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angpent

Angel's Book Reviews 2.0

I already have a Goodreads account and a Tumblr book blog. I'm still not sure how I could use this platform fully, so, until further notice, this will be just backup, nothing more.

How To Be A Heroine - Samantha Ellis

95. HOW TO BE A HEROINE, BY SAMANTHA ELLIS

Recommended by Milton, and yes, yet again, I’m apologizing. I do appreciate the recommendation, but I’m a fiction gal through-and-through. I almost never read nonfiction, and when I do, it’s usually about science.

I’ll keep this book in mind, though, and will probably give it another shot in the future, when the planets align in the correct position.

Up next: Tender Morsels, by Margo Lanagan

The Poison Master - Liz Williams

94. THE POISON MASTER, BY LIZ WILLIAMS

Recommended by Miriam for its great world building. She warned me that there were stuff I wouldn’t like about the characters, though. She was right.

 

Synopsis: Alivet lives on Latent Emanation, a planet where humans are slaves to the Lords of Night. She’s an apprentice alchemist, and is planning to save up enough so she can buy her twin sister from “embonding”, but when one of her rich clients die, she’s forced to seek the help of stranger.

 

Overall enjoyment: Welp. There were some really nice things. There were some very bad things. Mostly, and I’m going to have to caps it, THERE SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN ROMANCE IN THIS BOOK. The romance with Ghairen was bizarre and grotesque, and it should never have been written. Other than that, it was fine.

 

Plot: I liked how she tells the story of Alivet in parallel with John Dee, showing how Latent Emanation came to be in the first place. It integrates the world building with the main plot without making it over-descriptive and boring. The intrigue and mystery part was also nicely done. The only thing that sucked was the romance. It comes out of nowhere, it’s badly developed, and has a nonsensical conclusion.

 

Characters: Up to a point, they were nicely done. Alivet is capable without being super-human, resourceful without being unrealistic, courageous without being stupid. Once again, the only bad part was the romance. It seemed like Alivet had a double personality: one who went through the story, and another whose sole purpose was to get horny whenever Ghairen was around. Her reactions to him were so out of character and artificial, one way this book could be fixed is if someone went through the text simply deleting all those passages. They are completely unconnected to the rest, have no part whatsoever on their character development, and would probably not be missed by anyone (much less the characters themselves).

 

World/setting: The main part, the one everyone who reads this book compliments. It is, indeed, quite a nice piece of world building. She mixes science-fiction with alchemy and fantasy, and a bit of religion for good measure. Some aspects could have been more explained, or better exploited (I would have liked to know more about the native races of those other worlds, for instance), but that would have been a plus, not a necessity. 

 

Writing style: WHY DID THERE HAVE TO BE ROMANCE IN THIS?? My honest theory is that Liz had already finished writing her book, but when she tried to submit it for publication, someone (maybe the editor) told her she absolutely HAD to have romance in it, since it’s YA. So she went back and tried to see where she could shove some kind of romance. Maybe she thought about Alivet and Ghairen’s daughter, but decided against it. Finally, she decided it had to be Alivet and Ghairen, and then tried to make it happen, but she was already in love with the original story, so she didn’t want to change anything. That is the most likely explanation for how bizarre those romance passages are… On the other passages, though, the writing is pleasant and straightforward. 

 

Representation: There isn’t much… There are aliens, though.

 

Political correctness: Again, WHAT THE HELL WAS GOING ON WITH THAT ROMANCE?? It was all kinds of crappy. He’s domineering, over-controlling, he locks her up on her room at night, and actually shackles her to him once. He doesn’t trust her, or tells her anything. Oh, yeah, also, SHE’S 16 AND HE’S OVER 40!! And don’t tell me that his species experiences time differently, HE HAS A DAUGHTER WHO’S ONLY ONE OR TWO YEARS YOUNGER THAN ALIVET HERSELF. That’s just disgusting. Speaking of disgusting, the very first time that they kind of get it on ALIVET BELIEVES HE IS RAPING HIS DAUGHTER. Really. For serious. Because, of course, there is nothing like a child molester to get a girl’s juices flowing, am I right, ladies?

 

Up next: How to Be a Heroine, by Samantha Ellis

The Salt Roads

The Salt Roads - Nalo Hopkinson 93. THE SALT ROADS, BY NALO HOPKINSON

Recommended by Carlos. Not what I was expecting, and a somewhat unusual book.

Synopsis: Ezili, something like a small goddess, who can travel through space and time, experiences life within the spirits of three women: Mer, a plantation slave in Haiti, Jeanne Duval, Baudelaire’s mistress, and Thais, a prostitute in Alexandria who later became a saint. Their lives are intertwined by their yearning, their fears, and their hopes.

