Own Voice Authors, Read Women, Reviews

Review: Front Desk

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Front Desk 

by Kelly Yang

Page Number: 286

Front Desk tells the story of 10-year-old Mia Tang. Every day, Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel while her parents clean the rooms. She’s proud of her job. She loves the guests and treats them like family. When one of the guests gets into trouble with the police, it shakes Mia to her core. Her parents, meanwhile, hide immigrants in the empty rooms at night. If the mean motel owner Mr. Yao finds out, they’ll be doomed!

Rating: 5 stars

I was lucky enough to receive Front Desk to review earlier this year. However, due to formatting and not having a device that would run that format, I didn’t get to read it until recently after it was published. I have to say, this book was worth the wait.

The book is about Mia and her family who have moved to the United States from China. It tell the story of immigrants to the United States and how the American Dream is something so well known in the world, yet so unreachable when the realities of living in this country hit. Mia and her parents slept in their car for a while. They worked at a restaurant only to get fired because Mia was trying to help and broke plates. This leads to them working at a motel for Mr. Yao, someone who lies and cheats them at every turn, making it near impossible to survive. But Mia is determined to get her family their own motel, no matter what.

This book deals with a LOT of important issues. It takes place in the 90’s, but is still relevant today more than ever. It talks about how hard it is for immigrants from different countries to actually survive in the U.S. and yet they still get a bad rep for horrible reasons that aren’t actually the case. Mia and her friend Lupe talk about the fact its different even for the two of them, how Mia is seen for being Asian while Lupe herself is looked down on worse due to the fact she’s Mexican and has brown skin. It talks about racism that Lupe’s family faces and what Hank, a black man who lives at the motel, faces due to his skin color alone. When a crime is committed at Mia’s motel, she learns first hand the racism of the police and how the automatically blame Hank, who is completely innocent. She see’s the racism in other minorities such as the security guard from one of the other motels who tries to give her a list of ‘bad people’ who are all black. Mia learns and calls out these things and fights to get the list thrown out by all the businesses. It talks about how unfair the current health care system is, the idea of modern day slavery of immigrants, how not all things are what they seem, and so much more (without going into even more spoilers). But there’s also good. Mia learns what it’s like to have a community come together, what a found family is, and there is kindness out there.

I could probably go on and on about this book for a while. The writing is great and covers a lot of ground and information without it feeling like a textbook. It flows beautifully. The characters have depth, from Jason who despite having a horrible dad, is able to stand up for what’s right once he learns a bit of kindness, to Hank who is so deep and kind despite what unkindness he has faced in the world, to Mia’s mom who you assume is being hurtful to her daughter when she tells Mia she’ll never be good enough at English to expect anything from pursuing it, only for it come out that she’s talking about herself, knowing she could never help Mia with this area with her own short comings.

I have so much love for this book, so much so that I had a panic attack during the hard times and cried at the end. It’s beautiful and well written and I couldn’t give it more praise. It’s something that I think everyone should read to better understand the times we face.

 

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Own Voice Authors, Pride Month, Read Women, Reviews

Review: Hurrican Child

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Hurricane Child

by Kheryn Callender

Prepare to be swept up by this exquisite novel that reminds us that grief and love can open the world in mystical ways.

Twelve-year-old Caroline is a Hurricane Child, born on Water Island during a storm. Coming into this world during a hurricane is unlucky, and Caroline has had her share of bad luck already. She’s hated by everyone in her small school, she can see things that no one else can see, and — worst of all — her mother left home one day and never came back. With no friends and days filled with heartache, Caroline is determined to find her mother. When a new student, Kalinda, arrives, Caroline’s luck begins to turn around. Kalinda, a solemn girl from Barbados with a special smile for everyone, seems to see the things Caroline sees, too. Joined by their common gift, Kalinda agrees to help Caroline look for her mother, starting with a mysterious lady dressed in black. Soon, they discover the healing power of a close friendship between girls. Debut author Kheryn Callender presents a cadenced work of magical realism.

Rating: 4.5 stars

This book has been on my TBR list for ages. So when I was approved to read the eARC for it, I was insanely excited. Though it took me a while to get to this book, it lived up to the hype.

 

Caroline has been seeing people that aren’t there since she nearly drowned as a child. Her mother has disappeared, she’s bullied at school, and has no friends. When Kalinda comes to town, things change. The girls become friends, Caroline falls in love with the other girl, though Kalinda doesn’t feel the same way or so it seems. They are determined to find Caroline’s mother, even if she’s been taken to the spirit relam.

