I finished #TheReadingQuest

…Just.

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Apologies for the vanishing act. I am now on holiday (yay!), and the couple weeks before I went were made up of work deadlines on top of taking on extra work on top of feeling tired and not much like blogging. But I finished! My final two picks were:

A book with a one word title: Want by Cindy Pon and,

A book based on mythology: The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. Thank you Glaiza @ Paper Wanderer  who recommended I read this. I really loved this book. It totally took me off guard by being not so much a book of magic as a book of ideas.

And so finishes my first ever reading challenge!

Thanks to Aentee @ Read at Midnight for starting the thing and CW @ Read Think Ponder for the beautiful pictures.

Would I do it again? Yes, I think I would.

But for now, as I said, I am on holiday. So I’ll see you (along with reviews of the above) in a couple weeks.

xxx

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#TheReadingQuest: The Bone Witch

I read this for #TheReadingQuest. Book 3, a Book That Contains Magic DONE. I am at this point pretty confident that I will finish my quest. Given that I have deadlines coming out of my ears and that The Buried Giant threw me into a bit of a slump, I’m feeling good about how I’ve done.

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Tea is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy makes her a bone witch, who are feared and ostracised in the kingdom. For theirs is a powerful, elemental magic that can reach beyond the boundaries of the living – and of the human.

Great power comes at a price, forcing Tea to leave her homeland to train under the guidance of an older, wider bone witch. There, Tea puts all her energy into becoming an asha, learning to control her elemental magic and those beasts who will submit by no other force. And Tea must be strong – stronger than she even believes possible. Because war is brewing in the eight kingdoms, war that will threaten the sovereignty of her homeland… and threaten the very survival of those she loves.

Lyrical and action packed, this new fantasy series by acclaimed author Rin Chupeco will leave you breathless.

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The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco is a villain’s origin story unafraid to take its time. Told between the past and the present, we get to know 14-year-old Tea, enthused to become an asha and serve her kingdom, at the same time as seeing 17-year-old Tea, hell bent on destroying that very same place.

Why? We don’t know yet.

As I’ve mentioned, the narrative of The Bone Witch is pretty slow. Though I have to admit there were times when it failed to hold my attention, overall I think this technique was effective. As the plot currently stands, it’s very hard to see the events that would lead Tea to become the person we know that she does, and if Chupeco were to rush that process the story would be weak and unsatisfying as a result. A good villain story builds itself up to its highest point before the fall, and this building was the business of book 1.Chupeco even goes so far as to reference deaths that don’t even take place during the first book’s narrative, which is an interesting choice that really builds the tension.

As much as I love Tea and I’m sad to see what has become of her, I’m oddly curious to see exactly how it all goes to hell.

The Bone Witch is a strong first book that absolutely makes me want to continue with the series. My main complaint was with the three guys in the royal family, Kance, Khalad and Kalan. Reading that while extremely tired, which I almost always am, was no joke. It was like being back in the mid-00s before we all knew which Kardashian was which.

That complaint aside, characterisation in this novel was strong. Although Chupeco set the groundwork for a potential love triangle featuring the uninteresting Kance (or, as I like to think of him, the Stefan Salvatore of the story), overall she majored on Tea’s relationship with her brother/familiar Tea raised from the dead, Fox (LOVE HIM. Fox, you can be my dead boyfriend any day of the week.) and her dynamic with the other witches she lives and trains with. Watching Tea find her place in this group of strong, loyal and close women was wonderful. I particularly enjoyed the ‘mother’ of the witch school, Mistress Parmina, cast in the role of withholding mentor so often given to a man (think: Dr Cox in Scrubs, Cal Lightman in Lie To Me and Sam Sylvia in GLOW) and Tea’s evolving friendship with Zoya, the mean girl. Main girl becoming besties with mean girl is my favourite female friendship trope. I just love the mean girl in general (think: Blair Waldorf from Gossip Girl and Coco Connors from Dear White People. BE BESTIES WITH ME PLEASE.).

