Friday, 14 December 2018

Book Riot Read Harder 2018 in review: The Magician's Nephew #BookReview #ReadHarder2018 #Blogmas

I am still working on finishing all the books for categories 12, 13, and 14 of the Book Riot Read Harder challenge, so we're skipping ahead to category 15 and we'll double back as I finish the books. It is VERY interesting to skip to this category though. For yesterday's category, you'll see that I reviewed The Last Battle, the final book of the Chronicles of Narnia. Well for today's review as you saw in the title, we're going right back to the beginning of the chronicles (according to the internal chronology) because I am reviewing The Magician's Nephew as my pick for:

Category 15: A one-sitting book

The Chronicles of Narnia : The Magician's Nephew

Author: C.S. Lewis
Publisher: HarperCollins
Published: September 16 2002 (first published 1956)
Page count: 776 (whole omnibus), 100 (The Magian's Nephew specifically)
Genres: fantasy, mythology
Date read: January 18, 2018
Number of times read: 4
Format: paperback/audiobook
Source: Chapters/Indigo/Waterloo Public Library


The secret passage to the house next door leads to a fascinating adventure

NARNIA...where the woods are thick and cold, where Talking Beasts are called to life...a new world where the adventure begins.

Digory and Polly meet and become friends one cold, wet summer in London. Their lives burst into adventure when Digory's Uncle Andrew, who thinks he is a magician, sends them hurtling to...somewhere else. They find their way to Narnia, newborn from the Lion's song, and encounter the evil sorceress Jadis before they finally return home. -- via Goodreads 


It's interesting to me to be coming back to the beginning of Narnia the day after I just went on a tirade about how disappointed I was by its ending. What I find most striking between the two is that in terms of the original publication order of the books The Magician's Nephew came right before The Last Battle. I think it would have been a completely different experience reading them in that order rather than reading them in the order of the internal chronology of the books which is how they've been packaged and presented for decades now. When I first started reading them as a kid in the 90s, the boxsets had Magician's Nephew as the first book, but the set I grew up on was my mum's original first editions from the 1950s/60s when they were still published in original publishing order. So The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe was always the first book for me and I never made it past the 3rd book as a kid. It wasn't until I bought my omnibus edition in 2004/5 (as a means of wishing to preserve my mum's much loved first editions) that I'd ever thought of reading them in any other order. I tried several times to read through the omnibus (I believe I mentioned that yesterday?), but I always stopped  after Voyage of the Dawn Treader mainly because I wasn't sure I wanted to read a Narnia book where Eustace was the star and Lucy and Edmund (my two favourite Pevensies) weren't going to be around at all. As you might remember from yesterday I set out to change that this year. A project I started in January by re-reading The Magician's Nephew.

It's not a perfect book, and I'm glad because it's actually much more interesting when a book is flawed. I always try and think critically about whatever I am reading, that doesn't keep me from falling in love with books, it just makes sure that I question even the books I love. (Thanks $35k English degree!) I can admit that this book has flaws, both as an individual book and as part of a larger series. I think Lewis made a mistake by publishing this one so late in the series. Being about the creation of Narnia, and including the backstory for one of the biggest bads in the series, I think it really only does make sense to have this book appear first in box sets and omnibuses. The only issue I have is with how they really didn't handle the villain at all, which is why she's still around hundreds if not thousands of years later for the Pevensies to vanquish. But this is also probably a result of writing the book after writing the events of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.

The good things though are plentiful. First and foremost there is the world building. Narnia is literally brought into existence from scratch by Aslan, and he does a damn fine job of setting up the parameters that govern this world and the way it connects with other worlds. The characters are another fantastic element Diggory and Polly are among my favourite characters in the series and I wish we got to see more of them. Uncle Andrew was the weakest character but I suspect that that was an intentional choice.

I also loved Lewis's set up and reveal for the villain. You could really see how she was manipulating Andrew and Diggory, but Polly saw right through her which feels very feminist. Overall though I loved this book and out of all seven Narnia books I gave it a seven and on a scale of one to seven I would rank it at a three3 in terms of ranking, with LWW taking number one and the Horse and His Boy at number two.

As the first book of the series, it sets an interesting tone with its mix of Christian allegory and high fantasy elements. What are your thoughts on changing the order of The Chronicles of Narnia to present them in terms of the series's internal chronology vs. the original publication order in which this book is book 6?

