Books Written about the Prison Experience

It’s the last weekend of June and it’s been an insane month of changes for me.  I am going to be taking new responsibilities at work and saying goodbye to my first boss in my adulthood career.  I have spent eleven years under his leadership and moving forward will have to figure out my own leadership dilemmas without his counsel.  Like any relationship, it had its ups and downs, but he was part of my becoming an adult in the world of adults.  I had internships and practica and jobs before the one I have now, of course, but I was always sheltered as a student or one with low responsibility.  I still have a way to go, though, in my emotional development as an adult.  Goals for myself to be the best I can be at what I do and to not compromise myself in the process.

Also, my birthday just went by and I really want to enjoy my 40’s.  I am giving myself two years for the emotional growth I need to enjoy that decade, the one that research shows that adults enjoy the most when looking back at their lives.  I’d really like to stop caring about things that don’t need my emotional energy.

It’s no surprise that after my life and the reads I’m reviewing here I went to the safety of some diversion reads.  All the actualization and growth in my life is a privilege in itself.  These books are about the transformative experience of doing time in prison.  I’m grateful that my growth experiences have not had to involve incarceration, whether from a poor choice or being gravely disadvantaged.   Like, I’ll miss my boss, but my life is and always has been a delightful array of choices and will continue to be so.

And I diverted a tiny bit from the category because they were supposed to be written in prison but they are about prison experiences, likely composed after the fact.  So I cheated a little.  I don’t think either of these were actually written in prison.  Sometimes I think that if I went to prison I’d do a lot of writing, but I think I’m assuming my privilege would extend into a situation where it would fall painfully short.

A Book Written In Prison

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The Sun Does Shine:  How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row, Anthony Ray Hinton and Laura Love Hardin

A black man in 1980’s Alabama is unjustly imprisoned and sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit.  He is eventually exonerated, but not without a grueling number of years of surviving and trying to clear his name from his extremely disadvantaged standpoint.

This was as riveting as it could be depressing.  Ray Hinton wasn’t born with much but he was likable, just trying to make it in the world before he was imprisoned, and then when he comes out of his emotional dark place to make the best of his situation and survive.  He was impoverished and loyal to his family, and got through it out of others’ undying loyalty to him, both family and when he finally found a lawyer that could get him out.  How he got tossed onto death row without the usually precursors of trauma and abuse and how he was stuck there and what he discovered about the world and about himself were all a compelling journey.  One that I was grateful to experience from the outside.

Stories about inequality, privileges, and resilience have a place in our culture and it’s no surprise to me that Oprah has featured this book.  Bad things still happen to people in this country on the basis of race, and people still hang in there in terrible situations that make most other people’s lives look pretty okay.  I’m feeling pretty white here over my sadness over a change in leadership at my work and what it means to me, the fact I have a career that I can take as far as I want.

The other prison book I read is Prison with Privilege.  Nothing like Hinton’s soul crushing years on Death Row in the Deep South, smelling other people dying and waiting for his turn.

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Orange Is the New Black:  My Year in a Women’s Prison, Piper Kerman

The title sums it up and it’s a Netflix series, so I can keep this short: Piper ran a suitcase of drug money during a less focused time in her life and had to spend 15 months in Danbury Correctional Facility when the people she worked for ratted her out when the ring was busted.

Hilariously I binge watched Season One of the Netflix series in the winter of 2013, when I had a year old baby and a husband watching football in another room.  I didn’t then appreciate the intersection of these facts to create the rare opportunity for binge watching such an adult program.  It was one of those where I could keep going once I got started but I had to be willing to face some of the cringe worthy intensity that makes the show as appealing as it is, and then I would get hooked.  I can’t do this one episode at a time.  I won’t push through the whole thing.  I can only binge it.

Since I saw the show I was going to read the book.  I knew it was dramatized for Netflix, but most of the elements I remember from Season One are in the book, just to a lesser degree of drama.  The show made me petrified of going to prison and I became paranoid for a few weeks that somehow I’d get framed into such a situation.  The book didn’t make it seem exactly appealing, but slightly less traumatizing, until she is transferred to another correctional facility to testify in court.