Overall enjoyment: It was a very delicate and sensitive read. I enjoyed it a lot.

Plot: Ezili’s thread, that connects the three stories, isn’t much of a story in itself, but that’s not a bad thing. Rather, it adds some urgency and commentary to the lives of these other women. The only problem I had with the book’s structure is that Thais’ thread is added very late on the book, when Mer’s and Jeanne’s stories are more than halfway through, and that causes a bit of a distancing. I wasn’t ready for a major character to appear then. It kind of makes sense when you consider Ezili’s story by itself, since she ends with Thais, but, like I said, Ezili doesn’t feel like the main character here.

Characters: The three of them are delightful and well developed. They are somewhat similar, but that only puts more emphasis on their differences.

World/setting: It’s quite well made for the three stories. They are helped by the contrast between them, of course, but there is a noticeable change in atmosphere along with the stories.

Writing style: Quite enjoyable and very fluid.

Representation: The three women are dark-skinned, and none of them are straight.

Political correctness: This is basically an ode to the lives of women in difficult situations. It is very poetically done, and very effective.

Up next: The Poison Master, by Liz Williams

Who Fears Death

Who Fears Death - Nnedi Okorafor 92. WHO FEARS DEATH, BY NNEDI OKORAFOR

Recommended by Nina. Not my first Nnedi Okorafor book, I’ve previously read Zahrah the Windseeker. Unfortunately, I didn’t like this one as much... I do appreciate the recommendation, though.

Synopsis: In a post-apocalyptic Africa, the dominant religion follows the Great Book. It says the Okeke are a decrepit and evil race, and the Nuru are the chosen people; they have a divine duty to enslave and exterminate all the Okeke. Onyesonwu is the result of a Nuru man raping her Okeke mother, and her sand-colored eyes and skin proclaim it for anyone who looks at her. Soon she discovers she has powers beyond her understanding, and a fate that will change the whole world.

Overall enjoyment: I can’t even say what, exactly, was it that I didn’t like about it. I’m tending towards saying it was her writing style, but I know it wasn’t that. Or, it wasn’t just that. The whole book felt very rushed and poorly developed, as if she was making it up as she went along. Things are very sudden and disconnected. And the writing style didn’t help, either...

Plot: There is a very clear plot: Onye wants to be accepted, kind of manages it, discovers she has powers, wants to be trained, succeeds, discovers she has a destiny, goes out on a quest to fulfill it. It is not a bad plot, it’s better than many, but, like I said, it’s a bit disconnected. There isn’t a fluid transition from one objective to the next, it’s almost like episodes happening one after the other.

Characters: They are well-developed enough, I suppose. I really didn’t like Mwita, but that wasn’t because we was a badly-written character.

World/setting: I did like it. Maybe a map would have made things clearer, but I’m still very attracted to the idea of a post-apocalyptic Africa. I believe, from what she says, that it’s more specifically a post-apocalyptic Congo, she doesn’t roam the entire African continent. Still, I didn’t really get the idea that it was that much post-apocalyptic... I admit my ignorance, I don’t know what Congo is supposed to look like right now, but Onye is very rarely confronted with signs of civilization after it’s been destructed. Except for one scene or two, the story could have been set in a more ancient Africa (or Congo), when there weren’t cities.

Writing style: This was the other thing that bothered me. It doesn’t flow. It doesn’t feel like a text, it feels like a bunch of phrases put together. It’s not always like this, there are parts that flow together, but they end up feeling like separate episodes instead of parts of a bigger story.

Representation: It is a metaphor for racial oppression, so this representation is very adequate.

Political correctness: It’s hard to say. I think another problem I had with this book is that it tries to do too much and ends up getting lost in the middle. Onye is supposed to be strong and liberated, but the way Mwita treats her is disgusting, and she sees nothing wrong with that. The girls are castrated, but then Onye magically makes their clitorises grow back (while being horrified with the very idea of touching their vulvae). She tries to discuss race, skin color, and oppression based on it, but apparently her solution to it is to kill everyone on both sides. (Well, all the men. And make all the women pregnant. As if those women wouldn’t teach their children the same values they were taught before. Go figure.) It’s very messy and confusing, and a bit preachy.

Up next: The Salt Roads, by Nalo Hopkinson

Sadie the Sadist: X-tremely Black Humor

Sadie the Sadist: X-tremely Black Humor - Zané Sachs 91. SADIE THE SADIST, BY ZANÉ SACHS

Recommended by my bestie, Eliane. They say good friendships are based on shared inappropriate humor and twisted common interests; how true is that in our case. This book is very heavy and gory, though, even if it is presented in the most delightful black humor form, so trigger warning for all kinds of stuff (murder, gore, rape, sex, kink, golden shower, poison, disgusting stuff, weird food, etc.)