 

(Heads up, the next part contains spoilers that are important to explaining parts of the book)

 

This story deals with a lot of tough issues from racism, to homophobia, to mental illness. All the while seen from the eyes of a girl who is the victim to it all. Caroline has dark skin. She’s treated badly because of it. Caroline and Kalinda see a gay couple and Kalinda starts saying horrible things about them. Caroline, scared, agrees with her. But in the following days after seeing that such a thing is possible, she realizes that she feels that way about Kalinda, which she ridiculed for by other students, a teacher, and even Kalinda (for a short period of time while the other girl comes to terms that she actually feels the same way). This is all done in a good and honestly realistic way. Sadly, there are still places where this stuff happens and this book brings this to the forefront without actually making it homophobic or racist itself, by saying that isn’t okay, that people should love and be free to be themselves. It’s handled in a way that a lot of books sadly can’t seem to grasp lately. As for mental illness, we learn that Caroline’s mother suffers from depression and Caroline herself seems to as well, at a point where Caroline tries to kill herself after realizing her mother had done the same and was living on the island but hadn’t wanted contact with her due to the fact she was scared of being trigged into falling into her depression again.

This book more than anything is about growing up. We watch Caroline, a stubborn girl grow up before us in this short period of time. Caroline learns that sometimes things happen to be people that they can’t control. She learns to forgive her mother. She’s able to grow to accept that she has a step-sister and a half-sister and she no longer hates them. She’s all in all grow in a way that’s amazing and healthy.

The things I would have changed: Maybe a bit more supernatural? Caroline believes it must be out of her mother’s control not being there with her. So, she has to have been taken by the spirits. She’s able to see them after all, and so can Kalinda, as she later finds out. Kalinda seems to know a lot about spirits, but we never find out why. To me, there should be a little more to this to really account for this. Just enough to make it fit just a bit better into the story instead of how it feels slightly not fluid with this story. After all, the supernatural is part of cultures and are part of beliefs. I loved the supernatural part, it just needed maybe a few more scenes to make it feel less clunky, even if the point was to prove that not all spirits are bad and that sometimes there are real world problems that occur.

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Review: History of Wolves

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History of Wolves 

by Emily Fridlund

Fourteen-year-old Madeline lives with her parents in the beautiful, austere woods of northern Minnesota, where their nearly abandoned commune stands as a last vestige of a lost counter-culture world. Isolated at home and an outlander at school, Madeline is drawn to the enigmatic, attractive Lily and new history teacher Mr. Grierson. When Mr. Grierson is charged with possessing child pornography, the implications of his arrest deeply affect Madeline as she wrestles with her own fledgling desires and craving to belong.
And then the young Gardner family moves in across the lake and Madeline finds herself welcomed into their home as a babysitter for their little boy, Paul. It seems that her life finally has purpose but with this new sense of belonging she is also drawn into secrets she doesn’t understand. Over the course of a few days, Madeline makes a set of choices that reverberate throughout her life. As she struggles to find a way out of the sequestered world into which she was born, Madeline confronts the life-and-death consequences of the things people do—and fail to do—for the people they love

Rating: 2.5 stars

This book has been on my TBR list since it came out and started blowing up my feeds on different social media. I finally got a chance to read an ARC version of this book due my job at the library. So, thank you to the publisher for sending it to us, even if I’m late to the party.

Basically, I have such mixed feelings about this book. I’ve been struggling to explain this book to all my patrons since I picked up months ago. So, I’ll try my best to describe it here, but know I still don’t know how to go about it. Three main events in the life of the main character, Madeline. The first is about the commune that she was born into and was part of early life before it fell apart. Not much is known about it, just some fuzzy memories she has from it and the fact she’s not overly sure if her parents are even her parents or just the people left behind with her. The second is the supposed abuse of Mr. Gierson over one of his students, Lily. We see it from the outside, as Madeline lives the events of his leaving, his arrest, and the fact Lily refused to testify in court against him that he assaulted her, despite the fact he was found with child porn. The third is the summer that the Gardner family moves in across the lake from her. She starts to babysit their son, Paul. Finally, we do see peaks into her future, but there’s no huge event that it focuses on.

The writing was good. It honestly saved me from marking it DNF. Why? The events happening in the book were interesting, but we didn’t get a chance delve into these events deeply, just from the outside. It wasn’t enough to really drive and keep the story interesting. We’re left feeling empty as a reader because we don’t have answers. Does it make it feel more real life, where answers don’t actually come easy? Yes, but it’s completely realistic, but it’s completely unsatisfied as a reader. As a reader, you want something that drives these big events, but instead it sizzles out when the action happens and your left in the background needing more.

I recommend stopping here if you don’t want spoilers, but to make this easier to understand, I need to get into spoilers for the point.

