Wings of Fire: The Dragonet Prophecy

13228487Wings of Fire: The Dragonet Prophecy by Tui T. Sutherland

I read it as a: paperback

Source: my daughter’s collection

Length: 336 pp

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Year: 2012

This world, at war for decades, is ruled by dragons. The land is broken and bleeding and all are suffering because of the wars between the seven various groups of dragons. A prophecy states that after 20 years of war, a group of dragonets, born under special circumstances, will come to unite the dragons and bring peace. These dragonets – Clay, Glory, Tsunami, Starflight, and Sunny – have been taken from their native homes, hatched together in a hidden cave under the mountains, and raised together against their will by dragons working for a group called the Talons of Peace. Their purpose is to raise these dragonets to fulfill the prophecy. The problem is, the dragonets have ideas of their own, don’t really want to be part of a prophecy, and just want to find their families and be normal dragons. And there are other factions who are not interested in bringing the war to an end.

This was a relatively fast read, or would have been if I wasn’t reading it as a bedtime story with my daughter, just a chapter or two per night. She loves this series, but Pern, it is not. It’s super violent for a middle grade book, which I don’t really like. It did provide for some decent discussion about why prophecies are illogical and false, a good exercise in using her critical thinking while still reading a fun story. It also shows how even the most bitter of enemies can learn to get along if you get to know each other, or are raised together and can overlook each other’s differences, i.e., nobody is born a racist. But in general, I didn’t find the actual story to be all that compelling or the writing that good. It was fine for what it was, which is a story my 8 year old enjoys, though I wish she enjoyed something less violent. I am determined to get her addicted to the Dragonriders of Pern. It WILL happen!

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Fuzzy Nation

12605487Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Wil Wheaton

Source: my own collection

Length: 07:19:00

Publisher: Audible Studios

Year: 2011

Humans have scattered across the galaxy and on the planet Zarathustra, they are mining for sunstones, incredibly rare gemstones. Jack Holloway, independent surveyor and contractor for ZaraCorp, has just discovered a giant seam of sunstones when he accidentally blew the face off a cliff at a survey site. Because of issues with his contract and legal maneuvering, it is unclear whether Holloway or ZaraCorp owns the seam, though the law is leaning in Holloway’s favor. ZaraCorp lawyers and owners are now out to bribe the hell out of Holloway to get him to play nice with them, even though they are willing to do anything to get their hands on that seam, including sabotaging his vehicles and putting his life in danger. If the legal machinations weren’t complicated enough, Holloway encounters adorable, fuzzy creatures on his property. Promptly naming the the Fuzzys, he contacts an old friend of his, who drops the bomb that the Fuzzys may actually be sentient beings. If true, it would mean that ZaraCorp and Holloway himself are invaders on a sovereign planet.

See, here’s the thing that I love so much about good sci-fi. You can read it on its surface, and it’s just a fun story. Fuzzy Nation is a fun story. It has action and creatures and bad guys and good guys (well, they’re all right) and it’s set on not!Earth and all the things the tick the boxes for fun sci-fi. But if you read even a little more deeply, this is also about so much more than just a fun story. There’s corporate greed, environmentalism, racism, and colonialism. Those are just the big ones. I’m sure there are dozens of other issues I could pick out, legalities or the way evidence is handled, for example. But this book tackles corporate greed head on. It shows how so often, giant corporations only seek to increase their own profits and don’t care a thing about the people or communities they disrupt or destroy. Money is the only thing that matters to them. The people in charge see the effects of their actions and decisions and make the decisions anyway, opting for more money instead of morality.

Environmentalism ties in to that, because in their desire to make more and more money, ZaraCorp twisted itself into Gordian knots trying to get around or find loopholes in environmental laws so it could continue to extract the gems. Their nod to keeping the environment healthy is to plant a few puny saplings when they leave a site. To some people, that might seem adequate, rather than leaving a place alone and not mining for a thing that isn’t a necessary commodity in the first place.

The major issues come when the Fuzzys show up. What determines sentience? What makes someone a person? Holloway recognized their intelligence right away, and his friend Isabelle realized they were likely sentient as soon as she saw them. But of course, ZaraCorp and its lawyers and LEOs argued otherwise. They don’t look, act, or, most importantly, talk like humans, so how could they possibly be people? History is riddled with examples of colonization being justified because the invaders were bringing civilization to the savages, who were of course not recognized as fully human because they didn’t look, act, or talk the same way as the invaders did who brought “civilization” with them. What a load of bullshit. But it is the course so much history has taken, and once humans make it to the stars, I can easily see the same thing happening with smaller, less advanced races like the Fuzzys. It will be the Long Walk or the Middle Passage all over again, because humans basically suck.