Synopsis: Sadie is a minimum-wage worker at a supermarket. Tired of all the shit that comes with her job description, she taps into her alter-ego, Sadie the Sadist, and starts venting her frustration.

Overall enjoyment: I liked American Psycho when I first read it (and so did Eliane, btw), although I have to admit that some of this was due to my eagerness to impress other people at the time (I was 14). It’s pretty much impossible not to compare this book with it, so that’s probably what I’ll be doing throughout this review (I believe that was what she was going for, anyway; she even describes Sadie’s running shoes in a suspiciously familiar way sometimes). Starting now, I’d say I liked it a lot more. It’s much more well-rounded, and does not entirely rely on shock value (but there is a lot of it). Sadie is a much better character, and a lot more likable/relatable than Patrick ever was.

Plot: It is quite well constructed, and a lot more complex than American Psycho. And it’s actually foreshadowed, as opposed to “SURPRISE! Bet you thought he actually did all those things, didn’t you? Well, he was delusional all the time!” But she doesn’t give it away; you discover it piece by piece, and you’re still left with some questions after the ending. And Sadie has very clear motivation (it’s always good to make it clear: there is no excuse for murder, but it’s still nice for the characters to have some motive).

Characters: Sadie is amazing. She’s so complex and well written. I kept having chills while I was reading, she felt incredibly real. She would have been a great character on her own right, but when you compare her to the privileged ax-wielding blank space that is Patrick (from American Psycho, in case you couldn’t tell), she positively shines.

World/setting: Working in retail sucks. Working in large-scale retail sucks even worse. Sadie works in a huge supermarket, and she’s at the very bottom of the chain. The atmosphere of frustration and exploitation is oppressive throughout the story, perfectly constructed and delivered.

Writing style: Such sarcasm and black humor it will make you giggle and feel guilty for it afterwards. She even gives you fucking recipes, man. I can’t get over this book.

Representation: The only true character here is Sadie, everyone else are basically puppets that come in and out of play when required.

Political correctness: This is an interesting category. Given the overall theme of the book, it is exactly what most people would call “politically incorrect”. But, thinking about it, I actually have to disagree. There is a lot of very black humor, yes, and lots of gore, and some very heavy subjects being treated in a very weird way, but, unless you’re triggered by those in themselves, it’s actually not offensive. Sadie is a superbly complex character, and it’s clear you’re seeing everything through her eyes.

Up next: Who Fears Death, by Nnedi Okorafor

How to Be a Woman

How to Be a Woman - Caitlin Moran 90. HOW TO BE A WOMAN, BY CAITLIN MORAN

Recommended by Laura.

Once again, I’ll just have to beg forgiveness. I’m just not in the right set of mind to read this book. It looks fascinating, and I’ll probably give it another try in the future, but fiction is my one true passion.

I found myself suspiciously avoiding my Kindle, finding excuses to leave it behind and dreading the idea of picking it up. For me to enjoy nonfiction, many factors have to be at an optimum, and if the planets are not all aligned I just can’t get through it. I do appreciate the recommendation, though, and I’ll definitely give it another shot when I think I’ll be able to enjoy it.

Up next: Sadie the Sadist, by Zané Sachs

The Invention of Wings: A Novel

The Invention of Wings: A Novel - Sue Monk Kidd 89. THE INVENTION OF WINGS, BY SUE MONK KIDD

I’ll admit: I wasn’t really attracted to the idea of reading this book, mainly because of the Oprah’s Book Club thing. Yes, so very snobbish of me, and I’m glad I managed to get over it. I’m not sure even why the Oprah’s Book Club would have been a bad thing in my mind, except maybe for some strange and hidden hipster tendency telling me that that made the book “too mainstream”. In any case, my mom recommended this, and I quite enjoyed it.

Synopsis: The book tells the story of Sarah Grimke, who, along with her sister Angelina, was a noted abolitionist/feminist at the beginning of the movement. It also follows Hettie, or “Handful”, a house slave to Sarah’s family who yearns for freedom.

Overall enjoyment: Like I said, I was surprised by how much I liked it, though my initially low expectations were mostly due to my own prejudices. Even the commentary offered wasn’t bad, and it was quite insightful at times.