Overall Rating

5 bolts

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Book Riot Read Harder 2018 in review: The Last Battle #BookReview #ReadHarder2018 #Blogmas

Category 11: A children’s classic published before 1980

The Chronicles of Narnia : The Last Battle

Author: C.S. Lewis
Publisher: HarperCollins
Published: September 16 2002 (first published 1956)
Page count: 776 (whole omnibus), 103 (The Last Battle specifically)
Genres: fantasy, mythology
Date read: August 27, 2018
Number of times read: 1
Format: paperback/audiobook
Source: Chapters/Indigo/Waterloo Public Library


In the light of a huge roaring bonfire the last battle of Narnia is about to take place between King Tirian, aided resolutely by Jill and Eustace, and the cruel Calormenes, when the struggle between the forces of good and evil will finally be decided. But with doubt and confusion everywhere, will King Tirian be able to stand firm at Narnia's darkest hour? -- via Goodreads

The conclusion of the saga that began with The Magician's Nephew. NARNIA...where you must say good-bye...and where the adventure begins again. The Unicorn says that humans are brought to Narnia when Narnia is stirred and upset. And Narnia is in trouble now: A false Aslan roams the land. Narnia's only hope is that Eustace and Jill, old friends to Narnia, will be able to find the true Aslan and restore peace to the land. Their task is a difficult one because, as the Centaur says, "The stars never lie, but Men and Beasts do." Who is the real Aslan and who is the imposter?  -- via Goodreads 

The last battle is the greatest battle of all. Narnia... where lies breed fear... where loyalty is tested... where all hope seems lost. During the last days of Narnia, the land faces its fiercest challenge - not an invader from without but an enemy from within. Lies and treachery have taken root, and only the king and a small band of loyal followers can prevent the destruction of all they hold dear in this, the magnificent ending to the Chronicles of Narnia. -- via Goodreads 


The reason you got the summaries for three different editions is that I am not happy with any one of them on their own as a summary for this book. This is a strange book so I suppose it makes sense that it has a strange summary that requires multiple versions. We're going from Norse mythology yesterday to Christian mythology with this one, anyone who knows anything about the Narnia series knows that it was a heavy-handed Christian allegory from start to finish. I as a reader can choose to ignore that and do when I read them, so it doesn't bother me in a way that it bothers a lot of readers. Maybe its because I do look at it as a mythology in the same way that I look at Norse and Roman and Celtic mythologies. I don't deny anyone their beliefs, but I don't personally believe them. I do believe that the stories having meaning and power though and that that is not nothing. Lewis doesn't hide the fact that this series is Christian fantasy he basically sticks it on a billboard with flashing lights. And The Last Battle adds trumpeting fanfare and fireworks to the show, it's that heavy-handed with its Christian allegory.

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, I've read it about two to three dozen times over the years. And I've read The Magician's Nephew and The Horse and His Boy two or three times before. Other than that I don't remember reading any of the other Narnia books growing up and I kept meaning to as an adult but never got around to it. I decided to change that and made this year my year to read all seven of them finally. And so I did, obviously, or you wouldn't be reading this review. The allegory is not as thick in The Horse and His Boy, Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, or, The Silver Chair as it is in LWW, Magician's Nephew and The Last Battle. The middle four books read as much more fantasy.

I knew things about The Last Battle going into it just from the existence of pop culture. I knew about the Susan problem for example. I also knew what my mum had been telling me my whole life, that I wasn't missing out by not reading The Last Battle. She didn't enjoy it and she didn't think I would either. And she's not wholly wrong. There were a lot of parts of it that I didn't enjoy. For example, I really do feel like this book could be the trope named for rocks fall, everyone dies. If I had read this as a child I probably would have been traumatised by the way this book ended, or maybe I specifically wouldn't have been because I was a very strange child with some weird experiences around death. But we're talking the kind of ending here that traumatises normal children! Bambi and Dumbo's mother level stuff here guys! And it's not just the death, it's the way the death is treated and almost glorified. I also wasn't overly crazy about the whole fake Aslan prophet plot. It was very contrived and forced. I get it, Lewis wanted to get out of Narnia and stop writing these stories, but he could have and should have left it open-ended.

