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Many things are happening for the Thakurs of Hailey Road: Justice LN Thakur's brother is having troubles with his wife, said wife has moved in with Justice Thakur and family, three of the five Thakur daughters may or may not be having romantic problems, and the Justice isn't on speaking terms with the third daughter and close to doing to the same with daughter #2.

The main plot of the book mostly focuses on Debjani (the fourth oldest daughter), who has just begun as an anchor at DD, the primary news channel in India at the time. This puts her in conflict with her father's card buddy's son Dylan Shekhawat, an investigative journalist trying to implicate high-up politicians for their role in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and rather looks down on Debjani for spouting government propaganda.

This is my favorite out of all of Anuja Chauhan's books and feels very much like what I've been waiting for. I love that this is in third person POV, compared to the first person of her past two books; I felt I got a much better sense of Debjani's community and the various family dynamics (in two families! that was nice). I did like the romance a lot, especially Dylan, but like her other books, I also really like the non-romance relationships. And my favorite bits were actually the investigative journalism. Another plus was that the Debjani/Dylan relationship got much further before undergoing the usual relationship crisis: families met! And the crisis was in part based on a big misunderstanding, but at least with more of a twist than the usual.

Spoilers )

Other random bits: I REALLY want to know about sister #3. I was kind of confused about Eshwari's maybe romance; at times I thought Chauhan was telegraphing that no, you don't always have to return someone's crush on you, but I wasn't completely sure that was what the book ended on. Also saw that there is a sequel about Dabbu's nephew (by marriage) and niece, which I really want to read. I'm also not talking about various little moments, like Dylan's parents' romantic anniversary or Debjani always being overshadowed by her oldest sister or how the rocky bits of Debjani and Dylan's relationship really affects their families, especially their fathers.

And I very much liked the look at 1980s India, the sense of things changing and bringing with it more access to foreign goods, the changing role of the press and the gradual loss of government control over said press. It feels very real, how the characters all react to some of that without the book just being about social change, which is something that many authors have a difficult time balancing... either it feels like the characters are a bit out of place in the supposed historical setting, or that there is too much "look how much I researched xyz!" Also, some of it is a bit nostalgic for me, particularly things like finding local versions of foreign imported junk food in corner stores or trying to emulate clothes. I don't really remember a lot of the details of political change going on in Taiwan because I was a kid at the time, but a lot of the KMT stronghold on Taiwan was lessening right around me being in high school. And ditto the flood of imported goods and whatnot.

Anyway! I very much enjoyed the Anuja Chauhan book club, and thanks to [personal profile] deepad for organizing the entire thing. And I hope I can get my hands on an ebook, or a US publisher decides to bring her over here or something, because I really want to see grown-up Thakur kids.

(Also, apparently Chauhan wrote a short story prequel to Zoya Factor for Valentine's Day!)
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A young woman is captured as a spy in Nazi-occupied France. And there's stuff about female pilots in WWII.

This is one of those books you want to read while knowing the least possible amount about the content. If you do know more, it won't ruin the book, since I think the book will stand up well to multiple readings, but it is a spy narrative.

As a note, potential trigger warnings for oblique interrogation details, along with wartime violence.

For people who want to know more, this book has amazing female friendship (SO SLASHY), excellent characters, Nazis in WWII who are genuinely terrifying and prosaic at the same time, plots within plots, and given how in love I was with stories about the French Resistance in WWII, this would have been my absolute favoritest book EVAR EVAR EVAR if I had read it as a kid.

Not that it isn't a favorite now, but younger me probably would have made up stories and fic and enacted key scenes and made her friends play different parts and such.

SPOILERS LIEK WHOA )

I don't really have a conclusion, since my main reaction is to flail and wave my hands and tell people to read it so I can talk about it with them. But this is definitely on the "best books I've read in 2012" list, and I knew it even though I finished it back in May.

Links:
(all links go to the day post to preserve spoiler cuts)
- [personal profile] skygiants' review
- [personal profile] musesfool's review
- [personal profile] rachelmanija's review (no spoilers in post or comments)

Assume spoilers in comments!
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This is a retelling of the Mahabharata from Panchaali's point of view (in this text, she prefers "Panchaali" to "Draupadi"). It starts from her youth in Drupad's palace, where she's largely dissatisfied by the traditional feminine trappings of her upbringing and longs to break out of gender roles to fulfill the prophecy that she will change the course of history. Then it continues through her marriage to the Pandava brothers and, of course, the great battle of Kurukshetra.

