Friday, June 29, 2018

Review: City of Lies by Sam Hawke

City of Lies (Poison Wars #1)
Released by Tor on July 3rd, 2018
Available for purchase on Amazon

I was seven years old the first time my uncle poisoned me... 

Outwardly, Jovan is the lifelong friend of the Chancellor’s charming, irresponsible Heir. Quiet. Forgettable. In secret, he's a master of poisons and chemicals, trained to protect the Chancellor’s family from treachery. When the Chancellor succumbs to an unknown poison and an army lays siege to the city, Jovan and his sister Kalina must protect the Heir and save their city-state. 

But treachery lurks in every corner, and the ancient spirits of the land are rising...and angry.


What an excellent fantasy debut!

This is a unique book. Many fantasy stories deal with all-out wars and very overt aggression. This story, while it did featured a siege, was a lot more concerned with subtle aggression - poison, political intrigue, spying, etc. And that made it very interesting and unique. None of our characters are paladins or warriors. In fact, they can barely hold weapons some of the time. Our main characters are much more concerned with learning about poison and finding hiding places to spy on people from. They aren't effective in the ways some fantasy characters typically are and I found that change refreshing and interesting.

The world in this story was really unique in some regards. The main city comes from a matriarchal society - women bear children and those children remain part of the woman's family. In fact, it seems that marriage is not a concern in this society at all - when a woman gives birth, there is no concern for the father and the children are raised within the large extended family. That was very unique and I wish this had been a bigger deal in the story - it's mentioned in passing a few times and comments are made about how weird it is when people leave their families (their aunts and uncles and mother, etc) to start their own family (two parents and children). Perhaps in future books, this will be addressed in more depth. The rest of the world was interesting, but not all that unique or significant. There are guilds that basically run the city. There's a lower class that's been treated unfairly by the ruling class and they want change. The "magic" system was interesting, though as a religion (which it is), it isn't that unique. But regarding it as magic makes it more interesting. Overall, it was an interesting world in so many capacities, but a fairly typical fantasy world in other capacities.

The main characters were the one part of this book that I didn't like. While most of the characters were written in interesting ways and had some personality, the two main characters just felt....meh. Our two main characters take turns narrating and there was nothing about their views of the world or their narrating voices that helped to tell them apart. Often, I'd have to go back to the chapter heading to remind myself who was narrating currently. I should have been far more attached to the main characters than I was and I should have been able to get a sense for their personalities and their wants and needs and interests, but most of what I learned about the main characters were things they revealed about each other - i.e. "Jovan cares so much about Tain," "Kalina is sickly and weak and needs me to take care of her," etc. There are ways to reveal your character without making other characters do the work of explaining them and I wish these characters had more clear personality.

Overall, this is a rewarding and interesting read and I'm excited to see more from this author.

Have you read this book? Are you interested in reading this book? What do you look for in a fantasy novel?

Friday, June 22, 2018

Resolutions: Read 100+ books in 2018

Huzzah! Another 2018 resolution completed!

Last night, I finished my 100th book of the year. Given how much I've been working these past couple months, I wasn't sure I'd be able to keep up on reading. And while I honestly haven't read as much as I would like to, I was still able to finish my goal very far ahead of time - which gives me hope that I get a lot more reading done before the year is out. Ideally, I'd love to beat my 2017 record of 187 books in one year, but that may or may not happen.

You can see my 100 books here!

How is your 2018 reading challenge going? What recommendations do you have for people who are falling behind?

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

On reading to become well-educated

I've recently been exposed to Susan Wise Bauer's list of books for the Well-Educated Mind (this blog has the neatest and clearest copy of her list that I could easily find). The friend who told me about it talked about how she and her partner were working through the list separately and that they felt it would be a lifelong project to read through this list. I was impressed with her dedication and with the broad range of perspective that her exposure to this list had given her so far.

That being said, this list is one person's perspective of what a well-educated person should have read. There are a lot of classic texts and a lot more modern ones. There's some diversity on this list as well. It got me thinking about what I would add to this list or what more I would want to consider someone well-educated. And here are a few of my ideas:

  • Eastern books - Most of the work on this list comes from Western authors. Though there is a lot of diversity on the list, it is mostly confined to Western countries or ancient Greek and Roman writings. I'd love to see some ancient Chinese, Indian, or Japanese works in translation listed on here. And the broadness of this request shows how little I know about Eastern literature, but I'd love to learn more and this list could be an excellent start to that exposure. And knowing about world cultures should be an important part of being well-educated.
  • More work by women - This is another area that I feel like this list could be expanded more. I understand that throughout history, women's writing has not been as prominent or as beloved as men's writing. However, there are plenty of modern women writers that deserve recognition or that must be read for one to be considered well-educated. I was glad to see Toni Morrison on this list, but the poetry section seemed especially sparse for women. Again, I wish I knew more about poetry to better recommend specific women poets to be included, but this list would be an excellent opportunity to expose people to more important women's writing.

