Goodbye – Quitting Bookish Villainy

I’ve been thinking about doing this for a while, so I figured I’d just bite the bullet: I’ll be quitting this blog. The main reason is a severe lack of motivation for a long period of time. This probably is not a surprise, considering my lack of updates.

If there was just one reason, I would’ve taken a hiatus. I did consider that, but in the end, there are multiple reasons. Firstly, the past months I dealt with job/unemployment issues in real life causing anxiety and stress, even before I got laid off, so I didn’t have the energy. Even during unemployment, though, I did not write a single sentence despite having plenty of time, so that’s telling. I will start a new job in August I’m excited about, though, so there’s that.

Perhaps the most important reason, however: I prefer to just read and enjoy a book, rather than ‘having’ to write a well-structured and argumented review. Though I have never posted reviews of every single book I read, I still find myself reading books wondering if I could write something about it. Finally, I also have no clue what to write about, and I haven’t had any inspiration for months. Even before my last post in April, I wasn’t very active either for this reason.

I will still continue to read books, and occasionally post about them on Instagram (before it dies with the algorithm as it is) and Twitter when I feel like it, but the bar is not as high for posts on there. Also, since neither are solely book accounts; they’re not as restricting and I can post about my cats and my other interests as well.

I’d like to thank everyone for following this blog and liking/sharing/commenting on my posts! I do appreciate the interaction I got and that probably made this blog last the years that it did. I’m not sure whether I’ll keep this blog around or not. I will not delete everything right away, but I do have a habit of deleting accounts I no longer do anything with down the line. So yeah, I might send this blog off to the the black space of wherever it is blogs go to after being deleted some time in the future.

If you’d like to keep in touch, you can follow me on the following platforms:

Twitter
Instagram
Art Instagram
Goodreads
Storygraph
DeviantArt
MyAnimeList

If not, take care!

Anti TBR Book Tag

It’s been a while since I’ve updated. Let’s just say that life has been a Thing, but in this day and age, whose life hasn’t been a Thing? Thankfully, Bianca from Your Words My Ink has tagged me for a post that is interesting, if not a bit controversial depending on your point of view: the Anti-TBR Book tag! The original tag was created by Nicole and her Books.

Basically, these prompts include books I have no interest in reading. I rarely discuss books I have no interest in, but I figured it might be fun to do so. Of course, if you love these books or are interested in reading them: tastes differ, and that’s fine!

Without further ado, here we go!

Anti TBR Book Tag Prompts

A popular book EVERYONE loves but you have no interest in reading
Let’s start with a potentially controversial one from the get go, but A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. I’ve read some installments of her Throne of Glass series, and though they were entertaining (though not enough for me to finish the series), the premise of ACoTaR does not sound appealing to me at all. Though fairies can be interesting, I’m not too big on the romance part this book has to offer. Though I’ve heard there’s more to this series than just the smut, I’m just not interested.

A classic book (or author) you have no interest in reading
Good question, I tend to be rather picky with the classics I pick up these days, which I guess is a souvenir from being an English major. I guess I’ll go with Jane Austen. I’ve tried reading Emma, but it was a DNF. I know she’s considered to be one of the earlier female writers in the English canon, but the premise of her works of ‘young ladies concerned with marriage prospect’ and the writing style just isn’t for me.

An author whose books you have no interest in reading
H.P. Lovecraft. I actually had Necronomicon sitting on my shelf for a long time, but I’ve completely lost interest in his work, so I unhauled it. Collections of short stories are generally a miss for me, but despite being such an important influence in the horror genre, he’ll be a pass for me in the future.

An author you have read a couple of books from and decided they’re not for you
Controversial opinion time for adult fantasy, but Joe Abercrombie. I’ve read the Shattered Sea trilogy and the first two books in The First Law series. They definitely weren’t bad and I can see why they are so popular, but I felt pretty lukewarm about these books. I’m difficult to please with grimdark (which The First Law is — Shattered Sea is more YA-ish, I think?), and I suppose I couldn’t connect with the characters enough. A shame, really.

A genre you have no interest in
Romance and poetry. Easy. There are a few exceptions, but I generally have no interest.

A book you bought but will never read
Hard to say. I tend to unhaul books I’ve bought but no longer have any interest in.

A series you have no interest in reading
The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan. The premise doesn’t catch my attention, and with so many books it’s quite the investment. I’m frankly not willing to make that investment when there are so many more titles out there that interest me more.

