9

Kindred by Octavia Butler – A powerful historical/sci-fi; absolutely exceptional in every way

kindred

Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976 California, Dana, an African-American woman, is suddenly and inexplicably wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy there, she finds herself staring into the barrel of a shotgun and is transported back to the present just in time to save her life. During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given: to protect this young slaveholder until he can father her own great-grandmother.

Kindred is a truly outstanding book. Not only is it the first science-fiction written by a black author – making it an incredible piece of black American literature – but it is an amazing book by its own merits. And there are many.

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9

Flying Lessons and Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh – A treasure for the youth of now and for generations to come

flying-lessons

Whether it is basketball dreams, family fiascos, first crushes, or new neighborhoods, this bold anthology—written by the best children’s authors—celebrates the uniqueness and universality in all of us.

In a partnership with We Need Diverse Books, industry giants Kwame Alexander, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Peña, Tim Federle, Grace Lin, Meg Medina, Walter Dean Myers, Tim Tingle, and Jacqueline Woodson join newcomer Kelly J. Baptist in a story collection that is as humorous as it is heartfelt. This impressive group of authors has earned among them every major award in children’s publishing and popularity as New York Times bestsellers.

From these distinguished authors come ten distinct and vibrant stories.

I loved Flying Lessons and Other Stories. This book was the perfect book to start off 2017 – it filled me with so much joy, reminded me of the ups and downs of youth, and filled me with so much hope — hope, because kids with marginalized identities may read this book and find themselves in the stories’ characters. And I cannot emphasize how important this is – and consequently how this makes Flying Lessons and Other Stories so important and successful.

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15

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

walkonearth

Lee Westfall has a strong, loving family. She has a home she loves and a loyal steed. She has a best friend—who might want to be something more.

She also has a secret.

Lee can sense gold in the world around her. Veins deep in the earth. Small nuggets in a stream. Even gold dust caught underneath a fingernail. She has kept her family safe and able to buy provisions, even through the harshest winters. But what would someone do to control a girl with that kind of power? A person might murder for it.

When everything Lee holds dear is ripped away, she flees west to California—where gold has just been discovered. Perhaps this will be the one place a magical girl can be herself. If she survives the journey.

The acclaimed Rae Carson begins a sweeping new trilogy set in Gold Rush-era America, about a young woman with a powerful and dangerous gift.

Before reading this book, I was largely ignorant to the California Gold Rush between 1848 to 1855. After reading Walk on Earth a Stranger, I may still be far from fluent in the history but Carson has written a wonderful story that gives us insight to what it might have been like, propelled by one heck of a sweeping story about what it means to be brave.

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11

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

sorcerer

At his wit’s end, Zacharias Wythe, freed slave, eminently proficient magician, and Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers—one of the most respected organizations throughout all of Britain—ventures to the border of Fairyland to discover why England’s magical stocks are drying up.

But when his adventure brings him in contact with a most unusual comrade, a woman with immense power and an unfathomable gift, he sets on a path which will alter the nature of sorcery in all of Britain—and the world at large


I received a copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho is absolutely gorgeous. Of the books that I have read in 2015, I do not think a book has warmed my heart more. For anyone who loves an imaginative fantasy interlaced with undisguised socio-political awareness and commentary that features endearing, loveable characters, Sorcerer to the Crown will be a chocolate box – delightfully unexpected and satisfyingly sweet.

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0

The Golden Widows by Isolde Martyn

golden widowsI received a copy of The Golden Widows from the publisher through the Goodreads giveaway. (Thank you!)

I haven’t read much historical fiction – aside from what Phillippa Gregory has written – so The Golden Widows felt like new territory to me. As someone who has practically no knowledge of British history, The Golden Widows was difficult to start and keep up (it took me several months to finish, but that’s a fault of mine, not the book’s), but closer to the end, I enjoyed it. This was especially after I did a quick Wikipedia read about Elizabeth Woodville and Kate Neville – I felt like when I learned about their futures and their significance in the dynastic wars, did I feel they were part of something greater, which led me to be more interested about the conclusion of the book.

I really enjoyed Kate Neville’s narrative – not only for its depth and exploration of her character, her innermost feelings and her emotional conflict, but also because of the consistent pacing of her character and story development. In contrast, Elizabeth’s narrative focuses largely on her struggles as a woman situated on the opposing end of the war. Both narratives offer interesting and relevant insights to what it was like to be a woman during these times, especially how women were used as pawns in your family’s struggle for power, status or survival.