One thing I think was handled particularly well though was the characterisations of Eustace and Jill. I hated Eustace when he first showed up in Dawn Treader but by Last Battle, he'd really grown on me and he and Jill made a great team. I think Jill may be overall my second favourite character in the whole series, just behind Lucy who will always be number 1 to me. Although the characters in Horse and His Boy are pretty awesome too, I enjoyed that one immensely. This is about The Last Battle though so let's re-focus back on that. Tirian had potential but I don't think it was fully realised. The Calormenes were treated badly even for villains. But as usual, the setting of the book was stunning and wonderful. 

As the final book in the series, it was kind of a deflating letdown. What final book in a series has let you down the most as a reader?

Overall Rating

2.5 bolts

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Book Riot Read Harder 2018 in review: Winds of Salem #BookReview #ReadHarder2018 #Blogmas

Category 10: A romance novel by or about a person of color

Winds of Salem

Author: Melissa de la Cruz
Publisher: Hachette Books
Published: April 15 2014 (first published August 13 2013)
Page count: 336
Genres: fantasy, mythology, paranormal, historical, romance
Date read: December 11, 2018
Number of times read: 1
Format: paperback
Source: Chapters/Indigo


Freya Beauchamp is trapped in 1692, in Salem of all places, with no recollection of her past. A powerful enemy spell has sent her spiraling away so that she is separated by centuries from her mother, Joanna, and sister, Ingrid. This is not good news for a twenty-first-century witch. Not to mention the immediate threat she faces from the wealthy and influential Putnam family. When little Annie Putnam is one of the first to make accusations of witchcraft, her landowner father jumps at the opportunity to consolidate his power and expand his holdings in Puritan Salem Town. If Freya is caught using magic, she will be forced to relive the witch trials, and this time, even her immortality is in question. 

Meanwhile, twenty-first-century North Hampton has its own snares. Joanna and Norm consult the Oracle for advice, and Freddie and his pixie allies search for a missing totem that could reopen the passages of time and help bring his sister home. When Ingrid bumps into an old flame, she finds that her new love for Detective Matt Noble is in doubt.

Moving between past and present, with dizzying plot twists and page-turning suspense, Winds of Salem is sure to bewitch fans old and new.  -- via Goodreads


I almost don't want to admit how long it took me to remember/realise that this book would actually work for this category...This is the final book in Melissa de la Cruz's Beauchamp Family saga. Beauchamp is just the modern day moniker of the Vanir, a branch of gods from Norse Mythology. I was expecting that when I started reading the series, I was just there for the witches, which I also love. But when I found out that the witches were actually Norse gods and goddesses? Oh hell yeah, I was all over that! So quick backgrounder, I gave the first book 4 bolts and the second book only got 3. Because I hate love triangle drama and the second book had a lot of love triangle drama. I discussed my re-read of the first book in a Musing Monday post last year. And in a coincidence of the highest order, the question of the week that week was about writing book reviews right after finishing the book, which is exactly what I am doing now. I finished the book at 9:55pm and at the time of writing this sentence it's 10:13pm. You, of course, will be reading this after 2pm ET on December 12th ;).

Without further ado, let's get into the meat of the review. As the final book in a series, I will try my very best not to include spoilers for anyone out there interested in reading it. We'll start with the things I liked about this book, and there are quite a few. I have to first mention that my favourite part of the second book, Serpent's Kiss, was at the end when Freya got yanked back in time to Salem because I knew that meant I was going to get some Salem Witch Trials fiction. I have been fascinated by that period of history for years, so that got me super hyped for Winds of Salem, while at the same time making me leery. I knew it was either going to be really well handled, or really horrible, and I was worried about being disappointed if it were the latter. I'm very pleased to say that de la Cruz did not let me down. I thought she did a fantastic job fictionalising the story of Salem and weaving in her characters. She gave knew motivations to the situation that I've never seen presented in Salem stories before, very modern-seeming ones, namely greed on the part of Thomas Putnam. Her characterisation of Abby Williams was fantastic, I've always hated Abby, she reminds me so much of every girl who was ever mean to me growing up and de la Cruz hits that on the head with her. 

The other part of the book that I really liked was Freddie's growth and his whole arc. We only met Freya's twin brother in the second book but he quickly established himself as a presence. He started off very annoying and entitled, which I mean, he spent like 5000 years in Limbo I think he was allowed. But he really matured and evened out as a character over the course of Winds of Salem. The only part of his story that I found confusing is the break down of his relationship with Gert - I am still not 100% certain what happened there so I feel like some important parts may have ended up cut by an editor's pen. 