A new release you have no interest in reading
Empire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff. Honestly, that title couldn’t have been clumsier, but I’m a bit over these kinds of ‘edgelord’ vampire stories. How could humanity survive 27 years without sunlight, anyway? Plants would die and there would be no oxygen, so humanity will have choked to death and the vampires would have starved. More importantly, I recently found out Kristoff is … problematic, to say the least, ranging from harmful stereotypes and sexualizing teens to outright attacking people. This affects my perception of the Nevernight Chronicle to the point that I’m not sure whether I still want to keep the books, but I’ll be steering clear of his future works.

And that’s it for the tag! Any books you’re not interested in reading? Feel free to share them in the comments!

Review: The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth Trilogy #1) by N.K. Jemisin

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth Trilogy #1)
N.K. Jemisin

Publisher: Orbit Books
Publishing Year: 2015
Pages: 468
ISBN: 9780356508191
Language: English
Genre: science fiction, fantasy, (post) apocalyptic
Rating: 4.5/5

The world is ending, again. There is a supercontinent called The Stillness that has faced several cataclysmic events that caused the end of the world as the people know it, referred to as ‘seasons’. These seasons happen every few centuries, but even though civilization is repeatedly dismantled, part of humanity has always survived. The Fifth Season revolves around the end of such a cycle, where people live in ‘comms’ that would provide safety in case of yet another cataclysmic event. There are people called Orogenes with the ability to control energy, which usually manifests in being able to control tectonic activity. Unfortunately, Orogenes are feared and suppressed by the rest of society, even though their powers are invaluable.

The Fifth Season consists of three perspectives, all of them female Orogenes. The first is a girl rejected by her family, who is taken to an organization called Fulcrum for training. The second perspective follows a young woman going on a mission with another powerful Orogenes named Alabaster, in order to conceive a child with him. Unfortunately, things do not go as planned. The third follows a mother whose son has been killed and her daughter been kidnapped by her husband, while a massive earthquake in the north signals the start of another season. The story isn’t presented in a straightforward or chronological way, which means it took me some time to get into the narrative and feel a connection to the characters. One of the perspectives is also told with the 2nd POV, which was a bit jarring at first.

That said, when I kept reading, elements of the lore that were previously a bit unclear to me began falling into place. The detailed world building in this book is phenomenal and quite unlike any fantasy or science fiction I have read before. Jemisin has also created a lot of mystery surrounding the world and its events, which creates a lot of tension as you’re completely unsure what will happen next! The three different perspectives also offer a diverse view of the world Jemisin has created, and they are tied together wonderfully in the end.

Moreover, The Fifth Season deals with a variety of themes in a way that never feels forced. Racism and oppression are a large part of the novel, especially in the way the Orogenes are treated by the rest of humanity, but The Fifth Season also explores sexuality and environmental issues. The characters are flawed and might not always be likable, but they are very believable.

Though it took me a bit to find my bearings with The Fifth Season, this is probably the most original SFF I’ve read in a long time. I just started on the second book, The Obelisk Gate, and I can’t wait to find out where Jemisin will take this trilogy. The Fifth Season might be a bit jarring and confusing at first, but the original world building, its flawed and diverse characters, and the way it explores a variety of themes make this SFF well worth the effort.

A New Year …

So, after the dumpster fire that 2020 had been, it’s finally 2021. I hope everyone will have a happy new year!

Though I hold no illusions that this year will be magically better because of a change in number — after all, certain issues haven’t suddenly disappeared — I do hope things will take a turn for the better. I have zero expectations, however. As long as me and my loved ones remain healthy and I can keep my job, I’m satisfied.

As for reading goals, I have no real ones in mind. I had initially put 30 books on my GoodReads reading challenge, after getting inspired by Books & Macchiatos on Instagram, I changed it to 1 book. Despite putting down a low number, I do still feel pressure to read at least that amount (despite counting my manga towards the challenge as well), and I don’t want any pressure or rules, or leaving the hefty tomes in favour of the quick reads. There’s nothing wrong with people who do like the challenge, or any challenge, but I guess it doesn’t work for me. There are plenty of obligations in life already, after all. I just want to read whatever I want, whenever I want.

So why put down an amount in the challenge anyway? I like the overview of my reads a given year the challenge provides, so this is the best of both worlds.