As a long-time Scalzi fan, I thought this was a terrific read. One of his best? Maybe not. But fun, certainly, and covering a lot of relevant topics. I never read Little Fuzzy, so I can’t compare the two, though in the intro, Scalzi said something about how that book was a product of its time and he wanted to update it. Yay, I guess. I get a little tired of rebooting old things, but since I never read the original, this was new to me so I’m not worn out on it. Whatever, I liked it and thought it was fun and thought-provoking, which is how I like my sci-fi anyway.

Girls Burn Brighter

34275212Girls Burn Brighter by Balli Kaur Jaswal

I read it as a: hardback

Source: my own collection

Length: 307 pp

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Year: 2018

 

**This review will very much have all the spoilers. Consider yourselves warned.**

In Girls Burn Brighter, two young women form a strong friendship through the harshest adversities. Poornima is the daughter of a sari weaver. Her family is fairly poor but they have enough to eat and to hire Savitha to help with weaving after Poornima’s mother dies. Savitha is from a poor family, so poor they have to resort to digging through the landfill for food. When the two women meet, they form a deep bond, one of those once in a lifetime friendships. When Poornima’s father begins arranging her marriage, Savitha encourages her to hold out for a man who is young and kind with a bunch of good sisters. A match is finally made and Poornima’s marriage is set. Then, a cruel act drives Savitha away on the eve of Poornima’s marriage and each woman embarks on a new part of life, alone. Eventually, another horrific act drives Poornima away from her marriage and off to seek Savitha, a journey that takes her from her home village to Mumbai to Dubai and eventually to Seattle.

The title itself made me nervous when I first started reading and began to understand more about the plot (I rarely read more than the blurb when I pick a book, and I never read reviews before I read a book, so I stay spoiler-free). I had worried that someone was going to get burnt to death because she’s a girl. However, I liked that it served more as a discussion on the strength of women even through adversity. After Poornima’s husband and MIL burnt her with oil, she realized she was supposed to fade into obscurity and invisibility. Instead, her inner light burnt brighter and she was more her own person, and managed to carve out a life for herself, even if it wasn’t what she might have wanted. It was her own and she took no shit from anyone. Savitha had a brighter light at first, which was utterly extinguished by her rape and subsequent capture by the brothel owners, but she eventually remembered it and saved herself.

I think that the relationship each woman had with her own father was a major factor in how each handled her circumstances. Savitha had a good and loving relationship with her father, and when she encountered abuse and horrors, she was unprepared to deal with it. Conversely, Poornima hated her father, who was an abusive drunk, and when horrible things happened to her, she adapted and survived and did what she needed to in order to get out. She never seemed surprised or terribly hurt when people were awful, which is terrible in itself. It seems like a fucked up way of learning how to deal with real life, like some kind of Grey’s Anatomy version of parenting – preparation through emotional, mental, and physical abuse and neglect.

Girls Burn Brighter was a shocking novel to read on multiple levels. Strangely, I was startled when I realized it was set in the current time. There were references to some years, one of them being 2001, and I was simply amazed, I assume because of my ignorance about the culture, that it was in a modern setting. It just felt like something that would have happened in an earlier time, the crushing poverty, the cruelty, effectively selling your children into slavery. Things like that aren’t supposed to happen now. But of course they do, which is a central theme of the novel. The way Poornima and Savitha were handled in this novel was really eye-opening for me, not because I am unaware that women deal with things like domestic abuse, rape, or sex trafficking every day, but because the story put a face to these issues. Why else read but to gain a deeper understanding, empathy, and compassion for people whose situations in life are totally incomprehensible to us?  I can’t fathom being drugged and taken to a brothel, being forcibly addicted to heroine, then forced to go through withdrawal, then sold into sex trafficking. But it happens. I can’t imagine living like Poornima or Savitha, having an arranged marriage, having a man who is so insecure with his masculinity that he feels it necessary to scar me for life by holding me down and pouring boiling oil on my face. But it happens. Actually, the conflict between Poornima and her husband, when she suggests she isn’t barren but perhaps he is, reminds me of the story Margaret Atwood tells about her male friend and the group of women: She asked him why men are afraid of women and he says it’s because men are afraid women will laugh at them. She asked a group of women why they are afraid of men and they said it’s because they’re afraid the men will kill them. There was so much of that woven throughout this narrative, of small, insecure men feeling threatened by women and so they hurt them to keep them under control or in terror.

