Friday 56 – Starless

StarlessThe Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The rules are simple – turn to page 56 in your current read (or 56% in your e-reader) and post a few non-spoilery sentences.

Today’s quote is from Starless, by Jacqueline Carey. Full review should be up tomorrow!

He touched the blade of his yakhan against the central prong of his kopar so lightly that it might almost have been an accident, except that he did it twice, tapping his left foot on the floor of the Dancing Bowl. Click-click-tap.

He did it again.

Click-click-tap.

It was a variant of the traditional tribal challenge of thunder and lightning against an unworthy opponent. One of the watching brothers chuckled, and I felt myself flush with anger and embarrassment.

“To first blood!” Brother Merik raised one arm, fist clenched. “Try not to maim each other, please. Go!”

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Book Review: This Will Be My Undoing

this will be my undoingThis Will Be My Undoing: Living at the intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America
by Morgan Jerkins
Memoir/Black Feminism
258 pages
Published 2018

I have a tough time reviewing books about Black Feminism. I enjoy reading them – well, maybe “enjoy” isn’t quite the right word. They can be tough. I am glad to have read them. But how to review them? I’m a white woman, it’s not really my place to critique these works. But it would be remiss of me to not talk about them – denying them the same space on my blog that I give to everything else I read is its own kind of erasure. I’m not sure how best to resolve this, but for this specific book, at least, I can talk about what I learned from it.

What I learned is that some of my childhood was straight-up racist. I always thought of my childhood as pretty idyllic – my parents were high school sweethearts, and to this day still adore each other. We lived in a house my parents owned. (My most formative years were actually spent in the house my mother grew up in; my parents bought it from my grandparents when I was seven.) We got to run around and play on a quiet neighborhood street where we knew all of our neighbors. We had pets of various species, we got technology fairly quickly since my father was a computer geek, we had a garden out back that Mom canned beans out of every year.

But I was homeschooled until eighth grade. (With Bob Jones and Abeka Books, notoriously Christian curriculum. I thought humans lived with dinosaurs well into my twenties.) We went to a conservative Christian church every Sunday. (And Tuesday. And some Fridays.) While my parents taught that I could be anything I wanted to be, the church definitely over rode that with “women should be subservient to men” and “don’t trust your own judgment, ask God/your parents/the elders.”

The incident that Jerkins’ book brought back to mind, though, was a party I went to. I’m pretty sure it was someone’s birthday party, but at a church. Not our church. There were a lot of people, though, so I could be wrong about the birthday party. It was this party where I got the tiny scar in my eyebrow – some kid broke the bat on the pinata and threw it behind him, where it hit me in the face. Before that, though, was the cake walk. There were footprints laid out on the concrete floor, and we paced around them while music played, kind of like musical chairs, I think. (I was younger than ten, my memory is a little fuzzy.) I won the cake! I thought nothing of this until reading This Will Be My Undoing.

“The cakewalk was a dance performed in the late nineteenth century at slave get-togethers. You lean or rear back and kick your feet out left and right or vice versa as you move forward……White people would watch them dance, fascinated by the exoticness of it all. These spectacles were purposeful humiliations. But the cakewalk evolved as slaves’ own form of subversion. While serving at large and fancy parties in the early 1800s, they would watch well-to-do white people perform strict and stiff dances, like cotillions and quadrilles, and mimic them, exaggerating the bowing and small skips and hops and adding some high steps and jumps. In diaries kept by white people in the antebellum South, the cakewalk is not depicted as a form of satire. After all, why would a sweet slave mock his benevolent master? To white people’s eyes, this imitation seemed like flattery. They were delighted that the slaves were attempting their civilized dances. In fact, they would hold competitions and the winning slaves would receive a cake, hence the name. Yet they were being mocked, right in front of their faces.”