Now, speaking of things that feel like they were cut with an editor's pen, this leads into one of the parts I had a problem with. The climax. It was WAY too rushed. We've spent 3 books hearing about the bofrir bridge being destroyed and trying to figure out who did it and why. We finally on page 275 of this book, and then by 279 the entire confrontation with the culprit is over and done with. The fighters barely said anything to one another nevermind actually you know....fighting? The villain didn't even get to attack. I just feel she wrapped up that portion of the storyline in a really poor way.

The other thing I was going to say I didn't like I'm kind of waffling about now, because there are actually a lot of ways to interpret it. I was going to be upset about the love triangle and the way it ended. But upon further reflection, I am thinking that I might be thinking about it wrong. Freya is the goddess of love, why shouldn't she be polyamorous? And if both of her lovers are okay with that then it works, there's nothing that says that all parties in a polyamorous relationship have to be mutually involved with one another, it's perfectly fine for A to have relationships with both B and C without B and C having to be involved with one another. So long as all parties are cool with and into the arrangement. So that's what I have decided right at this moment that it's not and never was a love triangle, Freya came to that same realisation towards the end of the book.

If you're into witches and Norse mythology then give this whole series a try. Definitely don't start with this book though, start with Witches of East End, it's book #1.

Overall Rating

5 bolts!

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

#Review : Murder with Lemon Tea Cakes by Karen Rose Smith #BookReview #Blogmas

Today I am taking a break from the Book Riot Read Harder reviews because I am not done the book for category 10 yet. But I have less than 100 pages to go so as soon as I finish that it'll be back to Book Riot reviews! I thought I'd take this opportunity to write a review for a book that I know will definitely be up Angie's alley. You may or may not have noticed that aside from our mutual obsession with Harry Potter, Angie and I actually have pretty different reading habits. There is some overlap though :). For the most part, I tend to get my cosy mystery and chick lit recs from Angie, but in this instance, it's a book I finally beat her to haha.

Murder with Lemon Tea Cakes

Author: Karen Rose Smith
Publisher: Kensington Books
Published: January 2018 (first published December 2017)
Page count: 320
Genres: mystery, cosy mystery, chick lit
Date read: October 21, 2018
Number of times read: 1
Format: ebook
Source: Kobo


In an old Victorian in the heart of Pennsylvania’s Amish country, Daisy Swanson and her aunt Iris serve soups, scones, and soothing teas to tourists and locals—but a murder in their garden has them in hot water . . .

Daisy, a widowed mom of two teenagers, is used to feeling protective—so when Iris started dating the wealthy and not-quite-divorced Harvey Fitz, she worried . . . especially after his bitter ex stormed in and caused a scene at the party Daisy’s Tea Garden was catering. Then there was the gossip she overheard about Harvey’s grown children being cut out of his will. Daisy didn’t want her aunt to wind up with a broken heart—but she never expected Iris to wind up a suspect in Harvey’s murder.

Now the apple bread and orange pekoe is on the back burner while the cops treat the shop like a crime scene—and Daisy hopes that Jonas Groft, a former detective from Philadelphia, can help her clear her aunt’s name and bag the real killer before things boil over . . .

Includes delicious recipes for Iris’s Lemon Tea Cakes and more! -- via Goodreads


I picked up this book on Kobo, during a sale I suspect. But once I found it I chose to use it for the PopSugar reading challenge which I've ended up abandoning because I could not read as many books as I thought this year. I was too overambitious. Anyway, the category I was going to use it for was a book with a fruit in the title. At this point, I can't remember if Angie discovered it first or if I did, but I read it first so that's why I'm reviewing it for her, spoiler free of course. I like cosy mysteries and amateur investigators. I grew up on a steady diet of Murder She Wrote and medical and criminal procedurals like Diagnosis Murder and Crossing Jordan...and of course, the ultimate favourite amateur detective (when he daydreamed himself as Sherlock Holmes) among 90s kids from Canada and the US, Wishbone! That being said I am surprised that I haven't actually read more of them, I think that's an oversight I need to rectify in the future because I really enjoyed this. I'm partial to books that don't take themselves too seriously. Nothing turns me off a book faster than it being pretentious. And cosy mysteries, this one, in particular, don't tend towards pretension.