Plot: Telling Hettie’s and her mom’s story was an interesting choice. She’s not exactly a historical personage, since, according to the historical note, she died when Sarah was still a child, but her side expanded the significance of the plot. It also made it possible for the book to kind of avoid the old “white savior” trope, where people try to talk about civil rights by only showing how the “good white people” fought against the “bad white people” to give minorities their rights. On the other hand, she could have done that easily by choosing a real historical figure for this counterpoint, even if this figure wasn’t directly connected to Sarah.

Characters: They are well constructed and well rounded, but, in many cases, I was left with the impression that she was “sanitizing” their political stances, so their views would be more acceptable to a modern audience.

World/setting: Again, it feels somewhat sanitized. The portrayal of the time is good enough (at least for me) in the general populace, but the main characters have views and opinions that, as far as I know, are way too modern and revolutionary for their time.

Writing style: Quite fluid and pleasant to read.

Representation: She is very inclusive, even with the historical figures, but I still think she should have chosen a real person to execute Hettie’s function instead of inventing one.

Political correctness: I already mentioned Hettie being fictional twice, so I won’t again. However, going back to the “sanitized” thing, she hides a lot of the polemic and ugliness involved in the split between abolitionists and feminists. That was still the infancy of both movements, and the society in which they were inserted was incredibly repressive, violent, and exclusionary. At that time, the abolitionist movement was profoundly misogynistic, and the feminist movement was extremely racist. She brushes over this part, and makes it sound a lot better than it actually was.

Up next: How to Be a Woman, by Caitlin Moran

Lolly Willowes

Lolly Willowes - Sylvia Townsend Warner, Alison Lurie 83. LOLLY WILLOWES, BY SYLVIA TOWNSEND WARNER

Another recommendation by Mary. It’s funny that I had never heard about this book before, considering it’s exactly the kind of book I like...

Synopsis: Laura is a spinster who never had any intention of marrying. She doesn’t resent being alone; in fact, she wishes she would be truly left alone. When her father dies, her family decides, without much consultation with her, that she’s to live with her brother and help raise his children. She keeps house for years, until, one day, she decides she wants to be by herself, and moves to Great Mop. Her freedom is cut short when her nephew moves in with her, at which point she makes a pact with the devil, becomes a witch, and uses her powers to successfully drive him away.

Overall enjoyment: Like I said, exactly the kind of book I like. It’s funny, witty, and profoundly feminist. It’s very light and happy, and beautifully written.

Plot: The first part describes Laura’s situation, how she hates the obligations and societal conventions she has to follow, and how she strives for a life of her own. The second part is when Laura discovers her powers and “battles” her nephew. The two parts are, of course, related, but they’re so different it’s a shock how smoothly the transition is made. There is no mention of anything supernatural in the whole first half of the book, but even so, when these things start happening, they don’t feel awkward or artificial.

Characters: Laura is such a well-developed character. She’s so reasonable, and she has a surprising sense of humor. All the other minor characters are well written. They’re not very deep, but with the two or three sentences she uses to describe their personalities she manages to convey a full gamma of emotions and characteristics.

World/setting: The book is set at the time it was written (1920s), in somewhat rural England. The strictness of the social constraints put on people by tradition and their idea of morality is almost palpable. By contrast, the openness of the fields and comfort of the woods once Lolly moves to Great Mop is liberating.

Writing style: Sharp and elegant, with a biting sense of humor. I love how unfazed Laura is about the supernatural stuff, and her commonplace attitude balances the fact that there is no indication of anything supernatural in the beginning of the book.

Representation: Quite poor, in regards to POC. Impressively good, in regards to women and queerness, especially taking into account the time when the book was written.

Political correctness: This book is all defying what is expected of you. Her family considers “Lolly” a failure for not having married and not having children, they treat her as furniture in the way they dispose of her. It’s understood she must always be under male tutelage, and that, because she is unmarried, she is somehow more fragile and unable to face the world on her own. She is expected to serve everyone around her; no one forces her to do it, but she still has to do it. She is somewhat happy once she moves to Great Mop, but she only discovers her “powers” once her nephew goes to live with her (something she was never consulted about, by the way, her sister-in-law just sent her a letter saying that he was coming, and that it would be the best for everyone--although it obviously wasn’t the best for Laura), and she uses them to convince him to move. It’s interesting how the things that happen to her nephew are trivial and insignificant; they could have happened without any supernatural interference. The true power that “the devil” gives her once she “sells her soul” to him is to see those things happening to him and not feel sorry, or guilty about wanting him to go away.

