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✿Ring Around the Prose✿

Review: The Orchard of Lost Souls by Nadifa Mohamed

The book in two sentences: Nadifa Mohamed weaves a beautiful and haunting tale of life in a Somalian city as the country is on the brink of civil war. As refugees, soldiers, and rebels pour in, the lives of three women—a widow, an orphan, and a soldier—are bound forever.

Rating: 🌴 Island collection

Long story short (no spoilers): In her novel, Mohamed captures the senselessness of war from the perspective of ordinary people. Even Filsan, the soldier, has never been in combat before and is more a civilian in that sense than the widow Kawsar and even the young orphan girl Deqo, both of whom have lost their families to the growing political turmoil.

You see the buildup towards what will eventually become a civil war from the viewpoint of these three women. The increased presence of soldiers and checkpoints, the arrests of students, the kidnapping and killing of intellectuals, the banning of outside news outlets and journalists, the rationing of food and water, all signs of an increasingly totalitarian government. If you are wondering how things can even get this far, this book begins to answer that question, and it is equal parts compelling and terrifying.

Continue reading “Review: The Orchard of Lost Souls by Nadifa Mohamed”

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Currently reading: The Orchard of Lost Souls by Nadifa Mohamed

Review: Woman Hollering Creek by Sandra Cisneros

The book in two sentences: In Woman Hollering Creek, Sandra Cisneros weaves 22 tales of passion, pain, and longing that describe life along the U.S.-Mexico border. They take place in different times and follow different people on different paths, but all are centered around the identities and experiences of Chican@ and indigenous womxn.

Rating: 🌴 Island collection

Long story short (spoilers): What I enjoyed most about this collection was the writing. Cisneros’ prose is lyrical and enchanting. She often lapses into these long, run-on sentences, where one word just flows into the next, and like a wave they slowly draw you in before crashing into you.

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Currently reading: Woman Hollering Creek by Sandra Cisneros

The Unread Shelf Project

If you know me, you know that I buy books at an alarming rate and then forget all about them when something shinier (well, dustier, since I only shop at used book stores) comes along.

Not this year!

My reading challenge for 2019 is to read the unread books on my shelf before diving into anything newly purchased. I hope to read 52 books (I came close last year, but no cigar), and be better about blogging reviews / general wonderings.

It’s the #unreadshelfproject and I’m excited! Join me!

Review: The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

The book in three sentences: After graduating from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, Ceony begins her apprenticeship in paper magic with Magician Emery Thane. Her studies are interrupted when Thane’s heart is ripped from his body by a magician who specializes in blood magic. In order to save his life, Ceony gives chase and ends up in a place she never saw coming—Thane’s heart (literally).

Rating: 🏡  Left behind

Long story short (spoilers): Though I heard lots of positive things about the Paper Magician series, I am really disappointed in this book.

  • Characters are poorly written: I just didn’t care about any of them, there’s nothing special about them, they are so common; Ceony is 19 but acts like she’s 13; there is no chemistry between her and Thane; Ceony cooks, cleans, and even does Thane’s laundry though these are not part of her apprenticeship (your story has magic in it, and your female character still does all the emotional and physical labor?? That’s just unimaginative writing).
  • The plot is poorly developed: the first third of the book breezes through an introduction to Ceony and her world, and sets up a weak relationship between her and Thane, which results in an implausible love sub-plot (which is made more creepy by the fact that they are student and teacher and she is 19 and he is in his early 30s). The pacing in the last two-thirds of the book is equally jarring. Holmberg gives Ceony an inadequate and ill-defined backstory which meant nothing to me when it was revealed because of how little time we have to get to know (and care about) Ceony.
  • The world-building is non-existent: we hardly see what “magic” means in this world; the author breaks her own universe rules; there is no sense of wonder because the story is preoccupied with itself.

Not only does the book fail to meet many of my criteria for strong storytelling, but on top of than that, it also feels like a blatant rip-off of Avatar: The Last Airbender (the original animated series). People can cast spells with specific elements (including blood)? Though it was thought impossible, the protagonist in this book is somehow able to master other elements as well (that’s in book 3 of the series)? Um…no.

It’s safe to say that I won’t be reading the rest of the series, which is a bummer because I’m in the mood for alternatives to Harry Potter. If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments below!

Review: Feminist Fight Club by Jessica Bennett

The book in two sentences:  An “official survival manual for a sexist workplace”, this guide aims to help young professionals check both obvious and not-so-obvious sexist behavior at work. It proposes strategies for managing interpersonal relationships to promote equality and create a space that is welcoming for everyone.

Rating: 🏡  Left behind

Long story short: “If your feminism isn’t intersectional, who is it even for?” Jessica Bennett should have repeated this to herself like a mantra and maybe we would have a book that was anti-racist, trans-inclusive, fighting ableism and against classism. Alas, this book is none of those things. While it includes some useful actions, overall it is a poor excuse for feminism.

Continue reading “Review: Feminist Fight Club by Jessica Bennett”

Review: The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

The book in two sentences: It’s 1921 and Parveen Mistry joins her father’s law firm as one of the first female lawyers in India. Her past comes back to haunt her as she investigates three widows who left their entire inheritance to a mysterious charity.

Rating: 🌴 Island collection

Long story short: I had a great time reading this book. While it was a little slow to start, the pacing picks up after the first few chapters and I found it difficult to put down.

Parveen is a wonderful protagonist, and as the story jumps back-and-forth between her past and present selves, she grows as a character. The plot is also very intriguing, and introduces readers to the eccentric blend of ethnic and religious communities in 1920s Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay). Having spent childhood summers in that city, it was exciting and emotional to imagine myself and Parveen going to the same places decades apart.

This book is the first in a new series, and I’m looking forward to reading the next when it’s out in early 2019. Have you read The Widows of Malabar Hill or another work by Sujata Massey? What did you think?

Review: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Brief synopsis (Goodreads): Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.

This is the twelfth expedition.

Their group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.

Rating: ✈ Travel companion

Long story short: I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I thought I would. The concept is something right up my alley, both interesting and enthralling, and featuring strong characters, but the pacing is too slow and the story doesn’t really go anywhere. There are some great action and suspense sequences throughout the book, places where I could feel my heart pounding and goosebumps forming, but the ending left me feeling adrift.

Annihilation is the first in the Southern Reach trilogy, but I’m not motivate to read the next two books. I watched the movie and have mixed feelings about it, too. Have you read or seen Annihilation? What did you think? Does the rest of the trilogy flesh out the story some more? Is it worth reading?

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