Tag Archives: adult

Book Review: A Less Compassionate Robin in Hood

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Click to visit the publisher's site for links to order, summary, and sample.

I started rereading Stephen R. Lawhead’s Hood mid-July 2018 for my August 2018 trip to Wales but was interrupted by the trip, and only now, almost a year later, am I finishing it.

I had read this book 11-12 years earlier; it was one of the books that was allowed to come with me when I moved into my freshman dorm.  (This was before bookstagram was a thing, but apparently, I already had the idea.)

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The Welsh countryside had already stolen parts of my heart via Susan Cooper’s Dark Is Rising series before this novel found its way to me, so I was predisposed to like it.

I had fond memories of it and was excited to reread it, but 11-12 years is a long time.

Now, I have not read Pyle’s version of Robin Hood or any other version that I remember besides Lawhead’s. The versions of the story that I know best are Disney’s with its foxy hero and BBC’s 2006-2009 television series.  It’s been a long while, but I’ve watched Robin Hood: Men in Tights too.  Robin and his entourage showed up once in Doctor Who.  Then I know just bits of the myth that have filtered into common cultural knowledge, that have been referenced in other stories.  And I have actually had the chance to walk the halls of Nottingham Castle and the paths of Sherwood.

I very much like Lawhead’s premise for this novel and the reasons for his conclusions about Robin Hood that he presents in the notes in the back of this book (these notes really ought to preface the book I feel instead of ending it; if you pick this book up for the first time, do yourself a favor and read those first. There is the map. There is the pronunciation guide. Page 473 in my copy begins the notes). In essence he argues that the legend of Robin Hood presumably arose from a historical fact and that the legend makes more sense as a Welshman, the Welsh being masters of the longbow, fighting from the wild, primeval forest of the March than an English noble in the shrinking Sherwood. Robin is believably a bastardization and Anglicization of Rhi Bran, and Lawhead offers several explanations of Hood (coed being a Welsh word for woodland or a reference to the hooded costume that Bran uses).  Like Robin of Nottingham, Bran is disinherited by an overreaching British monarch, not Prince John rewarding loyalists, but William II allowing his nobles to conquer Wales, killing unyielding Welsh kings in battle.

But I don’t find Bran as likeable as Disney’s or BBC’s versions. Lawhead’s Bran has to learn selflessness on a hospital bed, and his motivations are less generous than other Robins throughout, even after that revelation. He is prone to bouts of violence. He is reintroduced as a young man while coercing kisses from Mérian (and that I think more than anything else really soured this book for me; he cares about Mérian’s consent no more as he develops into a leader, though their interaction late in the book is brief, and perhaps he improves in sequels, which I have never read). When he is enjoying himself, he can be impish. When he is contemplative, he shows promise as a ruler. He can be bold, but that boldness borders on recklessness and sometimes endangers others. Some of my unfavorable impression of Robin might be what Lawhead intended. He says Robin in the earliest stories “was a coarse and vulgar oaf much given to crudeness and violence” (474).

I empathize with the ousted and hunted prince, but I too often dislike him. I root for the Welsh cause without much liking the leader of the rebellion.

Mérian just seems young. She is irresolute, one moment wholly opposed to the Ffreinc invaders and the next dreaming of parties in Ffreinc castles. She is acted upon rather than taking any actions herself and seems to hold no firm convictions.

Disney’s Robin is roguish, romantic, and compassionate. Disney’s Marian is gentle.

BBC’s Robin is roguish, romantic, compassionate, and a conscientious objector after he learns respect for Islam while fighting in the Holy Land at King Richard’s side. BBC’s Marian is passionate, a fighter for justice and the poor.  She acts against tyranny despite the risk to herself.

It’s difficult to gauge how much of Hood is historically accurate.  William Rufus, Bernard Neufmarché, his daughter Sybil, and Philip de Braose all are historically recorded. Bernard did capture Talgarth in the early 1090s.  Rhys ap Tewdwr was killed in Bernard’s Welsh conquest in 1093.

But more often, Lawhead relies on common names. There was a Brychan—but not a Brychan ap Tewdwr—who was king of Brycheiniog (a term not used in Hood, but that’s the only King Brychan I can find in Welsh history).  Elfael was not part of Brycheiniog, but was adjacent to it.

And sometimes the facts just don’t line up.  Elfael in fact did not become its own cantref until 1140, and Lawhead’s map sets the story between 1080 CE and 1100 CE.  Before that, Elfael with Maelienydd was Ferlix.  And while there is a Llanelli in Wales, it is nowhere near where it is on Lawhead’s map, being a coastal town in Carmarthenshire.

All this I fact checked using resources freely available on the Internet, but admittedly, there is some fuzziness to the historical records from this period.

Despite my dislike of Bran and Mérian and my uneasiness about some of the history and geography that Lawhead uses to set his novel, I still find this an interesting fictional representation of the Norman invasion of Wales and Welsh life and resistance at the time of William II.

I enjoy the ease with which Lawhead makes his story align with the Robin Hood legend, defending his case for a Welsh genesis for the myth.  And I like Lawhead’s writing. He captures the settings well. He writes a good battle.