My other reading goal? Read what I have, as much as possible. My owned TBR has grown from 28 books to 33 books, which isn’t a bad number, but I have some saving goals this year. I’d like to work on my emergency fund and start paying off extra for my student loan debt (provided I keep my job, of course, as I’m still on a temporary contract). I’m not forbidding myself from buying any books at all, but at least for the coming months, I’d like to stick to next installments of series, provided that I’ve read the preceding ones. I will also do a hobby no buy during January and February, also because my two cats need to be spayed and I need to replace my window decoration (and I don’t want to touch my savings). Through this, I hope to put some more intentionality in my book buying habits as well.

I do not expect any significant changes for this blog. I have no posting schedule, so I’ll stick to writing whatever I want, whenever I want.

Favorite Books of 2020

It’s nearly the end of what has been a …. year I don’t really need to talk a lot about, I suppose. It hasn’t been all bad for me personally, I’m lucky that me and my family members are still healthy, I still have a job, and if you’ve been following me on Instagram, you’ll know that two kittens have moved in with me. Their names are Albel and Loki, and they’re quite cheeky!

At the start of the year, I wrote that I didn’t really set any reading goals because I wanted to focus on some other things in life: my new job, saving money, and my other hobbies (finishing my Okami art project in particular). Despite succeeding in doing these things, I did get a lot of reading done. I even bought more books, contrarty to my original intentions! My TBR has raised from 28 to 33, so I guess I did fail in one thing.

Though some books I had been looking forward to for a long time ended up disappointing me, I did read a lot of wonderful titles this year. In this post, I’ll share my favorite reads of 2020 (in no particular order)!

Lancelot (The Arthurian Tales #1) by Giles Kristian
I’ve written most of my thoughts about this book in a review, but my opinion still stands. Though Lancelot is very much a slow burn, I loved the atmosphere and what Kristian has done with one of the most famous Arthurian characters — through showing him growing up from a boy to an adult, he has succeeded in making him flawed and human. Though the portrayal of Arthur was rather irritating to say the least, and most of the other characters are just there, I really love the character work that has been done here. I have yet to read the sequel involving his son, but I definitely will in the future! I’m just waiting for the edition that matches my Lancelot paperback in size, because I’m shallow.

The Hero of Ages (Mistborn #3) by Brandon Sanderson
The concluding installment of the Mistborn series ties everything in the preceding books together in a neat little bow, and managed to divert my expectations regardless. I love how Sanderson subverts ‘the chosen one’ trope in this series in various ways and on multiple occasions, but especially the ending was very moving. Though I hadn’t seen it coming at all, the amount of foreshadowing and planning was brilliant — everything fit together perfectly! I’m not sure if I will read the other Mistborn books (the next trilogy that takes place years after this one?), because the ending of this one was so lovely.

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta
As I wrote in my review, this was probably the biggest surprise for me — when buying this book, I had no idea it was written in verse! It was fortunate that I didn’t, because I would’ve missed out on this wonderful book! It’s a contemporary YA coming of age story about a boy who deals with his sexual and multiracial identity through poetry and drag. You can’t help but root for the main character as he eventually learns to express himself and his identity. I also love the way this book toyed with typography and little illustrations, which made The Black Flamingo seem like a diary.

The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky
A book I keep meaning to review, but haven’t gotten around to yet. The Wolf in the Whale explores Inuit and Viking culture, mythology, and folklore, as well as gender identity — all set into a harsh environment and written in beautiful prose. It’s about a young Inuit shaman named Omat whose family is starving on the edge of the world — their gods have become silent and their continued existence becomes quite precarious. Through circumstances, Omat sets out on a journey to save her people with the aid of a young viking warrior.

Kings of the Wyld (The Band #1) by Nicholas Eames
Another book I’ve already reviewed, but the cast of Kings of the Wyld is so damn wholesome! Though this book contains a lot of humor (partly aided by Clay’s hilarious narration), it also has plenty of moments that hit you in the feels, so to say, which gives this fantasy novel a lot of heart. You can’t help but symphathize with the main characters! The world they inhabit is built on a lot of familiar fantasy tropes, but Kings of the Wyld shows you do not need to reinvent the wheel to deliver a wonderful story about a bunch of retired old mercs coming together for one last quest.

