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✿Ring Around the Prose✿

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August 2019 book haul

I’m trying to diversify the types of posts I, er, post on here, and thought folks might be interested to know what kinds of books I’ve bought lately. Introducing: my monthly book haul blog!

For my reading challenge, I’m going through books I already own (i.e., didn’t buy in 2019) and haven’t read. It’s definitely helped curb the amount of books I buy, though not as much as my mom hoped it would.

In any case, this August I made five purchases:

  • The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein (kindle)
  • Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (kindle)
  • Bolivar: The Liberator of Latin America by Robert Harvey (kindle)
  • Color Theory edited by Maya Gomez and Vreni Michelini-Castillo (paperback)
  • Triangulation by Masande Ntshanga (paperback)

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein

One of my favorite finds this year has been BookBub, a free service that sends reading recommendations and deals on books and e-books. A few times a week I get emails about new releases from my favorite authors, and deals on Kindle books. I’ve discovered a number of exciting finds this way, and it’s one of my go-to places to purchase (mostly digital) books.

That’s how I found The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, a science-fiction novel about a revolution–on the moon! Written by a Hugo-winning American novelist, it follows the rebellion of a former penal colony and explores the relationship between them and the controlling authority on Earth.

Continue reading “August 2019 book haul”

Review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

The book in one sentence: As Harry begins his third year at Hogwarts, he is warned about Sirius Black, one of Voldemort’s supporters who has broken out of Azkaban prison and is looking for revenge.

Rating:  Island collection

Long story long: Rereading the Harry Potter series has been both thrilling and nostalgic. It’s incredible how well the stories have held up over the past 20-something years, and how much of our lives they continue to influence (I mean, I still haven’t given up on my Hogwarts letter).

Prisoner of Azkaban is my favorite book so far because it marks a turning point in the seven-book series. It has some of the darkest material we’ve seen– what with an escaped convict, an execution, the return of Voldemort’s servant, and all the Dementors– and more importantly, it connects Harry’s life in Hogwarts to the larger wizarding world outside.

We get glimpses of this world in the first two books, but we start to understand it better in Prisoner of Azkaban. It introduces us to Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic, and to the Dementors who guard Azkaban prison, both of whom become important figures in Harry’s story. We learn about Peter Pettigrew’s betrayal and the subsequent deaths of Lily and James Potter, and we meet Harry’s godfather, Sirius Black, who is one of the few people who intimately knew his parents.

Continue reading “Review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling”

Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

The book in two sentences: Harry is excited to start his second year at Hogwarts, but a mysterious, half-forgotten monster begins to terrorize the school. Harry, Ron, and Hermione attempt to stop it before Hogwarts is shut down for good.

Rating:  Island collection

Long story long: I realized after publishing my Sorcerer’s Stone review that that was less of a review and more of me just feeling good about re-entering the magical world (which is totally valid and I don’t feel bad about it at all). I could have talked about more literary things (like all the foreshadowing, character development, etc) but it felt nice to “turn off” the part of my brain that likes to analyze everything (everything) and let myself get swept up in the magic.

Chamber of Secrets, on the other hand, is a great place to start thinking more critically about the story: we’ve had a solid introduction to the wizarding world, gotten to know some of its characters, and we can now focus on the actual storytelling.

My amateur artistic rendering of Harry (who admittedly looks a lot older than 12 here)

Similar to Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets is inward-facing, having more to do with Hogwarts than the rest of the wizarding world. Like all books in the series, it gives Harry more insight into Voldemort’s identity and ethos. If the first book serves as an introduction to Voldemort, the second is where we start to see the real implications of his return. A memory of him is powerful enough to manipulate a student into petrifying her classmates…just imagine what Voldemort at the height of his powers could do.

Continue reading “Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling”

Review: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

The book in two sentences: Harry Potter discovers that he’s no ordinary boy as he begins his training at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. In his first year he will form deep friendships, make several enemies, and begin to find his place in the larger wizarding world.

Rating:  Island collection

Long story short: I’ve been wanting to reread this series for a while now, and since I won’t be starting school this September, I thought this would be a fitting time to imagine myself at Hogwarts instead.

I first read The Sorcerer’s Stone in fourth grade– I bought a copy through the Scholastic Book Fair because I liked the drawing of the boy on a broomstick– and it wasn’t long before I was entirely consumed by the wizarding world. I’m sure this story sounds familiar to many.

It took about a page and half of The Sorcerer’s Stone to transport me back to Harry’s world. I was clutching Archimedes (my Kindle) and sitting wide-eyed with my heart beating faster and faster. I actually got goosebumps. It was incredible, really, how quickly the same feelings I had the first time around– excitement, apprehension, wonder– came flooding back.

Continue reading “Review: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling”

Review: The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall

The book in one sentence: It’s Sherlock Holmes in space, where Shaharazad Haas, a pansexual sorceress, and John Wyndham, a transgender ex-military officer, fight vampires, necromancers, and the occasional literary critic.

Rating:  Travel companion

Long story short: Overall, I really liked this re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes. The characters and some of the settings were similar enough to draw me in to the story, but new enough to make me keep reading.

My favorite things:

  • The queering of Holmes & Watson. I love seeing well-known characters exist outside of the confines of what was once imagined. I also liked that the story didn’t revolve around their queerness; they just exist as queer people.
  • The plot was so twisty. I loved the twists and turns in the story because they were both interesting and easy to follow.