This magical tale of necromancy, coming-of-age and mysterious betrayal is a compelling start to a story I definitely want to know the ending of.

 

 

 

#TheReadingQuest: The Buried Giant

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I read this for #TheReadingQuest, started by Aentee @ Read At Midnight with artwork by CW @ Read Think Ponder.

The Romans have long since departed, and Britain is steadily declining into ruin. The Buried Giant begins as a couple, Axl and Beatrice, set off across a troubled land of mist and rain in the hope of finding a son they have not seen for years. They expect to face many hazards – some strange and other-worldly – but they cannot yet foresee how their journey will reveal to them dark and forgotten corners of their love for each other.

Book number two of #TheReadingQuest, A Book Set in a Different World DONE. I finished this on Tuesday and am now progressing through book 3, A Book That Contains Magic, for which I’m reading The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco. Full disclosure were it not for #TheReadingQuest it’s unlikely I would have finished The Buried Giant because 1. it was very boring, more on that in a minute and 2. I am not having the best week. My current mood cycles give me a couple weeks of fine followed by days of feeling like a total GARBAGE HUMAN but I signed up to this challenge and goddamnit I will finish no matter how much I want to watch Crazy Ex-Girlfriend while pondering whether I’m doomed to spend my entire life consumed with situations that are long since finished while also trawling through the Facebook pages of the people I disliked at university to see if I might be doing better than they are which OBVIOUSLY I’m not because as I already mentioned, I’m doomed.

Anyway. Ashley C Ford says it’s all going to be fine and I am choosing to believe her.

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So, The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro is one of those literary novels that I tried to persuade myself that I liked while being bored out of my mind. The front pages are filled with snippets of reviews calling this story a masterpiece and I regret to say that as much as I kept waiting for it to suddenly hit me as such, it never did.

I have a weird relationship with Ishiguro’s work. Though I did think Never Let Me Go was a good book, it lacks – and I have also found this in his short stories though that is the extent of my knowledge of his work – the emotional payoff that I like to experience (instead of my own feelings HA) in my reading. While in Never Let Me Go that lack is kind of the point – after all you are supposed to spend the novel waiting for a moment that never arrives – in The Buried Giant, after wading through pages of exposition I felt somewhat cheated that even in the ending I didn’t get the moment of catharsis I had been waiting for.

The Buried Giant is set in a fictitious Ye Olde England in a state of tenuous peace after a bitter war between the Britons and the Saxons. Britons and Saxons live separately in settlements that they rarely venture out of for fear of the monsters roaming their lands. Ogre and dragon attacks are fairly regular occurrences. Life has been weird for an unspecified amount of time since something our MC, Axl and his wife Beatrice refer to as ‘the mist’ settled over the land and everyone lost their memories. Aside from occasional (and, if I’m being honest, narratively convenient) moments of scattered clarity, nobody has any memory of their lives outside of the present moment. One day Axl and Beatrice, who are both very elderly, remember that they have a son and become determined to find him and so set out on a journey to a distant village they know neither the name or location of, sure that is where he is living and that he is eagerly awaiting their arrival. Because of the mist, Axl and Beatrice seem unable to dwell on why they might have been separate from him for so long and we learn in bits and pieces the nature of Axl and Beatrice’s relationship with their son and receive hints as to why it ended in estrangement.

As the story unfolds and Axl and Beatrice eventually discover the source of the mist and how to rid their world of it and get back their memories, we learn more and more of what they have forgotten about their lives together. And yet, even as most of the truths that are revealed to them are tragic ones, particularly with regards to their son, these revelations come with none of the emotional payoff that you would expect. I felt nothing about this story despite my best efforts. I understood that it was about the problem of ‘amnesia’ on a personal and political level. The Britons and Saxons could only achieve peace if they denied their history of violence, and Axl and Beatrice’s relationship could only withstand if they refused to address the pain they had inflicted on one another during their long relationship. I got that. But I didn’t care about it.

