Book Review: Spinning Silver

spinning silverSpinning Silver
by Naomi Novik
Fantasy/Fairy Tale Retelling
466 pages
Published July 10, 2018

I had previously read Uprooted, and adored it, so I was eager to get my hands on this book as soon as it came out. I was very excited to see it as a Book of the Month choice for July, and quickly made it my pick!

I received the book last weekend while I was at Anthrocon, so I didn’t get a chance to sit down with it until yesterday. (It officially came out Tuesday.) I proceeded to read straight through the entire book because it was SO. GOOD. Novik writes absolutely ENTHRALLING fairy tales. And in Spinning Silver, she has written fae as beautiful, alien, capricious, and as absolutely bound by rules as they should be. Doing a thing three times, even by normal means, gives one the power to ACTUALLY do the thing; in Miryem’s case, turning the Staryk’s silver into gold (by creative buying and selling) means she gains the power to LITERALLY turn silver into gold. Which then gets her into the trouble the rest of the book is built on.

One of my favorite lines was very near the end of the book, about the Staryk palace:

The Staryk didn’t know anything of keeping records: I suppose it was only to be expected from people who didn’t take on debts and were used to entire chambers wandering off and having to be called back like cats.

My only real quibble with the book is that it shifts viewpoints between at least five characters, and doesn’t start their sections with names or anything, so it takes a few sentences to figure out who’s talking. It never takes too long, but it did occasionally make me go “Wait, who is this….ah, okay.”

The plotlines weave in and out of each other’s way for most of the book before all colliding into each other at the end and showing how everything connects. I was definitely confused on occasion, but it was that enchanting Alice-in-Wonderland kind of confusion more than actual puzzlement. The book is, by turns, a mix of Rumpelstiltskin, Tam-Lin, Winter King vs Summer King, Snow Queen, and a little Hansel and Gretel. I love seeing elements of so many fairy tales woven together and yet still remaining recognizable.

And the ending! Oh, the ending was absolutely, marvelously perfect.

I loved this book, just as much as I loved Uprooted. I can’t wait to see what fairy tales Novik spins next!

From the cover of Spinning Silver:

Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders, but her father’s inability to collect his debts has left his family on the edge of poverty – until Miryem takes matters into her own hands. hardening her heart, the young woman sets out to claim what is owed and soon gains a reputation for being able to turn silver into gold.

When an ill-advised boast draws the attention of the king of the Staryk – grim fey creatures who seem more ice than flesh – Miryem’s fate, and that of two kingdoms, will be forever altered. Set an impossible challenge by the nameless king, Miryem unwittingly spins a web that draws in a peasant girl, Wanda, and the unhappy daughter of a local lord who plots to wed his child to the dashing young tsar.

But Tsar Mirnatius is not what he seems. And the secret he hides threatens to consume the lands of humans and Staryk alike. Torn between deadly choices, Miryem and her two unlikely allies embark on a desperate quest that will take them to the limits of sacrifice, power, and love.

Channeling the vibrant heart of myth and fairy tale, Spinning Silver weaves a multilayered, magical tapestry that readers will want to return to again and again.

 

Book Review: Autoboyography

autoboyographyAutoboyography
by Christina Lauren
YA LGBT Romance
416 pages
Published 2017

This book was EXCELLENT. I read this last minute, because the author tweeted that it was free to read on an online platform through the end of the month. It is absolutely adorable.

Autoboyography is the the story of Sebastian and Tanner falling in love, told mostly from Tanner’s point of view. He meets Sebastian in a class at school about writing a book, and the book we’re reading is supposedly the result. Tanner is a half-Jewish, bisexual kid moved from California to Utah, because his mother got a job offer she couldn’t refuse. He is surrounded by Mormons, whose religion doesn’t allow homosexuality. And Sebastian is Mormon.

The book unpacks so much, from stereotypes of bisexuality (and I LOVED the recognition that there are bisexuals who won’t be satisfied with one gender, and bisexuals who will, it’s an individual thing just like sexuality) to religious upbringing and the constraints that brings when someone is different, to unrequited love from a best friend, to how you can inadvertently let your other relationships suffer when falling in love.

The adorably sweet romance was a wonderful escape from current events, even with the hostility aimed at LGBT people by some of the characters. It was wonderfully done; enough to affect the characters and the plot, but not enough to spoil the uplifting, otherwise sweet nature of the novel.

I was slightly disturbed by an incident between Tanner and his best friend, Autumn. While they both seemed to take it in stride and move past it, it was a pretty shitty move on Autumn’s part, and could easily have gone very, VERY badly.

