BookRiot: Award winning authors

My son can’t decide if he thinks my laptop wallpaper is cute or stressful.

Its a kitten either trying not to fall off something or trying to climb on something.  I like the picture because I liked that the cat had gotten itself into something or was about to get itself into something.  I can be like that.  I can’t always be happy just chillin, I have to be making my own entertainment.

Two on a theme again this week:

A book by a female or author of color that won a literary award in 2018

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Hello, Universe, Erin Entrada Kelly

2018 winner of the Newbery Medal for outstanding contribution to children’s literature

Good middle grade novels, especially involving middle schoolers like this one does, always involve a whole heap of uncomfortable awkwardness poured into a relatively unique situation, which is exactly what this book is.  It’s about kids who don’t fit into molds coming together through an almost emergency situation and friendships in common.  And, even better, which is what the market is looking for right now, one of the perspective characters is a deaf girl.  More engendering empathy.    Another child, Virgil, is Latin American, and he isn’t as effusive as the rest of his family.  Another one who talks about how he doesn’t fit in.  And, slight spoiler alert, he has a crush on the deaf girl, which is also excellent. It’s a great kids book and was a quick read for me.  I hope it doesn’t count as like a cheat read because I have some Coretta Scott King award winners on tap for this year.  Although that category specifies children’s or middle grade.  This category doesn’t.  Newbery Medal winners are always worth reading, though, and this could possibly go on the list of what I might share with my son.

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How Long til Black Future Month, NK Jemisin

Winner of the 2018 Hugo Award for The Stone Sky

Now, possibly Hello Universe could have been a cheat read if I also hadn’t tackled this one.  I have been wanting to read NK Jemisin but I haven’t wanted to commit myself to her science fiction novels.  Even though they have been recommended to me as sci fi/fantasy that isn’t based on white European medieval social structure or heteronormative narratives.  I wanted to taste her work and I am working on my own short stories, so it’s always a good idea to read what the masters are putting out.

I actually read the introduction, which gave me hope as a writer for two reasons:  one, she didn’t come into her writing prime until she was older than I am now, which is good because I am just starting out and I get into this idea that other people got into their glory faster than I would ever hope to.  If there’s even a glory for me to be had in this.  I can’t assume that.  And second, that she used the word sharted, and it wasn’t edited out and it was allowed to stay there as a sign to me that this book was worth reading.  On top of, you know, all her accolades from people who are allowed to give meaningful ones.  She was talking about sharting out science fiction that was more the stuff that white guys churn out to get noticed in a market that wasn’t ready for diverse voices.  In case your shart curiosity was piqued, which mine would have been.

Some of these I really loved, like Red Dirt Witch (one that many others on the reviews enjoyed) Valedictorian, Cuisine des Memoirs, L’Alchimista, and Sinners, Saints, Dragons and Haints, in the City Beneath Still Waters.  Some of them got away from me, like science fiction can for me, and I get a little lost.  Maybe because the stuff that is more out there to me isn’t as interesting so my brain stops participating.   It happened with the PKD book.  I wondered if other reviewers had a similar experience and they really didn’t seem to.  The stories that I enjoyed I noticed had more of a human element to them.   They were good, though, fantastical, creative, sharp in its portrayal of race and class.    I think Red Dirt Witch is popular because its about black people seeing the future of the human rights movement and becoming hopeful that the world can change for them.  And not just, you know, a black  person in the white house, but the realities of the riots and protests.

I had this on audio to work through it, but it had more to do with the genre than her writing.  When she really has the page space to spin out her world building I might have to pay harder attention because I imagine it is extensive and cool.

Clearly both of these women are award winning authors in their premises and stories.

I really read too much for the next two posts, so stay tuned.  Still binge reading.

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Donovan Reads High School Required Reading List

I thought I saw an article on Medium about what kids really should be reading in high school.  Maybe it wasn’t medium, because I can’t find the article now, but it got me thinking about what books I have read that I felt had more important messages to today’s kids than what I had to read, or even worse still, what my husband had to read when he went through high school eleven years before I did.