Up next: The Siege Winter, by Ariana Franklin & Samantha Norman

Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx

Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx - Adrian Nicole LeBlanc 85. RANDOM FAMILY, BY ADRIAN NICOLE LEBLANC

Recommended by Mary. This isn’t really a review, it’s more like an explanation to her. See, I didn’t actually read this one... I tried, I really did, but nonfiction just isn’t my thing. I appreciate you recommending it, but fiction is what I really love to read. In the rare times when I do read nonfiction, I will usually seek it out myself; I have very strict criteria for it, and I hold it to much higher standards than I do with fiction.

Normally I don’t even take recommendations for nonfiction, but I forgot to mention it on my request. I might give it another try; it does seem interesting, I’m just not in the right frame of mind to read it now.

Up next: A Morbid Taste for Bones, by Ellis Peters

A House Divided

A House Divided - Pearl S. Buck 80. A HOUSE DIVIDED, BY PEARL S. BUCK (Book 3 of House of Earth)

The third and last installment on the House of Earth series. To recap, I liked the first book much better than the second, but I still decided to read the third one for completion’s sake.

Synopsis: Wang Yuan, Wang the Tiger’s son, finds himself in the midst of a rebellion and is unsure to which side he should belong. He escapes to the house of father’s wife, mother of his half-sister, and comes in contact with the Western culture. Seduced by it, he spends six years abroad, studying in a Western university, and comes back to China during a full-blown revolution.

Overall enjoyment: Meh. I liked it better than the second one, but not by much. She tries to show the transition between generations, from Wang Lung in the first one to a more “modern” one in Wang Yuan (I suppose it would be the modern generation when the book was first published, back in 1935); although the first and the third books are very well marked with it, the second one falls in a bit of a void and feels awkward for it. I didn’t care for the main character, and thought the ending was just stupid.

Plot: It is, like the other two books, a saga, so the plot is not really the point here. The only comment I would make on this is that I REALLY LOATHE this tendency that books (and most other media) have of implying romance is the be-all end-all of any human life and it makes everything right. So he finds a woman he doesn’t despise as much as all the others, tricks himself into thinking he’s in love with her, and then bully her with his feelings until she relents. That doesn’t solve any of his problems, or his family’s, or anything, really. Yet I’m supposed to feel like this is a happy ending? That this makes everything well? Fuck off.

Characters: Wang Yuan is such a fuckboy. A very believable one, sure, so he’s not a badly written character, but I honestly just couldn’t care less about him or anything to do with him.

World/setting: She does a competent job describing the locations and how each was different than the other. Especially how Yuan feels like he’s in a different country altogether when he goes to live with his “aunt”. On the other hand, she could have done a better job with the political turmoil that was the background for the parts set in China; it felt very abrupt and almost nonsensical in their lack of foreshadowing.

Writing style: She used the same, semi-oral, style of the previous two books. Since this one is a bit more modern than them, it doesn’t really fit as well as it did before.

Representation: It’s a Chinese story with Chinese characters.

Political correctness: There are some interesting elements of discussion on racism when Yuan goes to the West and how people react to him, and talk about his land. Plus, even though Yuan is a fuckboy, the narrator thinks he’s a fuckboy too, and will sometimes point his fuckboyery out. (Those moments are few and far between, though.)

Up next: Dressed for Death, by Donna Leon

Winter Siege

Winter Siege - Samantha Norman, Ariana Franklin 84. THE SIEGE WINTER, BY ARIANA FRANKLIN & SAMANTHA NORMAN

This was recommended to my by a friend who is a big fan of Ariana Franklin. It was “started” by Ariana and “finished” by her daughter, Samantha. My friend told me she didn’t read this one, but she was sure it would be great. I’m afraid she will be sorely disappointed once she does read it.

Synopsis: While England is shaken by the war between Empress Matilda and King Stephen, soldiers roam the land, causing chaos. Gwyl, a mercenary archer, finds a young red-headed girl who was clearly raped and left for dead by his former companions; he nurses her back to health, dresses her as a boy and calls her Penda. They end up at Kenilworth, a small but strategically important castle, where they help harbor the escaping Empress, fend off a siege and confront Penda’s attacker once more.

Overall enjoyment: It was barely readable. The impression I’m left with is that Ariana left a first draft manuscript, and Samantha just proofread it for grammar mistakes and had it published. It’s very unpolished, very awkward to read and simplistic. There was no historical note. I know those aren’t really a requirement, but I’ve come to expect them in historical fiction novels; if anything, so I know how much research the author made.

Plot: The plot twist at the end was painfully obvious. Some plot elements are not appropriate to the time being portrayed (everyone is just fine with Penda turning out to be a girl even though, at the time, that was a crime punishable by death in England; and then even treating her as nobility and introducing her to society–she wasn’t rich or nobly born; even if they decided not to punish her, they would just put her in a dress and make her serve in the kitchen, or something). Mostly, the plot is very character-driven… The problem here is that the characters are very badly developed.