I’m not well versed in books written about prison experiences, but I am willing to bet that this particular book brings an element of privilege that most others don’t.  She is white, she is well educated and well loved, something she knows sets her apart from the population.  She talks about how her advantages get her through it and how she learns to use her connections to others better, rather than doing it all on her own.  Ray Hinton’s connections also get him through his harrowing experience.  Our connections and the meanings we assign to experiences are what helps us to survive.

She talks about this but I don’t think she looks down on the other prisoners. The show also tells more about the backgrounds of the prisoners to help people understand how women end up in Danbury.  The struggles that lead them there. I always feel that the world could do with more empathy and I get behind any form of entertainment that helps to grow it, especially for the disadvantaged.

So good, but so difficult.  Hopefully next week starts a new chapter of summer posts.  I’m probably reading too much.  I’m trying to keep the joy in my writing but probably avoiding it a little with my reading.

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BookRiot: Self-Published Books

The books reviewed here are far from the first self pubs that I have reviewed on this blog.  Some I was even asked for.

I was pleased to see BookRiot push people to read self published work.  It’s still hard work to self-publish, not by any means the easy way of getting your book out there, even though there are not the gatekeepers that there are for traditional publishing. It doesn’t appear faster, either, to get your book traction on your own, and I think some of the stigma is fading from it.

Also, in case anyone is wondering, I am so pleased that the beauty of summer is here. This weekend I am spending with friends as a Bon Voyage to a friend who is moving to the Netherlands to do a post doc. I usually see my long distance friends over the summer, but later on after the school year is done in New York.  I might have to visit him in the Netherlands whilst he is there.

But on to the self-published books.

A Self-Published Book:

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The Inevitable Fate of E & J, Johanna Randle

A teen boy and girl who used to be best friends but who fell apart through circumstance are brought back together by forces they cannot control:  namely, that their souls are linked via past life experiences and they are warned that being together to figure out the story can be detrimental to them both.  Clearly, this is only the first in a series of indeterminate length.

I actually found this via an indie author community on Twitter and asking one another to comment their books for consideration.  It was hard to determine what books are self-published and which are not, as evidenced by my reading two Ania Ahlborns before I realized that she was picked up by Amazon. (but also not wasted time.  She just came out with a new book that she published herself, Now You See Her, so of course that landed on the TBR).  But I follow Johanna Randle on Twitter and she makes no qualms about having put her own work out there, and I admire her that.

I liked this story, it was completely wholesome and the nice boy is the one who wins, which I always like in YA romance, and the girl is learning through the story to stand up for what she likes and wants, not what others want of her.  The world of what everyone thinks a teenager wants is the life she leaves behind in favor of what her heart says. However, as this is the first in a series, there is a lot of set-up in this one.  There is a lot of uncertainty of the hearts coming back together, a lot of self doubt and wondering over action.   It picked up right in time for setting up for the next book. I’d be interested to see if the second books speeds up with all the initial stuff out of the way.

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A Light Amongst Shadows:  Dark is the Night, Book 1, Kelley York and Rowan Altwood

Two boys meet and fall in love in a sinister, Gothic era/novel reform school.  Ghosts crawl the property and when James’ roommate goes missing, they discover the sinister reason why and free the school of it’s dark secrets.

This was an ambitious novel, Gothic and historical, for something self-published, as well as having a romance/sexual relationship between two males.  I know LGBT is becoming the thing lately in YA, and I can’t say the book I’m sending out doesn’t have that, but I still think a gay relationship is forward in mainstream YA books.   I swiped this one off the list of BookRiot recommends, seeing as I can barely handle finding out what is a self pub on my own.

This one moved along a little more, but it could have used some perking up.  Some more subplots to keep it going.  The curiosity is drawn out with the boys not knowing why the others have been disposed of in reform school, and the reveals do have their effect on the main romantic relationship, as they should.  I loved the ghosts, and the secrets, and there were some very scary parts to this one.  It was deliciously dark, which is why we pick up Gothic stories in the first place.  This one also is the start to a series that would be worth continuing.  I saw in getting the image for this post that there is already a 2 and 2.5 out?  Nice.  I love finding something where  I can keep reading.