 

 

Okay, that being said, the major problem was what happens with Paul. We learn of his death right before it happens. And then the event gets dragged out into the second part of the book. I went from emotional at hearing this to annoyed at how drawn out it was only to find out we don’t see it. We barely get an idea what happens to him. We don’t get the emotions of it, but annoyance at it being dragged on for ages for nothing. It left me utterly frustrated. The first two events, sure. Madeline forced herself toward doing something with Mr. Gierson which was ridiculously creepy and made me unsettled for a long time. But with Paul, we spend half of the book with him only in the most important moments of his short life, we see nothing. And Madeline doesn’t react the way she should have. Of course, this is a big part of her character. She has less emotions and it’s seen as a big part of her character’s traits throughout the book. There’s little growth in her, just her age.

The idea was there, but there wasn’t enough story to really make me love it other than be annoyed that really, we go in at the same place we leave. It becomes the full focus because there’s simply not enough for it to reach something great. I can see what people like about it. It’s gritty and talks about uncomfortable truths in life, in religion, in being human. But there isn’t enough to really get into things. We get uncomfortable peeks.

 

Reviews

Review: Pen America Best Debut Short Stories 2017

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Pen America Best Debut Short Stories 2017

by Yuka Igarashi (Editor)

Today’s most acclaimed writers all got their start when an editor encountered their work for the first time and took a chance. This anthology celebrates twelve such moments of discovery, and is the first volume of an annual collection–launched alongside PEN’s new Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers–that recognizes outstanding fiction debuts published in North America.
The dozen winning stories included here–selected this year by judges Kelly Link, Marie-Helene Bertino, and Nina McConigley–take place in South Carolina and in South Korea, on a farm in the eighteenth century and among the cubicles of a computer-engineering firm in the present day. They narrate ancient themes with current urgency: migration, memory, technology, language, love, ecology, identity, family. Together they act as a compass for contemporary literature; they tell us where we’re going.
Each work comes with an introduction by the editor who originally published it, explaining why he or she chose it. The commentaries provide insight into a process that often remains opaque to readers and aspiring writers, and offer a chance to showcase the vital work literary magazines do to nurture our boldest and most exciting new voices.

My new job has a few ARCs for us to read in our break room, so my first one I picked was this set of short stories. Which I read on my slow moments at the library. And it was a great for a first choice for the most part. All in all, I found a lot of these stories great from diverse voices, or at least my favorite ones were. This is my break down for each story and thoughts.

“Tell Me, Please” by Emily Chammah

This story was pretty great and hooked me instantly. The MC finds her cousin on Facebook and a crush of what used to be develops (yes, first cousins. Despite being ick, you have to remember the culture and the fact it seemed common for her sister married a cousin), remember their friendship as kids. It’s about the reconnecting through social media, of one-sided love, and the memory being tinted with rose colored glasses. It’s falling in love with a memory. I think we’ve all done this, remembering the past and falling in love with a person in your memory, not who they are now. It ended up being very one-sided when she meets with her cousin and see’s there’s nothing there anymore. It’s heartbreaking when you remember things as one way but it’s no longer there. We’ve all found someone from our past on facebook or other social media and wanting to reconnect, but it not actually happening. It’s a really great story, well written, and unbearably relateable.

“Goldhawk” by Katherine Magyarody

One of the shorter stories in this collection. Sadly, it starts slow and doesn’t really catch your attention until near the very end of it, at which point it’s already over. I would have loved to see more about the Main character, about her job, the hawk that the story is named after, and more in general when things started to get interesting. I believe this story was just a page or two away from being great. It’s about a woman working in a privacy company where she is a bit of mystery to her coworkers. A hawk appears at the window of her office building where people start talking about it. It becomes a bit of an obsession for her and the fact she’s sure it’s a goldhawk, which she’s told isn’t real. She is convinced it is. And that’s basically it.

“Galina” by Angela Ajayi

This is a story that deals with the nuclear fallout in Ukraine (though it doesn’t specifically say its Chernobyl) and how the Main Character’s mother refuses to leave the fall out zone and her home. It’s about a mother-daughte relationship and returning home after a long period away and watching your home become something dangerous. It’s an emotional story about the daughter leaving her husband who just happens to marry another woman without her knowledge. She returns home only to see it as poison. It’s full of omenous images and foreshadowing when it comes to swallows. On her trip she hits one of the birds, leaving a dark shadow on her that fills her with fear. It leads to her finding out an older woman had died in the zone. She becomes convinced its her mother and starts a frantic search for her, only to find her in her fields, having sprained her ankle. The swallow returns when it hits the window, which foreshadows the mother’s death after all. It’s insanely emotional and a story that I enjoyed a lot. It did everything really well and gets you caught up in the story quickly.