First, here’s a sample of what I was assigned to read in high school:

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Julius Caesar

Romeo and Juliet

The Giver, Lois Lowry

Lord of the Flies, William Golding

The Great Gatsby,  F.Scott Fitzgerald

Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett

The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne

Mercifully, we were at times allowed to choose from a list, and these are some of what I chose:

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou

Pride and Prejudice (but it honestly was beyond me then), Jane Austen

Ragtime, E.L. Doctorow

Billy Bathgate,  E.L. Doctorow

Book of Daniel,  E.L. Doctorow

Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

Darkness Visible, William Styron

Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton

Animal Farm, George Orwell

Also I started reading Nero Wolfe novels and Richard Brautigan, both courtesy of my father.

Lots of white people and white people perspectives, lots of heteronormative perspectives, not a lot of empathy gathering understanding from other perspectives.  I would say not a lot of addressing illness and disability, other than The Bell Jar and Darkness Visible, but I read both of those on my own steam and due to an early interest in mental health. And I think any reader of my blog sees titles that I have since revisited, the merits of which I believe I have discussed in the past and will do so again when I tackle more re reads.

Today’s world is full of everyone’s perspectives and they are all important, and I believe heading into the world with some awareness of others perspectives as well as an openness to them is the best start possible.  I found that in college it wasn’t a knowledge of the white canon that helped, it was an openness to other worlds beyond what I had experienced myself.  Which wasn’t a whole lot.

In making this list, my goals are to expose kids to many perspectives, gain empathy, appreciate complexity and develop a healthy skepticism. So what would I assign?

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Challenger Deep, Neal Shusterman

There is absolutely more mental health awareness than there was when I was in school. I remember there may have been one kid who had been rumored to have spent two weeks inpatient, but I didn’t know why, and it was all very hush hush.  One kid in the 800 I attended high school with that I heard possibly went. Nowadays, kids can name multiple classmates who have gone inpatient for an acute mental health need.   They cover mental illness in health class.  Kids are more open to talking about what they go through and often let their friends know that they see me.  But this book brings into living color the reality of what a psychotic break is, and what it’s like.  I don’t know what they are like firsthand but I have studied and known/treated people who have had them.  And I believe that people growing up to work with mental health or the public or when making policy decisions.  If I ran the world, this book would be required reading.

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Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi

Like I said when I reviewed this book, it’s important because it talks about those of African descent in our country in more than just the time there was slavery and those trying to escape. Racial issues in our country continue to be forefront and are based on a long history.  One that we can hopefully grow from.  I remember learning about enslavement, and the Civil War, and then Martin Luther King and protests for equal treatment, but this book brings to life what these things meant in real life to real people.  As I listed, I did read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and that helped open my fifteen year old mind, but it was chosen from a list and we could not have duplicates in the class. And it was one woman’s story.  Homegoing is the story of many.  Like in the previous selection, I have not experienced these things, but I understood them better when I read this book.  It broadened my mind further, and I have had graduate classes on privilege and diversity.

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Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides

Likely I would do excerpts from this one, as it is well written but wordy.  I can see where it would be tedious to teenagers, and I want them to hang in there with the message this one has.  Gender issues are forefront right now, and although the hero of this story is not trans per se, but intersex, it still brings up important points on the meaning of gender.  If I had read something more recently that was about gender issues it could replace this one, but I think empathy and more understanding toward people who are not cis would be helpful.

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Dune, Frank Herbert

Okay, a white dude writing sci-fi.  I loved Dune, by the way, but I am adding it here because it is my experience that young minds who are getting into a world full of information through which they need to make informed decisions need to appreciate the complexity that comes with power and political issues.   There are always numerous facets to why something went the way it did or why it is the way it is, and young (and older minds  too I guess) tend to simplify issues and take stances based on limited views, or lacking the appreciation that their view has limitations and doesn’t mean the same to someone else who may need/want something different.

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Ghostland, An American History of Haunted Places, Colin Dickey

I love a ghost story, so why would I recommend a book that kills our fundamental American ghost stories?  Because it talks about facts and how facts have changed based on our viewpoints as Americans.  To be skeptical of stories that seem fundamental. This talks about the darker side of our collective history and sometimes ways of thinking.  The side that we don’t get tested on.  Most, if not all of the places/stories mentioned in this insightful read are stories I already knew about from TV shows and this book presented the other side to them, showing me more about who we are as people than a good scary story.  So think about why a story exists and is presented like it is.