Mohan might have been a somewhat sympathetic character since I think he didn’t want to be a part of his father’s “empire.” But since he didn’t actually do anything to stop it, and helped to bring girls to America to further the empire, I found him simply to be pathetic rather than sympathetic. He was a revolting figure, who oddly added rather a lot to the story. He was conflicted about what was happening, but too weak to stand up and do what was right. He wanted to study literature but was too weak to say so, and so studied it in secret on his own time. His small kindnesses to the women made him that much worse, because at least no one expected his brother or father to be kind at all.

The unrelenting brutality Poornima and Savitha endured really underscored how this is just the way it is for so many people, especially women, in so many parts of the world. It wasn’t so gratuitous that it was overdone, but it was an exhausting read. The end didn’t help, and I can see that it might be deeply unsatisfying to some readers. Personally, I thought it was perfect, because how could that particular scene be written ideally? I don’t think it can be, but the promise of it has to be enough. I do think Savitha was opening the door, and I do think it was ultimately a hopeful ending. The story at the beginning, with the old woman tending the trees that she called her daughters, seems to me to be foreshadowing of the end, that the women are strong enough to endure anything. Same with the owl’s story and how, if two people want to be together, they’ll find a way to do it. Poornima’s and Savitha’s friendship transcends anything they had endured, and for them not to find each other is not to be considered. I do choose to be hopeful at the end of the story.

 

10% Happier

1850579610% Happier by Dan Harris

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Dan Harris

Source: My own collection

Length: 07:50:00

Publisher: HarperAudio

Year: 2014

Dan Harris, the anchorman for Good Morning America, had a panic attack on national live TV and decided then and there that he might need to consider making some changes. Perhaps not doing cocaine anymore was one change. Learning about mindfulness and meditation was another. However, like me, Harris is a super skeptic and he gave meditation a hard side-eye. Eventually, he came around and realized that it is actually a thing that works, and which has scientific studies to back it up, and was able to get his shit together.

This was an ok book. I don’t know that I find Harris an interesting enough person in and of himself to have had a burning desire to listen to this. I got it when it was an Audible daily deal and it was the next in my queue. He really is kind of a dick, though good on him for trying not to be a dick so much anymore. I do really like his concept of how meditation makes him just 10% happier. I think that’s a really important point to make. Meditation (or medication, or religion, or shopping, or whatever you want) really isn’t a cure-all for anything in life, and it’s up to each individual how we choose to respond to a thing. You can’t expect something to make you purely happy, nor should you go looking for such a thing. To do so will surely make you 100% miserable. I think that’s something a lot of folks still need to figure out.

Overall, this was an all right book. I’m glad I had the time to listen to it mostly in one go because I didn’t think it was that interesting and I might have DNF’d it if I had had to listen to it over several days.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

32075853Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

I read it as a: paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 295 pp

Publisher: William Morrow

Year: 2017

London-born Nikki utterly rejects her Punjabi culture’s traditional views, especially arranged marriage. So she is naturally horrified when her older sister, Mindi, actually decides she wants an arranged marriage and asks Nikki to post a marriage profile on the temple’s announcements board for her. Nikki does, grudgingly, and while there, discovers a notice for a job teaching writing at the local Punjabi community center. She takes the job and quickly learns it is not a creative writing class, as the flier had implied, but a basic adult literacy class given to mostly older widows who had never been educated in their native language, let alone in English. Understandably, they are uninterested in learning to read and write using the texts for kindergarteners, which is all that is available to them. What they are interested in is storytelling. Specifically, telling romantic and generally filthy dirty erotic stories. So Nikki uses that to help empower the women, many of whom had never been encouraged to speak up or felt loved in their marriages, going against her culture and customs to do so. At the same time, she inadvertently stumbles across some evidence from the death of a young woman that may prove she hadn’t died in the way everyone had been told, placing Nikki and the widows in danger with the local gang of self-appointed “morality police.”