“1,000 Year-Old Ghosts” by Laura Chow Reeve

Another great story that has magical realism mixed into the story. It switches between the past and present, between the perspective of the grandmother and granddaughter, though is about the three generations of women in the family, even if the mother is only featured briefly. It’s about choosing to forget and choosing to remember, using jars to store memories that the grandmother chooses to forget due to a painful marriage. She only chooses to remember small details about her husband, just enough to tell her granddaughter about him. After the mother dies, the granddaughter is faced with dealing with the fact her grandmother is choosing to forget too much and is struggling to remember simple things such as who her granddaughet even is. All in all, I loved this story 10/10. It’s about family and choosing what to remember and what to forget and the effect that has on the people in your life. It’s also a story about immigrants and wanting to fit in in their new home and when you don’t and living in between your old home and your new home.

“Edwin Chase of Nantucket” by Ben Shattuck

The first story in the collection I disliked with a passion, despite it being historical fiction, which is kinda my thing. I highly recommend just skipping it due to the fact it’s drawn out and boring and doesn’t actually lead to anything. The small details of it annoyed me to no end, such as the Main Character calling his mother by her first name, almost posessive, while calling his dead dad by dad. Which was completely creepy for. Basically, it could have ended after the first paragraph or two and amounted to the same thing. His father died. Two visitors appear at their house after. The Main Character acts like his mother is possession and makes her business his with zero right to it. The story is very much a story written by a man who isn’t trying to be creepy, but completely is and makes any woman creeped out by the way he talks about women.

“A Message” by Ruth Serven

The idea for this story was interesting, but completely confusing that now I can’t fully remember the plot after finishing the whole book, nor do my notes actually seem to know either. But I do know it’s all written in notes to someone, about family and trying to find it and how a friend takes a step to helping her friend find her father, even if that friend isn’t sure she wants to meet him. It’s not overly clear if it’s one person telling the story in the notes or two. At times it felt like two perspectives, but it might have been one person telling about another person’s perspective. I really wish this one had been clearer.

“The Handler” by Amber Caron

This is a story about a young woman who leaves her old life behind and her fiance after a fight. She ends up in New Hampshire working as a carer for a known dogsledder’s dogs. She doesn’t let go of her old life, but still writes her ex letters, begging him to visit. She meets her boss’s daughter, who happens to be deaf. There’s known hostility from the daughter, who wants to be the one her dad takes to Alaska for his next race, but it’s known the MC will be. So she tricks the MC into going sledding with her, using her dad’s team. It’s then that they’re attacked by a moose who ends up killing the head dog and injuring the others and the daughter. It’s from there that hatred melts to a sort of friendship between the girls due to the fact her dad is mad and wont talk to her. Neither end up going to Alaska with him, which leads the daughter more determined to get her team ready to go next year, with the MC as her Handler. It’s a story about lost love and lost purpose, but finding it again in a new form. It was really well written and I was surprised how much I enjoyed this one, which I wasn’t sure I did. Honestly, I wish there had been more and to see more growth between characters.

“The Manual Alphabet” by Samuel Clare Knights

The idea of this one is amazing. It adds actual sign lanuage to the story in pictures through the story, replacing words. But the story itself was confusing and didn’t make sense unless you read the short about before it, even then it doesn’t actually help this story be good or make sense. It’s about a family with two deaf parents and their hearing son and other siblings. Which the story doesn’t make clear. You know someone is deaf, just not who. I assumed it was the Main Character seeing as it says teacher assumed he might be deaf too or mute. Which he wasn’t, just quiet. It uses way too flowery of descriptions to the point of making zero sense. Yes. This is another story that calls the parents by their first names, breaking the flow completely and just making me cringe through it all. In all honesty, there was no story to me. It’s supposedly supposed to blend from the MC being the focus and becoming the parents, from the about, which makes zero sense. Another one to skip.

“State Facts For The New Age” by Amy Sauber

This one gave me total ‘ughhhhh’ face. AKA I could not like the Main Character no matter how hard I tried. My first comment on this story was actually about that. And my second… Looking back, I can’t remember too much about this one, other than the fact the Main Character has an emotional break down in front of her class. While sort of being horrible to said students. I know she takes a leave from work and gets a card from said students telling her to feel better. And that’s basically all I remember. The story was hard to get invested in. Bad characters can be a fun idea to read, but in this case, the MC was just a bad person who talked trash about her students and tried to backpeddle in just as bad of a way, then breaksdown herself. At which point I didn’t feel the slightest thing about. There’s no real growth in the character. She goes from horrible, to breakdown, to magically ‘getting better’ when she gets the card. Personally, not my favorite story and I was kinda happy when it was done.