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth Trilogy #1) by N.K. Jemisin
Out of all the books I’ve read, this is probably the most original (and another that I mean to review in the future!). I’m not even sure whether The Fifth Season qualifies as fantasy or science fiction, but it’s quite unlike anything I’ve read in either genre. It was a little difficult to get into at first, especially because the 2nd person POV of one of the perspectives can be a little jarring, but I’m glad I kept reading because eventually, everything just clicked. Apocalyptic events known as seasons take place every few centuries; among the people who survived, there are Orogenes — they can control the elements and tectonic activty. Though powerful, these people are oppressed. The Fifth Season follows three POVs of Orogenes, set in multiple points of time. I have yet to read the next two installments, but I can’t wait to find out what Jemisin does with the rest of the series!

The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive #1) by Brandon Sanderson
My brick for the year, and the second book by Sanderson on this list. It took me a longer while to get into this than the Mistborn series, but the characters did grow on me, and by the time I reached the end of the book I was very much invested in their fates (which is a good thing, since this is an ongoing series). This book follows multiple characters in a high fantasy setting; the country is at war with another after their king was assinated. Out of all the characters, Kaladin stood out the most so far with the tragic turn his life took as well as his depression. That said, Dalinar and Shallan also captured my interest, and I can’t wait to find out what Sanderson will do with these characters.

Loveless by Alice Oseman
I wish I had read this book when I was younger, so the inclusion of this book on this list is a bit personal. It’s about a girl, Georgia, entering college while struggling with her sexuality — or rather, the lack thereof! Before reading this, I already knew Georgia to be an aromantic asexual — being aro-ace myself, a lot of Georgia’s experiences were very relatable to mine. This book isn’t perfect; other than some friendship drama Georgia could have avoided and her discovering her aro-ace identity, there isn’t much going on. However, it managed to capture what it’s like being aro-ace and the way people respond to what’s still a very invisible sexuality wonderfully.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones (Wayward Children #2) by Seanan McGuire
The second book in this series — though I really enjoyed Every Heart a Doorway and its ace rep, this book spoke to me a bit more. I loved the setting and atmosphere of the Moors (already hinted at in the first book), and especially Jack was a very interesting protagonist (already introduced in the first book). Though her relationship with her sister and the way they were raised by their parents were heartbreaking, I still liked that she managed to find her place in a new world.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
A historical fiction novel about a Korean family that leaves the turbulent colonized Korea of 1933 to live in Osaka, Japan, where they are marginalised and discriminated. It’s a side of Japan I was somewhat aware of, but haven’t come across often, so this was a very illuminating read. The story spans multiple generations, and the heartships this family goes through is also quite tragic. I do wish the ‘last’ generation was given a bit more time to develop, considering some events are a bit suddden, but overall this was still a very good and educating read!

And there we have it, my list of favorite books of 2020. I considered including some honorable mentions, but this list is quite long enough as is. Interestingly, there is no manga on here! My favorites are actually series I was already reading, so there we are.

On to a 2021 that’s hopefully going to be better!

Bookshelf Tour #2 (2020) – Manga Edition!

Hi everyone! Today, I’ll bring you something different. I did one bookshelf tour before, but that was A. over two years ago, before moving out, and B. this never included my manga collection. Though I mostly review ‘regular’ books, I also read a lot of manga.

My manga takes up two Ikea Billy bookcases. I have a few western comics as well, which I ended up storing alongside my manga. One shelf of these two bookcases is reserved for my nonfiction, but considering this post focuses on my manga, I will not be showing it here.

Needless to say, this post will be image heavy!

Read More »

Review: A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

A Deadly Education (The Scholomance #1)
Naomi Novik

Publisher: Del Ray Books
Publishing Year: 2020
Pages: 336
ISBN: 9780593128480
Language: English
Genre: fantasy
Rating: 2.5/5

The Scholomance isn’t like any school, or even what you’d expect from a magical school. Students with a talent for magic are able to follow classes and learn all sorts of useful spells throughout their academic career. But there aren’t any teachers in The Scholomance — the school itself is the teacher. Knowledge comes at a price, however, because this magical school is deadly. And to survive, students have to be clever. The loner El has been doing that just fine the past few years, hiding her destructive magical power, until the heroic goody-two-shoes Orion Lake appeared in her life.

