A-Z Bookish Tag

I wasn’t tagged in this one, but I came across it on Steph from Lost Purple Quill’s blog and couldn’t resist!

A. Author you’ve read the most books from

As an adult, I believe it’s Lois McMaster Bujold. I’ve been slowly picking away at her Vorkosigan Saga space opera series when I have a gap between books, and have also read the first in her fantasy series, The Curse of Chalion.

B. Best sequel ever

I have to go with Steph here and say Maggie Stiefvater’s The Dream Thieves. As much as I enjoyed the first book in the series, The Dream Thieves was so much better and focused on showing Ronan Lynch’s depth. It’s a wonderful book. OH actually, also Sarah Monette’s The Virtu. One of my favourite books of all time (although her Doctrine of Labyrinths series is heavy on the trigger warnings), and improves upon the first book in the series, Melusine.

C. Currently reading

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Forest of a Thousand Lanterns
by Julie Dao. Its an East Asian-inspired fantasy re-imagining of The Evil Queen legend. So far I love the world building and I find Xifeng really interesting.

D. Drink of choice

If I could only drink one thing for the rest of my life it would be cold water. I am such a fan of plain, cold water. While reading though I love a cup of flavored black tea!

E. E-reader or physical book

I prefer physical books.

F. Fictional character you probably would have dated in high school.

I was too shy to date anyone in high school. I definitely had a crush on Elijah Wood’s Frodo though.

G. Glad you gave this book a chance

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Room by Emma Donoghue. It’s not something I would have picked up if my book club hadn’t chosen it, because the subject matter just does not appeal to me, but I wound up really loving it. The narrative voice of a five-year-old was perfect, and just when the routine of mama and Jack’s days was getting dull, Donoghue changes it up.

H. Hidden gem


I’m honestly so baffled that Robert Jackson Bennett hasn’t received the sort of attention that some fantasy authors have. I didn’t love the third book in the series as much, but City of Stairs and City of Blades are brilliant. They feature intelligent, courageous WoC protagonists, exquisite world building, and engaging plots that deal with the lasting impact of colonialism. I highly recommend this series!

I. Important moment in your reading life

The moment when I finished the last course of my English degree in University. I read a few really excellent books during my degree, largely due to a wonderful professor who taught a Science Fiction and Fantasy course, but I also read a lot of really meh or just plain bad books, and picking them apart to analyze took away from my enjoyment of books. After I graduated, I rediscovered reading for pleasure and read voraciously. Also, when I worked at Chapters, the major bookstore chain in Canada, and met people who were similarly passionate about reading and recommended books to me.

J. Just finished

The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani, about 17th century Persian carpet weavers. I really enjoyed the flowing prose, sensory world building, and the storytelling aspect to it.

K. Kind of book you won’t read

Horror.

L. Longest book you’ve read

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Yes, you guessed it, it’s still Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. Despite the length, and Hugo’s occasional digressions, it’s very much worth reading and moved me deeply.

M. Major book hangover because of…

When I finish a series that I really love, it’s so hard to move on and say goodbye to the characters I’ve loved so much. Sometimes the desire to just re-read immediately is overwhelming. I had a really hard time finishing and moving on from Crooked Kingdom, A Conjuring of Light, The Raven King, and Checkmate.

N. Number of bookshelves you own

Just two in my apartment (each with six shelves), and I also have one in my bedroom at my parents’ house holding some of my additional books. I’m trying to avoid expanding to a third by only buying keeper copies of books I love and new copies of books I can’t wait to read, and by periodically weeding my collection.

O. One book you’ve read multiple times

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I’ve read The Game of Kings three times? I think, and I’m beginning it for a fourth in 2018!

P. Preferred place to read

It depends on the season! I do a lot of pool-side (outdoor) or balcony reading when it’s warm enough in Toronto, but this time of year I love to read on the couch beside my Christmas tree!

Q. Quote that inspires you

I’m really not one for inspiring quotes, but I do like Rowling’s “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” 

R. Reading regrets

Why oh why did I read The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu this year? What a taste of time. 500 dense pages of so misogynistic it’s hard to believe people praise this book at all. The first book had redeemable qualities but this one just didn’t.

S. Series you’ve started and need to finish

I have a few historical fiction series like this, so I’ll say Sandra Gulland’s Josephine Bonaparte trilogy and Sharon Kay Penman’s Welsh Princes series.

T. Three of your time favorite books


U: Unapologetic fangirl

I tend to be all-in when it comes to fandoms, but especially Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology, Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle, and Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles.

V. Very excited for this release more than others

There aren’t many upcoming releases that I’m excited about actually – but longer term I can’t wait for the Nikolai series promised by Leigh Bardugo, as well as the Dreamer Trilogy that Maggie Stiefvater is working on!