I just wish that this story had more central characters that I actually enjoyed being around.  I do like Iwan (Little John) and Friar Tuck.

***

Lawhead, Stephen R. King Raven, Book 1: Hood. Nashville: Thomas Nelson-HarperCollins, 2007. First published 2006.

This review is not endorsed by Stephen R. Lawhead, Thomas Nelson, Inc, or HaperCollins Publishers. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

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Book Review: The Enormous Scope of Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights

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Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample, reviews, and author's bio.

SPOILERS included in an attempt to linearly layout the story.

I have meant for a while to dive into Salman Rushdie’s canon. He is a man whose conviction I greatly admire. For the Satanic Verses, his execution was ordered by an Iranian Ayatollah, leading Rushdie to hide under an alias on British soil.  But he has stood by his publication and continues to write about religions and the big questions.  He has used his fame to speak out on a vast number of social and political issues of our time and to benefit nonprofit programs and generally (to borrow a term) “decrease world suck.”

This is nevertheless the first book of Rushdie’s that I have read.

Rereading The Golem and the Jinni recently ignited in me new interest in the jinn, the mythology of which I think could be useful in my own writing. Finding this book on audio CD at the local library when the book that I’d gone for was missing seemed a sign, and I took it.

The bulk of the story told is about a near future but is told from the perspective of a historian or storyteller 1000 years past the main events, a period of 1001 nights—or two years, eight months, and twenty eight days—that is known as “the time of the strangenesses.”  The story spans from the time of Ibn Rushd’s exile from the court at Cordoba when he lived in the mostly Jewish village of Lucena (c. 1195) until 1000+ years past our present, a stunning scale (1825+ years).

By Rushdie’s account, during Ibn Rushd’s exile, he loved a girl called Dunia, who bore him many children, which Ibn Rushd, when his favor in court was restored, largely cast off along with Dunia. Dunia, awakening the dust of Ibn Rushd long after his death, around our own present, reveals herself to be the princess of Qaf in Peristan, the parallel world that is home to the jinn and other lesser magical creatures. With the veil between the two worlds loosened, other jinn return to the world of men, including the grand ifrits, dark jinn. This sparks a rash of “strangenesses,” unexplainable plagues that affect humanity, and broadly, the return of magic to men. Dunia’s and Ibn Rushd’s descendants have multiplied, and the jinn magic within several of these descendants is awakened by the strangenesses and by Dunia. She deputizes several of these descendants as warriors in her fight against the dark jinn and the grand ifrits. Much of the story focuses on the lives of a few of these deputized warriors, which include a failed graphic novelist who finds himself possessing the powers of his imagined superhero, a woman with lightning’s electricity, and a widowed gardener. These three are viewed as among the human heroes of “the war of the worlds” by the account of the narrator, and they participate in the final battle between Dunia and the last of the grand ifrits. After the closing of the gaps in the veil between the worlds following that battle, according to the narrator, the world is reborn into an age of rationalism, absent the fear of gods or religions or the supernatural, but humanity loses the ability to dream.

It’s a complicated story without a strict linear telling, with many point of view characters, and an omniscient narrator who sometimes interrupts with his opinion and many asides on the nature of the jinn and the nature of humanity.  The action takes place across our globe and in Peristan too.

Mostly I read (or listened to) this story as a fantastical telling of a battle between mythological creatures that takes place mostly in our world, and I was pleased. It is a good action story, a battle between good and evil with a host of characters from around the world and pieces of history thrown in for good measure and grounding. But it is certainly a reflection on the nature of humanity and of the nature and reality or fantasy of a god or gods. It is a warning against prejudice and the creation of the “other.” The world is saved by a several immigrants to the US. It is at once an examination of the worst instincts of humanity and a praise of humanity’s endurance and stolidity. Certainly it is a tale of human reason and ingenuity versus unreasonableness, irrationality, and magic.

This is one of those stories definitely for a much older audience. There are graphic depictions of violence and lots of discussion about sex, consensual and otherwise, if those acts themselves are never described in much detail. I at several times questioned whether I should be playing this audiobook with the windows down at a stoplight, not knowing if young ears were open in cars with open windows around me.

Allusions are dense on the ground in this book, its scope of art almost as vast as its scope of time. I missed many of them but was pleased when I did catch a reference.  I learned more about philosophical texts and ideas than I brought knowledge of philosophy to the book.

Robert G. Slade does voices if not maybe distinct for every character then certainly for some of them who stand out.

****

Rushdie, Salman. Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Days. Narr. Robert G. Slade. Random House Audio-Penguin Random, 2015.

This review is not endorsed by Salman Rusdie, Robert G. Slade, or Penguin Random House. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: Vox is a Chilling Dystopia with Current Events as Foundation

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Click to view the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, excerpt, reading guide, and author's bio.

Comparisons between Christina Dalcher’s Vox and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale are nearly unavoidable. Both women are writing speculative dystopian Americas that oppress women by relying on a skewed, ultraconservative Christianity. Atwood wrote The Handmaid’s Tale in 1985, but Hulu has recently brought the novel back to the zeitgeist with a streaming video series. I haven’t read it more recently than 2007 or seen any of Hulu’s series.