Mayhaps I have a summer reading/blogging plan.  It could possibly be forming.  It still looks like weekly posts, but I am thinking about working through some of my short story collections, now that I seem to have a better idea of what makes a short story good or special or stand out.  It might help me form my own shorts better if I read a lot of them, armed with this knowledge.  And I could use a short story read down.

But my next post will be two popular novels by women that have gotten a lot of attention.  Ones that I don’t feel I can miss while still considering myself well-read.

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BookRiot: Books in Translation

I’m hoping that everyone is enjoying the kick off to summer holiday weekend.   I’m married to a vet so I know it’s not just about picnics and parades and grilling.  I know.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t revel in the beauty of the kick off of summer, my favorite season.

And this blog post isn’t completely incongruous with the spirit of the weekend, as translations usually remind me to acknowledge my white privilege.  Memorial Day is about remembering those who have fallen.  I will remember why I am lucky to be at this place and time and country.

The translations in this post, though, are deliciously dark. That’s where their fitting in to the theme of this holiday weekend ends.  Stops dead in its tracks.

A translated book written and/or translated by a woman:

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The Wolf and the Watchman, Nicklas Natt och Dag, translated by Ebba Segerberg

A grisly murder mystery set against the backdrop of 1793 Stockholm. Two detectives thrown together, a brilliant barrister dying of tuberculosis and an ex soldier, given the position of watchman, not only with PTSD and a false arm (that proves a formidable weapon) but laden with guilt over being unable to save a friend.  They both need meaning and direction in their dwindling lives and they find it in solving this hideous crime.  Of course, there are other layers, other characters, a political climate, extreme cold weather, extreme desperation, destitution and darkness.

I hunted this book a little.  It got my attention right away and I finally gave in to checking it out of the library, even though I didn’t realize that it was translated by  a woman.  I thought it was a line jumper in my list of reads, just something I had to do.

Of course I loved it.  I love a murder that looks unsolvable at the start.  Nothing to identify the body or understand how it got to be dismembered and floating in the pre-sewage city’s cess pool.  And often with books I love, there are times when I almost feel they are too dark to continue on.  When I care too much about the people that have the terrible lives common of that place and time and my heart aches with them.  The reviews I scanned on Amazon had a similar feel, that if you can handle the heartbreak, some of the gruesome details,  and the overall feeling of grim futility, the novel is very good.  I realize this could sound sarcastic and hardly sells it; suffice to say, it makes me want to read the Alienist now, which I was already told I would like.

The only thing I wasn’t sure about, other than the darkness which how could it not be in a country with an unstable political environment, extreme cold and few social programs, was the amount of time spent in the middle on building a character and her history who felt like a minor player to me in the action.  Somewhat tangential. I mean, I wanted to be sure that she would be okay, more than the two main sleuths, but there was a lot of time spent on her plight.

And one other thing was that sometimes, the clues to solve the mystery required some hunting but other times they fell into place.  And one of the characters gets out of a situation that he really shouldn’t have survived. I know that kind of thing make dramatic tension but it almost didn’t seem feasible and it wasn’t really explained how he got himself out of that.

Interesting to note, however, that the plots end up mostly resolving positively.  Last week was the Ania Ahlborn posts that always end up miserable.    But as I said, it was worth the read and I’m interested in The Alienist now.  More interested.

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Moonstone:  The Boy Who Never Was, Sjon, translated by Victoria Cribb

I really could have titled this post people on the fringes throughout history.  This is a novella about a homosexual orphaned school dropout working as a prostitute in 1918 Iceland, with the Spanish flu and the magic of the cinema coming to town and providing a window into the fascinating world outside the borders.

This seemed bizarre at first, but then felt more haunting in all the facets that are packed into 142 pages, just over two hours of listening (probably less for me because I listen at 1.25x, picked up from Audible’s 50-70% off sale).  Some reviewers on Goodreads talk about it as a fever dream.  The protagonist belongs at some points in the book and is on the fringes in the other, but shares the love of the cinema, using it as a break from his realities.   The backdrop is artfully entwined with the boy’s personal history. It was easy for me to imagine that place and time.