I loved every word of this novel. I thought it was so interesting to see the differences in the younger and older generations in this very traditional culture. I know next to nothing about Punjabi traditions, and so it was kind of shocking to me to know that arranged marriages are still a thing for many of them even living in Western countries. I am a bit confused by some things that I read when getting ready to write this review as compared to what was written in this book. For example, multiple sites indicate that Sikhs value gender equality, and yet it seems that some of them, at least the very traditional people, get bent if a girl is not a virgin when she gets married. Honor killings were a thing in this book. Of course, wayward sons didn’t seem to get anything worse than ignored/cut off from family, but girls get murdered. So I don’t get that at all. Not sure if that’s just typical religious hypocrisy or patriarchal bullshit or what, but there it is. Then there were The Brothers, the self-appointed bunch of moral police/thugs who try to reign in the widows from telling their stories. Word to the wise, little boys: don’t fuck with the grannies. It will not go well for you.

Aside from me being confused by religious contradictions and hypocrisy, which should come as a surprise to absolutely no one who knows me even a little bit, I just loved this story. I think it was interesting that Nikki got so involved with the widows. At first, it could seem like it was self-serving on her part, that she simply wanted a job, but I think she quickly realized that she could make a difference to the women and to the community as a whole. Also, when she tells the widows that some people don’t even know about Southall, the London Punjabi community, and that they should change that, I do think it is because she sees a lot of potential in the women themselves, and has tapped into her own latent desire to do social justice, even if she herself wasn’t aware of it yet. The widows are able to help her, and themselves, accomplish something new and daring in part because of their almost invisible role in the community. As one of the women stated, no one ever listens to old women talking because it’s like white noise. They used their low position in society to effect change, because no one knew what they were up to until it was too late to stop them or contain it. That’s fucking phenomenal.

This invisibility also shows just how much younger generations disregard the lives and experiences of their elders. No one ever thinks about how our parents or grandparents have lives and individual identities that have nothing to do with us. They have and had desires and fantasies just the same as our own generation, whatever generation that may be. Sometimes, I suppose that realization comes as a surprise to people. Having the widows write their fantasies is such a delightful way to show the young’uns that they were not, in fact, the first ones to discover stuff to do in the bedroom, or anywhere else.

Overall, I just loved this book and definitely recommend it. It would make a great book club selection.

Openly Straight

16100972Openly Straight by Bill Konigsburg

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Pete Cross

Source: my own collection

Length: 09:01:00

Publisher: Dreamscape Media

Year: 2017

Rafe is openly gay and lives with the full support of his parents and community in Boulder, CO. The problem, as he sees it, is that everyone sees his label first. He’s always the gay boy, the gay soccer player, the gay writer, never just Rafe. He finally decides he is tired of it and wants a fresh start, which he will get by moving across the country to an all-boys boarding school near Boston. Where he tells no one he is gay. He doesn’t go back in the closet, he argues, he just doesn’t advertise that he’s gay. Naturally, things get out of hand. One little white lie about not being gay snowballs into Rafe actively asking his family and friends in CO to pretend he’s straight. And then there’s Ben, the quiet, kind soccer teammate who Rafe can’t help but fall in love with, and who may or may not be discovering things about his own sexuality that he doesn’t want to confront.

This was a very interesting and quick read. Well, I listened to it on Audible, but still. I am straight and have never had to deal with coming out, so I can only imagine what it’s like for people always to be labeled as “the gay ____” of the group. I would hate that, and I really hope I have never done that to anyone. If I have, I apologize. It was inadvertent. Which is the point. Labels suck, and they are often placed unconsciously. This realization leads to the two best parts of the book. The first was the discussion in Rafe’s literature class when everyone was talking about tolerance. It really isn’t a very positive word, which is something I have said forever. To tolerate something – she is tolerable, I suppose – implies that it is just on this side of not making you vomit. You don’t actively hate it. You allow its presence but don’t welcome it. I tolerate the cat but I can’t fucking wait not to have a cat. So why do we say that tolerance is good in society? Wouldn’t something like acceptance or inclusion be infinitely better? I wouldn’t want someone just to “tolerate” me. Rather than being tolerant, let’s work on being accepting. Even better, let’s be inclusive. Accepting is better than tolerant, but it is still not perfect, since to accept something has an implication of resignation or surrender about it, that you may not like something but you know you can’t change it so you’re going to just let it go. It is better than tolerating something, but I think embracing or including a person or an idea or whatever is perhaps the best way to go about it.

