Category Archives: bookish posts

I got married! And other reasons I haven’t been here

I haven’t been posting, because I haven’t been doing much reading, because my time has been almost entirely preoccupied with getting ready to get married and then with actually getting married! It was a really wonderful weekend, full of so many special moments and people. The photos above are from my sister (on the left) and our photographer (on the right).

Anyway, trying to post here when I hadn’t read anything new and didn’t have anything interesting to say was stressing me out a lot, so I ended up taking a step back. But in the nine days since the wedding, I’ve read like six books so there is hope for new blogging soon! In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading and enjoying lately. I’m in the middle of The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera and really liking it. It reminds me a bit, in a good way, of one of my top books of the year, The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar.

P.S. Apologies to those of you who have now been bombarded with wedding photos a bunch of times.

P.P.S. I made my bouquet and included chrysanthemums as a Harriet Vane reference because of course I did.

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The Wolf Hour by Sara Lewis Holmes

This post is part of the Wolf Hour blog tour, organized by Tanita S. Davis over at Finding Wonderland. You can check out Tanita’s interview with Sara Lewis Holmes and Charlotte’s review and interview now, and keep an eye out for the other posts during October!

Welcome, my little lambs, to the Puszcza. It’s an ancient forest, a keeper of the deepest magic, where even the darkest fairy tales are real. Here, a Girl is not supposed to be a woodcutter, or be brave enough to walk alone. Here, a Wolf is not supposed to love to read, or be curious enough to meet a human. And here, a Story is nothing like the ones you read in books, for the Witch can make the most startling tales come alive. All she needs is …
A Girl from the village,
A Wolf from the forest,
& A Woodcutter with a nice, sharp axe.

So take care, little lambs, if you step into these woods. For in the Puszcza, it is always as dark as the hour between night and dawn — the time old folk call the Wolf Hour. If you lose your way here, you will be lost forever, your Story no longer your own. You can bet your bones.

The Wolf Hour is a fascinating and odd book, although I don’t mean odd in a negative sense here. I often don’t enjoy fairy tale mashups (as opposed to fairy tale retellings, which I do often love) but Holmes has woven in some of the things I like best about fairy tales: the strange logic, the sense of foreboding, the vivid imagery. So, despite the fact that this story contains strands of several different fairy tales, it feels more like one complete in itself.

Set in a small Polish town, outside the great forest called the puszcza, The Wolf Hour is the story of Magia the woodcutter’s daughter, who longs to be her father’s apprentice and help her family survive. It is the story of three pigs. It is the story of a wolf named Martin. But it is also the story of a woman named Miss Grand, and of Magia’s family. In this book, Story is a powerful force, and one that is not entirely benign. Once you’re part of a Story, you’re in it for better or worse.

One of the things I liked about this book was how complicated the characters felt. Although fairy tales can sometimes feel simplistic, here Lewis doesn’t allow any of her characters to simply be good or bad. At first, we encounter them more as types than as people, but gradually they are shaded in and become much more complex. This included a revelation that I found personally a bit shocking and even upsetting; I wonder if a kid reader would find it more or less so. From Miss Grand to Magia herself, we see almost everyone in this book in shades of grey.

I did personally find that the pacing was a bit odd, since the story jumps ahead by several years at one point. But overall, I felt this one was very successful at recreating the feeling of a fairy tale, with fresh themes and approaches. Magia seems very alone for much of the story, without anyone to guide or mentor her. And yet, by the end the place she has found for herself feels earned and right. She and the other characters are caught in someone else’s story for a time, and they have to find their own ways out. I think this one will resonate with confident readers, especially those who are ready for some fraught plotting and moral complexity.

Book source: review copy from author

Book information: Arthur Levine Books, 2017; middle grade fantasy

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August 2017 releases I’m excited for

A quiet month, publishing-wise, but some books I’m really, really excited to read. Especially the new William Alexander & N.K. Jemisin titles!

A Properly Unhaunted Place by William Alexander

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin

The Authentics by Abdi Nazemian

Miles Morales by Jason Reynolds

In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan

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All the books I read in July

July was the worst reading month for me so far this year, with only 13 completed books. (Although I expect November, and maybe October will also be pretty slim.) It was a busy month on a number of levels, and I have to admit that several of the books I picked up didn’t do much for me. However, I am pretty pleased with the ones I did end up finishing.

My favorites this month were:

  • When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
  • Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor
  • Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krishnaswami
  • Jolly Foul Play by Robin Stevens
  • Raven Strategem by Yoon Ha Lee

At some point, I want to write a whole post about Tor.com’s novella line and how fascinating the different novellas are. I find that most of them I appreciate rather than loving, perhaps because for me the novella is a tough length. However, I absolutely loved Binti: Home, and thought Lightning in the Blood was a good follow up to Brennan’s first Varekai story.