Daisy is a widowed mother of two, her eldest daughter has just gone off to college and her youngest seems to be drifting away which is stressing her out. They just recently moved back to Daisy's hometown where she's opened a tea shop with her Aunt Iris. Aunt Iris is another source of stress for Daisy though. Daisy is worried about her relationship with Harvey Fitz because Harvey Fitz is still married. It comes as no surprise that after all that setup, by the end of the first chapter Harvey is dead in the garden of Daisy and Iris's tea shop. And that's not a spoiler it's right up there in the summary. As with any cosy mystery, everyone is a suspect. But Iris of course, as the mistress, becomes the prime suspect because the murder took place at the shop she co-owns. Now of course Daisy isn't about to stand by and let her aunt be railroaded, so that's how Daisy, with the help of a neighbour who is an ex-cop, becomes an amateur investigator. She sets out to clear her aunt's name.

Overall it's a logical premise and it makes sense as to why she's gotten herself involved and why she wants to investigate. It's a tight story and it's well told and it works. I have my doubts, however. It's quite clear that Daisy is not actually a very good investigator and that the only reason she is involved is that of how much she loves and wants to protect her aunt. It's made very clear that running the tea shop successfully is her primary interest. So my doubts surround how Daisy will work as the centre of a series of books. Currently, there are two books in the series with a third due out in 2019. I feel like things are going to start to get contrived really quickly in order to force Daisy into the investigation every time. I'm not quite sold on the meshing of family and business oriented chick lit combined with cosy mysteries as a concept, but it was well written and engaging enough that I am definitely willing to get the second book in the series and find out if and how Smith pulls it off. I want more of Daisy, more of her tea shop, and more of her friends and family. I also want to bake the lemon cakes with Angie when she comes to visit in May haha.

If you like both cosy mysteries and cafe related chick lit then this is the perfect book for you! It's all about a tea shop owner cum amateur investigator who finds herself embroiled in a murder mystery in rural Pennsylvania. Daisy's like a baking Jessica Fletcher.

Overall Rating

4.5 bolts

Monday, 10 December 2018

Strictly Come Dancing Week 12 - Semi Finals

I can't believe we are almost at the end of this series of Strictly.  It doesn't seem like two minutes since the contestants were first announced and then paired up.  The excitement, the nerves, the case of 'Who are they?' as each celeb was announced but over the weeks there have been one or two delights as always and I have come to enjoy the series as much as the last. Sadly for the remaining five couples, one must leave this week and miss out on that grand final by a whisker.  To be honest, despite the range of talent and experience between them, it is really a case of anyone can fall at the final hurdle and everyone wants to make it through.  The heat is on as the couples have to perform not just one, but two new routines in a bid to become a finalist for 2018.

The game is on!  Each couple will perform once, then after they have all performed one dance, they will all take to the floor again to perform their second choice.

So first to the floor tonight are Stacey and Kevin.  Their first dance is the Charleston and they really threw everything at it.  It was a true 1920's Charleston, Stacey the perfect flapper and such a heavy content of so many different steps and moves.  Stacey has quite an ungainly quality at times but it suits the style of the Charleston perfectly as it's not supposed to be an elegant dance.  Talk about opening with a bang, 39 points!

Next up we have Joe and Dianne performing the Viennese Waltz.  I thought this was a very beautiful dance, very elegant and romantic and such a beautiful connection.  However, it appears that it wasn't technically very good according to the judges and Joe ended up with his lowest score since Week 5, with 29 points and Craig giving him just a 6.  Not the score you want in a Semi-Final.

Third, we have Ashley and Pasha, their first dance is a Paso Doble.  I thought this would be quite good given how much I enjoyed their Tango and her outfit was certainly giving off a similar vibe.  However, I found this to be a little too intense and too fierce, even for a Paso.  It seemed to be far too aggressive and lacked the smoothness that you still get with a Paso.  Not for me but scored a healthy 36 points from the judges.

Following Ashley were Lauren and AJ dancing the Tango.  Lauren is definitely the weakest link of the five but she certainly gave her all in this dance.  It was pretty good, not a great performance but certainly, a respectable effort given the competition she is up against.  Lauren has developed her personality as the series has progressed and the shy little girl from the early weeks has gone to be replaced with this fierce and convincing lady.  31 points, not great, but not at the bottom.