I’m a big fan of Novik’s work and especially the way she writes characters, so when the premise involving a very deadly magical school and a very snarky main character, it immediately caught my attention. The Scholomance is most definitely an interesting setting. Comparisons with a certain other work are envitable, but even though it is clear where A Deadly Education draws its inspiration from, I do feel the setting is different enough to carry itself and not be a copy-cat. In case you were worried about that.

Unfortunately, this leads me to the first problem with this book: Novik might have spend a lot of time with world-building, but she chooses to share this through massive info dumps. Whether El is following a class or is in the middle of a rather dire situation facing a monster, there’s always time to go off on a tangent and explain all sorts of background info on the school. This not only completely kills off the pacing and any sense of urgency, but A Deadly Education also becomes a slog to get through. The plot is servicable — nothing mindblowing — but due to all these info dumps, I was actually bored.

What doesn’t quite help is the tone in which A Deadly Education is written. El is cynical and snarky, which shows heavily through her narration. Though I usually like these types of characters, and the narration definitely felt like a snarky, edgy teenager, it became grating and tedious at several points. Yes, we get it, you are snarky and rude and can’t help but make a cynical comment about everything. The pages pretty much felt like an entire wall of sarcasm, and it became too much. Added to the previous complaint of the narration going off on info dumpey tangents, this became a chore to read.

The characters could be A Deadly Education‘s saving grace, but unfortunately, the book falls completely flat here as well. El is pretty much the only decently developed character. She does go through some character growth, but it was difficult for me to connect with this character because she felt little more than a sarcastic edgy teen. Orion is mostly there to be a foil and isn’t developed much, though this could admittedly happen in future books. The rest of the cast, however? They were just there. They had no real personatity or goal to speak of, which is a shame, because this novel tried really hard to go for an ethnically diverse representation. Unfortunately, because none of these characters had any significant role to play, the diversity felt forced and tacked on. Finally, this novel is very culturally tone deaf and has several examples of racist mirco-aggressions (Asma on Goodreads has explained this better in her review). To be fair, Novik has since apologized for one blatant one, but I still feel this needs to be pointed out, especially because these could have been fixed with a bit of research. I hope Novik has learned from her mistake from here on out.

I still would have recommended A Deadly Education if it had been an enjoyable book, but as you can probably already tell, I was incredibly disappointed. The setting was interesting, I liked the idea of some of the monsters, and there were some decent scenes, but overall this book was a tedious read with uninteresting characters. I really wanted to like this, but alas. Needless to say, I will pass on the rest of the series.

The Plot Thickens, Yet Another Post on J.K. Rowling

I originally wanted to add a paragraph or two to my original post on the JKR controversy, but it became too long, so I decided to just make another post.

So, in case you’re living under a rock, J.K. Rowling continues to be transphobic. Her latest book involves a cis man dressing up as a woman to kill cis women. This is an transphobic trope that was already problematic in Silence of the Lambs. However, JKR is not an idiot who’s just being ignorant and she knows exactly what she’s doing: in her infamous essay, she states that this is exactly how she views trans women.

That’s on top of her past tweets, the deal with blocking Stephen King because he said ‘trans women are women’, and the whole ordeal with the Harper letter. Also, did you know that JKR shares the very pen name that she uses for her crime novels featuring Cormoran Strike, Robert Galbraith, with a psychiatrist who did conversion theraphy on homosexuals and ‘frigid women’? She has failed to address this, and her new transphobic book is published under this very pen name. It could be a coincidence, but it certainly doesn’t help her case.

I largely stand by my original post. We do not need to collectively trash our books, dvds and merchandise (unless you want to; then, by all means, have at it — I get it!). We do not need to stop reading Harry Potter. I realize well that the franchise has been formative to a lot of people and it’s impossible to erase these memories or the support/escapism we might’ve gained from the Wizarding World or the fandom. Whatever you do with your current books and merch is a personal decision and completely up to you. Whether you would still like to reread the series is also completely up to you.

However, as time progresses and JKR keeps spouting her beliefs left and right, it becomes increasingly difficult to separate author from book. I’ve stated this in my original post, as well as why declaring ‘death of the author’ doesn’t really work. I would like to add, however, that we should think critically what sort of effect posting about Harry Potter (or her other books) and buying her books/merch has. If you really care about trans rights and you want to support the trans community, there are some issues you need to think about.