The book was well-written, and I liked how Martyn fleshes out the characters, especially Hastings, Tom and Kate. Admittedly, my rating of this book is largely because of my illiteracy in British history, and so I could not appreciate this book more – needless to say, that’s of my own fault, not of Martyn’s. However, this book has certainly piqued my interest in British history, especially about the women in British history. All in all, if you’re interested in British history, especially the War of the Roses, I recommend this book.

Rating: 3/5

Book Information
Book Name: The Golden Widows
Author: Isolde Martyn
Pages: 370
Publisher: Harlequin Mira

0

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

9480425Objectively, Water for Elephants is average. It brings nothing new to the fray; it’s ridden with overused character tropes and a predictable storyline. There’s nothing distinctly special about Water for Elephants… but despite all of that, I found Water for Elephants enchanting and magical.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen follows Jacob Jankowski, a veterinarian student who, after losing everything he had, joins the circus, namely the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Set during the Great Depression, Jacob navigates the complex culture of the circus and also discovers a sense of purpose and also something beautiful that he cannot bring himself to stay away from.

Unlike my previous reviews, I will start this review with criticisms first. The major romance in the novel is bland but isn’t unique and, overall, feels uninspired. Although Water for Elephants is a romance novel, I would have liked Water for Elephants even more if it focused on Jacob navigating the nuances of ‘circus culture’ (for lack of a better name) or the hardships that circus and its people face, especially since it takes place during the Great Depression. Particularly with the former, when one of the circus workers explains to Jacob the vernacular – what to call the performers in their presence ‘performers’ and what to call them when the performers aren’t present ‘kinkers’ – intrigued me, and I wish Gruen developed this further and posed this as an obstacle for our main character. Nonetheless, the strong emphasis on the novel’s romance leaves it feeling stagnant at some points of the story, and eventually becomes increasingly uninteresting, especially when there are so many other aspects to this novel that could have been developed further.

Some of the characters were flat and one-dimensional, playing into character tropes and plot stereotypes. One of these characters was Marlena, which disappointed me because I enjoy interesting female characters. In saying that, Barbara, one of the performers in the circus who has no more than a few lines in the whole novel, is more interesting and three-dimensional than Marlena. August’s characterization was also disappointing, and plays into the Insane Equals Violent trope. August’s seemingly nuanced characterization falls flat when the explanation for his behaviour is easily explained by his diagnosis.

Despite the flaws in Water for Elephants – all of which I am conscious of – there was something alluring about this book. It’s not perfect – far from it – but I enjoyed it immensely. I love circuses; I remember going to my first circus and it was such a magical experience for me. Reading Water for Elephants gave me the same sort of feelings. Maybe it’s the idea of this fantastical circus that captures the hearts of its audiences but is, under the surface, dark, dangerous and terrifying was an idea that intrigued me immensely.

Though it is implicit and subtle, Water for Elephants felt like a celebration of life. Perceived through Jacob’s eyes, we too experience the beauty he perceives, the marvel and the pain. There were incidences of sex in the novel, but the sex and debauchery was not gratuitous, but were events where Jacob confronts the reality of his new life, illustrating contrasts between his life before joining the circus and the life as he knows it. This motif reoccurs throughout the book, when Jacob narrates his life in the circus, and contrasts it with his life as an elderly man in a rest home. The distinct comparison between Jacob’s life in the circus and his life as an old man illustrate the force of change and time, and no matter what we endure in life, no matter the lively, eventful life that Jacob had as the circus’s veterinarian, everyone changes and everyone ages, and life doesn’t owe you anything.

If anything though, the thing I loved the most was the elephant, Rosie. My opinion is very biased, especially since elephants are one of my favourite animals, but Rosie as a character felt so deep to me, and she wasn’t even human. The plot twist we see midway (spoiler:when we discover that Rosie is Polish and thus only understands Polish, not English, and she is not stupid after all) through the book made me laugh with such glee that I seldom experience when reading.

Above all though, Water for Elephants is profoundly melancholic. I read the ending to my sister and after we laid on our beds thinking about it and reflecting on the emotions we felt elicited by the ending. Water for Elephants has its flaws, but it was an enchanting read that satisfied me and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

Rating: 3.5/5

Book Information:

Book Name: Water for Elephants
Author: Sara Gruen
Published by: Algonquin Books
Pages: 388