The blurb notes that this is the author’s most accessible and realistic piece.  It doesn’t make me want to see his other works if they get weirder.  The beginning of this was a little strange.  It was strange enough, but not too much so.

I have to note that these translations, which was how they were chosen, were well done.  I forgot that they weren’t originally in English.  It didn’t feel like anything was lost in the translation either time, even though I imagine neither of these was easy to translate without losing their essence.

I’m thinking about what my summer posts will look like, if I will slow them down like I do sometimes.  I’ve not regretted my two on a theme that I have been working on with the challenge this year.  I was worried that I would, but I have enjoyed getting two examples of the categories that made the list.  I might feel differently when I am reading the comics and the manga.  No matter how many times BookRiot wants me to do it, it doesn’t seem to grow on me any more, and they are always the ones I push off til the end of the year when I have posted on my holiday reads and I have to finish.

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BookRiot: Cozies!

I almost kind of cheated with this category.

I rang in the New Year bingeing on Her Royal Spyness books and feeling at the time that I could just count those as my cozies, and I could, technically, but it wouldn’t be getting around to something new that I had been meaning to read.  Of course I meant to read all the Royal Spyness goodness, but maybe something new to me that also deserved a chance.

I have also read something like 37 Nero Wolfe novels.  Some of them are already due for a re-read.

So I did read two new cozies.  Two I already owned, because reading down the backlist is also important, especially since I want to do better with newer novels (and write all the things, and have a full time job and a son etc).  Stuff.  And both of them are set in mostly arid climates, hence this week’s picture not being some saccharine springtime one (but those are my favorite, sorry not sorry).

A Cozy Mystery:

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The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, Alexander McCall Smith

Precious Ramotswe, burned by marriage at a young age and finding herself free and with a bit of means from an inheritance, decides to start her own detective agency, the only one run by a woman in her home of Botswana.  This is not one mystery in this book but a series of small ones, one probably larger and more serious than the rest.  It’s a light-hearted book, even though the topics can be difficult:  adultery, pregnancy/child loss, and the disadvantaged status of women, crime, etc.  Of course you have to have those things if you are solving mysteries, and they are still cozy, not all of them involving death or murders.  It is one of those where the solutions are usually fairly simple and the detective herself goes out on a limb to test out her own theories.

I can see why people might pick up more in this lighthearted series with a smart woman at it’s helm.  Old world charm, likeable characters, diverting mysteries.  It was a fun read, and I blew right through it.

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The Bride Wore Dead, EM Kaplan

Josie Tucker, a struggling food writer, sets out to solve the mystery of what happened to a distant friend who died on her honeymoon at a health spa.

It says directly on the cover that this is an un-cozy, un-culinary mystery.  It’s cozy enough for my purposes, even though it is decidedly edgier than some of the cozies I have consumed and will continue to consume (let’s be honest with ourselves here). The protagonist, Josie Tucker, can be edgy, cynical and hard to read.  As cozies are usually centered around a hobby, she was a food writer but having gastrointestinal issues and needing to add other things to focus on.  She does get seriously hurt in this one, which makes it a little less cozy than some of them can be, although it’s common for the sleuth in these novels to come under attack themselves as they get closer to the truth.

I liked this book, but it was slow in places. At the beginning, when she is a stand in bridesmaid, we do get to know her major cast of friends, but there is a lot of talk at the wedding table and her learning that the wedding is largely attended by exes of the bride and talking about them.  I don’t know if these were intended to be red herrings, but she dies on the honeymoon, not at the actual wedding.  And when her friend comes over to take care of her when she is hungover, and a doctor visit about stomach issues that cannot be figured out, I feel these could have been pared down a little. I wanted to keep going, I was curious about all the plot threads, and I liked that the protagonist’s life gets a little more back on track at the end, instead of being the loose jumble that it is in the beginning.   Things change for the grumbly, sick and overheated woman we meet in the first few pages.

I’d recommend it, and maybe in her following books the movement is a little faster, as there isn’t as much setup involved.  I’d be willing to read further in.  I have book two, Dim Some, Dead Some.  I’m interested in how Josie will continue to move forward with her illness, and I like that she isn’t as sweet as other cozies can be. Also, this is a self pub but I am reading other self pubs rather than counting this one twice.