Generally, I like to know a reader's context while I'm reading their reactions to a book, and moreso when the book is a retelling of a familiar story. So: I listened to the audiobook version, narrated by Sneha Mathan. I've read Ramesh Menon's retelling of the Mahabharata, but I'm not as familiar with it in the way someone who grew up hearing the stories would be, and furthermore, it's not a story from my own religious or cultural backgrounds. It was also interesting "reading" a book for the first time as an audiobook; I tend to like something familiar with audiobooks, so almost everything I've listened to before this has been a reread. Also, I read fan fiction.

I didn't feel very lost in the book, despite not being entirely familiar with the source; I'd forgotten about Drupad and Drona's rivalry, as well as Panchaali's brother Dhrishtadyumna's role in it, but Divakaruni
drops in backstory and things outside of Panchaali's knowledge fairly nicely.

Anyway, back to the book! I liked the early parts about Panchaali's childhood the most; in a way, it feels like the story stops after her swayamvara because Divakaruni stops adding as much to the text. It's almost as though the first part is Divakaruni writing fic of Panchaali's backstory, but once Panchaali meets the Pandavas, Divakaruni's narrative becomes more a straight retelling from Panchaali's point of view.

I wasn't particularly fond of Panchaali's desires for a less traditionally feminine life, largely because the way it was expressed felt very modern and Western and out of place. Also, Divakaruni sometimes follows up on it, but not always, so my impression was more that it was something younger Panchaali felt but older Panchaali did not think as much about, without a narrative of how that change took place. That said, I do like the first part for fleshing out Panchaali and Dhrishtadyumna's sibling relationship.

My main issue, though, is how Divakaruni portrays Panchaali's relationship with the Pandavas. Here, she is bound to them by duty, not love, and though Panchaali is fond enough of the brothers, her passion is reserved for Karna. Except... she only talks to Karna maybe twice in the book, whereas the entire second half is spent with the Pandavas. So there's a lot of longing in her thoughts about Karna, but no actual action, and when she's with the Pandavas, the narration largely consists of how she feels obligated to them but no real emotional attachment. This did not make for the most scintillating reading. She does rage at the Pandavas at times, particularly Yudhisthir post-dice-game, but the narration always feels a bit removed emotionally. Panchaali will think about how angry she is, or how betrayed she feels, but then she will immediately counter herself by saying that the Pandavas are not bad husbands, that Yudhisthir has his good points, etc., so that there's not much emotional progression. She begins marriage to the Pandavas with very similar feelings that she ends the book with, and while there are a few highs and lows, the Panchaali-Pandava relationship largely remains the same.

That said, my favorite bits are probably the ones that flesh out Bheem and Panchaali's relationship a bit, since I'm fond of them.

I was also a bit irritated to read Divakaruni's piece linked below, in which she talks about how none of the women in the epics she grew up on get to interact with each other that much. Panchaali does interact with a few women in the book, particularly with her mother-in-law Kunti, but there's very little about her and the other Pandava wives. I was somewhat disappointed to find that her relationship with Kunti was very antagonistic, the both of them fighting over the Pandava brothers' affections. I think if Divakaruni had wanted to portray the relationship differently, she could have, and interpreting it as the antagonistic mother-in-law vs. daughter-in-law wasn't particularly interesting to me. The other main female relationship Panchaali has is with Dhai Ma, her childhood nurse, but here too, Divakaruni doesn't really step out of the stereotype. Dhai Ma is lower class, earthy, more blunt, and somewhat gender policing, and though Divakaruni keeps telling us that Panchaali is very fond of Dhai Ma, we don't see that much of it in her actions.

Much as I understand Panchaali's attraction to Karna's story, I'm not sure how well it worked for the novel. There's too much of Panchaali thinking about Karna without interaction between the two, and the little interaction there is wasn't fleshed out enough for me. I felt the same way about Panchaali's love for her palace in Indraprastha; Divakaruni writes a lot on how much Panchaali loves it and feels at home there, but the ten years spent there are glossed over in a few pages, so there's never that much depth to it.

The book reads as though Divakaruni was caught between wanting to do a reimagining of the Mahabharata and a straight retelling, and I'm not sure it quite succeeds at either. I think my reaction is very colored by what I expect from fanfic, though, and I'm not sure how fair that is. I especially wish she had spent more time on Panchaali's relationships with the five Pandavas, since that takes up so much of the book and because so much of the book rests on the Karna vs. Pandavas comparisons that Panchaali keeps making. And, strangely enough for a book that ends with Kurukshetra, the book read as too introspective to me, without enough of Panchaali interacting with other people in dialogue vs. thinking about them.

