurie brought Lisette home.

That’s just part of one family to keep track of in this sweeping stories that takes place over decades in many countries across Africa and with a huge cast of characters.

The British settlers are one aspect of Everfair. There are also African-American missionaries led by Mrs. Hunter.  She’s a woman who believes that absolutely nothing is more important than converting souls to Christianity.  She’ll stand in the way of humanitarian aid if it doesn’t include Bibles.  She’ll refuse to work with other people for the good of everyone if they aren’t Christian.  She also is upset with the French woman Lisette because she is mixed race but living the life of a European white woman.

Tink is a Chinese man who was being held by Leopold’s men.  He escaped and now is the mechanical guru of Everfair.  He loves making ever more advanced artificial limbs for people maimed in wars.  He invents better and better airships.

King Mwenda and Queen Josina are the African leaders of the area that Leopold seized and then sold to the colonists of Everfair.  They maintain that it is still their land to govern.  They were willing to work with the colonists to get rid of the Belgians but now they want to take control back.

Other characters come and go.  The book takes place between 1889 and 1919.  There can be large jumps in time and/or place between chapters.  It is important to pay close attention to the notations of where and when the action is taking place.

I think this book was ambitious in its scope and ultimately didn’t stand up to it.  There is so much going on that some story lines just disappear.  There are characters that are in the story and then you just never hear from again.

I enjoyed the characters and their interactions with each other.  But there was a time when a character heard that another war was looming and expressed frustration that there was yet another one.  I felt the same way.  It was one world conflict after another with a lot of the time in between compressed or skipped over.

The technology that is so important in the steampunk genre didn’t feel fully formed either.  The imaginative artificial limbs were wonderful.  Everyone had several to wear for different occasions.  Some were weaponized.  Others were just pretty.  I didn’t get a great feel for the airships though.  They were being powered with some sort of local magic earth that was never explained.  I wasn’t sure if that was supposed to be a nod to the uranium of the area or not.

This is a hard book to decide if I liked it or not.  What is on the page is interesting and worth reading but you are left with a sense that something is missing.  It could have been more.  Perhaps if the scope was narrowed, it could have gone more in depth and I would have liked the overall story more.

 

28 Sep, 2016

AfroSF

/ posted in: Reading AfroSF AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers by Ivor W. Hartmann, Nnedi Okorafor, Sarah Lotz, Tendai Huchu, Cristy Zinn, Ashley Jacobs, Nick Wood, Tade Thompson, S.A. Partridge, Chinelo Onwualu, Uko Bendi Udo, Dave-Brendon de Burgh, Biram Mboob, Sally-Ann Murray, Mandisi Nkomo, Liam Kruger, Chiagozie Fred Nwonwu, Joan De La Haye, Mia Arderne, Rafeeat Aliyu, Martin Stokes, Clifton Gachagua, Efe Okogu
on December 1st 2012
Genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction
Published by StoryTime
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Africa
Goodreads

“AfroSF is the first ever anthology of Science Fiction by African writers only that was open to submissions of original (previously unpublished) works across Africa and abroad.”


Short story collections take me so long to read.  I’ve had this book on my iPad for years. Here are some of my favorites.

Moom by Nnedi Okorafor – This is the short story that was reworked into the opening of her novel Lagoon.  What if alien first contact on Earth was made by a swordfish?

Home Affairs by Sarah Lotz – I loved this story of a bureaucratic nightmare taking place in a modern city.  When I think of African sci fi I tend to think of monsters and countryside.  This turns those assumptions around and makes a nightmare out of the most annoying aspects of modern life – waiting in line.

The Sale by Tendai Huchu – Third world countries have been sold to corporations and citizens’ health is monitored at all times in these new perfect cities.  But what if you want to rebel?

Planet X by S.A. Partridge – A new alien society has made contact and the people of Earth are afraid.  One girl thinks that humans have more to fear from themselves than from the aliens.