My not-so-favorite things:

  • World-building could improve. Hall created an incredible universe in this story, but perhaps it was too ambitious for this one novel (this isn’t yet a series). He mentions a lot of things superficially, while I would have preferred him choosing a couple of things and giving us a deeper understanding. It’s certainly a self-contained story, so perhaps he wasn’t sure whether he would have the space later.
  • The ending came out of nowhere. After following Haas and Wyndham on an exciting chase, the entire mystery/puzzle comes to an end in about 10 pages and is a little disappointing. Given that literally anything is possible in this universe, it isn’t the type of story that you can try to solve as you go.

Have you read The Affair of the Mysterious Letter or other work by Alexis Hall? What did you think?

The feel when…

…all of your books are finally under one roof!

The first priority on my move-in checklist was arranging my books and bookshelves. Mission accomplished!

Review: Field Notes from a Catastrophe by Elizabeth Kolbert

The book in three sentences: In Field Notes from a Catastrophe, journalist Elizabeth Kolbert tackles one of the most pressing issues of our time: climate change. In doing the research for this book, she meets scientists, hunters, academics, inventors and entire communities that are living on the forefront of a changing landscape. Whether we look at melting permafrost, the poleward migration of entire species, or global air temperatures, to ignore these signs means to speed towards (not away from) an inhospitable future.

Rating:  Travel companion

Long story long: I picked up this book because climate change scares me. A lot. It should scare all of us. And though I recycle, compost, walk or take the bus, I know I need to be a more active advocate for the earth.

The book is organized into three parts: nature, man, and time. In Nature, Kolbert covers the science of climate change. She talks to scientists studying permafrost (ground that has been frozen for at least two years), Arctic glacial melt, and species migration to convey the magnitude of the problem we are facing. Kolbert argues that it is not only warming temperatures we should be concerned about, but the cascading effects that has on biodiversity as we know it. In Man, she addresses our tenuous relationship with climate change, both our contribution to it and our remarkable and repeated denial of any involvement. Finally, in Time Kolbert looks to where we are headed. She explores the unconventional fuel sources that have increased fossil fuel reserves, as well as small-scale innovative initiatives to combat climate change.

There are many important lessons in this book, but three stood out to me in particular:

Continue reading “Review: Field Notes from a Catastrophe by Elizabeth Kolbert”

Review: Short Girls by Bich Minh Nguyen

The book in three sentences: As sisters Van and Linny grew up, they also grew apart. To take care of their father, they must learn to reconcile their differences. Short Girls is as much a novel about complicated familial relationships as it is about the immigrant family experience.

Rating:  Travel companion

Long story long (no spoilers): Short Girls is a unique story about the challenges of growing up as a first-generation Vietnamese-American in the United States. Although the pacing is slow and the characters are not particularly likable, I enjoyed the book because I saw some of my childhood and my friends’ childhoods reflected in this novel.

The story is told through both Van and Linny’s perspectives, each chapter alternating between the two sisters. The more you read, the more you begin to develop a fuller understanding– a more complete picture– of what is going on in their family. I liked this narrative technique because both characters have an opportunity to speak or stand up for themselves, and also offer an outsider’s view of the other.

As the title implies, Van and Linny are short girls. Their father is overly obsessed by this, and when they were young would constantly remind them that there were plenty of famous short people and if they worked hard to prove themselves, they could be well-off too. It doesn’t take long to work out that the sisters’ lack of height is a proxy for their lack of whiteness. Van herself makes the connection when she comments that being Vietnamese in Michigan is like being short in a room full of tall people.

Continue reading “Review: Short Girls by Bich Minh Nguyen”

Review: Corazón by Yesika Salgado

The book in two sentences: In Corazón, Los Angeles-based Salvadoran poet Yesika Salgado weaves together a collection of poems that speak to all the loves she has experienced over the years. She takes you through the loving and grieving and aching and searching until she and the reader “return to ourselves whole”.

Rating:  Island collection

Long story short: I admit that I haven’t read a lot of poetry recently. Not because I don’t enjoy it, but because it requires more attention than I can give at the present moment, what with school and all.

Corazón by Yesika Salgado was a much-needed reprieve, and I’m glad I spent a sunny and warm afternoon in its pages. Salgado writes about her love, hate, grief, yearning, fatness, depression, brownness, hope, and hunger. The poetry is evocative and produces these vivid images that linger as you turn the pages.

This collection is about reciprocated love, unreciprocated love, loving oneself, loving others, loving food, loving through food, loving in grief, and loving in Spanish. It is about all these types of love, but it is also specifically about loving as a fat, brown body.

Some of my favorite lines include:

  • “I am asked if I want a husband / asked if I will return to my country / they are the same question” (from “A Salvadoran Heart”)
  • “I was taught / that death and power / are always served in the same cup.” (from “Cumbia”)
  • “when it’s good, it feels like dying and being born all at once.” (from “A Kiss”)
  • “how beautiful it is to be loved in Spanish. so much color. so much taste.” (from “Dulzura”)
  • “you love someone for a long time / … / so long the years accordion into each other / and within the folds, all the times you didn’t get it right” (from “With and Without You”)
  • “you, sin and savior” (from “Sacraments”)

I encourage you to read this collection, as it’s a wonderful opportunity to understand and appreciate the body positivity movement, among other things. You should also follow Salgado on social media (@yesikastarr) if you haven’t yet. What did you think of Corazón? Have you read Tesoro yet?

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