I really, really loved this book, and it’s going on my Favorites of 2018 list. I might need to buy my own copy. This is my last post for Pride Month, though definitely not my last book featuring LGBT characters! You can find all my Pride Month reads here.

From the cover of Autoboyography:

Three years ago, Tanner Scott’s family relocated from California to Utah, a move that nudged the bisexual teen temporarily back into the closet. Now, with one semester of high school to go, and no obstacles between him and out-of-state college freedom, Tanner plans to coast through his remaining classes and clear out of Utah.

But when his best friend Autumn dares him to take Provo High’s prestigious Seminar—where honor roll students diligently toil to draft a book in a semester—Tanner can’t resist going against his better judgment and having a go, if only to prove to Autumn how silly the whole thing is. Writing a book in four months sounds simple. Four months is an eternity.

It turns out, Tanner is only partly right: four months is a long time. After all, it takes only one second for him to notice Sebastian Brother, the Mormon prodigy who sold his own Seminar novel the year before and who now mentors the class. And it takes less than a month for Tanner to fall completely in love with him.

Book Review: Little Bee, and World Refugee Day

little bee refugeeLittle Bee
by Chris Cleave
Contemporary Fiction
267 pages
Published 2009

Today is World Refugee Day. First observed in 2001, it is dedicated to raising awareness of the plight of refugees all across the world. African Refugee Day had been observed in some countries prior to the UN declaring it World Refugee Day, but the Organization of African Unity agreed to have the two days coincide.

To honor World Refugee Day, today I’m going to talk about Little Bee. Little Bee is a Nigerian refugee in the United Kingdom. She and her sister witnessed the destruction of their village by an oil company’s thugs, and were hunted down to eliminate the witnesses. In a chance encounter on a Nigerian beach, she met Sarah and Andrew, a couple from London trying to save their marriage by going on an exotic holiday. The encounter changes the lives of all three of them, and when Little Bee makes it to the United Kingdom, they are the only people she knows. She arrives at their home on the day of Andrew’s funeral, and Sarah takes her in.

The book switches between the viewpoints of Sarah and Little Bee, and it does suffer from that, a bit. I couldn’t wait for Sarah’s chapters to be done so I could get back to Little Bee. Her viewpoint – her voice – was enthralling. Some first-person views are just the person thinking to themselves, while some first-person views are the person talking to the reader. Sarah was the first type, and Little Bee the second. Reading her explanations of the differences between her old life and her new life, and how the girls from her village wouldn’t understand things, was amazing. I was hooked within the first ten pages of the book, specifically her note about scars:

I ask you right here please to agree with me that a scar is never ugly. That is what the scar makers want us to think. But you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them. We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived.

The events Little Bee talks about having witnessed are horrifying. And she recognizes that. She could be bitter, she could be depressed, she could be insane, but she is not. She manages to have hope, and even joy. She sees other refugees around her commit suicide, and in fact always has a plan for how to kill herself “if the men come.” Because the stories of refugees always begin with “the men came and they…” and she’d rather kill herself than let herself be taken. Despite this, she has hope for a future. Or perhaps she simply takes joy in the present.

The book is not a happy one. Like Sing, Unburied, Sing, it’s an important book but not exactly an enjoyable one. There are enjoyable parts. But there are very hard parts, too. (I should note, here, a TRIGGER WARNING for a graphic description of rape, when Little Bee tells Sarah what happened to Little Bee’s older sister.) It did not end the way I wanted it to, though it ended in an unexpected way. I suppose it was too much to hope for a Happy Ever After when the vast majority of refugees don’t get one.

For all that there were very tough scenes to get through in this book, I’m still putting it on my Best of 2018 list. Little Bee’s voice and viewpoint is amazing, the story is well researched, and the plot absorbing. This is a book I’d like to have on my shelf.

This book fills the “book talked about in another book” (Tolstoy and the Purple Chair) prompt for PopSugar 2018, and the “refugee MC” prompt for Booked 2018.

From the cover of Little Bee:

We don’t want to tell you what happens in this book.

It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it.

Nevertheless, you need to know enough to buy it, so we will just say this:

This is the story of two women. Their lives collide one fateful day, and one of them has to make a terrible choice, the kind of choice we hope you never have to face. Two years later, they meet again – the story starts there . . .

Once you have read it, you’ll want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don’t tell them what happens. The magic is in how the story unfolds. 