Characters: Ugh. They are so stereotyped their actions almost don’t make sense. The monk is the epitome of evil, Maud is the Strong Female Character who doesn’t lose her femininity (and who gets a cringe-worthy romance scene), Penda is the plucky girl heroine, Gwyl is the strong silent type with a heart of gold. Maybe Ariana was planning to develop them further, but she didn’t get to do it; what we’re left with is a collection of utterly unbelievable and uninteresting characters, running around and being obvious.

World/setting: Once again, the text is not very historically accurate. The big events referenced are real, but the way people relate to each other, their actions, do not correspond to the time they’re supposed to portray.

Writing style: It’s very modern, which feels weird. Even the characters use a very modern speech, saying “totally” and “yuck”; it really clashes with the supposed setting. I haven’t read any other of Ariana’s books, but the impression I have, once again, is that she was planning to fix this on a future editing session and couldn’t get to it.

Representation: None, but then, I wasn’t expecting any.

Political correctness: Oh, well. It is even hard to say, since the characters are so artificial. I’ll just leave this one blank, it’s not worth the bother.

Up next: Random Family, by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc

Dressed for Death

Dressed for Death - Donna Leon 81. DRESSED FOR DEATH, BY DONNA LEON (Book 3 of Commissario Brunetti)

The third book in the Commissario Brunetti series. The last one I’ll be reading this year, even though the series has some 10 others. I probably will continue with it in the future, even though this is not my favorite series.

Synopsis: In the middle of a heat wave in Venice, a male corpse is found dressed in a red dress and high heel shoes in a zone normally used for prostitution in Mestre. The Mestre police department is shorthanded, the case is handed to Venice, and Burnetti is pulled out of his much anticipated vacation in the mountains to investigate it.

Overall enjoyment: Like the other ones, it was a fun read. Nothing that would change my world view or shatter the foundations of my reality, but still, solid entertainment.

Plot: The mystery is better developed and delivered than in the first two books. Some things are suspiciously convenient, but I can let them slide.

Characters: The true reason why I read this series is Brunetti himself. Unlike the majority of fictional officers, he’s still married, with a healthy and rewarding relationship with his wife; he’s a good and present father to his children; he doesn’t use violence unnecessarily and goes out of his way not to distress the people he’s questioning. Plus, he loves food and architecture, and will spend a good time talking about it.

World/setting: Ah, Venice. Such a beautiful city, with an incredible past. It’s a true pleasure to see it through Brunetti’s eyes.

Writing style: Standard and straightforward. Nothing special, but also nothing negative about it.

Representation: It could be better, but she makes an effort.

Political correctness: Brunetti has an old-fashioned view of things, and this view is present throughout the book. He’s not disrespectful, and makes an effort to overlook his own prejudices, but there are still some problematic statements that are too adamant and absolute for the subject.

Up next: The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin

Sorrow's Knot

Sorrow's Knot - Erin Bow 87. SORROW’S KNOT, BY ERIN BOW

Recommended by my coach, which was very unexpected. Frankly, the fact that I enjoyed it as much as I did was even more unexpected...

Synopsis: Otter has the power to be a binder, and has always assumed she would be one after her mother. Binders are vitally important, being the ones to craft the knots that keep the dead away from the village. Her mother, however, refuses to take her as an apprentice, clamoring that the knots feel wrong. Otter receives no training and is left semi-isolated in their society. When a White Hands (the most dangerous and feared type of dead) attacks, Otter is forced to take on responsibilities she’s not ready for.

Overall enjoyment: It blew me away. It was such a fresh concept for a fantasy world, and so beautifully executed. As much as I love the European medieval setting, it is so gratifying to see something I haven’t already read a billion times. And it was very well-written.

Plot: It could be called a magical quest, but the traveling only starts well into the book. It definitely doesn’t feel like the story drags in the beginning, though. The elements are very well constructed and connected. Nothing felt artificial. Maybe Otter’s love interest, but the romance only starts when the book is almost finished, so it didn’t spoil the whole thing for me; I didn’t feel like rolling my eyes even once while reading this. And it only feels weird because it happens so fast, it’s not implausible. I also loved the fact that she doesn’t have a love interest for most of the book, and even when she met him, the story was most definitely not about romance.

Characters: Very well constructed and balanced. Even though there were two girls and a boy, she didn’t even mention the possibility of a love triangle. All of them are very believable, with complex emotions and coherent reactions.