“The Asphodel Meadow” by Jim Cole

Basically, this can be summed up as a sex scene. And not a good one. The story makes little to no sense. It reads from the perspective of the so called husband of the female character, watching her and some man go off on a hike. You get flashbacks to their honeymoon where she disappears basically because she got a phone call from a publisher. In. The. Middle. Of. A. Forest. And no, it wasn’t a cell phone, but a phone of a park ranger. It doesn’t tell how the husband is seeing this drawn out move toward sex in the middle of a forest, just that he does. At first, I was sure this was going to end in a murder, due to a lot of symbols of death such as praying mantisis, which eat their mates (it came up in the story, shocking). But it doesn’t. Which was probably the biggest disappointment of the story. It ends with them having sex, freezing in the middle due to a very insistent helocopter flying over them like three times, continuing having sex, and that’s it. Does it mean the husband was killed? Maybe. But it was far from clear or even vague enough to see from reading it. What made things worse was that the author added a lot of over descriptions to things, which made reading it more frustarting, in part because it was dragging it out. Another skip unless this oddly sounds like your thing?

“Solee” by Crystal Hana Kim

This story basically saved the end of the book for me. I loved this story and almost wish it had been a full on book. And I still wish this. It’s a story that takes place in Korea (it isn’t clear which one, but it’s assumed to be country side South Korea), and its about first love, a secret love, an unhappy marriage, and watching it all unfold with young eyes that don’t fully know how to grasp this situation or figure out what to think of it. In summary, the “Uncle” of the MC comes to visit her family. She soon develops a crush on him, but as a reader, we can see what is happening that her young eyes don’t fully understand. The uncle is in love with her mother, who also has loved him. It points to the fact he introduced her to her now husband, which she married. The issue, her and her husband don’t get along. The MC often talks about their fighting. And that’s what happens one night. A horrible fight that drives the uncle away again. Unlike the others I won’t spoil this one for you because honestly, just need to read it. It’s sad but lovely and so well written. The end is frustrating but far too real. 10/10 still waiting for a full length book. EDIT: OMG I JUST LOOKED AND SHE HAS A BOOK COMING OUT AND I HAVE AN ARC FOR IT. EXCUSE ME, THIS IS MY NEXT READ.

“A Modern Marriage” by Grace Oluseyi

This collection really saved the best two for last. This is another really great piece that I enjoyed due to the depth of this story and how one can relate to the situation despite the fact most of us aren’t in this situation, but is something we could possibly consider if forced to make that choice. The Main Character is home before her wedding day when the phone rings. It’s her cousin. Who tells her the man she’s due to marry is already married back there, with kids, that he’s using her for a green card. In which the MC hangs up the phone. And we go back to how they met, how they fell in love, and what led to the wedding. Which takes place despite this news. And man, is this good. It’s done out with full drama and grey areas, leaving you as a reader unsure what to think until the end. Something I love about this is the fact the MC might have a learning disability, but her parents never let her get tested or help for it due to a view that it’s bad. As someone with one, I can understand just how she felt and the fact she fought to graduate high school, even late. As someone who’s family doesn’t let me often mention my own and refuses to see it for what it is, a disability, it was extremely relatable and made me love her more. To the end, the MC is conflicted, and so is the reader. One second she seems almost happy about the marriage, only to wonder if the driver feels like he’s alone in a cage, which almost reflects on where her thoughts corrently are. A must read from this collection 10/10.

 

Own Voice Authors, Read Women, Reviews

Review: Trail of Lightning

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Trail of Lightning

by Rebecca Roanhorse

While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters.

Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last—and best—hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much larger and more terrifying than anything she could imagine.

Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel to the rez to unravel clues from ancient legends, trade favors with tricksters, and battle dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology.

As Maggie discovers the truth behind the disappearances, she will have to confront her past—if she wants to survive.

Welcome to the Sixth World.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (and 5x 💜)

 

Part fantasy, part dystopian novel, this book brings these genres into a new light and giving us something we haven’t read it based on Native American history and beliefs. The world has been just about destroyed by global warming and Native Tribes have once again taken back whats left of the United States, now known as Dinétah. The novel is heavy with Native American terms, history, beliefs, and more. Which is what brings a new level to this genre and makes an exciting read that’s near impossible to put down. Maggie, the main character, is strong, fierce, and admits she’s no hero. She drives the story and keeps things from ever getting slow. She drives the pace for the fact she can’t seem to slow down. She faces off with monsters and gods, making friends and enemies (a lot of enemies) on the way.