Audiobook-wise, I liked the reader and especially being able to hear the pronunciations of names more accurately than the pronunciation in my head. Mathan has somewhat of a British or more Western-sounding accent in her narration (I think... not great at identifying accents), but the lower-class characters, especially Dhai Ma, are voiced with a much stronger Indian accent. The nobler characters, like Krishna, Arjun, Kunti, and etc., have less of the Indian accent, and I think Panchaali's spoken accent is the same as Mathan's accent in narration; i.e. it reads more as "invisible." I particularly didn't like how this marks Dhai Ma even more, though the novel itself definitely supports the somewhat stereotyped lower-class nurse take. Also, in audio, Divakaruni's textual quirk of having Panchaali ask several rhetorical questions in a row gets very, very old, very, very quickly.

Links:
- "What Women Share," by Divakaruni (published before she wrote Palace of Illusions)
- [personal profile] rachelmanija's review
- [personal profile] oncejadedtwicesnarked's critique
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*looks at date*

Er. Better late than never?

Once again, I read fewer books this year. On the other hand, only two books less than last year, so I think that is not bad, considering that I started grad school and all! And I managed to blog every book I read, with the exception of rereads.

The biggest change for me in 2008 was starting the [livejournal.com profile] 50books_poc challenge; namely, to read 50 books by POC in a year. I had originally done it from IBARW to IBARW (August 2007 to August 2008), but it's nice to know that I met it for the calendar year of 2008 as well. If anyone's interested about why, I wrote up why I count and how the challenge affected me during IBARW 3. Next year, my goal is to increase the percentage of books by POC so that it's over 50% of all the books I read, total. I'm still trying to make it enough of a habit that I won't have to count, and it's rather embarrassing to see the huge jump in numbers once I started making an effort. The gap between 13 books by POC versus 64 is enormous and indicative of my own aversive racism; it didn't actually take that much effort to find those 51 additional books (although a large part of that is thanks to my local libraries, and aversive racism plays its own role in book selection in libraries as well).

It is nice to see that I do not have to worry much about the percentage of women I'm reading.

As always, feel free to ask about anything here.



Also recommended )

Total read: 129 (6 rereads)
51 by women of color, 64 by POC, 104 by women

Complete list of books read in 2008 )
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Spoilers for The Vanished Child )

The mystery in this book isn't nearly as interesting as the mystery in The Vanished Child; while one of the mysteries reflects on the main character conflicts in this book, the other mystery seems completely unrelated. I suppose there is a way to connect the mysterious notes from Her Artist to the concerns about women's roles in art and how they are often silenced and left to be the muse, the inspiration, the passive object to be acted on, but I didn't think Smith did a good job in executing it.

And yet, I still love this book for the way it looks at women and art and women and work. It reminds me a lot of Gaudy Night. I'm still trying to debate if it's a problem specific to white women; the book itself is very white. And clearly women of color would have different blocks and would probably not even get a role of muse or inspiration. But some of the conflicts I think do apply, and while I don't know as much about female musicians of color, I thought a lot about the black women dancers whose stories are told in Waltzing in the Dark.

But the way Smith writes about how women are written out, how the music instructor teaches the men to play the piano as if they were caressing a woman, how women are the subjects of art or the inspirations but never the creators and often not even the subject or inspiration depending on class and race, I love it.

Aside from that, Smith's prose continues to be lovely, as are her period details. I'm not entirely satisfied by the conclusion of the book but am curious to see how the next book continues the story.
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Queen Elizabeth has been on the throne for a couple of decades, but no one knows that some of her success comes from a pact made with another queen—Invidiana, queen of faerie England. Soon, Michael Deven, a member of her court, and Lune, an out-of-favor lady from Invidiana's court, are working to find out exactly what binds the two queens together and why.

I enjoyed this a lot. It's got court politics and intrigue like whoa, but written in such a manner that it's very understandable to me while still being believably politic-y. I particularly liked learning more and more about Lune as we learned more and more about Faerie. And though I'm mostly tired of books about Faerie/fairies/the Fae/Sidhe/etc., the setting and politics of this were interesting enough to keep me engaged. It does have many of the standard Faerie trappings—fear of church bells, glamour, and etc.—and though Brennan doesn't deconstruct them, there are enough twists to entertain.

And apparently there's room for two Elizabethan books about Faerie, as this one reads very, very differently from The Perilous Gard.

I am still not quite sure what to make of the role Christianity plays. On the one hand, it's hard to have Faerie without a mention of church bells or teinds to hell. On the other, I'm not quite sure I fully bought the religious aspects, and whenever I read these books, I always wonder about other parts of the world and other religions and such. I mean, in the author's notes, Brennan clearly wants to limit the book to a particular time period and region, and I like the sense of Faerie scattered about Europe with different courts and such—faerie politics works very much like inter-country politics in Elizabethan England. Possibly I am just thinking too much about it.