Buying JKR’s books

As stated in my previous posts, her books do not exist in a vaccuum, so separating book from author is complicated. Buying books or merch lands money in her pocket — even if you make a donation to a trans-supportive charity organisation to compensate. We live in a capitalist society, and if we no longer buy her books new, we convey a signal that her bigotry is not okay. In the US, Harry Potter book sales have already been declining. If you do buy her books, however, you’re effectively telling her (and her publisher) that her transphobia doesn’t matter.

Moreover, posting about her books promotes her and thereby enlarges her already significant platform. It can cause more people (who might be unaware) to buy her books and merch, and spreads the word that there is no issue.

Remember that there are still plenty of people who kiss the ground she’s walking on simply because she’s J.K. Rowling and Her Word is Law. This makes her doubling down on throwing an already very vulnerable group that faces discrimination under the bus even more problematic. So, if you still want to buy/read one of her books, go second hand or borrow them from a friend.

What am I conveying?

The second thing you need to think about is about what message you are communicating when posting about Harry Potter. What are you conveying to others by happily posting a Return to Hogwarts post with your books and merchandise on September 1, as if nothing happened? What are you conveying by listing your Hogwarts House in your bio on Instagram or Twitter, or still retaining your HP related username?

They say that silence is compliance; though you may not intend it, it signals that you don’t care that she’s being harmful to the trans community, and that showing off your love for a book series is more important than real life issues. Is that what you wish to convey on your blog or social media account?

Of course, the trans community is not a single-minded monolith and I’m cisgendered. Some might be triggered by Harry Potter related content, some might not be offended by what’s been going on at all. Still, these are some things to think about.

Freedom of speech

But what about freedom of speech? Well, you have freedom of speech. So does J.K. Rowling — she hasn’t been thrown in jail or killed for her opinions (though she received death threats, which I obviously do not condone — just unfollow her, block her is you must, but do not send threats). She isn’t censored and she has a large platform to speak. However, similarily, others are free to call her out on her ‘opinions’ and do with Harry Potter what they wish. That means they are free to decide to cancel JKR, burn all their Potter items, or use the books as toilet paper if they so desire. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom of consequences. If I decide to publically spout negativity on social media about previous jobs, for example, I shouldn’t be surprised that this will bite me in the ass when applying for a new job in the future (or even puts my current job in jeopardy). JKR is no exception.

So you’re free to post what you want, I’m not here to police you, and others can’t police what you do or don’t post, or what you do or don’t read. Perhaps you don’t really care, well, then this post is obviously not for you. This post is for people who haven’t considered the implications of their Back to Hogwarts posts or showing off their fancy new edition of The Chamber of Secrets. I’d like to raise awareness: think and reflect about what sort of effect your posts and Harry Potter hauls have.

And, perhaps, that means maybe not buying yet another fancy new edition or maybe not posting about Harry Potter on September 1 next year.

On a more personal note

As for me, upon further reflection I decided to remove my past review of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them from this blog, as I do not want to promote her unnecessarily. I am still on the fence whether to leave my post about the Harry Potter exhibit online. It’s a post from 2017 with pictures; I suppose it at least allows people the opportunity to get an impression without having to buy any tickets? I’ve added a disclaimer for now.

I haven’t gotten rid of my books or films. Yet. As I’ve said, it becomes increasingly difficult to separate the author from the work, and Harry Potter is giving me a bad taste in my mouth simply by association with its author. I have good memories reading them back in the day, which are difficult to erase (despite some more issues regarding portrayal of race and anti-semitism coming to light). If anything, I will not be rereading them soon and I put them somewhere at the bottom of my shelves. I did get rid of most merchandise, including my Slytherin scarf. I also got rid of the Cormoran Strike books a while ago.

I do have a cute plush of a cute random snow owl that I bought years ago on a vacation in London. As of now, it’s mysteriously without a tag. It had a different name, but it’s now called Yuki.

Review: The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

The Black Flamingo
Dean Atta

Publisher: Hodder
Publishing Year: 2019
Pages: 364
ISBN: 9781444948608
Language: English
Genre: poetry, contemporary, young adult
Rating: 4.5/5

In The Black Flamingo, we follow Michael who struggles with multiple aspects of his identity, starting from his younger years. As a mixed Jamaican, Greek-Cypriote Brit, he not only has to navigate racial issues, but also his more ‘feminine’ interests and his gay identity. Michael eventually finds the freedom to express his identity through drag and poetry, but getting there was a journey.