The final couple to dance is Faye and Giovanni.  They have been given the Samba, even Faye admitted she did not like this dance.  However, you couldn't tell given her performance.  It was fun, bright and lively and she carried it off very very well.  Not quite as enjoyable as the one in Blackpool from Charles but a pretty fun routine to watch.  With a score of 37, it puts her second on the leaderboard, just behind Stacey.

So after Dance 1, the leaderboard looks like this

Stacey & Kevin39
Faye & Giovanni37
Ashley & Pasha36
Lauren & AJ31
Joe & Dianne29

Whilst it's not unusual to see Stacey at the top of the leaderboard, it's the first time Joe has been at the bottom.  It will mean the stakes are pretty high and the second dances are critical for most of the celebs.

So the running order remains the same as before, which means its Stacey up again, this time performing a Viennese Waltz.  It was nice and elegant and clearly, from the judges score it was more technically accurate than Joe's but I found Joe's to be more moving and emotional than Stacey's.  Still, it was pleasant to watch and deserving of a high score of 36.

Joe's second dance of the night is the Argentine Tango.  With a nod to the BBC show Peaky Blinders, I found this to be seriously good.  It was passionate, it was dramatic and very very compelling to watch.  However, I agree with the judges that Joe wasn't the one in command of the dance, it was more down to Dianne but it should be the man taking control.  He's only a young slip of a boy so this would have been a stretch for him but despite that, I really enjoyed it even if the judges marked it low at 30.

So dancing once again we have Ashley and Pasha and this time they are performing the American Smooth.  I have to say I really enjoyed this, much more than their Paso Doble.  This was light, clean and danced beautifully and the lifts, especially the one-legged lift, were timed and executed perfectly.  I still don't want Ashley to win the final but this dance really did deserve the perfect 40 it received, for me much more than their jive did.  Very impressive.

Performing their second routine of the evening are Lauren and AJ, this time dancing the Samba.  Unfortunately for Lauren, this was not her dance and her timing issues were far too obvious.  As Craig commented, if you mess up, try and hide it.  Unfortunately, Lauren doesn't have the skills to do this and it showed.  Although she did seem to enjoy herself during the dance, it wasn't her finest moment in the show and at this stage of the competition, you need a much higher score than 23.

So the final dance of the evening belonged to Faye and Giovanni and they were also dancing the Argentine Tango.  Now whilst I enjoyed Joe's attempt earlier, THIS is an Argentine Tango!   It was sultry, it was sexy, it was exciting and the footwork was simply exquisite.  I knew the choreography would be superb from Gio but this was incredible.  Personally, I think it deserved a 40 but dropped just one mark (Damn you, Craig!)

So when the scores from the second dances were added to the first, the final leaderboard looks like this.

Ashley & Pasha76
Faye & Giovanni76
Stacey & Kevin75
Joe & Dianne59
Lauren & AJ54

So onto Sunday night and the most important dance-off of the series.  The stakes have never been higher.  The first couple into the dance-off is Ashley and Pasha, showing that she is really lacking public support given such high marks she received.   She is to face Lauren and AJ who when they found out must have already said their farewells.  It was always going to be such a futile dance-off but rules are rules.  Before the show, each couple had to choose which of their two dances they wanted to perform again in the event they were in the dance-off.  No real surprises in that Ashley chose the American Smooth and Lauren chose her Tango. 

With all four judges opting to save Ashley and Pasha, we have to say farewell to Lauren and AJ.  I really do feel for AJ, he's only been in the show for three seasons and each time got to the semis, only to be beaten at the last hurdle every time.  Maybe next year, sweetie.

So we have our four Strictly Come Dancing 2018 Finalists

Joe Sugg and Dianne Buswell
Faye Tozer and Giovanni Pernice
Stacey Dooley and Kevin Clifton
Ashley Roberts and Pasha Kovelev

I can't wait for next Saturday.  No judges scores, they only score for guidance.  It is purely the public vote that will determine who will lift the Glitterball this year.

Bring it on and until then, keep dancing!