Also, I would like kids to read one book that is super intimidating due to its length, just to learn that it isn’t as bad as it seems.  Anna Karenina was one of those that I was intimidated by, and then increasingly gratified when I was making it through and enjoying it.  I surprised myself.  And I think that’s a valuable experience in creating a lifelong reader and the beginnings of an intelligent consumer of knowledge.

I have not read Freshwater, The Power, or Born a Crime, but they might be added to a sequel on this post after I read them.  And I also have to say I think the current YA market does a great job in meeting these goals as well, all sorts of issues and perspectives communicated through stories.

I also need a moment to say how much I hated that my high school constantly chose Shakespeare for the drama requirement.  One of my friends reminded me that the class begged our junior year English teacher to do something different, hence Waiting for Godot.  Shakespeare was base entertainment.  It would be like kids in high school four hundred odd years from now having to read Fifty Shades.

Agree/disagree?

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Reading Harder: Alternate Histories

The New Year inspired me to do some TBR tackling, like it always does.

Since the BookRiot list came out a few weeks ago I have been planning my 2019 reading.  I am always delighted when something on my TBR also qualifies for a BookRiot category as well, and I had two old backlist hangers on that qualified for the alternate history requirement.

I’m finding that I love stories set at different points of history.  Phillippa Gregory’s Lady of the Rivers series got me through new motherhood.  Nero Wolfe novels sustained me through late high school, college, and grad school when I only read fiction on breaks.

Futuristic dystopian/cli-fi books make me nervous, because of course anything can happen.  Given my lack of trust in the current Administration to protect the globe or anything that isn’t profitable nearly within this moment, scary futuristic books seem all too likely.  I’m game for historical dystopia, though.  Bring it.

But alternate history…it already happened a certain way so we can just play with ideas about if a moment was different, how would we be living now?  Both of the books in this post (I’m supposed to be working on my novel, not reading two books in a week, I need rehab) are set in times when assassinations of wartime US presidents (FDR and Lincoln) happened before they could leave their mark and each discusses the points that diverge from the facts that we learn today.  With each war having a different outcome, it also, in both books, means different things for racism in our country.

An Alternate History Book

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The Man In the High Castle, Philip K. Dick

This was on the TBR long before Netflix decided to make it into something.  I don’t even remember how it originally crept into my awareness.  I think at one point I thought that having read a PKD novel would have made me cool.

The Axis powers, Germany, Japan, and Italy won the Second World War, rather than the Allied powers, owing largely to an early assassination of FDR.  Essentially, this assassination is to blame for why America wasn’t strong enough to defeat Hitler and his allied countries and why in the novel the country is divided between German and Japanese territory, with Italy kind of the forgotten stepchild of the thing.

Nazi Germany is still the bully in the setting and in the plot, Imperial Japan is strong enough with their culture consuming their part of the US, which is under totalitarian rule.  Racism is rampant, there are definite classes based on skin color and ancestry, even with a brief mention of ethnic cleansing/experimentation still happening in Africa by the hands of the Germans, and it is still a dangerous thing to be Jewish.  I would say that even if Germany won the war I doubt the ethnic cleansing would continue today, but then I have to remember that the book was written and set in the early 60’s.  It’s nearly 60 years old as it is.  But when would it have stopped?

There are some parts of this story that are interesting, like the focus on the Japanese buying relics of Americana from the days before they took over.  Authentic Mickey Mouse watches are a valuable collectors item, as well as guns.  The Japanese I Ching features heavily as the closest thing I can determine as a religion and the characters rely on it to make decisions.  And as in any totalitarian rule there is a subversive book circulating  that speculates on if the Allied powers had won the war.  The book within the book, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, then predicts the fall of the Soviet Union, something that happens in real life decades later.

However, this book spins out a little nutty near the end, makes some reaches, goes off on character revelations and plot turns that I had to check up with on Wikipedia (whom I donate to every Christmas btw because of my reading needs) and I missed what the point of some of them were.  I don’t know how Netflix is planning to handle these.  Wiki notes that Dick also used the I-Ching to make plot decisions…interesting.   This book was both fascinating and intense.  Tiring.  Exhausting.  It needed my full attention. It has way more to do with setting and the plot of political intrigue than it does about characters.  It’s weird in some ways,but that’s sci-fi.  It’s pardoned as a part of the genre.

And the TV series looks like even more of a ride.  Likely not knitting TV.