The chill of Dalcher’s speculative novel is in the near-past and contemporary, concrete news stories and (sub)culture that build the background of her horrific America. I remember reading about Supreme Court seats being filled with ultraconservative Justices during the extremely contentious Kavanaugh hearings in which a potential Justice’s emotional testimony was pitted against a woman’s even-keeled testimony of an assault allegedly committed by that nominee against her (and the man’s testimony was given more credence) and having to put the book down. It is too easy to see the building of this dystopia by tuning into the news—as is also true of Atwood’s book, but the details are not as immediate coming as they do from events from the 1980s.

In Dalcher’s America, a charismatic, ultraconservative, women-hating, mega-church televangelist has taken power, using the American president as a puppet. Women’s passports have been destroyed. Schools have been divided by gender, women relegated to an education that is glorified home economics. Women’s Bibles have been edited. Extramarital sex is punishable by public, televised humiliation, relocation to a work camp, and enforced silence. Dissidents and lesbians are sent to these camps too with the same imposed silence. (Dalcher to my recollection never really addresses whether two men having sex is punished in the same way.) Women of any age have been forced into monitors that count the words that they speak. Each day every word after 100 causes a shock, and the voltage increases in intervals after 100, one woman at one point discovering how to commit suicide using the monitor.

The protagonist, Jean McClellan, is a former Wernicke’s area specialist, seeking a way to reverse the effects of damage to that area, a cure for Wernicke aphasia, a condition that results in fluent speech devoid of meaning. Her husband works for the president.

In college, despite her roommate being an activist for women’s rights, Jean didn’t pay much attention to politics. She didn’t participate in any of the protests or rallies. Now it’s too late.

When she is given the chance to be released from the monitor and to win her young daughter’s freedom too, she reluctantly accepts and works for the president to complete the research and create the serum on which she was working before the changes in policy barred her from work.

But she begins to suspect a larger plan to further curtail women’s and dissidents’ voices and advance the pastor’s cause. The end hurries into a race to uncover the government’s true intentions for McClellan’s research, thwart the government, and escape punishment.

The chapters are short, and I was for a long while reading the book only for 5-15 minutes at a time as I got ready to go somewhere a little more quickly than I thought that I might. It was really only being laid up with a sprained ankle that sped me through the last ¾ of the book.

Dalcher’s seems to be a warning to those who say “it can’t happen here” and to those who choose the sidelines over the frontlines.  Her heroes are as much the ones who acted and called out the slippery slope before the government physically curtailed women’s voices as Jean, who acted to impede further curtailment.  Ultimately it is one of those early criers who continues the fight to overturn the oppression, not Jean, who escapes after helping to end the tyrannical administration.

Science is weaponized by both parties in this fight.

Violence is justified by both.

I read an ARC of this book.

The trade paperback of this novel comes out July 16, 2019.

***

Dalcher, Christina. Vox.  New York: Berkley-Penguin Random, 2018.

This review is not endorsed by Christina Dalcher, Berkley, or Penguin Random House LLC. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Shelfie: March 10, 2017: Well-Crafted Threat

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“When I’m finished,” Octavian promised, “nothing will be left of your kind but stories.  I will burn your homes.  I will bury your warriors.”  His voice grew even softer.  “I will blacken your sky with crows.”

Sometimes, a book can steal my heart with just one well-crafted line.  This is from one of Jim Buctcher’s books in the Codex Alera series.  I haven’t read any of these books yet, but my roommate paused in her lightning speed read to read this one paragraph aloud to me, and I am nearly certain now that I will love this series.  I will love this paragraph forever regardless.  Just that line… “nothing will be left of your kind but stories.”  And “I will blacken your sky with crows.”

People of Color in Books That I Read in 2018: Part 1: Novels

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February is Black History Month and a good time to review how people of color have been represented in fiction that I read in the previous year.  And February is quickly slipping away from me.  I haven’t yet finished reviewing all of the picture books that I read in 2018, but I have reviewed the novels.

Looking at this year’s numbers, 28% percent of the books that I read this year (picture books included) included a person of color in any capacity—which is 1% more than 2017’s numbers. However, only 12 books that I read in 2018 included a person of color as the protagonist, a dismal 7% of my total books read, less than half as many as in 2017. That’s terrible. That’s on me. I did not this year seek out as many picture books to read independently as I have done in other years. Only 1 of the 12 books with a POC as the protagonist was a book mandated for story time in 2018.

I want to help others find these novels with characters of color, help others to know where to look for representation.  This will be the fourth year that I am doing this.  You can find the previous years’ posts collected here as well as links to more complete Goodreads lists.

Middle-Grade Fiction or Nonfiction (Ages 8-12)

Books with a POC as a protagonist

Yes, No, Maybe So, Book 1: Tara Takes the Stage by Tasmin Lane.  2018.

In this choose your own adventure novel, Tara Singh, an Indian American struggles between choosing trying out and practicing for tryouts for the school theater production and helping her family prepare to impress a Bollywood star who might put their sweet shop on the map. Tara’s crush, Hiro, a theater boy himself, is Japanese American. But is she also developing a crush on Rohan, an Indian American who works with her parents at the shop? Her best friend Yael is Jewish. I have yet only read this through the once, with the one ending, with the one set of choices.