Book Riot Read Harder 2018 in review: Brown Girl in the Ring #BookReview #CanadianContent #ReadHarder2018 #Blogmas

Category 9: A book of colonial or postcolonial literature 

Brown Girl in the Ring

Author: Nalo Hopkinson
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing 
Published: July 1 1998 (first published January 1 1998)
Page count: 250
Genres: dystopian, mythology
Date read: December 4, 2018
Number of times read: 1
Format: paperback
Source: Laurier Library


"She's a powerful writer with an imagination that most of us would kill for. I have read everything she has written and am in awe of her many gifts. And her protagonists are unforgettable--formidable haunted women drawn with an almost unbearable honesty." --Junot Diaz


The rich and privileged have fled the city, barricaded it behind roadblocks, and left it to crumble. The inner city has had to rediscover old ways--farming, barter, herb lore. But now the monied need a harvest of bodies, and so they prey upon the helpless of the streets. With nowhere to turn, a young woman must open herself to ancient truths, eternal powers, and the tragic mystery surrounding her mother and grandmother.

She must bargain with gods, and give birth to new legends. -- via Goodreads


For most of the year, I was having a really hard time with this category. You may remember my tirade from the other day where I railed against 'classic' literature. I'm not particularly fond of the colonial or post-colonial periods of writing. So for a good chunk of the year I had Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan of the Apes down as my pick as a post-colonial book. But I really wasn't psyched about it and could never bring myself to actually pick it up. Then in November, I was determined to find a way to finish the Read Harder Challenge, so I went to the discussion group on Goodreads to look for suggestions and someone had asked whether or not Octavia E. Butler's stuff could be considered post-colonial. Which led into a bit of a discussion about Afrofuturism. Some of the people in the Book Riot group felt that Afrofuturism is post-colonial and some didn't. So I did some research because I've had Brown Girl in the Ring on my shelf for ages waiting for me to get to it, I found one review where the reviewer wrote that Hopkinson's work in Brown Girl is a "post-colonial redemption story." Well, that was good enough for me, so I selected it for my challenge. 

I did a little more research while I was reading the book, I got The Oxford Handbook of Science Fiction out from work so that I could read De Witt Douglas Kilgore's essay on Afrofuturism. And it revealed a couple of more things about the relationship between Afrofuturism and post-colonialism. Hopkinson herself is quoted in the article as pointing out that the reason she included both black and white authors in her anthology Mojo : Conjure Stories is because by including both she could curate a dialogue with white people about the effects of colonialism. (Kilgore, 564) Kilgore goes on to discuss the Afofrutirst works that came out of the anticolonial and Civil Rights movements (Kilgore, 565) which I think also classifies Afrofuturism as firmly being postcolonial. Kodwo Eshun really hammers that point home when he writes that Afrofuturism is a process of continual renewal that involves shedding the sticky past of colonialism and slavery. (Kilgore, 567) The final overt reference in the essay to Afrofuturism being postcolonial comes from Hopkinson again and her co-editor of the anthology So Long Been Dreaming. Mehan the co-Editor stated that post-colonial futures are a necessity that allows the descendants of racial and colonial oppression to see "how life might be otherwise"; this in direct response to Hopkinson's statement that Science fiction makes it possible to think about new ways of doing things that demolish racial hierarchies and use languages and cultural references other than English and those from the European tradition. (Kilgore, 570)

How that I've written my own mini-essay about why I chose this book, let's get into my actual review of the book. One of the first things that struck me is that this is so very similar to Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale not in content or style or anything like that. In terms of how prophetic they both are in a very scary way. It's been pointed out by a lot of people, and it was something eerie I noticed in my reading too, Atwood's Gilead seems closer than ever in the US. Well, this book is scarily similar in regards to Toronto. Hopkinson wrote this in 1998 well ahead of anyone even thinking they would have to worry about Doug Ford being the Premier of Ontario. But here we are, and here he is cutting the city of Toronto's city council in half so that they're completely underpresented. This is poignant because in Brown Girl in the Ring we're in a dystopian Toronto, but ONLY Toronto, which has been abandoned by the Government and left to its out devices as people and companies fled outward from the core and into the surrounding boroughs (incidentally, it's in the boroughs of Toronto that I grew up.). 