I loved every second of this. I had seen the hype for it on twitter and was extremely interested so I added it to my edelweiss, where the publisher then contacted me to tell me I could get it on Netgalley, after a struggle of trying to get it for a week on Edelweiss. I basically stopped reading everything for this book. And I have zero regrets about it. It probably renewed a love for more Urban-esq Fantasies and even Dystopian worlds. It’s so unlike any book I’ve read and in part, it’s because of how the author drew from her culture. I have a basic knowledge of some Native American tribes and history in part because I’ve taken classes at my college, but I admit, I didn’t know a lot fo the things mentioned in the story or locations until after (it just happens this week we’re learning about one of the big locations in the book). It’s why I’m saying this now: don’t let that scare you away from the story if you don’t know. Take time to read this and use google if you need to. Learn about another culture through this amazing book. The book isn’t written for most of us, but it doesn’t mean you can’t sit down and try it and enjoy it like I did. Which I’m happy I did, it’s joined the group of one of my all time favourite reads.

Maggie as a character is similar to a lot of dystopian female characters, the difference, she’s hard and fierce because she was raised that way by gods. She learned to hunter monsters because of who took her in and due to her clan powers. She actually has a blood lust built into her. But she’s leveled out by Kai, a man she meets who’s a medicine man who doesn’t believe in violence and tries to tell Maggie that there are other ways of going about different then she always has. Kai is a balancing force while also one new to the area, having lived outside of Dinétah, though still knows a lot more then a lot of readers might being Native himself. There are characters who aren’t Native, we meet a mixed race family later in the book who is African American and white. And of course, there are plenty of gods running around this story.

Why this book matters: it was written by a Native American author who draws on their own culture in a way a lot of people outside of it might not know. They avoided the normal Native stereotypes that white people have branded them with while a the same time using those familiar ideas and twisting them to the correct way. There are Medicine Men, Monster Hunters, Warriors, Outlaws, and simple people just trying to survive.

Do I recommend? Uh, yeah. If you haven’t really been paying attention, I’m basically yelling that you should preorder this now and learn about a culture that deserves to be heard. This story and series is my new everything.

 

Read Women, Reviews

Review: Blood Water Paint

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Blood Water Paint

by Joy McCullough

Expected Release Date: March 6th 2018

Pages: 304

Rating: 5 stars

Her mother died when she was twelve, and suddenly Artemisia Gentileschi had a stark choice: a life as a nun in a convent or a life grinding pigment for her father’s paint.

She chose paint.

By the time she was seventeen, Artemisia did more than grind pigment. She was one of Rome’s most talented painters, even if no one knew her name. But Rome in 1610 was a city where men took what they wanted from women, and in the aftermath of rape Artemisia faced another terrible choice: a life of silence or a life of truth, no matter the cost.

He will not consume
my every thought.
I am a painter.
I will paint.

Joy McCullough’s bold novel in verse is a portrait of an artist as a young woman, filled with the soaring highs of creative inspiration and the devastating setbacks of a system built to break her. McCullough weaves Artemisia’s heartbreaking story with the stories of the ancient heroines, Susanna and Judith, who become not only the subjects of two of Artemisia’s most famous paintings but sources of strength as she battles to paint a woman’s timeless truth in the face of unspeakable and all-too-familiar violence.

I will show you
what a woman can do.

I first heard about this book from a friend of mine who got an early look of it on twitter. Then another blogger read it and was gushing about it. It moved to the top of my list of books I wanted to read, even before I found out it was about an artist I had read about on twitter who’s story was something I was desperate to read more about. Not only did I get that in this novel, but I got it done in beautiful prose writing that made the read quick and addictive.

The story is about Artemisia Gentileschi, a female artist who painted biblical scenes unlike they had been painted before in her time. She depicted them realistically, not shying away from showing blood on these women and what was possibly their true feelings. All of this was done when she herself was forced to live parts of these tales herself when a friend of her fathers sets to teaching her techniques of painting, done in hopes that her father would get a commission he had always wanted. What started out as girlish flirting and love turned to her own nightmare as her life becomes one of the tales that her mother would tell her. But instead of allowing these things to just happen, she fights back by taking him to court, something nearly never done in this time period.

To me, writing in prose just added a new level to this story, making the reader feel the emotions of Artemisia and the pain of her experience. Prose allows emotion to be better seen and felt, though it can be known to take away from the story. Sometimes I wished that it would have focused on certain events a bit more, had a little more depth to help our understanding, but these moments didn’t happen too often, though happened a lot more toward the end. I might end up doing my own research to better understand some of it, not being fully aware of the stories of Judith and Susanna other than what was said in this book.

The character growth in this book is done extremely well. Artemisia starts out as a girl who’s desperate for love and to get out from under her abusive father’s finger. But she turns into a fighter, something harder. Her father shows a lot of growth too when faced with what happens to his daughter at the hands of a man he had welcomed into his home.

The plot follows the events of what happened in Artemisia’s life, a real artist who’s paintings are still well known today. Due to this, I can’t exactly speak on it or critique it. But it did move at a good pace and didn’t feel overly slow.