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Historical Romances by Authors of Color

So I realize it’s Easter Sunday and I am posting on romances.  It was not intentional.

You can guarantee this Easter Sunday for me is mired in family, wholesome goodness.  A hidden basket and eggs filled with candy I have not quite managed to avoid snacking since I bought them two weeks earlier.

Jellybeans are really a weakness for me.  I like the Starburst and the Jolly Rancher sours.  How am I expected not to sample Jolly Rancher sour wildberry mix?  I’m only human.  One who is easily delighted by artificial colors and flavors.  Just like nature intended.

And as a funny aside, somehow the mysterious creature in my basement ate only my son’s chocolate bunny while the Easter edibles were stashed down there.  Not my husband’s required PB bunny, the peeps which were decidedly easier to get to packaging wise, or the pistachios that I know my hubs will be pleased to see in his prize pile.  I say pile because his basket is now my son’s basket.

Also:  my son has bought into the toys that you have to open to see which one you got. He’s so much my kid.

So BookRiot wanted me to read a historical romance by an AOC and since I have little background in romances I went for two classic historical romance AOC’s.   Not ashamed. They know what’s good and I can recognize expertise when I see it.  You really didn’t have to twist my arm to read either of these books.   I love novels in a historical setting, and each of the two balance the context and the romance differently, but there were some similarities, other than both heroines having dark skin and loving sex more than a typical woman in that time and place.

A Historical Romance by an Author of Color:

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Tempest, Beverly Jenkins

I don’t typically read books about the American West, but I am often intrigued when I do. It’s easy to forget how hard life was out there, how removed people were from the comforts and the action of the east.  Regan, the heroine, moves from her comfortable existence in Arizona to remote Wyoming as a mail order bride for a widower (Dr. Colton Lee) and his daughter.  She is nothing like her new husband’s first wife, not to mention the fact that he isn’t even looking to fall in love again, merely have a placeholder in his home.  Added to that is some drama with some stagecoach robbers on her way in that not only add a subplot but also set it up for a dramatic first time face to face meeting with her husband.  Definitely ideal.

I found that the romance in this story was more pronounced than the historical context. I didn’t realize until the notes at the end that the heroine’s backstory was the subject of two earlier books in the series, which is a credit to Jenkins for how well it stood alone.  I felt the background was discussed adequately in the course of the story for everything to make sense.  There is a decent amount of sex, especially sex outside the bedroom and then emotional conflict afterward over the doctor trying to keep his heart to himself, which of course he can’t.

There were times I felt the historical context was a little forced.  It starts off more with the romance, which had me hooked, but then it seemed like some of the parts about the Dr having to go help the victims of the railroad strike were added in kind of as a sidebar.  It slowed things down a little.  I felt the drama around the stagecoach shooting was more integral to the plot, especially when she was not able to testify in court due to her color.  And the part where there were some racial frictions between the people in the town, although the people out there probably had to work together a little more to survive and likely couldn’t really afford to be racially segregated.  And the part where Native Americans were even lower on the chain. The author clearly had more of the romance in mind on this one, especially in contrast with the next book in this post, another quintessential book in the historical romance genre:

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An Extraordinary Union, Alyssa Cole

An African American woman and a Scottish man are spies together for the Union Army at the beginning of the Civil War.  Very cool premise and very much entwined in its historical context.  Of course they get together, as it is required of this genre, and their obstacles to getting together have to do with their color and their place in history.

This book was more evenly split between history and romance than Tempest. There is a lot of action related to the war that keeps things going in addition to the romantic tension and the lover’s quarrels.  I’m wondering if this is a popular novel because it uses the context so well.

I noticed a few glaring similarities between these books that I don’t think make them entirely historically accurate, which is the progressive attitudes of both the male and female characters.

For the male characters, they have some emotional awareness and take accountability when they mess up, mainly due to jealousy.  Now, I don’t think that this was expected of men/husbands to be emotionally aware and accountable to their wives in their historical context. In An Extraordinary Union, not only does he have to be open minded about her previous sexual experience (neither of these women are virgins and both male characters accept it eventually rather than treating their ladies like damaged goods and wanting to marry them anyway) he also has to be open minded about the fact that she isn’t white and of his class and how those things affect her and has an extraordinary talent that other men were threatened by.  There is enough of his past history to explain why his attitude is more open minded, but it still felt like a stretch.    In Tempest, Dr. Lee acts upset when he meets the man that his wife had a previous relationship with and is jealous about it too, even though he’s the husband, but eventually apologizes.