WHY WAS THIS BEING HELD AT A CHURCH PARTY? I don’t recall if it was all white kids, but it probably was. My hometown was not very ethnically diverse. The more I learn – academically, politically, socially, secularly – the more I realize my childhood was pretty fucked up in a lot of different ways. I don’t know if it was more or less fucked up than most white kids’ childhoods – white supremacy is insidious. I was an ignorant child at the time, but to realize, decades later, how racist holding a cakewalk is, stopped me in my tracks. (Incidentally, this means that calling something “a cakewalk” has its roots in racism, like so many other things in our language. Cakewalks weren’t easy – but the best dancers made them look that way.)

So that’s what I can say about this book. I learned something about my childhood. Beyond that, all I will offer is that Jerkins is an excellent writer; the book flows well and is an easy read, despite the subject matter not being easy. Read it. It’s important.

From the cover of This Will Be My Undoing:

From one of the fiercest critics writing today, Morgan Jerkins’ highly-anticipated collection of linked essays interweaves her incisive commentary on pop culture, feminism, black history, misogyny, and racism with her own experiences to confront the very real challenges of being a black woman today—perfect for fans of Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists.

Morgan Jerkins is only in her twenties, but she has already established herself as an insightful, brutally honest writer who isn’t afraid of tackling tough, controversial subjects. In This Will Be My Undoing, she takes on perhaps one of the most provocative contemporary topics: What does it mean to “be”—to live as, to exist as—a black woman today? This is a book about black women, but it’s necessary reading for all Americans.

Doubly disenfranchised by race and gender, often deprived of a place within the mostly white mainstream feminist movement, black women are objectified, silenced, and marginalized with devastating consequences, in ways both obvious and subtle, that are rarely acknowledged in our country’s larger discussion about inequality. In This Will Be My Undoing, Jerkins becomes both narrator and subject to expose the social, cultural, and historical story of black female oppression that influences the black community as well as the white, male-dominated world at large.

Library Loot Wednesday!

Only two books this week – I have to slow down after last week! But R. F. Kuang’s The Poppy War and the Asian inspired anthology A Thousand Beginnings and Endings both came in this week, and I am SO EXCITED to read them! I’ve been looking forward to both of these for quite some time – a lot of the books that came out this summer have finally made it into the library system so I’ll probably be getting a lot of awesome reads in the next month or two!

Top Ten Tuesday – Education Freebie

We’re going back into the school year – the first day of my husband’s last semester of university actually starts today! So the topic this Tuesday is an education-related freebie. I’m going with ten books that I’ve used, am using, or am planning to use, to further my own personal education. I was homeschooled until eighth grade in a conservative Christian setting, so my science and history backgrounds were never very strong. I’ve been trying to overcome that most of my adult life.

educated memoirTo start things off, I really want to read Educated, a memoir by Tara Westover. The description makes it sound like I’ll identify with it a lot. We weren’t rural, we lived in town, and my parents wanted us educated, but certainly not to the public school system’s standards. (Though I was lucky enough to live in a state that demanded standardized yearly testing for homeschoolers, so I wasn’t as bad off as Tara.) I have a hold on this book at my library, but so does everyone else!

a short history of nearly everythingAmong the books I have used in the years since is Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. It’s mostly a history of science – discoveries, inventions, famous scientists – it’s fascinating. I checked it out from a library twice before finally buying my own copy. It’s long, and it took me some time to work through, but there was so much that I didn’t know. And Bryson has a knack for explaining things in a down-to-earth way that keeps my interest.

power faith and fantasyWhen my husband started prepping to be deployed to Afghanistan, I picked up Power, Faith, and Fantasy: American in the Middle East 1776 to the Present. It’s nearly 1000 pages, but it’s a pretty thorough history of our involvement with the region. I did realize after reading it that its author, Michael B. Oren, is a Zionist Jew, meaning he’s biased towards Israel, so that’s something to keep in mind while reading his takes on the region. Growing up the way I did, I now try to be aware of what biases authors may have and how that can affect the books they write.

