Review: When the Moon Was Ours

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When the Moon was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore, number one on my 2017 must-reads list, has been read! As I have been waiting to read this book since before it was released, I consider this a victory.

The crux of the story is the changing relationship between two strange inhabitants of a small town: Miel, a girl who was found in a water tower, and Sam, the boy who paints moons and hangs them everywhere. It’s a story of identity, love, fear, and family.

The book is incredibly beautiful. The prose is poetic, and the plot moves along gently. I was surprised and pleased at the fairy-tale like quality the story has the moment I opened the book. McLemore did a stellar job with the two transgender characters in the book, which I learned after I finished was due to her experience with her husband, who himself is trans. I’m glad she included this note at the end, because the tone of the book upon reflection took on the aura of a long, carefully crafted love letter.

Beauty and delicate nature aside, I did struggle at times with the passivity of Miel, the main character. Quiescent protagonists have never quite been my cup of tea: the ease with which Miel lets the people around her manipulate her life drove me quite frantic. In addition, at times the drowsiness of the plot left me unmotivated to continue until about half-way through, when the conflict truly started to pick up.

On the whole, however, the book is beautiful and poignant, with excellently represented characters. There was one scene involving a rose and a wrist that to this day, a month later, makes me cringe and hold my own wrist, and if that isn’t a mark of good writing, I don’t know what is. If you’re looking for diverse characters in every respect and beautiful, etherial writing, this book is for you.

There and Back Again

It’s incredible what a good break from reality does for a person: starting my days off running on the beach and swimming in the ocean did wonders for my creativity–I think I wrote more in the last week and a half than I have in months. Of course, the resulting dive back into business is a shock. But it’s good to be back in the game.

This week’s reading list: Michel Foucault, Michael Taussig, Clifford James, Gretel Van Wieren, Aradhana Sharma. A bit different from my spring break line up! Definitely more highlighting involved.

I’d better get used to the fact that my life is one long reading list of one kind or another. But really, that’s much better than the alternative, which is not reading at all or, god forbid, reading in moderation.

pile of books edited

(Infinite, it stretches on.)

Fantasy Misogyny

It seems like every book I pick up lately has a protagonist struggling against a supremely patriarchal, sexist, oppressive society. And I’m absolutely not saying we shouldn’t be writing and reading about these issues, be they incorporated into fantasy worlds or not–but lord am I getting a little exhausted of being surrounded by a society that hates and enacts violence against women, especially when I’m reading to get a bit of a break from it.

It might be just a coincidence that this is the backdrop to all the books I’ve read somewhat randomly lately. It might be that mounting social tensions are being reflected in YA literature. It’s probably a bit of both. But it’s exhausting. Right now I could use a few fantasy worlds without misogynistic cultures. I could use a story about a girl who isn’t facing down sexism as well as the big bad.

Review: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

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I’ve finished one of the books I promised to read this year! Cue confetti flying, fireworks whizzing. The No. 1. Ladies’ Detective Agency is a book that, for some reason, you always picture your grandmother reading.

Alexander McCall Smith is an interesting dude, born in Zimbabwe, co-founder and teacher at the University of Botswana. So he’s definitely got the cred to be writing about the place, my first consideration when I picked up the book.

In the honored tradition of the critique sandwich, I will go good-bad-good. I absolutely loved the character of Precious Ramotswe. Savvy, funny, serious, and determined, her self-confidence was one of my elements of the book. From childhood she is conditioned to be clever and observant, and to take no shit from men.

Which makes it all the more out of place when she falls prey to an abusive relationship. I don’t want to make light of this issue: sexual assault and marital abuse are something many, many women face, and we shouldn’t not talk about it. But I do question the aptness of using it as a plot device in this particular instance, after a buildup of Precious’ character as someone unlikely to fall victim to this brand of violence. To me it felt abrupt and out of character, and I was taken aback by the suddenness of its appearance.