The Buried Giant was not for me, and the adulation it has received leaves me with that bitter feeling in my stomach like I get when I feel as if I somehow missed something important.

#TheReadingQuest: Nevernight

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I read this for #TheReadingQuest, started by Aentee @ Read At Midnight with artwork by CW @ Read Think Ponder. First book of a series done.  

Mia Corvere is only ten years old when she is given her first lesson in death. Destined to destroy empires, the child raised in shadows made a promise on the day she lost everything: to avenge herself on those that shattered her world. But the chance to strike against such powerful enemies will be fleeting, and Mia must become a weapon without equal. Before she seeks vengeance, she must seek training among the infamous assassins of the Red Church of Itreya. Inside the church’s halls, Mia must prove herself against the deadliest of opponents and survive the tutelage of murderers, liars and daemons at the heart of a murder cult. The church is no ordinary school. But Mia is no ordinary student.

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Nevernight by Jay Christoff is a gripping tale let down by racist undertones. The story, in theory, has a lot going for it. It has an appealing heroine, Mia, hell bent on revenge and dealing with some severe trauma from one event we know (the hanging of her father) and one that remains shrouded in mystery (whenever Mia’s mind starts to go there she tells herself don’t look). She’s darkin, which means she has some magical powers that involve being able to control shadows, though she mostly doesn’t know what she’s capable of unless she is pushed to find out. To be darkin is very rare, so there isn’t another one about she can ask. She is forever accompanied by her shadow cat (literally a cat made of shadows), Mister Kindly, who appeared to her the night her powers first manifested (the day her father was hanged for treason and her mother and baby brother imprisoned and Mia herself almost murdered.) and feeds off Mia’s fear. Since she is dealing with not a little trauma, Mister Kindly is very well fed.  Oh yeah, and he talks. With sass. They are together attending a boarding school where teenagers learn to be assassins.

Kristoff’s method of storytelling appealed to me. He uses a third person omniscient narrator who becomes one of the biggest personalities in the story. Through a mixture of footnotes and asides the narrator keeps the tone light in even its darkest moments –disappearing in its most violent, which was particularly effective – using humour and satire to inform the reader of all of the grimmest aspects of the world we have, however temporarily, stepped into.  The narrator was kind of like the villain in a Shakespeare play, nodding and winking at the audience as the others flail about none the wiser.

But it was the narrator, as one of my favourite parts of the novel that came to be the biggest let down. As a voice on the outside of the story, analysing it and at times mocking those it describes, it was perfectly placed to challenge the problematic ideas posed by Kristoff’s characters.

But it never did.`

The problem was with the representation of the Dweymeri people, who are described as ‘dark of skin’. And also as violent rapists.

Sigh.

We mainly hear about the Dweymeri through the character of Tric, who is mixed race, with a Dweymeri mother and Itreyan (white) father,  and because of this, rejected and abused by the Dweymeri people (strike one). With the exception only a few, including Tric and another student of the Assassin School he and Mia attend, Floodcaller, who is a violent asshole and then a dead one (who hates Tric for being mixed race), the Dweymeri people are barely represented in the novel at all (strike two), so when we’re told early on that they are rapists and murderers (strike three and we’re out) there is really no basis on which to challenge that idea. Even more so given that the only positive representation we get of the Dweymeri people is through Tric who we learn was not brought up in that community. This style of storytelling leans heavily on the trope of the dark skinned aggressor, and it stings particularly in a book about ruthless murderers to single out one group for being ruthless murderers.

Kristoff does make some efforts to challenge his own use of stereotype. There is a scene early on where someone calls Tric koffi, which it comes to light means ‘child of rape’. Mia’s immediate assumption is that Tric’s mother must have been raped by a Dweymeri man, but Tric quickly corrects her that it was in fact an Itreyan man who assaulted his Dweymeri mother. Obviously this is a step forward, but Mia’s mistake isn’t analysed, she isn’t ashamed of it and the wider context and social and racial politics of her remarks were never discussed at all. Given that the characters of Mister Kindly and the narrator (who I have a theory may be one and the same) in particular were so astute in their summaries of other situations in the novel, it felt wrong to me that on this they were silent.