I highly recommend this read, though I warn there are a lot of triggers in this story such as sexual assault, rape, abuse, blood, drinking, torture, and murder. It’s something to be aware of and makes up most of the story.

Own Voice Authors, Read Women, Reviews

Review: Love, Hate, and Other Filters

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 Love, Hate & Other Filters

by Samira Ahmed

A searing #OwnVoices coming-of-age debut in which an Indian-American Muslim teen confronts Islamophobia and a reality she can neither explain nor escape–perfect for fans of Angie Thomas, Jacqueline Woodson, and Adam Silvera.
American-born seventeen-year-old Maya Aziz is torn between worlds. There’s the proper one her parents expect for their good Indian daughter: attending a college close to their suburban Chicago home, and being paired off with an older Muslim boy her mom deems “suitable.” And then there is the world of her dreams: going to film school and living in New York City—and maybe (just maybe) pursuing a boy she’s known from afar since grade school, a boy who’s finally falling into her orbit at school.
There’s also the real world, beyond Maya’s control. In the aftermath of a horrific crime perpetrated hundreds of miles away, her life is turned upside down. The community she’s known since birth becomes unrecognizable; neighbors and classmates alike are consumed with fear, bigotry, and hatred. Ultimately, Maya must find the strength within to determine where she truly belongs.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

 

My first review on here for the year and it was definitely worth the wait. This own voice story is already my favourite read so far this year and we’re only almost done Januaray now.

This story is about Maya, an Indian Muslim teen living in white suburbia, being the only brown person in town besides her parents. The title tells you exactly what to expect from this story, Maya finds love in different forms, finds hate in different forms, and moving past traumatic experiences. Maya finds love of a friendship of a fellow Muslim Indian, who her parents would have loved for her to date, but it didn’t work that way. She finds love in a boy named Phil who seems to like her, but walls get put in their way when a terrorist attack occurs in their state, leaving Maya and her family threatened and even attacked. But Maya manages it all as the strong young woman she is, an insane amount of character growth left in her wake.

This book does something that isn’t done too often. It tells the story of Maya but at the end of each chapter talks about the coming terrorist attack. It’s done in both first person and third person, giving the read a whole new perspective of the read.

The writing in this story was drop dead amazing. I fell with Maya in swoony dreams over the boys she crushes on (despite not liking boys myself, it was simply impossible not to get caught up in her own emotions), the real fear after such traumatic events, leaving me with a number of panic attacks as some of you know. However, that in itself is good. I would hope a book that dealt with tough issues would cause the reader to panic with the main character, to feel all their feelings. And in the world we live in today, a lot of us still have trauma from these sort of events that it’s hard not to let these emotions coming rushing from you. Not only that, but much as other books that deal with tough family situations that leave children in a tough disiciouson, without any spoilers, I felt for Maya at the end of the book, having to face such a choice myself with my own father. For someone who also faced such a reality, it isn’t easy, but I do believe she made the right choice for her, even if her parents couldn’t agree.

Would I recommend? 100%. Go get this book. Read it, love it. Come back here and gush about it for me.

What do you guys think of books that deal with tough issues that we deal with so often such as bigotry, islamaphobia, racism, terrorism, and more? What are some of your favourite own voice stories you’ve read so far?

Own Voice Authors, Read Women, Reviews

The Poet X

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The Poet X

by Elizabeth Acevedo

A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.
Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.
But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.
So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.
Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

I really loved this book. It lived up to all the hype it’s gotten since it’s announcement and I’m so thankful I was able to read it. Xiomara is a first generation American who is trying to balance her life as such the best she can. Her family is from the Dominican Republic and her mother is extremely religious, only having married her husband to get to America. She tries to force these beliefs on Xiomara and her twin brother. But Xio is finding herself and questioning the things she’s known all her life. She does so through poetry and is able to find her voice in it. But this doesn’t come without hardships and cruelty when her mother finds out she’s dating a boy and about the poems themselves.

The writing in this book is simply beautiful. It’s done through poetry as Xio tells us the events that are some of her hardest to deal with. It makes these events more personal and brings you closer to her as a character. Though this book is something that is more focused on other first generation Americans that have to deal with finding a balance between their culture and the world they live in, I think a lot of people can still relate to different parts of this, such as questioning things your told to believe such as God and different things such as rules set by parents at this age.

I do warn that there is a lot of difficult subjects in this book such as abuse, sexual harassment and assault, sex, and a little bit about drugs. Sadly it’s something that a lot of people have to face, more so now it seems then ever. I think this book handled it well though and more than once I couldn’t help thinking how important this book is on subjects that are currently in the focal point of our news.

I highly recommend this book. It might not be for you, but it’s not written for you. This book is for all the first generation teens and adults out there. It’s about culture and finding balance. Even if it isn’t for you, I recommend it to better understand such issues people face.