Anyway, it's an engaging read.

Links:
- [livejournal.com profile] yhlee's review
- [livejournal.com profile] cofax7's review
- [livejournal.com profile] rushthatspeak's review
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Tita and Pedro are in love, but because Tita is the youngest daughter of Mama Elena, tradition dictates that she can never wed so she can take care of her mother forever. Instead, Mama Elena arranges a marriage for her eldest daughter, Rosaura, and Pedro.

I'm guessing pretty much everyone knows that this is a book with foodie magical realism. When Tita cries into the batter, the guests who eat the finished dish are so affected by her grief that they vomit; when she uses the rose petals from the roses Pedro gave her, her sister Gerturdis is so inflamed by desire that she runs out naked to have sex with the first man she finds.

I really liked the foodie bits and the language. Unfortunately, I hated the characters and the general story, which is just the sort of love triangle that I absolutely detest. It was good that there were some older female characters that Tita likes to counteract Mama Elena, but I hate hate hated the way Tita and Rosaura are pitted against each other. It was even worse because though Tita is angry at Pedro for marrying her sister (seriously, WTF?), the main enemies are Rosaura and Mama Elena, and Rosaura is constantly jealous of Tita and engages in petty acts to hurt her. In my head, Rosaura and Tita team up and beat up on Pedro, because seriously! What was he thinking? Marrying one sister to be able to be close to another is such a phenomenally bad idea that I have no words!

Well, I have another of Esquivel's book, so we'll see how that one goes...
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Marianne Ransom has just been orphaned, and she's on her way to London to hopefully find a job as a governess. But Marianne has different plans, and she ends up stumbling into some rather unsavory elements of Victorian London. In the end, she's taken on by a rich duchess for her supposed relationship to a famous spiritualist.

I'm not actually sure if this is a gothic or a mystery; none of the men seemed all that threatening to Marianne after her first London encounter, but on the other hand, there is a forbidding house with secret passages, an overprotective head housekeeper, and a woman who hides her disfigured face under a veil. What made it less gothic-y to me was Marianne's largely unfazed attitude. She's most definitely an ingenue, and very much eighteen years old to boot, but she also learns rather quickly and ends up having a bit of a backbone. I liked her a lot, despite or possibly because of how the omniscient narrator pokes at her faults.

Anyhow, this was a very fun read that drew me in via the plot and the developing relationships between the characters.
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This is a fictional retelling of the young Empress Dowager Cixi's life and how she gained power in the court. In the book, Min calls Cixi "Orchid," which Wikipedia says is speculation ("Cixi" is one of the official names bestowed on her). The book reads a lot like Judith Krantz's rendition of Qing Dynasty China; though the story arc has Orchid growing more and more adept, the focus is still on her romances, her romantic rivals, and her son. It's also an odd read after reading the first three volumes of Ooku: while both works are about concubines of powerful rulers, Ooku examines the gender constraints involved in the shogun's harem, whereas Empress Orchid seems to only use such gender constraints to portray the story of a woman who is the exception that proves the rule.

I do like that Min is retelling the story of Cixi, who is almost universally maligned in Chinese history books as being the one who brought down the Qing Dynasty. While I am fairly sure that the Qing Dynasty was already collapsing by the time Cixi came into court—the Taiping Rebellion is already underway, and China has already lost the first Opium War—most history books accuse Cixi of passing more and more conservative measures when it comes to dealing with the increasing demands from the Europeans, Americans, and Japanese, as well as siphoning off tons of money from the royal treasury to build luxury gardens. Again, not sure how accurate this is, given the strong bias against women in government in Chinese history. I also appreciate that she retells the story of Jiang Qing, Chairman Mao's much-scorned wife and supposedly the cause of the Cultural Revolution.

On the other hand, Orchid sees all the other royal concubines as rivals, and while she comments that the system makes this so, the book doesn't help much. All the influential characters are men, outside of Orchid and Empress Nuharoo, and it's particularly frustrating reading about Orchid and Nuharoo's relationship. The opening chapter implies that the two are friends, but they're more rivals brought into an uneasy alliance. Nuharoo's also singularly uninterested in the political machinations that Orchid finds necessary for survival, and Orchid's attitude toward her is often tinged with contempt and fear, as Nuharoo is still more powerful than Orchid.

These are all complaints about situations that are historically accurate, as far as I know, but given the artistic license Min takes with other aspects, she probably could have changed this as well. Either that, or she could have kept it as is and made the book much more of a commentary on the system of imperial concubines and how women had to manipulate men to do anything, but she didn't.