The second part that I really liked, which may be a spoiler, I don’t know, so consider yourselves warned, is when Rafe realized that the “cameras” he was always so worried about were rarely actually focused on him. He realized that he had been staring at a guy in his group but he was thinking about himself and how concerns and realized what people think didn’t have anything to do with his own sense of worth or his own masculinity or identity. And then he had that lightbulb moment and realized that when others stare at him, it isn’t necessarily that they are judging him, but that they are thinking about themselves and reflecting on something utterly unrelated to him. I think a lot of people need to figure this out, that they aren’t the center of everything and that people aren’t always concerned with them. I know teens tend to have those imaginary audiences a lot, but I think many people never outgrow that. As my grandmother says, “you don’t worry so much about what people think about you if you knew how seldom they do.” It’s true – I think people think about themselves far more than anyone else and, for the most part, don’t care what other people do so long as it doesn’t affect them too much.

I’m a bit off YA at the moment, but this was still a very good book even though it wasn’t one of my favorites. The whole thing was just an interesting discussion and I am glad I read it. The writing style was easy and enjoyable, and apparently the author is local for me. Maybe one of these days I’ll see him at a book thing or something, which would be cool.

Persepolis

9516Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

I read it as a: paperback

Source: public library

Length: 153 pp

Publisher: Pantheon

Year: 2004

Persepolis is the graphic novel memoir of Satrapi’s early life in Iran. It begins when she was about 10 but gets more in depth when she is around 12-14. She takes her readers through the political upheaval and conflicts that took the region from a progressive nation to the fundamentalist regime most of us think of now, all through the eyes of a young girl who lived through it all.

This was an incredible read. I know it’s been out for ages but I only now got around to reading it, and I’m so glad I did. On just a surface level, this is a terrific book to teach people about the basic history of the region and the more recent political issues that have resulted in the rise of such fundamentalism. On a deeper level, it shows readers what it was like to live through it, from being a child who doesn’t really understand what is happening, to a beloved family member being executed, to seeing your best friend’s body lying in rubble because her house got bombed. Yeah, that one hit me right in the feels. If anyone reads this and isn’t moved or doesn’t feel compassion, they’re just fundamentally broken. I think this should be required reading in all modern history classes for high school kids, to be honest.

The scene that did me in, and which makes this something that ought to be required reading for any high school kid, is summed up keenly by the below image. This was one time when graphic novels absolutely conveyed emotion better than prose. I needed no written words to know what she was feeling, because the image captured it. I was feeling it with her.

2e0ed962197ccf26412ed3cde20940d5
Image from Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Read Harder 2019 is here!

ReadHarderChallenge2019_cover

Read Harder 2019 is here! Thanks to the awesome Rachel Manwill of Book Riot, we get another year of excellent reading tasks to challenge our reading comfort zones. 

I like to try to decide ahead of time what to read for the Read Harder tasks. I almost always change my mind as the year goes on, of course, but if I at least have a preliminary list going, it helps me stay on track to get the job done. This year, I am going to try hard to make every book on this list by an author of color or a woman. Preferably a woman of color. Below is my tentative list for the new 2019 Read Harder challenge. I can’t wait to dive in! I hope you’ll share what books you’re using for your own Read Harder tasks!

1. An epistolary novel or collection of letters:

  • Possession – AS Byatt.
  • The Diary of a Provincial Lady by EM Delafield, which looks like it can also double dip for a humor book.
  • I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

2. An alternate history novel:

  • The Big Lie – Julie Mayhew.
  • The Years of Rice and Salt – Kim Stanley Robinson. PLAAAAAAGUE! Yay!
  • River of Teeth – Sarah Gailey. Hungry, hungry hippos!

3. A book by a woman and/or AOC that won a literary award in 2018:

  • The Friend by Sigrid Nunez (National Book award). Might be able to double dip this for a book with an animal or inanimate object as the main character.
  • The Stone Sky – NK Jemisin (Hugo)
  • Milkman – Anna Burns (Man Booker)

4. A humor book:

  • possibly Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi. I suppose it depends on your definition of humor.
  • The Diary of a Provincial Lady by EM Delafield.
  • Or the David Sedaris books that have been on my TBR forever.