Another, more basic book that helped my self-education was a simple high school biology textbook! Biology: Principles & Explorations opened my eyes to a whole new world I hadn’t understood at all. I was able to find a workbook for it on Amazon, and worked through, a chapter at a time, discussing concepts with my much more scientifically literate husband. Similarly, I have Geosystems and its associated workbook that I started to work through. I need to get back into that one.

reading womenMy education on Feminism began with Reading Women: How the Great Books of Feminism Changed my Life. The author talks about all the classic Feminist texts she read, giving me a jumping off point to find other books to read. I owe a lot to this one just for showing me what I didn’t know! I have since collected several of the texts she mentions, and have branched out further to read more intersectionally.

In History, I have a history book of the U.S. just called “America.” I set myself a challenge to read it this year, reading three chapters a month – and have failed miserably at it as I haven’t touched the book. And it’s August. Whoops.

great speeches of our timeIn political history, a book that enthralled me for a while was Great Speeches of Our Time, collected by Hywel Williams. I really like it because it gives context for the speeches and a little bit of background on each speaker, then the text of the speech. And these are amazing speeches from a wide variety of speakers.

A book that sits on the line between politics and history is Semper Fi: The Definitive Illustrated History of the U.S. Marines. This was another one I read while my husband was in the Marines; I was trying to understand the history and culture semper fiof what we’d joined. While it is a history of a specific branch of the Armed Forces, it’s also a history of the wars the US has been involved in.

I’m not sure which book to pick for my last book on this list; I have a habit of picking up textbooks for subjects I’m interested in – I have several on Counseling and psychology, a couple more on basic sciences, an intro to sociology, and a Spanish course (Plazas) with a variety of workbooks. (And a bookful of CDs! It was an excellent package I found used!)

tearsI think actually for my tenth pick here I’ll go with Tears We Cannot Stop. Of the books I’ve read on racism so far, it’s the one that hit the hardest. And, like Reading Women, it suggested many more titles to explore the issues further.

Not all of these are school-related, exactly, but each of these that I’ve read has been educational. I never want to stop learning. That’s part of why I read!

Series Review: The Bone Witch

the bone witchThe Bone Witch/The Heart Forger
by Rin Chupeco
Young Adult Fantasy
411 pages/501 pages
Published 2017/2018

I’m reviewing the first two books of a trilogy here, The Bone Witch and The Heart Forger. The third book, The Shadowglass, is due out in March – but I wish it was out now!!

Both books are told in an alternating chapter format; short chapters, told from a nameless bard’s viewpoint as Tea tells him her story, and longer chapters told from Tea’s viewpoint, being the stories she’s telling the bard. All of the bard’s chapters take place over the course of a few weeks, while Tea’s story covers her entire life up to that point. So you get glimpses of what she’s currently doing, while getting backstory and explanation of why she’s doing it.

First thing I want to say is Tea is BADASS. The book opens on her raising a terrifying monster from the dead and making it into a pet. A PET. The bard she’s talking to is intimidated, to put it mildly. Then we launch into her story. Tea tells us how she went from farmgirl to Asha – think a geisha with magic and combat training, and you’ll get the picture. Tea’s world is fairly rigid on the gender roles – women with magic become asha, men with magic become Deathseekers. A significant side-plot revolves around a young boy with magic who wants to be an asha instead of a Deathseeker, and Tea’s efforts to help him. Tea turns out to be a rare kind of asha – a dark asha, or bone witch – whose powers are mostly concerned with raising the dead.

heart forgerA major point of this world is heartsglass – in several of the kingdoms (but not all of them) everyone wears a locket around their neck with their heartsglass inside. Heartsglass is basically a small ball of light summoned forth from a person’s soul when they come of age. It can’t be given away unwillingly, and the different colors of someone’s heartsglass means different things – whether they’re a magic user, or a bone witch, or an asha, or a heart forger. Or rather, whether they have the potential to become those things. Some people – the ashas, death seekers, any of the magic users, really – can see peoples’ emotions in their heartsglass, and can tell when people are lying, or guilty, or a number of useful things. People in love often trade their heartsglass with each other, literally holding each other’s hearts. This can be dangerous; the bone witch who trains Tea in the first book gave her heartsglass away, but her lover died without returning hers. And she doesn’t know where he hid it. Without a heartsglass, her powers – and life force – are dwindling.