I also felt like Kristoff had a tendency to exoticise people of colour in the book. Mostly because, with the exception of Mia, he would largely only ever describe a person’s skin colour if they were black or brown – never white. For example when we’re introduced to Spiderkiller (another ruthless, murdering Dweymeri), the potions teacher at the Assassin’s Hogwarts, she is described like this: “Her saltlocks were intricate. Immaculate. Her skin was the dark, polished walnut of the Dweymeri..” where as one of Mia’s best friends is simply called “brunette.” Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not upset that Kristoff neglected to describe white skin as such, but I felt like this practise served to other people of colour, and as I said, exoticise. To not describe someone as white in this scenario, felt like the reader was supposed to assume they were, which creates a situation in which whiteness is necessarily considered the norm, and anything else other. So. Freaking. Problematic.

I would like to think that as the series progresses, Kristoff will break down the stereotypes he has introduced in the first novel and reveal them for the ignorance they truly are. But, seeing as by the end of the novel we are down yet another Dweymeri, I sort of doubt it.

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo

She annihilates standardized tests and the bad guys. Genie Lo is among droves of ivy-hopeful overachievers in her sleepy Bay Area suburb. You know, the type who wins. When she’s not crushing it at volleyball or hitting the books, Genie is typically working on how to crack the elusive Harvard entry code.

But when her hometown comes under siege from hellspawn straight out of Chinese folklore, her priorities are dramatically rearranged. Enter Quentin Sun, a mysterious new kid in class who becomes Genie’s self-appointed guide to battling demons. While Genie knows Quentin only as an attractive transfer student with an oddly formal command of the English language, in another reality he is Sun Wukong, the mythological Monkey King incarnate – right down to the furry tail and penchant for peaches.

Suddenly, acing the SATs is the least of Genie’s worries. The fates of her friends, family and the entire Bay Area all depend on her summoning an inner power that Quentin assures her is strong enough to level the gates of Heaven. But every second Genie spends tapping into the secret of her true nature is a second in which the lives of her loved ones hang in the balance.

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The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F. C. Yee is a DELIGHTFUL book. It’s an action packed, romantic, relatable and funny read – giggling to myself on the bus level funny – driven by Chinese folklore.

‘“Go ahead,” I said, groping behind me for any heavy, hard object I could find to clock him with. “Tell me your real name and we’ll see if that makes it all better.”

Quentin took a deep breath.

“My true name,” he said, “…is SUN WUKONG.”

A cold wind passed through the open window, rustling my loose papers like tumbleweed.

“I have no idea who that is,” I said.’

I have for a long time been a huge fan of epic stories of saving the world told within the boundaries of a domestic setting. In a genre overflowing with tragically dispatched parents and groups of feral teenagers, a character who has to save the world from the rabid demon horde and get home before curfew? That’s an interesting story.

And Genie Lo is a fantastic main character. She is a joy to read, with Yee deftly avoiding all of the stereotypical and trope-ish behaviours so often displayed in characters with Genie’s snowflake status. She is, as Quentin puts it, unquestionably, undeniably human, just with a whole bunch of other stuff going on as well. The ‘stuff’ sometimes being finding out that she is the reincarnated physical form of a stick Quentin used to fight demons with, and other times, figuring out how to have a relationship with both of her parents after their bitter divorce.

She also defies many gender and racial stereotypes. Genie is a hot tempered lady, and, for better or worse, not above punching an asshole in the face every once and a while. In Western culture, which is flooded with negative representations of Asian women as passive sex objects, Genie’s self-directed narrative is a refreshing and necessary one.

I found Yee’s focus on Genie’s body to be super interesting also. It is emphasised throughout that Genie is a big girl – she describes herself as ‘monstrously tall’. This puts Genie’s appearance at odds with the ideal of the tiny, stick thin Chinese woman her body shaming mother makes it clear she thinks that Genie should be.