The Heroes of Olympus, Book 5: The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan. 2014.

A Latino American, a Chinese Canadian, an African American, and a Cherokee (all half-Greek or -Roman deity, I suppose) travel from Rome to Athens and back to Long Island to help three white kids save the world by sending the primordial deity, Gaia, back to sleep. An Italian American immigrant and a Puerto Rican (one half-Greek deity, one half-Roman deity) go on a separate quest to restore an ancient Greek artifact to the Greek demigods in America and end the feud between the Greek demigods and the Roman demigods.

A diverse cast with no protagonist

Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods (2014) & Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes (2015) by Rick Riordan and illustrated by John Rocco.

These are harder books to put into any of these categories. They are each collections of mythology, so all the protagonists in the stories—or most of them—are Greek.  There are adventures and visits to places farther afield, primarily in northern Africa or modern-day Turkey and Georgia.  In Greek Heroes, Cyrene is given a queendom in modern day Libya by Apollo in exchange for becoming his lover.  Orpheus travels to Egypt.  Hercules meets Antaeus in modern-day Tunisia on his way to the Strait of Gibraltar between modern-day Morocco and modern-day Spain before wandering Spain and Portugal in search of Geryon’s cattle.  In Greek Gods, Dionysus unsuccessfully tries to invade India with his followers. He is successful in spreading his worship into the Middle East, but the Indians repel him. Because in these Riordan is recounting existing myths from ancient texts and cultures, he is bound to an extant to remain true to the tellings as they are recorded by others, though he can choose what to include and what to exclude from the myriad and sometimes contradictory stories about these characters and narratives.

A white protagonist with a secondary character who is POC with a speaking role

Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. 2005.

Charon is described as having darker skin. He’s a god, the ferryman of souls to Hades’ realm, and an employee of Hades’. Percy guesses at first that Medusa is a Middle Eastern woman because of her dress. I assume she wears a burka as that would best hide her eyes.

The Trials of Apollo, Book 3: The Burning Maze by Rick Riordan. 2018.

Piper McLean, a Cherokee, returns as a secondary character, bordering on a protagonist, but Apollo—here appearing in the mortal, pimply, gangly form of Lester Papadopoulos—and Meg McCaffrey are protagonists.

Teen Fiction (Ages 13-19)

Books with a POC as a protagonist

The Raven Cycle, Book 3: Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater. 2014.

Raven Cycle, Book 4: The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater. 2016.

In comments on an Instagram post from March 8, 2019, Stiefvater confirmed that Blue’s mother, Maura, and her extended family are African American.  Blue herself is then half-African American, half-Welsh tree creature (spoiler in white).  Henry Cheng, a half-Korean half-Chinese American, is less of a prominent character in the third book but borders on being a protagonist in the last book of The Raven Cycle. His mother, his friends in the Vancouver crowd, all are Asian American as is their landlady.

A white protagonist with a secondary character who is POC with a speaking role

Timekeeper, Book 1 by Tara Sim. 2016.

Brandon, Danny’s assistant and friend, is dark-skinned and Daphne, a fellow clock-mechanic and Danny’s rival but later an ally of his, is half-Indian, half-British.

Adult Fiction (Ages 20+)

White protagonists with diverse background characters

Temeraire, Book 2: Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik. 2006.

Temeraire and his crew of Englishmen and at least one girl travel with a delegation of Chinese ambassadors and officials along the west African coast and then across the Indian Ocean to China where they see how dragons are treated in that country, Temeraire meets his family, and Laurence struggles with the politics of the English-Chinese relationship. I love that this book series discusses what was happening in China (albeit a China where dragons are real) during the Napoleonic Wars, China often being left out of any discussion about that conflict.  However over the course of the whole book I never really got to the point where I felt like I knew any of the many Chinese characters, so I feel like they must be background characters, characters that helped to drive plot and created tension. Perhaps I should give them more credit. Perhaps other readers felt the presence of one or more of the Chinese characters more strongly.  The Chinese culture as a whole is viewed fairly favorably by Laurence and Temeraire in this novel, though there is clearly quite a bit of palace politics and intrigue at work within the higher echelons of the Chinese government in the novel.  While traveling along the coast, Temeraire and Laurence fly over land for a while, but see mostly undeveloped wilds.  In Cape Coast, modern-day Ghana, the crew witnesses an unsuccessful slave revolt, which greatly upsets both Temeraire and Laurence, who even before visiting Cape Coast are both vociferously against slavery as an institution, though as yet neither has been particularly active in quashing the institution either.  The ship stops in Cape Town, South Africa too, but Temeraire is feeling poorly, and to the best of my recollection, neither Laurence or Temeraire much observe the city.

Do you think or know that I misrepresented or misinterpreted any of these?  Please comment below.  Let me know.

Edited on June 22, 2019 to reflect information discovered in March 2019.