For the women, their blatant enjoyment and knowledge of sex seems unrealistic. Even when women did enjoy sex in their day they were not supposed to show it because they wouldn’t look respectable.  Both of these women were wildly sexual and neither of them had men who insulted them for it.  I don’t even see that consistently in this day and time.

Also, I noticed the words to describe the sex were carefully chosen words that were less likely to make readers uncomfortable.

All of these together and present in both books makes for, in my opinion, some anachronistic qualities.  I know the books wouldn’t have worked without them and heroines in this genre need to be spunky.  I know why it had to be that way.  I do.  But this might not be a go to genre for me just because it’s not consistent with the context.  They were good on the other parts I liked.  The sex was hot, the characters likeable and sympathetic and I liked the heroes.  Of course I liked the heroes, they were written to appeal to modern women. Even if the whole time I’m like, dudes weren’t really like that.

So I hope my readers have lovely Easter holidays and if they feel like something steamy in a historical context and can suspend a little disbelief that they will consider these reads.

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BookRiot: Trans and Non-Binary Authors

My world is a mass of muddy defrosting, dirty snow, and the excitement of the birds returning.  I love it when the birds come back out.  When the snow melts enough I will go back to putting cracked corn in the yard so I can have my duck friends visit.

I have to admit that vitamin D got me through the winter, taken on the recommendation of any local healthcare provider I speak with.  That’s my justification for complaining about winter is that even the healthcare providers tell everyone to keep up on their sunshine vitamins during the grueling months.

I like to use BookRiot’s recommendations for categories that have to do with someone’s ethnic background or gender preference/sexual proclivities.  Sometimes a google search leads me wrong and I feel voyeuristic combing author profiles for who they are and what they prefer.  Their perspectives are important and absolutely worth reading. Because their gender identity is something that has been salient due to their not aligning with their gender assignment, gender is considered in ways that someone like me, who is cis, never really thought about.  But that’s why we read harder, because those other perspectives deserve awareness and consideration.

But I’d prefer that BookRiot find them for me.  And even after they do, I don’t look into it further, like, are they non binary, or what were they born as, or whatever.

I also found that today’s choices could count for neurodiverse characters, and some other lists I have looked at have wanted to include authors from Africa.  These books push reading parameters in a number of ways.  And they were not easy reads, either one of them.

A Novel by a Trans or Non Binary Author:

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Freshwater, Akwaeke Emezi

A young woman is a host to a myriad of spirits in this book, and story is told in the points of view of the spirits who inhabit her.  And before she learns that she is in control of them (sorry, spoiler alert), they control her extensively.  She gives herself up to them through most of the book, although, looking back now that I am finished with it I can see where she gains control of them along the way more clearly.  And the reason I am sharing what the end is because through the book, I was wondering where this was heading, where the plot was.  It is an interesting story but it was a tale of a difficult life and I wondered where it was going and how it would end up.  It does end up in something.  I wanted to keep reading, even though I wasn’t sure if it had a plot.

This book got a decent amount of attention as a debut novel, but some people who reviewed it on Amazon struggled with it.  I enjoyed this book, but it pushes a lot of boundaries and topics I have not typically come across in novels, so I can see where some people truly felt they did not ‘get’ it.  And I might only ‘get’ it because of the amount of my life I have spent studying psychology and thinking about spirituality/mysticism.  I think the writing is obviously beautiful, but the content at times can be difficult, with self harm and rape, a woman struggling with literally her demons, losing a marriage to someone who always stood out and was special to her, as much as she didn’t want them to be.  We all have that person who despite the turmoil they can bring are incomparable to anyone else at that time in their lives.  I have had those people.  I would have hated to lose them in the times they were still so special to me.