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Underground Airlines, Ben Winters

I was hesitant to jump into another alternate history book over the weekend, but it was on my TBR, and it went with the theme, and I was knitting a sock more than I was working on my novel, so I went for it.

In this one, Lincoln is assassinated early, like FDR’s early assassination in PKD.  The Civil War never happened, and instead the states compromise on slavery, with four states, the Hard Four, slavery is still legal (and of course regulated, but legal nonetheless) and white people continue to get rich on the backs of those left with no choice, Persons Bound by Labor.  Racism is more obvious in the other states than it would be if these Hard Four weren’t holding out on profiting by slave labor, even though other nations have not allowed the US to play with them anymore because slavery persists.

An escaped slave is obligated to work as a bounty hunter for the government.  Although racism persists, often freed people and policemen don’t want to help in returning escaped slaves, so the main character enters another bondage of sorts (he even has a tracker in his neck) to find those who have escaped from bondage.  He doesn’t have to return them himself, but he’s complicated Of course his story is interwoven with his own trauma, his story fleshing out the world of slavery.  It’s fascinating, his past intersecting with the hard truths of rooting out those who made it out like he did.  The plot twists are sweet, and he discovers the assignment that he is working on is of course more than it seems, and he ends up having to infiltrate the Hard Four.

I think I liked this one more than The Man in the High Castle because it has more of a human element to it.  The Man in The High Castle is so strongly plot driven,  hard core philosophical Sci-Fi.  Living in a totalitarian society and having your nation completely transformed by war in your lifetime would have repercussions and change who you are, but the plot doesn’t deal with that. Underground Airlines had me from the beginning and I rode it through in a short amount of time.

Both of these books are about racism and class.  And how when the true leaders can’t lead, we descend into dystopia.  BookRiot posted some of their own suggestions on this topic and they stated that Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell was also an alternate history, in that magic somehow returns to Britain.  I have read and reviewed it here but I never thought of it as an alternate history.  Magic doesn’t change Britain into a dystopia. Still loved it.  What a great read.  Even though it was too intense to revisit on Netflix.

I have started editing my novel in preparation to have it professionally critiqued, just easing myself back into it.  I need to ease off the reading now. It’s kind of happening.  But it’s so much easier on the emotions to blissfully knit and immerse myself in a book.

The cold weather has swooped into my part of the world.  My dog and car and I aren’t exactly thrilled, but we can go play on the lake if it’s cold long enough.

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Review: The Hollow Traveller by J.L.Oakman

This week is a short break from the riotous September and the scary reads October.

I am a member of Your Write Dream on Facebook, a group run by Kristen Kieffer of well-storied.com. Sometimes I post on Kristen’s Shameless Self-Promo thread. Quite a brilliant move, I’d say, for her to offer it.  And in return if you have thought about joining an online writing community, this is a great place to ask and have questions answered and get support with writing.

Through my shameless self promo I was solicited for an honest review in exchange for a copy of a book:

 

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The Hollow Traveler, J.L. Oakman

I remember learning about the solar system in elementary school and the briefly breath arresting reality that the sun, as with all stars, will inevitably die, and then so will all the life that depends on the life of the star.  I say only briefly arresting because then I’m told that it’s estimated that the sun will die long after I am long obsolete myself.  As long as I don’t think too long about the fact that I will be so long dead as to be totally inconsequential, instead of just mostly, I’m okay.

But then this book brings out that uncomfortable reality of the universe slowly winking out on itself, the narrator chronicling the last bit of time, the last vestiges of civilization.  It is a little reminiscent of the Jules Verne that I have read, written when the planet was still a new place and not nearly as connected as it is today.  Verne is a little more fantastical whereas the stories of the snuffed out civilizations in The Hollow Traveller are post apocalyptic and completely feasible. They are the stories, that have been true for past civilizations on this planet. They are snippets, dipping a toe into each short segment of a civilization’s ended story as discovered by the traveler.

This was a short read that unfolds surprises about the narrator and the nature of the world he is in in the stories of the places he has visited.  It is a diverting read, perfect if you are into science fiction and need something short.  I am assuming that if you are into science fiction you can handle being reminded of the ending of the too endless to conceptualize universe.  That’s the most anxiety producing part.

I recommend this book and I am grateful for the opportunity to review it.

October begins tomorrow and the scary reads are lined up for the season!

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