LGBTQIA+ Representation in the Books That I Read in 2017

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It’s Pride Month, and I’m feeling prideful. I wrote this post ages ago and stuck it in a drawer because, frankly, I am still embarrassed for myself and for the industry by how few books including LGBTQIA+ characters I had read in 2017, but those books still deserve recognition. So:

This year I want to start something new: Already I’ve started the list on Goodreads, but I want to highlight here too the books that either include characters from the LGBTQIA+ community or which offer support to the LGBTQIA+ community (because some are more explicit than others).

I read 237 books in 2017. Of those I’m counting only 10 that include characters who are explicitly or implicitly part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Those are pretty abysmal numbers (.04%), but I’m aware of the lack now, and I’m openly seeking and celebrating books that I find that include more diverse gender identities or sexual orientations because representation matters.

Picture Books, Picture Storybooks, and Board Books (Ages 0-8)

Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima. Simon & Schuster, 2017.

Sima’s book is not explicitly about gender identity or sexual orientation. It’s about a unicorn born under the sea with a diving helmet who thinks that he is a narwhal, though he never entirely fit in. He meets unicorns later in life and realizes that he is actually a unicorn. When he returns to his narwhal friends, he takes “a deep breath” and tells his friends “the news: It turns out… I’m not a narwhal.” “Of course you aren’t.” “I’m a unicorn.” “We all knew that.” His friends take “it quite well.” This conversation is coded like a coming-out. The book later makes possibly an argument for not having to choose to be one or another, neither land-narwhal with the unicorns or sea-unicorn with the narwhals. This might be about gender-fluidity or transgender identity or nonbinary identity. Possibly it’s an argument against the segregation of groups by identity, for diversity among friends. Whatever message the takeaway, whomever finds meaning it in, it’s an absolutely adorable story about finding yourself inside of community—and making your own community.

Quackers by Liz Wong. Alfred A. Knopf-Penguin Random, 2016.

Wong’s book has a pretty similar message to Sima’s. Quackers thinks that he is a duck because he’s grown up among ducks by the pond—until he meets cats, and they show him the ways of cats. Quackers decides that he is both duck and cat, sometimes doing duck things, and sometimes doing cat things.

Middle Grade-Young Readers (Ages 8-12)

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 2: The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan. Hyperion-Disney, 2016.

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 3: The Ship of the Dead by Rick Riordan. Hyperion-Disney, 2017. 

Alex Fierro is gender-fluid. He/She becomes Magnus’ love interest, and the two share a kiss in the final book. Loki is also gender-fluid and bisexual, having children with men and women. In the third book, Alex brings to life a gender-fluid clay figure, Pottery Barn, who uses they/them/their pronouns. The einherjar in Valhalla are not entirely comfortable with Alex’s gender-fluidity, but that there is a Norse word for gender-fluidity undercuts the argument that gender-fluidity is a new phenomenon, and by book 3, floor 19 has pretty much accepted Alex.

The Trials of Apollo, Book 1: The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan. Hyperion-Disney, 2016.

The Trials of Apollo, Book 2: The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan. Hyperion-Disney, 2017. 

Apollo, the protagonist and POV character in this first person narrative is openly bisexual. In the second story, the heroes stay with two older, strong, well-rounded women who left the Hunters of Artemis and immortality to pursue their love for one another. They are raising an adopted daughter together. In the first, we also get to see Nico and Will together, and the camp seems quite accepting of their romance, though that Nico will pull out some creepy Underworld magic if separated from Will probably does help to keep people from complaining. 

Teen (Ages 13-19) 

The Raven Cycle, Book 2: Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater. Scholastic, 2014. First published 2013.

The Raven Cycle, Book 3: Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater. Scholastic, 2015. First published 2014.

The Raven Cycle, Book 4: The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater. Scholastic, 2016. 

Ronan Lynch and Adam Parrish are in love, and by the final book, the two are comfortable enough to come together openly, sharing a kiss at a party. I think they may already be in love with another when we meet them, though their growth as individuals certainly deepens their attraction to one another. Joseph Kavinsky, who lusts after Ronan Lynch (I wouldn’t call it love), helps Ronan come to terms with his own sexuality.

Adult (Ages 20+)

A Place at the Table by Susan Rebecca White. Touchstone-Simon & Schuster, 2013.

This historical fiction is in part the story of Bobby Banks, a pastor’s son from Georgia, whose father turns him out when he discovers Bobby in bed with another boy. Bobby grows up in exile from his family, living with his gentler grandmother. He later escapes Georgia and moves to New York City. His time in New York coincides with the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, and Bobby loses his partner to the disease. His friends lose partners and friends to the disease.

Do you know or think that I misrepresented or misinterpreted any of these?  Please comment below.  Let me know. I’m hoping the list of books that I read in 2018 that include LGBTQIA+ characters grows far longer than this.

People of Color in the Books I Read in 2017: Part 2: Novels

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I read 68 books that included people of color this year, which sounds impressive compared to last year’s 44, but that is only 27% of the total books that I read this year. However, of those 68, 34 had a person of color as a protagonist—a full HALF, 14% more than last year! But again, those 34 are only 14% of all of the books that I read this year.

Did those numbers go up from last year? Yes, yes they did, but not by enough, never by enough. The percentage of books that I read with any mention of people of color increased by only 1%, but the percentage of books with people of color as protagonists rose by a full 9%.