This is worth picking up, but I know it isn’t for everyone.  Most books that get a lot of attention really aren’t for everyone.  They have intense psychological themes that are just too much or unrelateable for some people, enough to where the beautiful writing would not be enough to get them through. Like, my educated and well read father couldn’t understand my love for All the Light We Cannot See.

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An Unkindness of Ghosts, Rivers Solomon

I guess in writing my reviews and looking up other people’s opinions on the internet I am really seeing how these two books today are about trauma.  (And honestly it worries me about if my own book ever comes to fruition all the well thought out and articulate ways some people will not like it.)  A lower class woman with autism, Aster,  is living in a spaceship with clearly delineated social strata.  Her mother allegedly committed suicide but Aster realizes that she left messages behind and all might not be as it seems.  As in usual dystopian books, she bucks the system.  I won’t say how it ends, but if you have not read it, you might be able to guess enough even from there.  Rape and injustice are commonplace, and everyone notes when discussing this book that the upper classes have genders while the lower deck people are less gender conforming, less constrained by the strict heteronormative rules of above.

Criticism I read of this book indicated that people did not like the ending or that they felt it was too lucky or Aster didn’t display enough agency in the ending.  I don’t know if I missed something because I don’t know how she could have done more in what ended up happening, or how a book set up like this could have ended otherwise?  I had more of an issue getting into it in the beginning.  There seemed to be a lot of information to wade through before my brain could make sense of all of it to move forward.  It’s a lot of world building, and that’s important. One reviewer said it’s a mix between Battlestar Galactica, A Handmaiden’s Tale, and Roots. Listening to it helped because the narrator changed up voices, but even then sometimes I needed to slow it down.  It took me time to get into it.  About 20% through was when I caught on enough to move forward.

And I was driving to work during the last like 55 minutes of it, trying to stop and get my Wednesday Speedway coffee during one of the most dramatic moments.  Kinda interrupts the flow when you’re deciding which pot of house roast looks best and being convinced you left your friend’s borrowed Prius “key” on the counter because you were talking with the sales associate.  I frantically emptied my whole purse on her passenger seat which is probably a breach of friendship unless I get my butt over to vacuum it before I return it, which I will. And then after all that I return to the book where it’s all going to pot.

I also really liked the characters.  Some people said they didn’t feel fleshed out but I felt they were.  I saw in the blurb that Aster was autistic and I set out to 1. see if it was consistent with someone truly not neurotypical and 2. if this tidbit added to the plot.  I wouldn’t have picked up right away that she was, which I actually think is a good thing, because sometimes autism is more subtle, especially in females, and I didn’t want her to be a caricature.  And it added to the plot because she worked through some of her deficits, like her social struggles. So I liked it when initially I was skeptical.  I also very much like the the surgeon, who even though he was higher class was not afraid to be himself and not a mindless part of the brutality more endemic to his class.  I mean, I love healers, and healers who can see through the external trappings to the inner good in someone.

I am getting lots of writing done, which is awesome.  I wrote my first sonnet. I can’t say it’s a great sonnet but it felt overwhelming when it was assigned and I took a few weeks to get through it, and I did, and it won’t be a total embarrassment to post.  And my first wattpad piece is up!  I am writing under Teigan_Blake if anyone wants to check out my re-telling of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, renamed Those Twinkling Spirit Lights.

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Reading Harder: Space Books by Authors of Color

The last day of March! April’s promise of Spring is a lot more reliable than March.  Plus, it’s Easter, which is usually the first holiday of the year that I spend with my sister and her family.  My son is complaining that it has been too long since we saw them in October, and I agree.  He doesn’t yet understand how hard his cousin is going to beat the pants off him in Nintendo when we all play together.

Have I made the Northeast look appealing yet?

I’m pleased with how much reading I got done in the dead of winter.  Because of my overzealous reading I am not as far into the challenge as I could be, but the point is to read harder, not blow through the list like the gifted kid whose parents refuse to move him up a grade because he needs social skills.

Also, books about space. Not usually my favorite.  I read them in the interest of sci fi and understanding the classics and the genres, but it holds little appeal to me.  I get why we do space exploration, but I have no interest in going out past my atmosphere in a little tube.  Naw.  At least on an airplane we can make a landing without bursting into flame, right?  I like the ground.   I am much more excited to read historical romances by authors of color.  Those have been downloaded onto my Kindle since before this challenge came out.