Rating: 5 stars

Own Voice Authors, Read Women, Reviews

You Bring the Distant Near

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You Bring the Distant Near

by Mitali Perkins

Five girls. Three generations. One great American love story. You Bring the Distant Near explores sisterhood, first loves, friendship, and the inheritance of culture–for better or worse. Ranee, worried that her children are losing their Indian culture; Sonia, wrapped up in a forbidden biracial love affair; Tara, seeking the limelight to hide her true self; Shanti, desperately trying to make peace in the family; Anna, fighting to preserve Bengal tigers and her Bengali identity–award-winning author Mitali Perkins weaves together a sweeping story of five women at once intimately relatable and yet entirely new.

I really loved this book. It takes place over 2 generations, first through the 70’s then through early 2000’s, with a bit of their mother/grandmother thrown in to break up the two generations. It’s a lovely story about Indian immigrants who move from London to the US. They simply try to survive, but when their father dies, the women of the family break from tradition. Sonia marries an African American that her mother doesn’t approve of while Tara marries the man that her family was trying to arrange a marriage for the two of them, but because she fell for him. Instead of letting male family members honor their father, they do, Sonia cutting off her hair while Tara returns her father’s ashes to where he was born. We then skip to their daughters growing up, Chantel learning what it means to be Bangali and African American and Anna what it means to live in her cousin’s shadow and learning that she can still be American and Bangali. But the biggest growth in this book comes from Ranee Das, the matriarch of the family. She goes from being a negative and racist character to one that accepts anyone that loves her girls to becoming American herself. It’s a lovely transformation that leaves you proud of her and rooting that she gets a happy ending herself.

The writing in this book is lovely. I probably read most of the book in one night because it became near impossible to put it down. The characters are interesting and realistic and completely their own persons. With so many people and so many generations, you might worry they would all start to blend together, but they don’t. The only thing I wish was different is that we got a small window into Tara’s life as an adult like we did Sonia. But Tara’s story stops being about American, where this story focuses on the American side of it.

This story is perfect for today. It talks about issues we’re still facing in 2017 from racism to immigration to trying to find where you are in this world and who you are. There simply was no one better than the Das women to tell this story.

I highly recommend this book. In a time like now, we need stories like this desperately as a reminder what America truly is supposed to be, not what its current state is.

Rating: 5 stars

Read Women, Reviews

American Panda

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American Panda

by Gloria Chao

An incisive, laugh-out-loud contemporary debut about a Taiwanese-American teen whose parents want her to be a doctor and marry a Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer despite her germophobia and crush on a Japanese classmate.
At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents’ master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.
With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can’t bring herself to tell them the truth–that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.
But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?

American Panda is about Mei Lu in her first year at MIT, only 17 years old after skipping a year. Living with the weight of her parents planned out future for her, she finds herself confronting hard truths such as the fact due to her germaphobia being a doctor might not be in her future after all and how her parents handle this fact, or really, lack of handling it in the same way they had with her older brother Xing.

American Panda is probably one of my favourite books I’ve read this year (Yeah yeah I know I say that every time, but it’s true!). It handles a lot of difficult issues that aren’t always discussed and does it in a fashion that’s realistic. Some issues including racism within Asian communities, disownment, germaphobia, not living up to parents expectations, and being the person you really are. Mei as a character is shy but extremely sassy when pressed. Honestly, I fell in love with her soon after starting the book and it only grew the more I read about her. She’s brave and brutally honest when she needs to be the most but is also sweet enough to stand up for people, even complete strangers.

Every relationship in this book in all honesty is handled well and with care, even characters that are more off to the side are fleshed out and brought to life. I’m not always the biggest fan of straight relationships, but the one between Mei and Darren is so sweet you will get cavities. It’s done in a way that’s sweet but real, Mei worrying that her family might lead to Darren hurt from everything she had witnessed with Xing and his girlfriend Esther. The relationship with Xing and Mei is the perfect example of siblings with a big age gap between them, something I know well with my older brother being 10 years older then I am. It reminded me of my brother and myself a lot and it hit me with happiness to see our relationship mirrored in this book.

I could go on forever about this book, but I’m gonna keep away from too many spoilers, just the hints of issues that occurred in the book that leads the plot, as mentioned above. All I’ll say is my life mirrored Mei’s in a lot of ways. One event in particular was almost dead on for what happened after I came out with my dad’s side of the family. All I’ll say is, I’m happy Mei went, even if it led to a huge fight with her family, it gave her the chance to grieve properly, which I sadly never got to chance to do myself.

I highly recommend this book. Its the right amount of sweet and adorable with real life issues that happen to people throughout life and it’s handled beautifully. Also, hot chocolate wins every day.

Rating: 5 stars