5. A book by a journalist or about journalism:

  • Ten Days in a Mad-House – Nellie Bly.
  • The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert.
  • The Professor and the Madman – Simon Winchester.
  • Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women – Geraldine Brooks.

6. A book by an AOC set in or about space:

  • probably something by Michio Kaku. Love that guy! He gets so excited about space!
  • ORRRrrr, I could finally get around to reading the Binti trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor!
  • Dawn (Lilith’s Brood series) – Octavia Butler.

7. An #ownvoices book set in Mexico or Central America:

  • Maybe Fruit of the Drunken Tree. Not sure if that is #ownvoices or not, though. Have to do more research on this one. 
  • Like Water for Chocolate – Laura Esquivel. Can also double dip for a book translated by a woman.
  • The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind – Meg Medina.

8. An #ownvoices book set in Oceania:

  • Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera (Maori). I hear the book is way better than the movie was.
  • Where We Once Belonged by Sia Figiel (Fiji).

9. A book published prior to January 1, 2019, with fewer than 100 reviews on Goodreads:

  • The Scarlet Forest – AE Chandler.
  • Roses in the Tempest – Jeri Westerson.
  • The Long, Long Life of Trees – Fiona Stafford.
  • The World, The Flesh, and the Devil – Reay Tannahill.
  • On Night’s Shore – Randall Silvis

10. A translated book written by and/or translated by a woman:

  • The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George.
  • The Vegetarian or Human Acts – Han Kang.
  • My Brilliant Friend – Elena Ferrante.

11. A book of manga:

  • I….yeah, I got nothing. I have no earthly idea. This will require a lot of research on my part because I really don’t have much knowledge of manga. Comics of any kind are generally not my jam. I’ll honestly have to see what the hivemind on the Read Harder Goodreads community recommends.

12. A book in which an animal or inanimate object is a point-of-view character:

  • Black Beauty – Anna Sewell. I can read this with my daughter!
  • The Bees by Laline Paull.
  • Tomorrow: A Novel by Damien Dibbins.
  • KA: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr by John Crowley.

13. A book by or about someone that identifies as neurodiverse:

  • The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang (Asperger’s, #ownvoices).
  • A Girl Like Her – Talia Hibbert (#ownvoices).
  • Made You Up by Francesca Zappia.
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.

14. A cozy mystery:

  • Murder in G Major – Alexia Gordon.
  • The Tale of Hill-Top Farm – Susan Wittig Albert.
  • Homicide in Hardcover – Kate Carlisle.

15. A book of mythology or folklore:

  • Deathless – Catherynne Valente.
  • Spinning Straw into Gold: What Fairy Tales Reveal About the Transformations in a Woman’s Life – Joan Gould.
  • The Myth of Morgan La Fay – Kristina Perez.
  • OR, finally get around to reading Norse Myths or reread American Gods – Neil Gaiman.

16. An historical romance by an AOC:

  • An Extraordinary Union – Alyssa Cole.
  • Freedom’s Embrace – Kianna Alexander.
  • I think an argument can be made that Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a romance.

17. A business book:  

  • The Four-Hour Work Week – Tim Ferriss.
  • You Are A Badass : How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero.

18. A novel by a trans or nonbinary author:

  • All the Birds in the Sky – Charlie Jane Anders.
  • Small Beauty – Jia Qing Wilson-Yang.
  • Peter Darling – Austin Chant.
  • Lizard Radio – Pat Schmatz.

19. A book of nonviolent true crime:

  • The Dinosaur Artist by Paige Williams.
  • Mrs Sherlock Holmes by Brad Rica.
  • Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a Literary Forger – Lee Israel.

20. A book written in prison:

  • Le Morte d’Arthur – Sir Thomas Malory.
  • The Consolation of Philosophy – Boethius.
  • Civil Disobedience – Thomas Paine.

