Stories are teachers that entertain and inspire. We are storytellers all of us.
What a fulfilling read! All of the great world-building, layered characters, dreaming magic and political intrigue in N.K. Jemisin's The Killing Moon is back ten-fold in this deeply satisfying sequel. The Shadowed Sun, which takes place ten years later with new characters to follow, is a beautifully woven story.
The fantastic yet familiar ancient city-state setting invites you in with Jemisin's show-don't-tell style (and if you ever get lost in the lingo, there's a useful glossary in the back for reference). It's through the characters' fumblings that we discover the workings of the world. And what characters they are! Jemisin does such a good job at giving each person their own spectrum of behavior that the instinct to latch onto a so-called protagonist and put them up on a pedestal, or label a character as either a villain or a hero, is thwarted. An important reminder that people are always more than what we see on the surface, or at any given moment. It's impossible to put any of Jemisin's characters in a box, which was a little frustrating at times as a reader trying to make sense of things, but ultimately rewarding.
The explored concepts of healing, handling those judged corrupt, not to mention the various cultures' views on gender roles and emotional expression, are all artful depictions of timeless themes we can never seem to agree upon (even within ourselves). Hence Jemisin's characters continue to reconsider their seemingly unwavering opinions. Think of The Shadowed Sun as a fantasy political thriller (with some romance) that likes to shake up everyone's norms – a cue to dig deeper, keep questioning the status quo and live a little!
No doubt I'll be adding the rest of N.K. Jemisin's books to my TBR shelf!
The autobiography of world renowned French herbalist Maurice Mességué was a delightful read. An herbal apprentice myself, I was already signed on to the healing power of plants and holistic medicine, hence falling in love with his narrative was fairly seamless. But I doubt anyone with a soft spot for the underdog could resist the charm of Mr. Mességué's story.
Constantly the misunderstood outsider, from his schoolboy days stashing wild plants under his desk to facing legal hurdles amidst the mainstream medical industry, our protagonist continued to withstand disparagement. With doses of humor and heartwarming stories along the way, you'll understand the trials and wonders of being an herbalist that ring true to this day.
Laughter aids the digestion. You can eat a huge stew with your schoolmates and digest it with no bother at all, whereas you can get indigestion eating a leaf of lettuce in boring company.
I don't typically read short stories, but when offered the chance to read dystopian fiction (my fav genre) by the renowned Ursula K. Le Guin with other dystopian fans? That's already a pretty sweet deal. And the fact that it's a short story means I don't have to fret over my previously scheduled reading list. Nope, it's cutting-in-line time for this little guy. So count me in!
I don't want to spoil anything, so I'll just say that The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas didn't disappoint, and sharing interpretations of the story with a group made it 10x more enjoyable. It makes you ponder serious questions about social guilt and the cost of "happiness." Oh didactic dystopia, how I love thee.
Read the story here (and perhaps a second reading with audio here) and let me know your thoughts!
Malinda Lo over at Diversity in YA has tallied up the diversity stats for this year's Best Fiction for Young Adults (BFYA) list of 98 books chosen by the American Library Association. As you can see by the charts below, representation of authors of color and main characters of color remain "regrettably poor."
Lo also breaks down the percentage of books with LGBTQ main characters or issues and books about characters with disabilities. While BFYA has increasingly recognized stories about LGBTQ characters (12.4% of the total, more than doubling since last year), girls are consistently underrepresented (most of them are about gay boys). Then there were only four books on the list about characters with disabilities (including Sally Gardner's Maggot Moon). See the rest of the charts here.
1. Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can’t sharpen it on the plane, because you can’t take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.
2. If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type.
3. Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do.
4. If you’re using a computer, always safeguard new text with a memory stick.
5. Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.
6. Hold the reader’s attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don’t know who the reader is, so it’s like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What fascinates A will bore the pants off B.
7. You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but essentially you’re on your own. Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.
8. You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You’ve been backstage. You’ve seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a romantic relationship, unless you want to break up.
9. Don’t sit down in the middle of the woods. If you’re lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page.
10. Prayer might work. Or reading something else. Or a constant visualization of the holy grail that is the finished, published version of your resplendent book.
What a charming read! If only I had known about this series when I was in middle school. Having a heroine like Daine would've been so inspiring at an age when girls are at their most insecure.
Tamora Pierce's book is definitely targeted to a younger audience but there were many elements that I appreciated, albeit through the lens of my younger self. There's the whole communicating with horses (and I've always been a sucker for horses) and other animals, something that wouldn't seem so fantastical if society placed more value and investment in our nonverbal language skills, and if humans stopped assuming they're superior to all other creatures on earth. These are themes I ponder already, so of course Wild Magic resonated with me.