Atta narrates Michael’s coming-of-age journey through poetry, which not only makes for a playful and interesting way to tell the story, it also adds a lot of weight to what’s a very personal experience of the POV character — it’s like you’re reading Michael’s diary! We see him experience childhood, with an absent father and his wishes for a Barbie doll like his sister, through high school to eventually his college days. By the end of the book, you can’t help but root for Michael as he first sets foot on the stage in drag, and the way he eventually finds his freedom through drag and poetry is beautiful and satisfying. The format really adds to the story, considering Michael himself is a poet.

The format also allows for stylistic playfulness; there are not only several illustrations, but Atta has also played around with typography — it not only adds to the diary experience, but it also makes certain poems (and subsequently, events) even more striking. Though The Black Flamingo deals with some heavy themes of gender identity, racism, homophobia, micro-aggressions, and sexuality, it never becomes a heavy read partly through the format, and partly that there are still wholesome elements to the narrative to compensate. There is a message of hope and self-acceptance throughout this book.

The format might be a turn-off if you’re like me and don’t really get along with poetry. I might admit that I didn’t know this book was written in verse before ordering it. I’m glad I had missed this, however, as I might’ve not picked it up if I had. The poetry is accessable and not difficult to understand, without becoming like you’re being talked down to. It goes to show never to judge a book by its format, and I find myself struggling to find a negative point. The Black Flamingo might still not be for everyone, but do not let the format stop you from reading this. And if you do like poetry, well, definitely check this one out as well.

Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

We’re currently having a heat wave in the Netherlands, so let’s compensate with a review of a winter-y book!

arden-bearandthenightingaleThe Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight Trilogy #1)
Katherine Arden

Publisher: Del Ray
Publishing year:
2017
Pages: 410
ISBN: 9781785031052
Language: English
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 2/5

Vasilisa lives with her family on the edge of the Russian wilderness, where the spirits shield them from the harm that comes with the long and cold winter nights. When Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father eventually marries a devout Christian wife. Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids the honoring of the spirits and wishes to have her wild stepdaughter either married off or send to a convent. However, the decreasing presence of the spirits is more dangerous than one would initially think.

The Bear and the Nightingale has a promising start, introducing Russian folklore and the tension with Christian characters. The writing style also makes this a quick and accessible read, never getting overly descriptive.  Unfortunately, this turns out to be a double-edged sword; the writing completely lacks the atmosphere you might seek when picking up a book with a fairytale-like setting such as this. The presence of folklore is also quite minimal; the elements are there for the sake of the plot, but are never developed.

Instead, the book focuses on the main character, Vasilisa. This wouldn’t be a bad thing, but unfortunately, she is a very bland character. Through the descriptions of the other characters, she is defined by being wild and ‘not like other women’, and she doesn’t want to marry or go to a convent. Beyond the ‘look how feminist this character is’, she’s not fleshed out and does not get any character development, because she’s already right and perfect and doesn’t make any mistakes. Ugh. It doesn’t help that she’s repeatedly described as ‘not pretty’ ,yet male characters still find themselves attracted to her because she is unconventional and wild.

The other characters are, unfortunately, no better. The Christian characters are bad because they are Christian; neither the stepmother nor the priest that appears later (who, of course, lusts after Vasilisa because she is wild) are developed, reducing them to annoying caricatures. Frost, the winter demon, is a mysterious potential love interest, but has no personality or chemistry with the main character to speak of. He just saves her from the cold, gives her a place to stay, and has a past with the villain. Speaking of which, the story’s villain is no better; motives are hardly fleshed out, but at least he does some things to drive the plot forward?

With such a bland cast of characters, it might be no surprise the plot is nothing to write home about either. It would’ve been servicable, hadn’t it been for some ridiculous climax near the end, when Vasilisa, along with some other characters, finds herself facing the villain. Without spoiling everything, the climax basically felt like it was trying too hard to be epic, but it only managed to fall flat with the characters having generous amounts of plot armor; a character appearing out of nowhere to save the day didn’t help matters. It wasn’t the only event that had my eyes rolling, but it stands out the most.

Some people might still like The Bear and the Nightingale if they have a thing for fairytale-like settings; because the setting is definitely interesting. It’s just unfortunate all other aspects fall completely flat. If you want something winter-y and fairytale-like with folklore and strong female characters, I’d recommend Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik instead.