I love Tea so much. She is incredibly powerful, but hurt and pissed off and out for vengeance. At the same time, she doesn’t want to be evil, so she is tempering her vengeance to a knifepoint so innocents aren’t caught in it needlessly. She’s doing horrifying things while you’re thinking “Oh. Yeah. That’s justified.” The writing in these books is excellent. The side characters are fleshed out with motivations of their own, the villains have interesting reasons for their villainy, strange events get revisited later and explained – it’s just amazingly well done.

Between raising the dead, flirting with princes, taking down army-destroying monsters, and taming dragons, the only bad thing I have to say is I HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL MARCH FOR THE THIRD BOOK?!

From the cover of The Bone Witch:

The beast raged; it punctured the air with its spite. BUT THE GIRL WAS FIERCER.

Tea is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy makes her a bone witch, who are feared and ostracized in the kingdom. For theirs is a powerful, elemental magic that can reach beyond the boundaries of the living – and of the human.

Great power comes at a price, forcing Tea to leave her homeland to train under the guidance of an older, wiser bone witch. There, Tea puts all of her energy into becoming an asha, learning to control her elemental magic and those beasts who will submit by no other force. And Tea must be strong – stronger than she even believes possible. Because war is brewing in the eight kingdoms, war that will threaten the sovereignty of her homeland…and threaten the very survival of those she loves.

Lyrical and action packed, this new fantasy series by acclaimed author Rin Chupeco will leave you breathless.

From the cover of The Heart Forger:

Life isn’t fair. AND SOMETIMES, NEITHER IS DEATH.

No one knows death like Tea. A bone witch who can resurrect the dead, she has the power to take life…and return it. And she is done with her self-imposed exile. Her heart is set on vengeance, and she now possesses all she needs to command the mighty daeva. With the help of these terrifying beasts, she can finally enact revenge against the royals who wronged her – and took the life of her one true love.

But there are those who plot against her, those who would use Tea’s dark power for their own nefarious ends. Because you can’t kill someone who can never die…

War is brewing among the kingdoms, and when dark magic is at play, no one is safe.

Sunday Link Roundup

boudicatnip

When Boudicca finds catnip toys, dignity flies out the window.

The Hugo Award winners have been announced, and N. K. Jemisin scored a historic hat trick – she’s now won a Hugo for all three books in her Broken Earth Trilogy, three years in a row. WOW. She’s also the first black author to win a Hugo for a novel at all. Rebecca Roanhorse, author of Trail of Lightning, also took home a Hugo for best short story for “Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience.” Women almost completely swept the Hugo awards this year, and that’s awesome!

Hannah Gadsby is writing a memoir, and if it’s anything like her Netflix special (Nanette), it’ll be a powerhouse. I can’t wait.

Unbound Worlds has a list of 9 food-based fantasy novels and I want to read ALL OF THEM.

Halloween is coming, and Book Riot has 6 Necromancer Romance novels to read.

The New York Post has an interesting article on how the filmmakers obtained all the old, rare books for the upcoming movie The Bookshop, based off Penelope Fitzgerald’s 1978 novella. There’s a trailer for the movie at the bottom of the article!

I’ve been considering doing a geographic reading challenge for next year, and Book Riot just published a list of the best books set in every state of the US, plus Washington DC. There’s 3 or 4 books listed for every state, so there’s some choices there. And a lot of interesting sounding books, too!

August is apparently Women in Translation month – it’s a little late for me to join in that, but Book Riot has a list of books for it. I might refer back to that list next year!

This absolutely amazing Twitter account that started doing something ambitious back in May and just finished. XD Read the first word of each of her tweets, starting now and going back down her timeline, and you’ll see what I mean!