A Book by an Author of Color Set In/About Space

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Binti, Nnedi Okorafor

(Winner of a Hugo and a Nebula, of course)

I know, I know, this is part of a trilogy.  Honestly the bits are so short I don’t know why it isn’t all one volume.  I love Dr. Okorafor after Who Fears Death and I chose to listen to one of her shorts as read on the podcast,  LeVar Burton Reads.  I was a Reading Rainbow kid back in the day and that’s something that never changes.  So, I guess I should say, I am a Reading Rainbow kid.  I think LeVar could even romance my six year old somewhat reluctant reader to watch.  (I say somewhat because dude is showing a solid interest in comic books.  Just because it isn’t my dreams of Roald Dahl doesn’t mean it’s not important.  In the books department, he’s not like his mother, but he’s not me in sports either and that’s a good thing).

My favorite in this short book is the narrator. She is a powerful female going after her dreams of going far away to study math and science, at Oomza University, despite her family’s pressure to stay home.  And even on the spaceship over she doesn’t fit in:  She is the only human from her tribe on the ship, but also then is the only one who survives the takeover of the ship by the Meduse, a race with a vendetta against Oomza University, save for the captain so they can get there.  She bridges the communication gap and works out of her comfort zone to heal their vendetta, and not only because it is to her benefit.

I love strong females with powers that they use for the ultimate good. Dr. Okorafor’s heroines are special women who beat the odds, and even when you put them in a less familiar settings, I can always get emotionally involved with them.  Also, Dr. Okorafor has Binti solve the issue relationally instead of just kicking anyone’s ass until they are too scared of her to bother her.  It’s a solution I can get behind.  She uses her brain and relationships.  She uses something special and unique to her culture that also helps a completely different race.  Very cool.

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Babel-17, Samuel R. Delany

This epic pulpy cover is way more interesting than the boring one on my Kindle/Audible app.  And it would have changed my expectations of the novel more than the geometric cover:

babel-17 kindle.jpg

Like two entirely different books, right?  I thought this book was way more literary/artistic than something pulpy.  It was one of those science fiction books with heavy philosophical underpinnings.  This one specifically was about how language shapes thought and vice versa.  I have been reading more pulp lately while I am learning to write it, and this was definitely not the content of the scanned in pulp mags I was reading. And is that supposed to be the heroine Rydra Wong on the cover?

This book is beautifully written, with poignant metaphors and description I don’t expect to encounter in sci-fi.  I don’t know enough about the time in which it was written to really talk about how it compares to the sci fi books of the time in this aspect, I just enjoyed the striking images as I read.

However, reading it was like dreaming: some parts were really lucid and were cool and made sense, and other times I was lost as to what was going on, or what was supposed to be going on.  I just kept reading or listening until I was back to a part that made sense.  The concepts I caught were very cool and a second read through would probably help.  Just because a solid half of the book escaped me doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good book.  I don’t have a sci fi brain. Some reviews I read on Amazon suggested there are sci fi brains out there that caught it more than mine did.  I’d think that something truly pulpy would have concepts easier to access than these.

Also, another female protagonist, brilliant, fearless and still loved by her crew and equals, which is nice that a woman written in the sixties is powerful without being unappealing to men, but I didn’t connect with her like I did to Binti.   Rydra uses relationships too to outsmart the enemy instead of brute force, but I liked Binti as a heroine much better.   Maybe I was just jealous that Rydra could probably bust out the sonnet I am puzzling over for my monthly poetry group.

I keep telling myself I’m going to slow down on the novels and read writing books, material being published in magazines I’d like to be in someday, or my numerous collections of short fiction.  Or listen to a few of the Great Courses I bought for the sake of helping move my writing along.  They are difficult to slow down on, even when I am ahead on my posts, which I currently am. I still downloaded a novel on audio for a new category instead of my one on how sci fi works, which is more relevant to some current projects.  I still want to read more of last year’s prizewinners.  And this year’s when they come.  And there’s a new Han Kang short that looks a bit experimental but also well done.

I can’t.

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