Book Review: The Book of Essie

book of essieThe Book of Essie
by Meghan Maclean Weir
Contemporary Fiction
319 pages
Releases June 12, 2018

It’s so hard to decide where to start with this book. First: it’s amazing. Second: Content Warning. For a number of reasons. Rape. Incest. Gay Conversion Therapy. Suicide. Nothing extremely graphic; the most graphic concerns the conversion therapy, which is where the suicide occurs. That section was hard to read. A lot of sections were hard to read. But the book was SO GOOD. It’s about Essie and Roarke’s escape from all that, so ultimately it focuses on the future, and it’s a hopeful, light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel kind of book. But daaaaang these topics.

I loved so many of the characters here. Essie and Roarke, Roarke’s best friend Blake, Liberty, the reporter, her boyfriend and her camerawoman. They’re all amazing. Essie’s determination, Roarke’s courage, Blake’s understanding – every character has something to offer in this book. The way Liberty’s history entwines with Essie’s, so she knows where she’s coming from and can offer advice from experience, and how Liberty flashes back to her childhood so the reader understands her conflicts – it’s all just so amazing.

I identify pretty closely with a lot of this book myself; I was raised very conservative Christian, though at least not in a crazy cult like Liberty was. But the way Liberty talks about her boyfriend challenging her beliefs and waking her up from them hit very close to home. It was weird to see it on the page.

“I had been home as well, a painful few months during which I began to see my parents, our family, and our church as Mike might see them, as anyone who was not us would see them. I still loved my parents, very much, but I was also deeply ashamed. I began to wonder what would have happened if I’d seen it earlier….I decided that I would not go home again.”

I was cheering for Essie as she broke free of her bigoted family. Every step of the way. And Roarke – oh, Roarke, who my heart broke for, who stepped up to the plate and loved Essie in his own way, and gave Essie what she needed. It helped that Essie offered him precisely what he needed, too, but I didn’t expect how their relationship evolved.

I loved this book, start to finish. This is definitely one of my favorites of 2018.

I received this book a little early, through the Book of the Month club. It releases this Tuesday, June 12.

From the cover of The Book of Essie:

Esther Anne Hicks – Essie – is the youngest child on Six for Hicks, a reality television phenomenon. She’s grown up in the spotlight, both idolized and despised for her family’s fire-and-brimstone brand of faith. When Essie’s mother, Celia, discovers that Essie is pregnant, she arranges an emergency meeting with the show’s producers: Should they sneak Essie out of the country for an abortion? Pass the child off as Celia’s? Or try to arrange a marriage – and a ratings-blockbuster wedding? Meanwhile, Essie seeks her salvation in Roarke Richards, a senior at her high school with a secret of his own to protect, and Liberty Bell, an infamously conservative reporter. 

As Essie attempts to win the faith of Roarke and Liberty, she has to ask herself the most difficult of questions: What was the real reason her older sister left home? Who can she trust with the truth about her family? And how much is she willing to sacrifice to win her own freedom?

Written with blistering intelligence and a deep, stirring empathy, The Book of Essie brilliantly explores our darkest cultural obsessions: celebrity, class, bigotry, and the media. 

Book Review: Tolstoy and the Purple Chair

tolstoy purple chairTolstoy and the Purple Chair
by Nina Sankovitch
Memoir
236 pages
Published 2011

So first off, can we talk about this cover? I want this chair so bad. Though the purple chair the author actually sits in to read is nowhere near this pretty, from her description of it. I haven’t got a good reading chair yet; I have one corner of a couch, next to a bookshelf, that is my current favored reading spot (reading lamp, blanket, and end table included). But eventually I will find myself the perfect reading chair and make myself a nook.

That aside. The premise of this book is the author trying to come to terms with the death of her older sister, who she idolized. Her sister died of cancer, so they knew it was happening, but it was still a shock when she passed. For a few years, Nina pushes her grief aside and throws herself into being busy, but she eventually decides to full process she’s going to dedicate a year to reading a book every single day. She reasons that at her reading speed, she can reasonably finish a 300 page-ish book each day, giving herself time before her sons get up, while they’re at school, and after everyone else goes to bed.

I saw one reviewer mention Nina’s unrecognized privilege, and it’s true. Nina is very privileged. She can afford not to work, and not to worry too much about chores, cooking, and the general running of a home. Her sons and husband all seem fairly self-sufficient, and her husband’s job keeps them quite well, it seems. (I don’t even want to think about how much the Christmas tree she describes actually cost, considering it reaches the chandelier hanging from the second-floor ceiling.)