This leaves a vacuum of power in the core that is quickly filled by a posse. People in the core are left to fend for themselves with whatever they can find and whatever wits they have. Our protagonist Ti-Jeanne and her grandmother have made themselves a homestead on Riverdale Farm (a popular school trip excursion for Toronto school children) where Mami Gros-Jeanne has gone back to her Caribbean roots to eke them out a living. She uses her herbal medicine knowledge to heal people and barter for goods that she and Ti-Jeanne need. I was really impressed with that aspect of the story and the way that culture played into it. Growing up in Toronto I was always fascinated by Caribbana but never really actually knew much about it or about the culture it was tied to.

I also am not very familiar at all with Afro-Caribbean mythology, this book was really one of my first exposures to a proper look at the topic. I've of course seen voodoo misrepresented in other media over the years. Who could forget Baron Samedi showing up in the first Roger Moore James Bond film? This was a really well-done representation of the religion though and it made for an incredibly page-turning story. I sailed through it because I just had to know what was going to happen and how. This is another story that I've read recently which changes up the chosen one trope in a way. Ti-Jeanne is a single mum who worries about whether or not she actually loves her baby. She's been having disturbing dreams. She keeps finding herself drawn bay to Baby's father Tony which gets her inadvertently mixed up with what he's gotten himself mixed up in. Tony, a former nurse when the city was still a city, has gotten himself mixed up in a human organ trafficking operation with the Posse. The Premier of Ontario needs a heart and she wants it to be a human heart instead of a pig heart to win herself some votes. So she hires the Posse to find her a "donor" in Toronto, and the Posse puts Tony on the job.

It's a really interesting story, filled with really interesting characters and I love the way that Hopkinson so seamlessly wove the magic of the Afro-Caribbean religion into the story. I'll be seeking out more of her work in the future for sure.

If you're interested in a dystopia that uses Afro-Caribbean mythology, this novel is for you. If you're curious about learning more about Afrofuturism in the wake of Black Panther I highly recommend this book. It's a fantastic example of Canadian content.

Overall Rating

5 bolts!

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Book Riot Read Harder 2018 in review: Monstress v.1 #BookReview #ReadHarder2018 #Blogmas

Category 8: A comic written or illustrated by a person of color 

Monstress v.1 : Awakening

Author: Marjorie M. Liu (Writer),  Sana Takeda (Artist)
Publisher: Image Comics 
Published: July 19 2016
Page count: 235
Genres: fantasy, steampunk
Date read: May 28, 2018
Number of times read: 1
Format: paperback
Source: Chapters/Indigo


Set in an alternate matriarchal 1900's Asia, in a richly imagined world of art deco-inflected steam punk, MONSTRESS tells the story of a teenage girl who is struggling to survive the trauma of war, and who shares a mysterious psychic link with a monster of tremendous power, a connection that will transform them both and make them the target of both human and otherworldly powers. Collects MONSTRESS #1-6...via Goodreads


I want to start this review by commenting on how absolutely stunning the artwork is. It's incredibly gorgeous. It's an alternate history fantasy world with steampunk elements, and eldritchesque horrors; the art style is like if art deco and anime had a baby. It makes for an incredibly stunning visual story that really sucks you in. Even the horrific and gory parts still look striking because of Takeda's style. The story centres on Maika Halfwolf a badass amputee (who eventually gets a cyborg arm) who seems to be possessed by a god of some kind and it's given her unimaginably strong powers, that she can't control. In her party are a talking cat with two tails called Ren, and a young girl named Kippa who has fox ears and a fox tail. Maika's trying to uncover answers about her mysterious past which is a very typical plot that can be found in a lot of stories. It's Maika's possession that makes her a unique protagonist. The story itself is about a war between different factions and ultimately about the war between the humans and the old gods known as the archaics (Kippa is a Human/Archaic halfbreed). 

It's a very unique take on a very simple story that we're all familiar with the structure of. I've never seen the chosen one trope tackled quite this way before and it's interesting. For a book that is very visual, there is a lot of gore and graphic torture in the book. I'm finding that I'm sketchy on a lot of the actual specifics of the story now though, so I think before I read the second volume I am going to have to give volume 1 a reread. It's definitely a book with a lot of reread potential because there is so much to see and so much to take in. I imagine that there's a lot of nuances I missed on my first read through.

If you're interested in an east meets west style of graphic art and storytelling definitely check this series out. If you like bad add females representing and kicking ass then this series is definitely for you. If gore is not your thing at all though definitely stay away because there is no avoiding it in this book.

Overall Rating

3.5 bolts