That said, I did like the book's critique of European and American imperialism; you get a very good sense of just how painful each concession was as it was made, and how much was demanded, over and over and over again.

Overall, I think this could have been a fascinating reimagining of a powerful woman who worked her way up despite the system, as well as a sharp critique of that system, but instead, the emphasis on Orchid's love life and the decision to stay firmly in her first-person POV undermines the retelling.
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Leela is a twelve-year-old in Gujarat, India in 1918. She's obsessed with pretty bangles and saris and excited about her anu, the ceremony to send her off to live with her husband. But then, her husband dies, and Leela will be a widow forever, as brahman women are not allowed to remarry.

I was rather hesitant about beginning this book, as I have very complicated feelings about feminism and how it relates to colonialism, particularly how white feminism frequently enforces colonialism in the name of "freeing" brown and black women. On the other hand, the book's cover copy promised a story about how Leela's own journey would intertwine with Gandhi's argument for satyagraha and Indian independence.

I know—this sounds like a book that is All About Oppression, but rather than finding it depressing, I found it uplifting and hopeful. Leela reminds me a great deal of Rilla in Rilla of Ingleside in that both begin as rather privileged, flighty creatures, and soon must live up to political events outside their control. I started out wanting to shake Leela at times, and I ended up loving her.

What really made the book for me was how India-centric it is. Sheth doesn't do what many authors (usually white) do—bring in an enlightened white person who explains about freedom and feminism and whatnot, or focus on the white person who learns about colonialism and feels oh so bad about it! I love that Leela reads Gandhi and Narmad, famed Indian poet and thinker, that the book remembers people of color worldwide amazingly agitate for their own freedom without white heroes, that Sheth portrays the small town Leela lives in as a dynamic one. This is about Indian women struggling for themselves and Indian people fighting; the Raj is a distant presence, though a heavy and horrible one.

I didn't realize how angry I still was about last year's Romance of the Revolution panel at Wiscon until I read this, because the many revolutions against colonialism and imperialism matter to me. They are personal history.

Also, on a lighter note, Sheth consistently has tidbits about Indian food! The completely-uneducated-me felt that the details on Indian culture in that time period and area were good, but again, grain of salt. In conclusion, I was very happy with this find and will be looking for Sheth's backlist.
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First of all, if you don't know anything about this book, I would suggest reading it just like that. If you do know the premise, it doesn't spoil the book at all, as the book is brilliant, but I think the extra frisson of discovery would be awesome. I'm still a little sad that I saw the Library of Congress categories the book was in when I checked it out on the library catalogue.

Second: read this. It's a look into 18th-century science and the American Revolutionary War and a critique of that war. It's also a brilliant pastiche of letters and diaries and, of course, Octavian's diary. Also, just in case you were confused like I was, it's definitely not about Roman senators. It's also much more than all the elements above, but saying what it is would be ruining the surprise.

Spoilers for the book )

Links:
- [livejournal.com profile] buymeaclue's review (spoilers)
- [livejournal.com profile] minnow1212's review (spoilers)
- [livejournal.com profile] tenemet's review (no spoilers)
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This is for books and Western comics only; manga and manhwa get a separate post.

Thoughts about the year in books )

Amazingly, I managed to blog about every single book I read this year! I didn't link the full list, but you can always look in my tags or memories.

The below are my favorites out of all the books I read this year, not books published this year.

  1. Emily Bernard, Some of My Best Friends )

  2. Emma Donoghue, Kissing the Witch )

  3. Ursula K. Le Guin, Voices )

  4. Megan Lindholm, Harpy's Flight )

  5. Laurie J. Marks, Elemental Logic series )

  6. Susan Beth Pfeffer, Life as We Knew It )

  7. Joann Sfar, The Rabbi's Cat )

  8. Ronald Takaki, Strangers from a Different Shore )

  9. Alice Walker, In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens )

  10. Elizabeth E. Wein, The Sunbird )


Also recommended: Carl Chu, Chinese Food Finder: The Bay Area and San Francisco; Brenda Dixon Gottschild, The Black Dancing Body: A Geography from Coon to Cool and Waltzing in the Dark: African American Vaudeville and Race Politics in the Swing Era; Theodora Goss, In the Forest of Forgetting; Margo Rabb, Cures for Heartbreak; Madeleine E. Robins, Point of Honour; Joanna Russ, What Are We Fighting For?: Sex, Race, Class, and the Future of Feminism; Sarah Smith, The Vanished Child; Beverly Daniel Tatum, Can We Talk about Race?: And Other Conversations in an Era of School Resegregation; Lawrence Weschler, Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology; Ysabeau S. Wilce, Flora Segunda; Helen Zia, Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People

Total read: 131 (6 rereads)

Complete list of books read in 2007 )
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So far, this is my favorite retelling of Arabian Nights (the others I've read being the manhwa One Thousand and One Nights and Cameron Dokey's The Storyteller's Daughter).