21. A comic by an LGBTQIA creator:

  • Fun Home – Alison Bechdel

22. A children’s or middle grade book (not YA) that has won a diversity award since 2009:

  • One Crazy Summer – Rita Williams-Garcia.
  • #NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women – ed. Lisa Charleyboy

23. A self-published book:

  • The Wake – Paul Kingsnorth (Not technically self pubbed, but nontraditional, because he wrote in a made up language and traditional publishers didn’t want him, so a crowdfunding publisher by the name of Unbound stepped in. Just like with a Kickstarter, Unbound launched The Wake as a project that allowed hopeful readers to pledge their support for Kingsnorth’s work. [https://electricliterature.com/11-books-that-prove-theres-nothing-wrong-with-self-publishing-b507ef16d4e5].
  • Still Alice – Lisa Genova.
  • The Martian – Andy Weir (a reread for me).
  • Hand of Fire or Priestess of Ishana – Judith Starkston (both would be rereads for me).

24. A collection of poetry published since 2014:

  • the sun and her flowers – Rupi Kaur.
  • The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One – Amanda Lovelace

Born a Crime

33632445Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Trevor Noah

Source: my own collection

Length: 08:44:00

Publisher: Audible Audio

Year: 2016

Trevor Noah is known to most American audiences as the newest host and replacement for Jon Stewart on late night comedy. But this book chronicles his childhood in South Africa in the last few years of apartheid, through the years immediately after with their unrest and violence, and his own experiences with abuse. And yet, through it all, he kept his innate goodness and kind nature, despite seeing some horrific things. I don’t know that I could have come through as happily as he did.

I’m not generally a fan of memoirs, though I find that I’ve been reading more lately. So I don’t know, maybe I’m more of a fan of them than I thought. In any case, Noah managed to discuss some really heavy topics like apartheid, racism, domestic violence, and crushing poverty with genuine humor. I never thought I would have laughed out loud over eating “dog bones” because you’re too poor to buy better food, but goddamn the way he told it was hilarious. Maybe the best way to effect change is to make people laugh about a thing. I don’t know. But by turning it into something laughable, it kind of felt like it was a little disrespectful. But I am not the one who lived through it, so I also feel like I don’t really get a say in it. In any case, I enjoyed this book and I learned a lot about many things. I definitely recommend this whether you enjoy Trevor Noah as a comedian or not.

Priestess of Ishana

Priestess of Ishana by Judith Starkston

I read it as an: ARC, finished as a paperback

Source: from the author, and I bought a copy for my own collection

Length: 453 pp

Publisher: Bronze Age Books

Year: 2018

Tesha is the 15 year old high priestess of the goddess Ishana, a deity of war and love. Her duties and devotion to the goddess are strong and she carries out her role faithfully at the temple, believing she knows her life’s role. Until one day, two shepherds discover the charred remains of a man’s body in a cave, who had been killed by sorcery, a crime punishable by death. When the Great King’s younger brother, Hattu, arrives to Tesha’s city to deliver a great treasure to the temple as a sign of his devotion to Ishana, he is arrested for the murder of the man in the cave. Tesha and her blind sister, Daniti, are convinced that Hattu is innocent, but their father, Pentip, the Grand Votary and High Priest, believes otherwise. Acting against her father, Tesha meticulously searches for the truth that will set Hattu, with whom she shares an inexplicable bond and visions, free of his prison and save him from execution at his own brother’s command.

You guys. YOU GUYS! This novel is Hittite historical fantasy! Let me say that again:

HITTITE. HISTORICAL. FANTASY!

This is exactly the historical fantasy novel you were looking for to round out your 2018 reading! The world building is intricate and painstakingly drawn, which is always pleasing. The pacing has a nice blend of faster action sequences combined with complex (but not convoluted) politics and religious rites. Each character has depth and personality, some of whom you love to hate. I thought Tesha in particular was a complex person, a woman in her own right who had some power as a respected priestess, but who was also a woman in a very different and much earlier society who adhered to some patriarchal rules. It was fascinating to see her carry out her duties as well as her investigation within the scope of the limits her society imposed upon her.

The excellent author’s note at the end gives further insight into both the creation of the novel itself as well as the Hittites. I think a lot of people don’t know about the Hittites at all, or else only what is mentioned about them in the Bible. But their civilization was enormous and they had a ton of influence on the ancient world. They were literally lost to the sands of time and were only relatively recently rediscovered. There is still a lot we can learn about them, and frankly, learning history by way of well written fantasy novels isn’t a bad way to go. I think Judith Starkston has struck on a totally unique niche within the historical fantasy genre, and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with in her next installation in the series!

**A slightly different, probably longer and better version of this review will also be posted at the very awesome book review site Discovering Diamonds. You should go check them out.