What would you add to or remove from this list? What books do you think someone must read to be considered well-educated?

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Updates and new adventures

Guys, blogging is tough. When I started this blog, I was certain I'd have the time, energy, and creative power to post 3 times a week. And for awhile, I kept that up. Then, a few months ago, I brought that down to twice a week (plus blogging memes periodically when I felt like it). Now, my life has changed again and I'm realizing that there is no way I can keep up with twice a week. I just started an internship that occupies my 9a-5p hours, plus I'm working many evenings and weekends. There simply isn't time for me to blog so often at this point in my life. So, for the remainder of the year, I'll be doing at least one post every week (and hopefully more blogging memes or posts when I have time and energy to do more).

I've also started posting reviews on my blog. When I first started, I wanted this blog to be a place for book discussions and book lists and I hoped that book reviews could stay on my Goodreads account. However, as I've gained more perspective on book blogging (and lost free time), it's become clear to me that posting reviews makes a lot of sense (especially since I have more blog followers than Goodreads followers).

I'm excited to continue this blogging adventure and I'm so glad I've kept this up as long as I have (15 months so far)! Hopefully, I can continue this for many more months:)

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Review: Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Fruit of the Drunken Tree
Released by Doubleday on July 31, 2018
Available for purchase on Amazon

In the vein of Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a mesmerizing debut set against the backdrop of the devastating violence of 1990's Colombia about a sheltered young girl and a teenage maid who strike an unlikely friendship that threatens to undo them both

The Santiago family lives in a gated community in Bogotá, safe from the political upheaval terrorizing the country. Seven-year-old Chula and her older sister Cassandra enjoy carefree lives thanks to this protective bubble, but the threat of kidnappings, car bombs, and assassinations hover just outside the neighborhood walls, where the godlike drug lord Pablo Escobar continues to elude authorities and capture the attention of the nation.

When their mother hires Petrona, a live-in-maid from the city's guerrilla-occupied slum, Chula makes it her mission to understand Petrona's mysterious ways. But Petrona's unusual behavior belies more than shyness. She is a young woman crumbling under the burden of providing for her family as the rip tide of first love pulls her in the opposite direction. As both girls' families scramble to maintain stability amidst the rapidly escalating conflict, Petrona and Chula find themselves entangled in a web of secrecy that will force them both to choose between sacrifice and betrayal. 

Inspired by the author's own life, and told through the alternating perspectives of the willful Chula and the achingly hopeful Petrona, Fruit of the Drunken Tree contrasts two very different, but inextricable coming-of-age stories. In lush prose, Rojas Contreras sheds light on the impossible choices women are often forced to make in the face of violence and the unexpected connections that can blossom out of desperation

I have definitely never read a book like this before and I learned so much about Columbian history while reading.

Chula and Cassandra are young when their mother hires Petrona to clean their house. What starts as a working relationship soon becomes much more than that for Chula - and getting close to Petrona will change their lives in ways they never could have imagined.

For the first several chapter of this book, I was intrigued by the beautiful writing and the well-done character development. It was a lovely book and I was enjoying getting to know about another culture. But as the book went on, that changed considerably.

Is it wrong to say I was not expecting this book to be what it was? I expected a deep, lovely, sweet book about a family accepting a young girl into their home. And for a long time, that's exactly what it seemed like. But the book got darker and darker as it went on, but in a really satisfying and meaningful way. I wasn't expecting to get so attached to these characters or to want to know so much more about the conflicts they experienced.

The author was especially masterful in showing that not everyone gets a happy ending. Some books end on a happy note, but it feels artificial. This book presents itself in the beginning as one that ends on a happy note (The family immigrated! The girl got married! There's a cute little baby!), but by the end, you understand that it's so much more complicated than that for our characters and there's so much more to consider when trying to understand their happiness. The ending is bittersweet and the author handled this perfectly - along with leaving some hope and change open for Petrona in the end.

I especially was intrigued by Pablo Escobar, who I know was a real person who really terrorized Columbia for years. Hearing old news reports is one thing, but reading about how one man tore apart so many lives and families puts things into a new context. I want to learn more about that period in Columbian history and not a lot of historical fiction books make me that excited to learn more. This book is fantastic in that regard - you're so wrapped up in the lives of the characters that you don't notice how much you're learning until the guerillas are a central part of the plot. I was slowly eased into learning more and now I want to keep going.

Highly recommended to lovers of Latin American literature and those with an interest in family dramas.

Have you read this book? Are you interested in reading this book? What cultures are you excited to read more about?