Marjan, a servant girl to a Jewish couple (though more like their adopted daughter), ends up being bought by Shahrazad, as Shahrazad has been telling tales for 982 nights and is beginning to run out of stories.

So far, both books of Fletcher's that I've read have an excellent sense of place; I can't comment about the factual accuracy, as I don't have the knowledge, but she puts in an incredible amount of detail, both psychological and sensory. What struck me most in this book was how much fear permeated the book. I like that Fletcher doesn't forget that even though the sultan hasn't been killing women for nearly three years, he killed a woman every day before Shahrazad stepped in.

Marjan is impacted by that fear in her every day life, before she's brought to the palace; people are afraid of the sultan taking their daughters, and every day Shahrazad lives is a relief for them. And when Marjan enters the harem as a servant, the anxiety and dread only goes up. I particularly love Fletcher's Shahrazad, who is beautiful and brave, yes, but also terrified and desperate and grasping at straws. The entire harem feels haunted; Marjan realizes that her room once belonged to a girl who in all probability was executed by the sultan.

We also aren't offered an easy ending: Marjan must wrestle with forgiveness , and though Shahrazad of course survives and triumphs, we never forget that though she loves the sultan, she has long feared for her life as well.

I liked this a lot, from the multiple (and different! and cool!) female characters to how they all interact to the atmosphere of the book. And even better, there are small callouts to the stories of Arabian Nights (my favorite was the oil casks and how they reminded me of Morgiana, whom I adored). Definitely recommended.

Links:
- [livejournal.com profile] coffeeandink's review (minor spoilers)
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So I went from a depressing book about hazing to... Japanese internment camps! No wonder I feel down this morning.

Sumiko's aunt and uncle own a flower farm in southern California; Sumiko and her brother Takao have been living with them since their parents died in a car accident. I, um, tend to try and avoid books about the Japanese internment camps largely because they make me want to shoot myself, strangle other people, and disavow my citizenship. I picked this one up because the cover flap said it took place in Poston, and that it had a friendship between Sumiko and an Indian boy living there.

Intra-POC friendship, yay!

Poston was built on the Colorado River Indian Reservation, and the American Indians unsurprisingly are rather hostile toward the Japanese people being moved in there. The Japanese are similarly afraid of Indians, thanks to most impressions taken from popular media at the time.

The book sadly isn't about the culture clash, but I like Sumiko a lot, and I very much like how Kadohata gets into the details of flower farming and the day-to-day life in the camps. It feels so mundane after a while, until you stop and think about how much everyone there lost.

I thought I was mostly prepared to read this, but I found random little things enraging, like all the white people who bought to-be-interned Japanese Americans' furniture and belongings and cars and everything for dirt cheap prices, acting somewhat embarrassed to be doing so, but never enough to not do it or to pay what something was worth. I wanted to strangle the US government when they began to draft the very people they had robbed of land and belongings and freedom, and all that after those people were denied citizenship.

I also really liked the tentative, not-quite friendship between Sumiko and Frank, a Mojave boy. They both distrust each other at first. Frank resents the Japanese because even though they're interned, they still get electricity and running water, much more than the government has given to his tribe, and Sumiko resents Frank for resenting her and her family for something she has no control over.

It makes me want to hit people over the head with a shovel, the way white supremacy works.

The book has a lot of anger behind it; Kadohata's father was an internee at Poston. But she just keeps it there in the background, behind Sumiko's simple, twelve-year-old language. And it's not only anger over the treatment of Japanese Americans, it's also anger over how American Indians were treated. There's a note at the end of the book about the almost-all-Japanese and American-Indian regiments that served in WWII, how high the death rate was and how dedicated the troops were, and it makes me so angry at the government and society.

I did want more Frank and Sumiko, just because I liked watching them interacting, and I like the book in general.
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I just babbled endlessly about the first Telemakos book, The Sunbird, and now I will babble endlessly about this book!

Sadly, it is actually half of a book; from Wein's Amazon blog, it seems like the editor wanted more to the original, but then decided to split the book in two, as it was getting a little long for YA. As such, a lot of this book is build-up to what will conclude in the second book, but honestly, it didn't bug me as much as I would have thought.