Precious’ concession to marriage at the end of the book to Mr. J.L. B. Matekone (another great character) felt out of place to me as well. While we see him as lovestruck and longing for Precious’ companionship, her thoughts on marriage remain clear until the very last page: that she is content to be unmarried, in fact, she is strongly opposed to remarrying. We see no evidence of this changing before she concedes to his second marriage proposal on the last page of the book. A bit unbelievable.

Criticism aside, I loved so many things about this book. Precious’ use of Agatha Christie to lend validity to her detective agency, the connection she felt to her homeland: Precious loves Africa, loves Botswana, with a such a forceful wonder. Precious loved herself fiercely also, as a fat woman, as a damn good detective. And she was staunch throughout, never doubting that she could handle any case, from missing dogs to malicious witchdoctors.

I would definitely recommend this book. It is an engaging, quick read, with an incredibly lovable narrator. I probably won’t read the rest of the series right now, but I’ll be trying out the TV series.

 

In A Past Life I Was A Merchant Sailing Vessel

Who doesn’t love to google their name and find out what they’re notorious (or not) for? I tried the other day, to see if this blog would finally show up. It did! Huzzah. But something even curiouser turned up as well, which I’m still thinking about, a little bewildered.

When you google ‘Evangeline Giaconia’, the first item of the second page of google is a a google books link to the “Annual List of Merchant Vessels of the United States, Volume 26, Part 1894”, scanned from a document published in 1895.

One page 131 of this list there is a listing for the Giaconia, a lugger weighing 6,037 tonnes. There is also a listing for the Glendy Burke–with a postscript which defers the reader to the bottom of the page, where a note reads: ‘Formerly British schooner Evangeline’.

I still can’t quite wrap my head around this: my names on two different vessels on the same page of a document from 1895. The listing is alphabetical, so it had to be the postscript that contained the word ‘Evangeline’, or it wouldn’t have been on the same page as ships starting with ‘G’. How wild.

To bring this back to writing, I suppose it’s things like this that remind us that weird, bizarre coincidences do exist, and that maybe we ought to check our suspension of disbelief sometimes when we’re getting a little skeptical. Last night I was sighing in exasperation as Francis Thurton’s gaze just happened to fall on just the right newspaper article in Call of Cthulhu, but maybe I ought to give him a bit more credit. Maybe the world is more cohesive than we think.

schooner-with-squid

Ahoy from the SS Evangeline! We go in search of the Old Ones.

2017 To-Read List

Much like the universe, my to-read list is infinite and ever-expanding. I have four libraries covered between home and school, but sometimes I still can’t get my mitts on every book I want to read. But below are the books I absolutely MUST read this year, come hell or high water.

  1. When the Moon Was Ours by Anna Marie McLemore

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This book looks beautiful and hauntingly magical, and I have been looking forward to reading it since before its release. My deeper agenda, however, is research for my current project (World Tree), because The Most Important Thing to do when writing diverse characters is to read books by diverse authors.

  1. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

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A classic I was never forced to read in school, and so I take the responsibility on myself. The truth is, Treasure Planet is one of my favorite movies in the world, so I feel like I should read the book it’s based on.

  1. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

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This one is just for fun, people. One of those books that’s always been on my periphery, I’ve known about it’s existence, but I’ve never seen it in person.

  1. The Head of the Saint by Socorro Acioli

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A young boy with nowhere to go finds shelter in the abandoned head of a saint statue-and begins giving advice to the people he overhears pray to the saint. I have been trying to get my hands on this book for a year. This is the year I will make it happen. Mark my words.

  1. History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

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I heard Adam Silvera speak at Yallfest 2016 a few months ago and he was funny and made me want to read his books. This one comes out this month, so I’ll be looking out for it. It looks sad and hopeful, and I’ll probably be blogging about it, and all these others.

I’ll stop myself at five, but don’t get me wrong, I try to average a book a week. Mostly by browsing my library shelves and picking out the ones with pretty covers and shiny blurbs. I’ll review these ones as I finish them.

Happy reading!