My reading plans for August are a bit vague, but I’m hoping I’ll manage to either finish or set down some of the books that have been lingering on my to-read shelf. Right now, I’m just a bit into The Watchmaker of Filigree Street and cautiously liking it.

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Books I added to my To-Read list recently

 

Wimsey also enjoys books

I haven’t written this type of post with any regularity, but I thought it might be a fun glimpse into what I’m thinking about reading–though I’m not making any promises about when that will happen!

Making this list also led to the realization that a lot of my book recs come from the same people. With that in mind, I asked on Twitter for favorite inclusively feminist SFF critics & bloggers. I’d love to hear your favorites!

Rise of the Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste

The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis

The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett

All the Real Indians Died Off by Roxane Dunbar-Ortiz

Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray

That Thing We Call a Heart by Sheba Karim

White Tears by Hari Kunzru

Shattered Minds by Laura Lam

The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera

Hunted by Megan Spooner

Race and Popular Fantasy Literature by Helen Young

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Currently Reading: 7-3-17

I haven’t done one of these for a bit!

Uprooted and A Countess Below Stairs are both rereads–I had a vague plan of doing an Eva Ibbotson Reading Notes series, since I haven’t done any reading notes yet this year. But so far I’ve been slightly stalled in the middle of Countess for–several months? I don’t know. I’m not sure if it’s the book, or me, or just the pressure to have Things to Say. Uprooted I have barely started and am slightly worried about. Will it turn out to be a book that should not be reread? I’m not sure yet.

I’m just barely beyond the introduction to Mind of the Maker & already have laughed at least twice, cringed at least once, and also said, “Oh, Dorothy” a time or two. So we’ll see!

I have not actually started The Girl Who Could Silence The Wind yet, but it’s Meg Medina so I’m excited.

And The Fairy Doll is the first book in an effort to get some of the books that have lingered on my TBR for ages either read or DNF’d. I do love Rumer Godden, though she is certainly writing from a particular time & culture without realizing it. This is a collection of doll stories, which are generally quite charming so far.

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The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar

There are lots of fine books in the world, but every so often there’s a book that just reaches out and grabs me in a very particular way: from start to finish, in a way that lingers long afterwards. The Winged Histories was one of those books, a thing so lovely that I’m still amazed by it, and moved by it in ways that I’m not entirely sure I can articulate.

I read Samatar’s A Stranger in Olondria back in 2015 and I was excited when I heard there was a sequel coming out. The Winged Histories is actually a loose companion; it has a different feel and concern than the first book, but takes place in the same world and (if I’m right about this) about the same time as well. But whereas Jevick’s story is obviously about a stranger, and about a man, The Winged Histories is about four women in Olondria itself–though the issue of what is and is not Olondrian actually lies at the heart of the book.

The Winged Histories is divided into four sections, four books, four narratives from four different women. Each narrative has a different voice and perspective; they all sit near each other with the tension of stanzas in a poem, clearly connected and in conversation with each other, but not simply a continuation. The formality of the structure (each book has its own title, an epigraph which comes from within the narrative, and an impersonal relation of relevant history) contrasts with the incredibly personal nature of the narratives themselves.

Samatar is a poet, so it’s not surprising that I thought of poetic structure here, or that just now I thought of the connection between this kind of narrative and confessional poetry. That poetic quality is also very much on display in the sentence level writing which is so astonishingly beautiful in places that I can hardly stand it.

Also, the sense of history and politics and the way the personal and political interact with each other adds up to a world that feels so lived in and real. I believed in Kestenya and its desire for freedom; in the religion of the Stone and the complicated motivations of those who follow it; in the family dynamics that haunt the different stories. The balance of detail and scope can be a hard one to get right, but here it seemed right.

I know I pointed about above that this is a story about four women, but one of the things that I adored here is that it’s not just a story about these four women. There are men here, certainly, but there are women everywhere: mothers, daughters, sisters, friends, lovers. And they all have different views about the world and themselves and their place. One advantage of this overlapping narrative is the ability to show the tensions within a society, where the fault lines lie. This is not a story of simple female solidarity, by any means, but it is a story that’s centered on women and their lives, showing them in relationship to each other in a way that feel really true.

I kept putting this book down while reading it, not because I was bored, but because it was so much that I wanted to absorb it slowly. And I think the beginning could be a bit confusing, because Samatar drops us down into the middle of the world as Tavis herself experiences it. (There is a glossary in the back, which can help.) But mostly, I encourage setting the confusion aside and reading a little further, because the story here is wild and sweet and sharp and beautiful, with a sense of place and characters who make the work of reading entirely worthwhile.

Book source: public library

Book information: 2016, Small Beer Press; adult fantasy

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