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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!

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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?

Review: Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui

Brief synopsis (back cover): When prototype models for a dream-invading device go missing at the Institute for Psychiatric Research, employees soon learn that someone is using these new machines to drive them all insane. Brilliant psychotherapist Atsuko Chiba—whose alter ego is a dream detective named Paprika—realizes she is in danger. She must venture into the dream world in order to fight her mysterious opponents. Soon nightmares begin to leak into daily life and the borderline between dream and reality grows unclear. The future of the waking world is at stake.

Rating: ✈ Travel companion

Long story short: Science fiction and mystery are two of my favorite genres, and I really enjoyed the way they intersect in this book. Other things this book does well:

  • It is convincing. The new technology that allows people to enter each other’s dreams is legitimized in the book in the form of buy-in from the scientific community. Even without their endorsement, the concept is weird and “out there” enough to be believable. Also, considering the book was first published in 1993, it has aged well.
  • The plot moves along. Though a little slow at first, it picks up about a quarter of the way in and is a thrilling ride till the end.
  • It offers some social commentary. While it focuses on the challenges of scientific research, asking questions like Who is research for? and Can you have research for research’s sake?, it also explores the way in which we treat mental illness and therapy.

Some minor critiques:

  • There is some sexual exploitation and violence. However, it is not necessarily gratuitous; that is, it speaks to characters’ mindsets and serves as an explanation for their motivations.
  • There are a lot of characters. Not quite Game of Thrones style, but at times still distracting.

My next step is to watch the anime movie based on this book that came out in 2006. Have you read the book or watched the movie? What did you think?

Review: Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang

Brief synopsis (Goodreads): Orphaned, raised by wolves, and the proud owner of a horned pig named Merlin, Weylyn Grey knew he wasn’t like other people. But when he single-handedly stopped that tornado on a stormy Christmas day in Oklahoma, he realized just how different he actually was.

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance tells the story of Weylyn Grey’s life from the perspectives of the people who knew him, loved him, and even a few who thought he was just plain weird. Although he doesn’t stay in any of their lives for long, he leaves each of them with a story to tell. Stories about a boy who lives with wolves, great storms that evaporate into thin air, fireflies that make phosphorescent honey, and a house filled with spider webs and the strange man who inhabits it.

There is one story, however, that Weylyn wishes he could change: his own. But first he has to muster enough courage to knock on Mary’s front door.

Rating: 🌴 Island collection

Long story short: It’s not every day that I spend precious study hours reading for fun (okay, it’s most days, but usually not the few before a midterm).

This book has everything I enjoy in a good story: a new and unpredictable plot, suspense, interesting and relatable characters, and vivid imagery. It’s also one of those books that I simultaneously wanted to finish and hoped it would never end (to be honest, I’m a little sad that it did).

Since it’s past my bedtime, I’m only going to add: go read this book.

Mid-Year(ish) Update

Hi fellow readers and bookworms! We’re well into July now, and how time flies! School and work have kept me pretty busy, but I’m grateful for all the reading opportunities I’ve had this year. Since it’s summer, I think this is a good time to pause for a moment and reflect on my progress.

I’m working through a category reading challenge with an added twist: in January I promised myself that I would read harder. This year that means reading more books by women and/or people of color (POC), and being mindful of how those specific voices are presented (or not) in every day life (i.e., trips to the bookstore, what people around me are reading, etc.).

Continue reading “Mid-Year(ish) Update”

Review: The Lady Matador’s Hotel by Cristina García

Brief synopsis (Goodreads): National Book Award finalist Cristina García delivers a powerful and gorgeous novel about the intertwining lives of the denizens of a luxurious hotel in an unnamed Central American capital in the midst of political turmoil. The lives of six men and women converge over the course of one week. There is a Japanese-Mexican-American matadora in town for a bull-fighting competition; an ex-guerrilla now working as a waitress in the hotel coffee shop; a Korean manufacturer with an underage mistress ensconced in the honeymoon suite; an international adoption lawyer of German descent; a colonel who committed atrocities during his country’s long civil war; and a Cuban poet who has come with his American wife to adopt a local infant. With each day, their lives become further entangled, resulting in the unexpected—the clash of histories and the pull of revenge and desire.

Rating: ✈  Travel companion

Long story short: I really enjoyed The Lady Matador’s Hotel. The plot is slow-moving, but that works in the book’s favor, since the characters are far more interesting and are ultimately what make the book a compelling read. In addition, the writing is charming; it has a poetic cadence that juxtaposes provocatively with the occasional gore and violent imagery.

If you’re on vacation or at the beach, I recommend picking it up! Keep reading for a more in-depth review:

Continue reading “Review: The Lady Matador’s Hotel by Cristina García”

Review: Anne with An E

I am so excited about Anne With An E that I started writing this review before finishing the series (I have since watched all seven episodes). But before I get started, I should admit that I have not read the books (I know: blasphemous). However, I am a huge fan of the 1985 Anne of Green Gables mini-series, which I understand was a faithful reproduction. Any comparisons I make will be to the 1985 series, and not the books.

To be honest I was pretty nervous about seeing Anne With An E. I needn’t have worried. It is an exceptional rendition of everyone’s favorite smart, bold, dramatic, red-headed girl, and I highly recommend you watch it.

In this version, the general storyline is the same, apart from a few enjoyable twists. The characters are wonderfully fleshed out and have a depth that I don’t remember seeing in the 1985 series. Amybeth McNulty plays a fantastic Anne; she is spunky, fiery, and so authentic. I am really looking forward to knowing her better.

This adaptation is darker and more melancholy than its earlier counterpart, which has rubbed some people the wrong way. Certain flashbacks and subtle dialogue make the narrative grittier and not the same kind of wholehearted fun that was the 1985 version. I think this is a necessary and brilliantly inventive retelling of the classic story. To think that Anne was not traumatized and troubled by her past is a disservice to her character; we cannot truly appreciate her lightheartedness without understanding her sorrow and heartache.

One poignant quote in the first episode points to this compassion:

Continue reading “Review: Anne with An E

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