Much of this is because what happens in the set up is so fascinating, thanks to Wein's clear prose and impeccable eye for character. What I remember isn't how Telemakos and his new sister Athena end up traveling to Himyar to live with the ruler, Abreha. What I remember is how the book is about the aftermath of The Sunbird, from Telemakos' own attempts to deal with the trauma, to how his mother and father and aunt and grandfather deal, to how the events of The Sunbird affect national politics.

I think reading any reviews will spoil you for what happens in the first chapter (much like the first chapter of Queen of Attolia). But I will just say that I love how the aftermath of the first chapter intertwines with the aftermath of The Sunbird, and I absolutely adore Telemakos' new sister Athena and the bond between the two.

Anyway, I am dying to get my hands on the next book, and happy to see that Wein seems to be writing a third Telemakos book (if you count Mark of Solomon as the second). I adore Telemakos and his world and while The Winter Prince is amazing and intense, I also love the slightly gentler but still harsh and real web of relationships in the Telemakos books, particularly Telemakos' family.

I cannot rec these enough! Read them if you want a good story with political intrigue, or a good story with a clever protagonist, or a good story with deep and complex relationships, or a good story set in sixth-century Africa. Actually, just go read them!

Links:
- [livejournal.com profile] coffeeandink's review
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I adored The Winter Prince, was completely indifferent toward A Coalitions of Lions, and I love this one.

Telemakos is the son of Medraut and the nephew of Goewin, but he's also the grandson of an important Aksumite politician and a cousin or close relation to the new king of Aksum. I loved Winter Prince for what it did with the Arthur mythos; I love this book for its depictions of Aksum, for how distant it gets from the Arthur mythos. I was dissatisfied by A Coalition of Lions because I wanted more of Medraut and Lleu and the Arthur mythos and less of Aksum, but The Sunbird has more distance from the events of The Winter Prince while also being closer in other ways.

Plague is spreading, and to stave it off, Goewin, the British ambassador, convinces the king to quarantine his kingdom. But some traders are sneaking around the quarantine, and it's up to twelve-year-old Telemakos to find out who.

Twelve-year-olds spying should sound utterly implausible, but Telemakos is a wonderful character. I love how clever he is, but in ways that aren't difficult to believe, I love that he is afraid and unsure and that he is loved by Goewin and Turunesh (his mother) and even cold, mute Medraut. I love how Medraut's love-hate relationship with Lleu affects his relationship with Telemakos and Goewin, but in a way that informs Telemakos' story and doesn't overtake it. I love how much Telemakos wants to be loved by his stern father, how he deals with being a multiracial child, and most of all, how clever and real and bright and brave he is.

I also love all the political intrigue in this book; it hits all the spots that Megan Whalen Turner's Attolia books do. And while intrigue about salt trade doesn't sound all that twisty, it is, and oh, when Telemakos goes undercover to find out more? It's wonderful and harrowing and real in a way that slick spy stories often aren't.

The side characters are also great; Goewin is a force to be reckoned with here in a way that she wasn't in A Coalition of Lions, Medraut is just as angsty and sometimes emotionally stupid, and I love all the new Aksumite characters, Kidane and Turunesh and Sofya and the king.

I'm not sure at all how to sum up the book, save that I love it to pieces and that it is entirely different from The Winter Prince in that Telemakos is loved and doesn't have his own traumas, until the events of the books. And yet, it's very similar in the complexity of the relationships and politics.

And! As if all that weren't enough, it is a historical novel set in Africa! In Aksum! With details and politics and complications!

Go read this.
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A petty thief was captured after sustaining heavy injuries falling through a skylight. He becomes the subject of an experimenting doctor, who patches him up, and eventually, he decides to take on the name of Montmorency and comes up with a plan to use the new sewer systems for thievery. He eventually takes on a double identity as Montmorency the gentleman and Scarper the servant.

I liked all the period detail in the book, and of course I was drawn like a magnet to the whole thief thing. Because of that, my favorite parts of the book were when Montmorency was planning things out and doing all that fun caper stuff.

He's not a Robin-Hood-type thief, nor is he rogue-ish like Lynch's Gentlemen Bastards. Montmorency is fairly cold and calculating, which is why he's so interesting.

Later, though, he finds that his life as a gentleman suits him more and more. I'm not sure of what to think of the class issues in the book; Updale skirts around them most of the time by having Montmorency easily pass as upper-class thanks to his skills. He eventually grows to look at his old life in distaste, and while this might be commentary on class divisions, I don't think it is. I got the feeling that the reader is also supposed to look on Montmorency's old life in distaste and believe that he is acquiring virtue along with his rise in class.