But the book is about the books she reads, not how privileged she is. And in that respect I quite liked it. Her criteria for picking books are that she can’t have read them before, though they can be authors she’s read before, no author could be read more than once, and she had to review every book she read. There’s a list in the back of the book of every book she read during the year. I’ve only read three of the books she read in that year: Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart, and Octavia Butler’s Kindred. All fantasy, of course, and none of which she actually mentioned in the text of the book! (I’ve also read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which she mentions in the beginning of the book, but wasn’t part of her year of reading.)

I love the way she talks about the books she reads. She relates them to her life, or her father’s memories of World War II. She draws lessons from the stories, and does, in time, begin to heal from her sister’s death. The way she talks about reading, and her books, really struck a chord with me, and I think I’m going to buy myself a copy of this book. I want to refer back to it when I’m feeling uninspired with my reviews, and this might be a book I re-read often to encourage me to dive deeper into my books.

This is my pick for PopSugar’s 2018 prompt “favorite color in the title” and I think it’s also going on my personal Best of 2018 list. I just loved it that much. It’s not a “I have to tell everyone about this and encourage everyone to read it!” kind of book. It’s more a “this really touched on a deep passion of mine and has words I’ll carry with me going forward” kind of book. It was just lovely.

From the cover of Tolstoy and the Purple Chair:

Nina Sankovitch has always been a reader. As a child, she discovered that a trip to the local bookmobile with her sisters was more exhilarating than a ride at the carnival. Books were the glue that held her immigrant family together. When Nina’s eldest sister died at the age of forty-six, Nina turned to books for comfort, escape, and introspection. In her beloved purple chair, she rediscovered the magic of such writers as Toni Morrison, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ian McEwan, Edith Wharton, and, of course, Leo Tolstoy. Through the connections Nina made with books and authors (and even other readers), her life changed profoundly, and in unexpected ways. Reading, it turns out, can be the ultimate therapy.

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair also tells the story of the Sankovitch family: Nina’s father, who barely escaped death in Belarus during World War II; her four rambunctious children, who offer up their own book recommendations while helping out with the cooking and cleaning; and Anne-Marie, her oldest sister and idol, with whom Nina shared the pleasure of books, even in her last moments of life. In our lightning-paced culture that encourages us to seek more, bigger, and better things, Nina’s daring journey shows how we can deepen the quality of our everyday lives – if we only find the time.

Book Review: Queens of Geek

queens of geekQueens of Geek
by Jen Wilde
Contemporary YA
262 pages
Published 2017

THIS BOOK WAS GREAT. It was a fun, quick read, but it involved three BFFs, one of which is autistic with social anxiety, and her friends know this and are incredibly supportive. The second girl is openly bisexual. The third friend, the boy, is Hispanic. The three of them take an epic trip to a big Comicon in LA; the bisexual girl (Charlie) co-starred in a zombie movie, and is a popular Youtuber, so when she’s invited to the Con she drags her two BFFs with her. Once there, she meets an idol of hers, another Youtuber, and discovers that her idol has a crush on her! So while dealing with her douchebag ex (her co-star from the movie), the other Youtuber asks Charlie out, and the two girls start a romance.

Meanwhile, the autistic girl (Taylor) and the Hispanic boy (Jamie) have loved each other for ages but been too afraid to admit how they feel. Largely left on their own, because Charlie’s manager couldn’t get them VIP passes, they explore the Con, geeking out over things and meeting another autistic woman, a comic book artist who gives Taylor some amazing advice about being afraid but doing things anyway.

I really really loved this book. I loved seeing autistic characters treated by their peers as just regular people with quirks, like everyone has. Taylor’s friends support her when her brain freaks out, and make allowances for her needs, but don’t treat her like she’s disabled or fragile. I loved seeing how tight the bonds of friendship were between the three teens, and how excited for each other they were, even when good things happening meant less time to spend with each other.

This was just a really lovely, feel-good book with lots of minority representation, by an autistic author who knows what she’s talking about. This is one more book off my Autism Reading List, and my pick for a book about friendship from the Litsy Booked 2018 Challenge.

From the cover of Queens of Geek:

Charlie likes to stand out. She’s a vlogger and actress promoting her first movie at SupaCon, and this is her chance to show fans she’s over her public breakup with co-star Reese Ryan. When internet-famous cool-girl actress Alyssa Huntington arrives as a surprise guest, it seems Charlie’s long-time crush on her isn’t as one-sided as she thought.

Taylor likes to blend in. Her brain is wired differently, making her fear change. And there’s one thing in her life she knows will never change: her friendship with her best guy friend Jamie—no matter how much she may secretly want it to. But when she hears about a fan contest for her favorite fandom, she starts to rethink her rules on playing it safe.