For fun, within the age grouped sections, I’ve arranged the series by their most highly rated book, and the series themselves with their highest rated at the top of the list and lowest rated at the bottom, so for example, the highest rate book in the Harry Potter series is more highly rated than the highest rated book in Percy Jackson and the Olympians and Deathly Hallows is more highly ranked than Half-Blood Prince, and so on.

 

Middle Grade-Young Readers (Ages 8-12)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Book 7 by J. K. Rowling. Scholastic, 2007.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Book 6 by J. K. Rowling. Scholastic, 2006.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Book 5 by J. K. Rowling. Scholastic, 2003.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany, Jack Thorne, and J. K. Rowling. Arthur A. Levine-Scholastic, 2016.

Despite some prevalent but far from universal fan theories and some casting decisions made by those heading the new West End play, the Harry Potter series is pretty white. There’s Dean Thomas, a boy of African descent from Harry and co.’s year, who gets a larger role in The Deathly Hallows, and Blaise Zabini, also of African descent, a Slytherin of indeterminate gender even, no more than the last name in the Sorting queue until Half-Blood Prince, where he emerges a member of the Slug Club. There’s Cho Chang, a girl of Chinese descent, whom Harry briefly dates during his fifth year. There’s Kingsley Shacklebolt, an Auror and Order member who later becomes Minister of Magic. There’s Lee Jordan, a classmate of African descent in Fred and George’s year, who reemerges as a radio host in The Deathly Hallows. There are the Patil twins, Parvati and Padma, who are of Indian descent. In The Cursed Child in an alternate universe created by meddling in the past, Ron marries Padma and has a half-Indian son, Panju, though neither Padma nor Panju are ever on stage, and Ron is pretty miserable as her husband. As far as speaking parts go… that’s pretty much it.

 

Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 5: The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan. Hyperion-Disney, 2011. First published 2009.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. Hyperion-Disney, 2005.

Percy Jackson is also pretty white. Charon is described as having darker skin. He’s a god, the ferryman of souls to Hades’ realm, and an employee of Hades’. I feel like another of the gods was described as darker skinned, but I cannot remember whom. I know Thanatos, Death, is, but he doesn’t appear till the next series. Charles Beckendorf, head of the Hephaestus cabin, who dies a hero, is African American, at least in fan art that is now the official art, but I’m not even sure it says for certain in the series that he is African American. But Riordan learned.

 

The Trials of Apollo, Book 1: The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan. Hyperion-Disney, 2016.

The Trials of Apollo, Book 2: The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan. Hyperion-Disney, 2017.

The supporting cast of The Trials of Apollo is pretty wonderfully diverse, though Riordan handles it much better in the second than the first book. But now there is a Brazilian demigod at Camp Half-Blood who speaks very little English. One of Apollo’s children is African American. In the second, there’s Jamie, a graduate student and wielder of magic if he isn’t a demigod (which he might well be), descended from the Yoruba people of West Africa, to whom Apollo is pretty strongly attracted. There’s the Latino American Leo Valdez in all his marvelous impishness.

 

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 3: The Ship of the Dead by Rick Riordan. Hyperion-Disney, 2017.

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 2: The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan. Hyperion-Disney, 2016.

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 1: The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan. Hyperion-Disney, 2015.

Now we get to Riordan’s best—or my favorite so far. Here is Blitzen, a dwarf with dark skin. Here is Samirah al-Abbas, a hijabi and Arab American. She lives with her Iraqi American grandparents. She is engaged to Amir Fadlan, whose father Abdel runs Fadlan’s Falafel, a restaurant that has always been kind to Magnus Chase, finding him extra food when he was living on the streets of Boston. Here is Alex Fierro, a Mexican American, whose family immigrated from Tlatilco. He/she becomes Magnus’ love interest. Here is Thomas Jefferson Jr., a Union soldier from the Civil War, the son of a runaway slave and the Norse god Tyr, who while living dealt with the prejudice against African Americans. All of these are primary characters.

 

The Kane Chronicles, Book 1: The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan. Hyperion-Disney, 2011. First published 2010.

In this series of Riordan’s, the two narrators and primary heroes are biracial, half-white, half-African American. Carter is dark skinned. Sadie is paler. They go to live with their Uncle Amos, who is African American. Most of the action for this story takes place in Egypt, where they interact with the magicians of the First Nome beneath Cairo. Carter’s love interest, Zia, is born along the Nile.

 

Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Promise: Part 1 by Gene Luen Yang. Dark Horse, 2012.

Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Search, Parts 1-3 by Gene Luen Yang. Dark Horse, 2013.

Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Rift, Parts 1-3 by Gene Luen Yang. Dark Horse, 2014.

Avatar: The Last Airbender: Smoke and Shadows, Parts 1-3 by Gene Luen Yang. Dark Horse, 2015.

Avatar: The Last Airbender: North and South, Parts 1-3 by Gene Luen Yang. Dark Horse, 2016.

I actually read these all in their individual parts. This is set in an alternate world, but the influences are mostly Asian, and most of the characters appear more Asian than Caucasian. The Water Tribes of the North and South Poles are darker skinned than members of other nations.