Closing Time by Liam Kruger – Alcohol and time travel shouldn’t be taken together

 

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27 Sep, 2016

Smile As They Bow

/ posted in: Reading Smile As They Bow Smile As They Bow by Nu Nu Yi
on September 1st 2008
Pages: 146
Genres: Fiction
Published by Hachette Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Myanmar
Goodreads

“As the weeklong Taungbyon Festival draws near, thousands of villagers from all regions of Burma descend upon a tiny hamlet near Mandalay to pay respect to the spirits, known as nats, which are central to Burmese tradition. At the heart of these festivities is Daisy Bond, a gay, transvestite spiritual medium in his fifties. With his sharp tongue and vivid performances, he has long been revered as one of the festival’s most illustrious natkadaws. At his side is Min Min, his young assistant and lover, who endures unyielding taunts and abuse from his fiery boss. But when a young beggar girl named Pan Nyo threatens to steal Min Min’s heart, the outrageous Daisy finds himself face-to-face with his worst fears.”


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I bought this book several years ago when I was trying to read books set in as many countries as possible. I had never seen any other books written by a Burmese author. I never got around to reading it though. I finally decided to get to it during the #diverseathon readathon. I’m glad I did.

I didn’t know anything about nats or the Taungbyon festival to honor these spirits in Myanmar. Worshippers, mostly women, come to the festival to promise the nats favors and offerings if they help their family in the coming year. The book opens with beautiful descriptions of some of the people coming to the festival – a pickpocket lamenting the poor pickings this year, a poor woman, and a rich woman. Once the stage is set, the story moves to Daisy Bond and Min Min.

Daisy is a natkadaw or spirit medium. He pretends to be possessed by a spirit to bestow blessings in exchange for cash. The women around him will hear about it if they don’t offer him enough cash too.  Min Min is his “husband.”  He acts as a manager for both Daisy’s career and house as well as being his lover.  Daisy is very insecure about his relationship with Min Min.  Daisy is in his 50s and Min Min is a teenager.  Min Min also isn’t gay.  Daisy bought him from his mother to serve this role in Daisy’s life.  He knows Min Min isn’t happy and is afraid that he is planning on leaving.  His paranoia is serving to push Min Min farther and farther away until he does make plans to get away from Daisy.

Here’s a video that shows what the festival looks like now.

This book is beautifully written and draws you into the festival that you’ve probably never heard of.

16 Sep, 2016

Unidentified Suburban Object

/ posted in: Reading Unidentified Suburban Object Unidentified Suburban Object by Mike Jung
on April 26th 2016
Pages: 272
Genres: Young Adult
Published by Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: United States
Goodreads

“The next person who compares Chloe Cho with famous violinist Abigail Yang is going to HEAR it. Chloe has just about had it with people not knowing the difference between someone who’s Chinese, Japanese, or Korean. She’s had it with people thinking that everything she does well — getting good grades, winning first chair in the orchestra, etCETera — are because she’s ASIAN.
Of course, her own parents don’t want to have anything to DO with their Korean background. Any time Chloe asks them a question they change the subject. They seem perfectly happy to be the only Asian family in town. It’s only when Chloe’s with her best friend, Shelly, that she doesn’t feel like a total alien.”


I don’t generally read middle grade fiction but the premise of this story was too cute to pass up.  Chloe can’t understand why her parents won’t talk about Korea.  It seems like Chloe knows more about Korea than they do and they were born there.  Any attempts to ask questions are quickly shut down with the excuse that it is too painful to talk about it.

When Chloe gets a new teacher who happens to be Korean, she is so excited.  Her teacher encourages her to look into her family history.  There is even an assignment to ask a relative to tell you about an event in their life and report on it.  That’s when things start to unravel.