Additionally, Yee makes a point of Genie being much taller than her love interest, Quentin. That this was something of a revolutionary move is a testament to how fucked up our body image is as a society, but whatever. It was. And guess what, all of those girls out there who have staunchly declared they would never date a guy shorter than them (me included)? It affected nothing. I was shipping as hard as ever. Obviously.

Yee makes it more and more apparent as the story develops that Genie’s big body is for the benefit of her badass, demon slaying self. There is a point, fairly early on in the novel when Genie discovers that she can in fact grow herself to whatever size is needed for the purposes of demon slaying. Initially, she is totally ashamed and embarrassed by this development. Getting bigger is literally the opposite of what she wants for herself. But, as the narrative progresses, Genie embraces and starts to appreciate her body, something that is shown in the final battle of the novel where she deliberately grows her physical self to gigantic proportions in order to defeat her adversary. In a culture where women are taught to take up as little space as possible, with Asian women suffering from this in particular, it was such an empowering and, as the title would suggest, EPIC, moment.

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo is a wonderful example of a YA novel. Genie and her supporting cast leap off the page, and their adventures swept me along so fast I finished this book in only a couple of sittings. It 100% lives up to the hype.

#TheReadingQuest: My first read-a-thon ever!

You should know that when I typed the title of this blog, I wrote read-a-ton by accident. All artwork in this post by the talented and awesome CW @ Read Think Ponder. Obviously you know her already, but if by any chance you don’t (where have you been?!), go check her out.

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MAGE: As wielders of spells and witchcraft, these players will conjure and summon their way through the First Down path on the quest. Their tomes contain magic and whispers of alternate lands.

I have never participated in a read-a-thon before. I’m not the fastest reader (because of Netflix and an unfortunate habit of falling asleep on the bus, where the vast majority of my reading takes place) and the thought of FAILURE gave me anxiety, so I just never tried it story of my life.

But then Aentee @ Read At Midnight launched The Reading Quest with GORGEOUS artwork by CW @ Read Think Ponder and I decided I was IN. Then… sat on the decision for a week and tried to talk myself out of it.

But it didn’t work. I can be very stubborn when I want to be.

So. It’s happening. And I am determined to succeed despite the following challenges:

MAJOR CHALLENGE 1: The Defenders comes out in a week. I will binge watch. I can’t control that fact, nor do I wish to.

MAJOR CHALLENGE 2: Previously mentioned falling asleep on the bus issue.

MAJOR CHALLENGE 3: I am currently bookless for 3 of my 5 squares.

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So far I have –

First book of a series: Nevernight by Jay Kristoff. Boxes of free books arrive at my work from time to time (#blessed), and this was one of them. Tbh, I’m not super excited about it, but hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

A book set in a different world: The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro. I picked up this book last year and for whatever reason haven’t gotten to it yet. I don’t actually know what it’s about, but it says ‘strange and other worldly creatures’ on the back, so I’m assuming it’ll be right for this challenge.

That leaves me needing a book based on mythology, a book that contains magic and a book with a one word title. Any suggestions? I’m thinking I am going to order Want by Cindy Pon for that last one.

Though I’m nervous, I’m really excited for this challenge. As I have mentioned a few times, I don’t read much in the way of fantasy, so I think this’ll be a good opportunity to me to expand my reading.

Are you participating in #TheReadingQuest? Which character did you choose?

If you have no idea what I’m talking about (again, where have you been?!), and would like more information, visit Aentee’s blog for the rules. The deadline for signing up is this Sunday.

 

 

Sex and Rage

The popular resurgence of Eve Babitz continues with this very special reissue of her novel, originally published in 1979, about a dreamy young girl moving between Los Angeles and New York City. Sex and Rage delights in its sensuous, dreamlike narrative and its spontaneous embrace of fate and work, and further solidifies Eve Babitz’s place as a singularly important voice in Los Angeles literature – haunting, alluring and alive.