Daine's meditation practice also has me motivated to start my own daily practice. It was great how she described the typical challenges of one just learning how to meditate, like falling asleep and the weeks of diligence before noticing results. Thanks for the push!
It's also pretty sweet that, even as a 13-year-old, Daine was charged with instructing those training to be the Queen's Riders (who are in their late teens and early twenties) how to interact with their horses. Just because she's young doesn't mean she doesn't have a lot to offer. The only person who seriously doubts her is herself, a challenge we can all relate to.
I'm excited to read the rest of the series and see how Daine's character (and the author's writing) develops as our protagonist gets older. If anything, Wild Magic reinforced my youthful core and craving for adventure (not to mention my eagerness for spring to arrive so I can be out in nature and perhaps ride a horse again). Here's to staying forever young through books!
– N.K. Jemisin, the awesome science fiction & fantasy authoress
The above tweet is her response to a group of highly influential writers lamenting the rise of criticism regarding sexism and discrimination in speculative publishing. The bestselling older, heterosexual white males with significant platforms to voice their opinions feel marginalized, do they? As Jemisin puts it, the intention of the First Amendment was not about a "guy's right to be a bigoted asshole, essentially unchallenged." Her longer comment on the "SFWA shenanigans" here.
While taking a break from an enjoyable yet too-much-of-a-brain-workout-for-a-lazy-evening nonfiction book, I went for a more playful read in Jordan Sonnenblick's After Ever After (the sequel to Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie). What a great choice if I do say so myself.
Sonnenblick is the author of the month in one of my Goodreads groups, and after reading Dangerous Pie, I discovered that his target audience is more middle grade than young adult. Although it was an easy read, it did make me chuckle quite a bit. And whenever a book (or anything really) makes me laugh out loud, I take notice. When I learned that the sequel was from the point of view of the protagonist's younger brother (who was a key source of the laughter the first time around) eight years later, I knew it would be even better. And I was right.
Sonnenblick's writing was much improved and funnier than ever. At one point around page 50 or so, I simply closed the book and smiled in admiration of his cleverness. Although it deals with the serious topic of having cancer as a kid in middle school, he couldn't have addressed it in a more endearing and comical manner. There are plenty of references to Dangerous Pie but you could definitely read After Ever After as a stand alone. If that's what it would take for you to read it, then go for it.
Reproductive rights has always been a sensitive topic people love to avoid, but Neal Shusterman confronts it in such an unbelievable way it becomes accessible. The best part is how he throws in all of these key elements to the "discussion" (beyond just the black and white polarity) without making it feel political or lecture-y, with such varied opinions even among the "unwinds" about how things should be. The plot seemlessly sparks interesting questions in the midst of good ole entertainment. That's why science fiction is such an amazing genre. It sneaks in underlying themes while you're distracted by awesome characters, action sequences and, oh yeah, science fiction! No matter where you fall on the spectrum, it's worth a read (or two)!
I read James Dashner's The Maze Runner because I knew the film version was coming out in theaters in 2014. For the other book-to-movie transitions happening this year, I'm doubtful the latter can top the former (including for the upcoming The Fault in Our Stars and Divergent) since a novel's dynamic character building can often fall flat in a two-hour blockbuster. But in The Maze Runner's case, I hope it's an exception. In fact, I hope it goes above and beyond the book.
After recently reading The Age of Miracles and the Divergent series, I realized how much I truly enjoy dystopian fiction. The backdrop of a uniquely troubled world that grapples with themes still universal is intriguing. Yet how the reader perceives that world is usually offered through the lens of a protagonist that we can relate to in some way. In The Maze Runner, however, we are missing that lens because the protagonist has no memory of himself or the existing world. In fact, I struggled to get a good sense of any of the characters, except for perhaps Chuck. As a reader, who do I trust to explain the world to me?
At first, it seems an interesting route to learn everything there is to know as the character learns it, but due to the fact that all of the characters are in a similar boat (or refuse to answer questions), we are left clueless for most of the book. And when we finally reach the climax – where the reality of their troubled world is revealed – it feels rushed in a stream of information conveyed through the character's sudden memory, a source that we had not been introduced to over time (and thus lacks authenticity). By the end, key motivations remain unanswered or inadequate, at least from my point of view.
So here's hoping the movie fills in the character gaps, has a stronger build-up toward the climax, and utilizes music and visual subtleties to stir more emotional investment than I could gather during my page-turning.