The author shows what it is like to be the only person of a nationality in an otherwise homogeneous community.  He shows how books can be a lifeline.  There is a great section where Chloe tries to find science fiction books with Asians on the cover and can’t do it.  The only problem with having that in the book is this:

 

A photo posted by @dvmheather on

Yes, Chloe’s dad owns a fish store. But you’d think with a big part of the story focusing on the lack of Asian representation in sci-fi (and especially on covers), maybe, just maybe, there could be Asians on the cover?

Even if you don’t usually read middle grade, this is a book worth picking up.  Chloe is a believable middle schooler in the midst of an identity crisis.  Her story is worth the read to understand how microaggressions can add up even if the speaker had the best of intentions.

05 Sep, 2016

The Polish Boxer

/ posted in: Reading The Polish Boxer The Polish Boxer by Eduardo Halfon
on October 2nd 2012
Pages: 188
Genres: Fiction
Published by Bellevue Literary Press
Format: Paperback
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Guatemala and Serbia
Goodreads

Translated by Thomas Bunstead, Lisa Dillman, Daniel Hahn, Anne McLean, and Ollie Brock

“The Polish Boxer covers a vast landscape of human experience while enfolding a search for origins: a grandson tries to make sense of his Polish grandfather’s past and the story behind his numbered tattoo; a Serbian classical pianist longs for his forbidden heritage; a Mayan poet is torn between his studies and filial obligations; a striking young Israeli woman seeks answers in Central America; a university professor yearns for knowledge that he can’t find in books and discovers something unexpected at a Mark Twain conference. Drawn to what lies beyond the range of reason, they all reach for the beautiful and fleeting, whether through humor, music, poetry, or unspoken words. Across his encounters with each of them, the narrator—a Guatemalan literature professor and writer named Eduardo Halfon—pursues his most enigmatic subject: himself.”


I look for books from different countries of origin and every year I find that I’m lacking in Latin American books.  I also am always on the lookout for books about Poland.  I was thrilled and intrigued when I found a book by a Guatemalan author that referenced Poland.

This books is a series of interconnected stories.  Like all short story collections, I felt like there was something that I was missing as I was reading this book.  Short stories feel like there is a level of symbolism or intent just under the surface that leaves the reader feeling like they missed something important.

Distant

A college professor in Guatemala starts his introductory literature class on short stories.  He doesn’t like his students because they don’t care about literature.  Then he realizes that there is one student who does care.  When that student drops out a few weeks later, he travels to his home in the country to find out why.

This story has little aside in it when a student named Ligia asks why all the writers were male.

“There are also no black writers, Ligia, or Asian writers, or midget writers, and as far as I’m aware, there’s only one gay writer.  I told her that my courses were politically incorrect, thank God.  In other words, Ligia, they’re honest.  Just like art.  Great short story writers, period.”

So, in other words, my habit of specifically looking for books outside of my English-speaking American existence which led me to find this book, is stupid.

Twaining

He goes to a seminar on Mark Twain where a real Mark Twain scholar makes fun of them all for overthinking.

Epistrophy

He meets a Serbian pianist performing in Guatemala.  The pianist is part Gypsy and admits that he’d rather be playing Gypsy music.

White Smoke

He meets an Israeli tourist in a bar.  He admits that he is Jewish.

The Polish Boxer

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How did his grandfather survive the camps?

Postcards

He gets postcards from around the world from the Serbian pianist explaining Gypsy music until he suddenly disappears.

Ghosts

He decides to go hunting for the pianist.

The Pirouette

He is in Serbia hunting for the pianist and trying to find out what does it mean when a Gypsy does a pirouette?

A Speech at Povoa

He needs to write a speech on literature tearing reality.

Sunsets

His grandfather dies and he finds out that maybe everything he thought he knew was a lie.


Did I like this book?  I’m not sure.  The writing was beautiful and could draw you in.  The stories had some interesting moments.  I liked The Polish Boxer and Postcards best.  The Pirouette bored me out of my mind.

This book would be good for people interested in Latin American literature who enjoy lyrical writing.

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