I'm also completely unconvinced of the ending, but may continue reading the series just for the capers and the intrigue.
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(re: HP and the Racist DD Mods, I am still going through comments and unscreening things and may take a while to reply, depending on what level my blood pressure is at.)

Napoli writes another fairy tale take, but this time with the Chinese variant of Cinderella: Xing Xing's father has died, and her stepmother is trying to marry off her half-sister Wei Ping(or step-sister? I can't recall). Alas for Wei Ping, this means binding her feet to make her a better catch. Xing Xing has been untraditionally taught to read and write, and her father previously was against foot-binding.

So far, to me, this sounds like a recipe for disaster, given how many well-meaning books yet totally anvilly books attempt to tackle foot-binding.

Thankfully, Napoli does it well.

Xing Xing's father is from the south (or the north, I can't recall), where foot-binding is a fairly recent practice, and he largely likes the idea of Xing Xing and Wei Ping being able to help him out at work. Napoli doesn't specifically mention this issue, but I suspect class issues are involved as well -- foot-binding probably being a symbol of the upper class, who can afford to have immobile women.

Xing Xing's an interesting character to look at in terms of balancing historical mindsets with stereotypes. When her stepmother tells her that she must help Wei Ping and the family out by doing housework and by putting off her own marriage for Wei Ping's, Xing Xing doesn't protest that much. She generally accepts it as good for the family, even though she is a little resentful. I am always wary of the filial daughter who sacrifices everything and never protests. I still didn't quite buy Xing Xing's original portrayal -- that is to say, I believe it, but she didn't quite feel like a fully-fleshed character to me, though that may be more me personally than anything else. On the other hand, I did buy her change at the end.

I also liked that Napoli had the book set in a very specific place and time. She doesn't specify the exact year or location, but it's definitely not handwavy-China. There's difference between the northerners and the southeners, the rich and the poor, and those of different occupations. There's also a tiny note in there about the invention of chopsticks, which sounds like it is true because otherwise it would be odd putting it in there. I didn't catch all the puns and allusions that [livejournal.com profile] keilexandra refers to in her post (link below), though I did catch some fairly traditional ones in the poetry. I also totally nitpicked at the poetry; I am not sure what forms they were, but I do not it's not classical Tang poem style. They were a little awkward, but honestly, I am totally splitting hairs now.

Anyway, yay! YA with female POC protagonist! Xing Xing doesn't kick ass on the surface, but I do like how her story ends up going. And now I want to know more about Ming dynasty China.

Links:
- [livejournal.com profile] keilexandra's review
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I write short reviews so I can post them...

This is a competently written but not spectacular novel about the Navajo code talkers of WWII. What struck me most was Bruchac noting the discrepancy between the Navajos being forced to abandon their language earlier on (many of them have their mouths washed out with soap if they're caught speaking Navajo) and the US later needing that very language for the war.

While I admired the Navajos' willingness to fight for a country that had pretty much screwed them over, I'm angry that even then, they didn't get promotions or much recognition.
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(I think [livejournal.com profile] coffeeandink recced this two Thanksgivings ago. Look! I do remember recs; it just takes me a while to get to them?)

Eighteen years ago, wealthy William Knight was killed and his heir and possible witness to the murder, ten-year-old Richard Knight disappeared. His murder and Richard's disappearance were never solved. Later, for rather complicated reasons, Alexander von Reisden agrees to be introduced as the long-lost Richard and is thrust into the confusing family politics of the Knights.

The beginning of this book reminded me of Dickinson's Sleep and His Brother for some reason; either a) I have read so few mysteries that they all feel alike or b) there is some actual similarity in the feeling of oppressive secrecy and things unsaid. It really could be either. But the claustrophobic nature opens up slightly as Reisden gets more involved with elderly Gilbert Knight, who desperately wants him to be Richard; Gilbert's adopted heir Harry, who stands to inherit a lot if only Richard is finally declared dead; Richard's old doctor Charlie Adair; and Perdita Halley, Harry's fiancee, Charlie's niece, and Gilbert's daughter of the heart.

I generally don't read many mysteries because I tend to be far more interested in character than plot; what I love about this book is how it uses the mystery of Richard's disppearance and William's murder to reveal things about the characters. Reisden's presence unravels everything, even his own sense of identity, and he soon finds himself in much deeper than he expected. I also love the quiet way Perdita begins to grow and realize that maybe there are things about herself that she does not want to give up for marriage, even if Harry wants her to.

Spoilers )

Very good book full of lovely and quiet prose and things not mentioned in the open but explode anyway.

Links:
- [livejournal.com profile] rilina's review
- [livejournal.com profile] ginny_t's review

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