World/setting: The world building is flawless. She creates something very different from what we’re used to seeing, but she has no trouble in explaining to the reader how this world works. She doesn’t even need to make a great exposition, she uses the story, the speech patterns, little bits of myth and legends, and the very geography to build her world. And it was a place I definitely would like to explore more.

Writing style: It had a beautiful lyricism that made the story feel like a song of legend. She doesn’t condescend to her readers by over-explaining, repeating and making everything obvious; that is very rare in YA literature. The words flow into each other as if that was their natural order.

Representation: It feels very much like a Native American world. The cover also implies that, with the girl’s style of dress and features.

Political correctness: Once again, if you take the time to develop your characters fully, it’s very hard for you to commit great blunders in here. There are many things I’m tempted to mention, but they’re so subtle that this review would end up way too long if I were to fully explain them. (And I’m very much sure that the only reason why I picked up on them was because I liked this book so much.)

Up next: Redemption in Indigo, by Karen Lord

Redemption in Indigo

Redemption in Indigo - Karen Lord 88. REDEMPTION IN INDIGO, BY KAREN LORD

Recommended by Diego, who actually went as far as buying it and giving it to me, to make sure I would read it. His passion surely is commendable. I normally skip introductions and go straight to the story, but this should not be done with this book. The introduction is part of the story, more like a prologue.

Synopsis: After successfully disentangling herself from her foolish and gluttonous husband, Paama is entrusted by the djombi with the Chaos Stick, a tool capable of controlling the chances that something will happen. The original owner of the Stick is not happy with this, however, and, failing to take it by force, attempts to convince her to give it up, learning a lesson in the process.

Overall enjoyment: It is very good. It has a different structure than you would usually see in fantasy, and is based on a Senegalese folk tale (just a very small part of the story, though, not the whole thing). It has a different feel to it, and it’s very charming and somewhat humorous.

Plot: The first few chapters show Paama dealing with her husband, Asinge. That is the part based on a folk tale. It is somewhat detached from the rest of the book, and it feels like an extended prologue; it could be said that the story takes too long to start and wastes too much time with characters and occurrences that don’t really matter. On the other hand, it is delightful to read, and plays right into the atmosphere being created, so it really doesn’t feel like a flaw.

Characters: They are a bit exaggerated. The central ones, like Paama, Kwame, and the Indigo Lord, have more complex personalities but exaggerated characteristics (Paama with her cooking and her goodness, Kwame with his tracking, the Indigo Lord with his impulsiveness). The background ones are superficial to the point of being symbols. Which is, of course, the whole point.

World/setting: It doesn’t really play a big part on the story, which was surprising and gratifying. There are a few cultural elements, like myth and food, but no interminable landscape descriptions, so common in novels set anywhere other than Europe or America. It truly embraces the “universalism through regionalism” concept: something so culturally specific it becomes universal.

Writing style: Amazingly oral. It really feels like you’re having the story told to you, instead of reading it. The narrator is supremely omniscient, witty, and full of life lessons, from the introduction to the epilogue. This oral tradition is also mentioned in the course of the book.

Representation: It covers a lot, as you would expect.

Political correctness: This is an interesting one. The whole book is about choices and consequences; it’s an allegory, so the behavior of each character shouldn’t be taken at face value.

Up next: The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd

A Morbid Taste for Bones

A Morbid Taste for Bones - Ellis Peters 86. A MORBID TASTE FOR BONES, BY ELLIS PETERS (Book 1 of Brother Cadfael)

This one was recommended by my mother (Hi mom! *waves*). She described it as “The Name of the Rose without all the pedantic crap”. Now that I have read it, I couldn’t think of a better description.

Synopsis: Brother Cadfael, a Welshman who has lived a full and adventurous life and has decided to retire and spend his old age in an English monastery, manages to insert himself into an expedition to a Welsh village to pick up the bones of the Saint Winifred. The villagers aren’t happy to surrender them, and when the most vociferous opponent to this plan is found dead, Cadfael is forced to investigate the mystery before innocents are blamed for it.

Overall enjoyment: I liked it a lot. It was fun and very quick to read (although a bit slow-paced). It is very upbeat and light, and gives a very accurate (according to historians) portrait of monastic and village living during the 1100s.

Plot: The mystery is a bit obvious (mostly because she’s a bit heavy-handed in her foreshadowing) but it’s really not the most important part. The interactions between the characters are clearly what we’re supposed to be paying attention to. If it were a longer book, I’d probably get sick of it; since it’s so short, it’s just right. It feels a lot like an Agatha Christie book: Hercules Poirot solves the mystery, and he also figures out who has a gambling habit, who is sleeping with whom, who is the illegitimate child, who is being blackmailed and who is doing the blackmailing, etc. In this book, though, everything is a lot lighter, and Cadfael doesn’t expose everybody’s secrets (because he’s not a little shit, like Poirot).