 

Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly. Greenwillow-HarperCollins, 2017.

This standalone of realistic, contemporary fiction–and hey! this year’s Newbery winner!–features a protagonist who is Filipino American and a pair of Japanese American sisters. Virgil’s Filipino American heritage is particularly explored. His grandmother is fairly newly immigrated.

 

Teen (Ages 13-19) 

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Balzer + Bray-HarperCollins, 2017.

This story was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and police brutality against the African American community. Starr and her family are African American. Most of the characters are African American, but Starr attends a predominately white private school, and her boyfriend is white.

 

The Raven Cycle, Book 3: Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater. Scholastic, 2015. First published 2014.

The Raven Cycle, Book 4: The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater. Scholastic, 2016. 

In comments on an Instagram post from March 8, 2019, Stiefvater confirmed that Blue’s mother, Maura, and her extended family are African American.  Blue herself is then half-African American, half-Welsh tree creature (spoiler in white).  Calla, Jimi, Orla, and their immediate family were described in the text as dark skinned.  Henry Cheng, a half-Chinese half-Korean American, becomes a much more prominent character in The Raven King, even becoming the third wheel to Blue and Gansey’s tricycle, joining them on the road trip that I most want to be on.

 

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater. Scholastic, 2017.

Almost this entire cast, the entire Soria family is Mexican American.

 

Adult (Ages 20+)

Ender’s Game Alive by Orson Scott Card Exec. Skyboat-Brilliance with Audible, 2013. Ender’s Game first published 1985.

Shadow of the Hegemon by Orson Scott Card. Audio Renaissance-Tor-Holtzbrinck, Sound Library-BBC Audiobooks America, 2006. Shadow of the Hegemon first published 2000.

The International Fleet picks the best from every nation. Most of the primary characters are white. Bonzo Madrid, with whom Ender fights, is Spanish. Alai becomes one of Ender’s closer friends and part of the jeesh. He is North African. Shen, one of Ender’s first friends, is Japanese. Commander Chamrajnagar, later Polemark, is Indian. In Shadow of the Hegemon, Bean and Petra with Achilles travel the world pretty expansively. Bean befriends Suriyawong, and joins then later commands the Thai army. Virlomi, an Indian Battle School graduate, helps Petra escape by escaping Achilles to get word to Bean and Suriyawong. Achilles brokers a brief peace between Pakistan and India, meeting with representatives of both nations. Bean lives for a brief time in Brazil and then later moves the headquarters of the Hegemon there.

 

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman. HarperAudio-HarperCollins, 2013. First published 2005.

Fat Charlie and Spider are descended from Anansi the Spider of West African mythology. Fat Charlie’s mother and their neighbors in Florida are all Afro-Caribbean.  Rosie Noah and her mother are both Englishwomen of Afro-Caribbean descent, Rosie’s father having been instrumental in the introduction of Caribbean fusion food to England.

 

A Place at the Table by Susan Rebecca White. Touchstone-Simon & Schuster, 2013.

Alice Stone and her family are all African American. Amelia is revealed later to be biracial. Bobby Banks’ grandmother lives in a predominantly African American neighborhood, but Bobby struggles to make friends with the African American children who live there.

 

Do you know or think that I misrepresented or misinterpreted any of these?  Please comment below.  Let me know.

Edited on June 22, 2019 to reflect information discovered in March 2019.

Book Review: Camaraderie Evades All the Crooked Saints

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Click to visit the publisher's site for links to order and summary.

I’ve begun rereading Blue Lily, Lily Blue, and I think I’m finally ready to talk about Maggie Stiefvater’s latest, All the Crooked Saints, which I finished back in early December.

If you’ve been with me a while, you’ll know that I fell and fell hard for The Raven Cycle, that I adored The Scorpio Races. I can’t say the same for All the Crooked Saints—the only other of Stiefvater’s novels that I’ve read, and as a later novel, one that I thought would build on the best elements of the other books that I’d read.

This was a different novel for Stiefvater. This was one of those deeply personal novels that she needed to write. (She has written a lovely, insightful piece on her Tumblr about this novel).

Stiefvater’s unique command and beautiful use of language was still on full display here as was her grasp of magical realism, that sense that, yes, this is real, but there is fantasy too, and the two don’t make either one any less true. This is the first of her novels that I’ve read (that she’s written?) with a predominantly non-white (in this case Mexican-American) cast. This is the first that I’ve read (that she’s written?) that can qualify as historical fiction, set in 1962 Colorado with talk of German POWs who work the farms during the previous generation’s childhood, and the music and pop icons of the day. There was lots that I thought that I would love—and I did love—but it lacked one crucial thing:

What I think kept me on the outskirts of All the Crooked Saints was the characters themselves. I fell for the “blinding, deafening, maddening, quickening” friendship of the boys and Blue, and like Blue “now that she’d had this kind, she didn’t want the other.” The protagonist of All the Crooked Saints, Beatriz, claims to be a girl without feelings. She has a difficult time relating to anyone and is forbidden to even talk to the people in her community who are not family. That kind of easy, “all-encompassing” friendship cannot exist for Beatriz (BLLB 103).