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I absolutely fall into the category of person who clicks on every single ‘books you must read in your twenties’ list Buzzfeed vomits out. If my teenage reading was characterised by a desperate need to escape, as I’ve progressed into my twenties it has transformed into a frantic search for… something. I don’t think I’m the only one. If teen must-read selections major on the paranormal, tragiporn and romance, for us recent adults, picks are more along the lines of coming-of-age amidst heartbreak.

I’m on a solid reading diet of both, and I’m super into it. As much as I love YA, there is a certain amount of self-reflection I enjoy in adult books that, I’ve found you can’t really appreciate until you hit twenty-two and the dust starts to settle into something like your personality. It’s the point at which all those oddities of yourself you were always told you’d grow out of actually become the things you grow into, and subsequently come to blame your parents for.

Or is that just me?

Sex and Rage is exactly the sort of book that would feature on a must-reads for your twenties list. It is deliciously self absorbed. Though it’s written in the third person, it’s one that is close to its protagonist, Jacaranda. The world we experience is entirely hers as she tries to figure out who she is by means of self-destruction and the men who fall for her.

She feels afflicted by youth but total dread at the thought of aging, so tries to live in a way that winds up being too much for her heart to handle. By the age of 23, after five years of living away from the sea she loves so much, immersed in music and the affair she has with a married screenwriter, she moves back to the beach and declares herself bored with rock and roll and in search of the next adventure. And that’s just the first thirty pages.

Sex and Rage is the July pick for the Belletrist book club, and as every month they featured an interview with the author, in this case Eve Babitz. In their conversation with her, it came up that in search of fun, many young women find themselves in completely miserable situations. This is exactly what happens to Jacaranda.

Much of the narrative of the novel is defined by one man: Max. Jacaranda meets Max through an actor she’s sleeping with, and falls instantly in love with this older, charismatic man who lives a glamorous life and makes money through mysterious means that don’t necessarily seem to involve work. Though their relationship is never explicitly romantic – Max’s sexuality remains a point of mystery throughout – the intensity of it is greater than all of her other affairs.

Which means when it goes wrong – as always happens in Max’s life, it becomes apparent – the results for Jacaranda are catastrophic. Underneath his glamour and air of adventure, Max is a cold hearted bully with the ability to make you feel like the centre of the world one moment, and the next like you don’t deserve to live at all.

“The gold had washed off the surface and the Gates of Paradise had been melted down for private purposes no longer on public view. It was only art anyway. Max’s attitude seemed to say – a dismissal of all he’d been before – and suddenly he smelled like suitcases and dry cleaning, not a birthday party for an eight-year-old at all. She kept waiting for him to change back.”

Jacaranda is left deeply scarred by Max, who spent their time together undermining every aspect of her personality, from her appearance to her art – she painted surfboards for a living until Max told her she was a horrible painter – to her budding new love of writing.

As she spirals out into alcoholism and despair, even as her writing career picks up, it takes a long time for her to shed the negative beliefs about herself that Max installed in her. In so many ways, Sex and Rage is a novel of overcoming. Jacaranda’s writing is in defiance of Max and all the people who told her not to do it. To go and meet her publisher in New York – the city she knows Max is in – is to finally relinquish the fear of him that has controlled her life for the best part of a decade. To stop drinking is to know herself on a level she assumed no one would want after Max’s bitter rejection.

Sex and Rage is a sensuous, sexual, self-destructive time capsule of Los Angeles in the seventies. It’s one of those novels consumed with place as much as feeling and you can’t help but fall back into that time of seedy glamour and delayed consequences like sinking into a warm bath. You want to stay there forever, but you know it’s going to get cold and gross before you know it.

In the aforementioned interview with the Belletrist team, Eve Babitz said something that really struck me as emblematic of this book, and of optimism in general. She said:

“You’ll find yourself in a lot of miserable situations regardless, whether you’re seeking out a good time or not, but it’s better to try to enjoy oneself than give up all together and wither away. I have always preferred to look on the bright side.”

Yeah. That seems about right.