Characters: They were very nice and well-rounded. Cadfael himself is very well written, someone who’s older, very worldly, very understanding. The prior, although clearly ambitious, is not evil. The villagers, who, in most historical novels, are usually portrayed as stupid, ignorant, and vicious, are written in here as something much closer to real people.

World/setting: She doesn’t delve a lot into monastic life (especially when compared to Umberto Eco), but I really didn’t miss it. The village life is portrayed throughout the story, inserting details when necessary. I quite enjoyed this style, and like it better than interminable descriptions and sidetracks.

Writing style: It’s very easy to read and straightforward, spiced with a delightful sense of humor.

Representation: Nonexistent, unfortunately. She might be able to claim historical accuracy in here, since the story is set first in a monastery and then in a village in the middle of nowhere, so small they don’t have outside visitors almost never. But yes, it could have been better.

Political correctness: There are no big positive sides, but no big negative sides, either. There are a lot of female characters, though, and they are shown to have a lot of agency and will.

Up next: Sorrow’s Knot, by Erin Bow

The Left Hand of Darkness

The Left Hand of Darkness - Ursula K. Le Guin 82. THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS, BY URSULA K. LE GUIN (Book 4 of The Hainish Cycle)

Recommended by Mary. The fact that it’s the fourth book to be published in the Hainish Cycle does cause me some mild discomfort, since I didn’t read any of the other ones yet, but according to Ursula herself the books can be read as standalone so I decided to read only this one now and read the others in the future.

Synopsis: Genly Ai, a human ambassador, is sent to the planet Gethen (known in other planets as Winter) to try and facilitate their inclusion in the galactic civilization. Winter is populated with a different species, similar to human but who have no gender.

Overall enjoyment: It is a very good piece of science fiction. The story drags a bit in some places, but the premise is fantastic, the world building is amazing and the whole book gives you a lot to think about.

Plot: The political intrigue was a little bit confusing, but nothing overwhelming; political intrigue tends to be confusing in any setting. The beginning is mostly Genly trying (and failing) to come to terms with the ambisexuality of the people around him, and it takes a while for the story to actually start moving. The only problem I had with plot points was Estraven’s suicide. We are told that suicide is Simply Not Done in Gethenian society; not only extreme, but very shameful. In the context of the story, there just doesn’t seem to be enough motivation for Estraven to do it. He could have tried to run away; maybe he would have been killed anyway, but to just accept it seems very much off-character.

Characters: Genly just can’t wrap his head around the gender thing. He’s not very likable, but very believable. The other characters are interesting in their humanity: they are what people would be if there were no gender.

World/setting: Winter is a world going through an Ice Age. The landscape is barren and frozen, and it plays beautifully with the story and characters. The alien society described is fascinating. She doesn’t bother with too much details; she gives the reader enough to understand what’s going on and skips the rest (which I’m very glad for).

Writing style: The book is in the first person, and I get the sense that she was trying to write the way Genly would. It’s a bit truncated and arrogant, and it took me a while to get into it. There are some short segments with Gethenian legends and some “written” by Estraven that are obviously different from the rest, and make it clear that it’s Genly’s voice we’re reading throughout the book.

Representation: Genly is the only human character (there are a few others towards the end, but they hardly count). He describes himself as dark-skinned.

Political correctness: Having the protagonist and only human character be male was an interesting choice. He is clearly proud of his own virility, and seems personally offended by the lack of gender and everything that comes with it. In his own words: “A man wants his virility regarded, a woman wants her femininity appreciated, however indirect and subtle the indications of regard and appreciation. On Winter they will not exist. One is respected and judged only as a human being. It is an appalling experience.” He refers to all the Gethenians as “he”, claiming that male would be the standard, and is appalled when they do anything that he considers feminine (which, interestingly enough, is almost always something that he considers negative). He laughs at the very idea of a King being pregnant, and is unsettled when he learns that, although all the King’s children can be heirs to the throne, a child “from the King’s body” would take precedence. The idea that any person in Gethen could get pregnant after the “kemmer” (a phase in the lunar cycle when Gethenians express sexual characteristics and “mate”; they cannot control nor have any tendency towards what gender they’ll express) seems utterly terrifying for him. This prejudice and abject fear he expresses when faced with Gethenian society influences other characters’ reactions to him, and is one of the factors that move the story. One cannot help but wonder what would have happened had Genly been a different gender.

Up next: Lolly Willowes, by Sylvia Townsend Warner