Beatriz is a lonesome in the way the Stiefvater defines lonesome herself in Blue Lily, Lily Blue: “a state of being apart. Of being other,” a philosopher, a genius thinker, a rationalist, scientist (28). In her case, this lonesomeness seems mostly self-imposed, a prison built of her belief in others’ cruel words about her having no feelings. I enjoyed her insights, but I missed others. She learns. The whole book is about achieving the miracle of overcoming one’s own worst faults, and Beatriz learns that she does have a heart and that faults can only be overcome in an accepting relationship, with love. But she learns slowly, and it’s not till near the end of the book that she has learnt this truth.

Beatriz’s otherness and lonesomeness were sort of the point, but it also kept me from feeling close to this novel and the characters in it—even Beatriz herself.

As an exploration of overcoming, of exploring and confronting the deepest, ugliest parts of ourselves, this book is important, this book means a lot to me. But I just didn’t enjoy it in the way that I wanted to enjoy it. I’m so glad that there are others who did. A second reading later may alter my perception of it some.

I did enjoy the languages. I enjoyed the scant scenes of the camaraderie—especially between the petitioners stuck with one miracle but not the second.

***1/2

Steifvater, Maggie. All the Crooked Saints. New York: Scholastic, 2017.

This review is not endorsed by Maggie Stiefvater or Scholastic, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

 

Book Review: A Christmastime Rebellion in the Enderverse

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Click to visit the publisher's site for links to order, summary, audio excerpt, reviews, and author's bio.

This is my third book in the Enderverse. I found the rereleased hardcover at Barnes & Noble and got so excited. It was nearing Christmas when I did, and I am a sucker for Christmas fanfictions, so a canon Christmas novella in a world that I’m just falling in love with was near irresistible. So I ran to the library.

This happens mid-Ender’s Game/Ender’s Shadow, when Ender is newly transferred to Rat Army, but the majority of the novel does not revolve around Ender.

Zeck Morgan is rescued from his ultra-religious father, a Puritan minister who whips Zeck to make him more pure. Zeck has a perfect memory, which his mother believes is from God, though she warns Zeck to hide that memory from his father, whom she thinks will believe it from the devil. The IF sees that memory as a useful asset in a soldier—and it seems implied that the soldier who comes for him believes that he is rescuing Zeck from his abusive household, though Zeck resents being drafted.

In Battle School, Zeck maintains his father’s preached pacifism and won’t fire his weapon, though he enters the Battle Room and does the school work for Battle School. He is disliked by the students.

A homesick Battle School student, Flip Rietvald, sets his shoes out on Sinterklaas Eve, and Dink Meeker, noticing the childlike gesture, gives him Sinterklaas gifts, a silly poem and a pancake shaped into a F.

Religious observation is banned in Battle School and Zeck’s father has preached that Santa Claus is a manifestation of Satan, so Zeck complains to Commander Graff about the Dutch boys’ observation of the holiday. The punishment that Flip and Dink receive spurs Dink to begin an underground celebration—not in the name of Christmas, but in the name of Santa Claus (in all his forms), whom he argues is not a religious figure but a cultural icon, his day celebrated even by the atheists of countries where he exists, and nationality impossible to ban. Children begin to give one another gifts with a sock attached so that the gift is known to be in Santa’s name.

The battle brews. Zeck stirs up trouble by convincing one Pakistani soldier that prayer is a national observation as much as is the celebration of Santa because Pakistan was formed as a Muslim nation, and so Muslim identity is national identity. When this results in several Muslims being led away in handcuffs for religious observation, the Santa Claus celebration stops; the fight becomes too serious, the consequences too dire; it ceases to be fun, and the celebration ceases to be in the spirit of Santa Claus, “compassion and generosity […] the irresistible urge to make people happy […] the humility to realize that you aren’t any better than the rest of us in the eyes of God” (78).

Because this series is Ender’s story more than any of the others’, it is Ender who gets to give the last Santa Claus gift of the book and demonstrate the team-building prowess that makes him such an astounding leader. He corners Zeck and convinces him of the error of his father’s protestations, battling Zeck Bible verse for verse and sharing secrets about his home-life and his abusive brother.

This story mostly provides an interesting platform to discuss national observations versus religious observations, particularly around the Christmas holiday but around all religions—though only Christianity and Islam are discussed—the intersection and dissonance of nationality and religion, religious tolerance, and the fake religious proclamations of those whose words are not reflected in their actions.

It ends on a happy note, which I almost require of my Christmas fanfiction but has even more substance than I’m used to expecting from a good Christmas ficlet—for which I was not ungrateful. I like more of a Christmas meal than Christmas fluff.

Ultimately, this was a good diversion while I prepped and then survived the Christmas holiday.  It was good food for thought.  It was not the cleanest and tightest of Card’s writings, but it was interesting to spend more time with Dink and more time with some of the previously nameless Battle School students.

***

Card, Orson Scott. A War of Gifts. New York: Tor-Tom Doherty-Macmillan, 2007.

This review is not endorsed by Orson Scott Card, Tor, or Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.