W. Worst bookish habit

Returning books late to the library! I’m really bad for that and end up having to pay down my fines periodically.

X. X marks the spot: Pick the 27th book from the top left shelf

None of my bookshelves are wide enough for this!

Y: Your Latest Purchase

It’s been awhile actually, possibly An Arrow’s Flight which I bought second-hand on Steph’s recommendation.

Z. Z snatcher–book that kept you up way too late

I read A Little Life in a matter of days despite it being 700 pages because I just COULDN’T PUT IT DOWN.

I wasn’t tagged so I won’t tag anyone in turn, but feel free to do this tag if you’re interested. It’s a lot of fun!

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Five-Star Read Predictions

Rachel of pace, amore, libri challenged me to choose five books on my TBR that I think I will be 5-star reads, and I’ve accepted… with one caveat! Since I use half-stars in my ranking system, fewer of the books I read are wholeheartedly 5-star choices. For this reason, I’m choosing books that I think will either be 4.5 or 5-star reads.

The challenge was started by Mercedes on booktube. To participate, you pick out 5 books on your TBR that you think will be 5-star reads. When you finish, you can come back and make a post letting everyone know how you got on.


My 5-Star Predictions:

The Absolutist by John Boyne
Nothing makes me add a book to my TBR quicker than Rachel and Steph, my book blogging partners in crime, giving it five-stars! After we all read and loved and cried over John Boyne’s brilliant The Heart’s Invisible Furies (one of, if not my absolute, favourite books this year), it was a given that I would read more by Boyne in the future. Back in October I saw a copy of The Absolutist in a Toronto used bookstore and picked it up, and then went back for a second copy to gift to Rachel when we met up in Vermont. She read it first and offered this endorsement by text:

painful

Rachel, Steph, and I have a penchant for painful books that hurt the heart, but in the best possible way, so I can’t wait to pick up The Absolutist later this month!

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier
The first book of this trilogy was recommended to me by a former co-worker from my days working retail in a bookstore. We have similar tastes in books and bonded over fantasy titles like A Song of Ice and Fire and The Name of the Wind at the time. Although I don’t see her very often, we continue to share recs through goodreads and have both flailed over the Shades of Magic series, Six of Crows, and The Bear and the Nightingale. She LOVED this one, a fantasy novel inspired by Celtic/Gaelic mythology, and it sounds right up my alley as well!

Swansong by Vale Aida
I fell in love with Elegy, the first book in this fantasy duology, last year and immediately wanted more! It’s plotty and political fantasy fiction filled with multi-faceted, flawed characters, from enigmatic actor-turned-soldier Savonn Silvertongue, to precious Cinnamon Roll Emaris. I loved the world building, the queer representation, and the prose, and I can’t wait to read Swansong later this month!

Fire From Heaven by Mary Renault
Mary Renault feels like one of those foundational authors in the genre of historical fiction. I’ve known about her, primarily classical Grecian-set, novels for years now and have always meant to give her work a try, but never quite got around to it. As a huge fan of Greek myths, and someone with an interest in ancient Greek history, I fully expect to love Fire From Heaven and her other novels though, especially since they come highly endorsed by a close friend of mine.

Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham
I’ve never read any of W. Somerset Maugham’s works, but I went to see a play adaptation of Of Human Bondage earlier this year and I adored it. Rarely has my heart hurt like that after a show. I know the book was a favourite of Rachel’s, so I’m sure it’s something that I will love as well.

Have you read any of these books? Let me know what you thought in the comments! If you make a 5-star prediction post of your own, please ping back so I can read your choices!

T5T: New to Me Authors in 2017

Top 5 Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the wonderful Bionic Book Worm.  This week’s topic:

DECEMBER 12TH – Top 5 (OR 10!) new to me authors in 2017

In an attempt to branch out of my comfort zone, I read a lot of works by authors I hadn’t previously discovered. Here were my top five favourites of the year, and another bonus five authors that I was also happy to discover:

253532861. Ann Leckie
As someone who keeps, at least vaguely, tabs on what’s happening the world of science-fiction and fantasy books, Ann Leckie’s name has been on my radar for ages. Each year, her Imperial Radch trilogy seemed to be on my TBR but I never quite got around to reading them. So this year I finally picked up Ancillary Justice. I loved it. The world building was exquisite, different from anything else I’d ever read before, and the use of default female pronouns through me for a loop. Two of Leckie’s books, Ancillary Sword and her standalone novel Provenance, will make my Top 10 List of the best books I’ve read in 2017, which makes her my favourite new author discovery of the year!

332532152. John Boyne
I’ve only read one of Boyne’s novels so far (I’m planning to read The Absolutist before the end of the year), but what a novel it was! From its first page The Heart’s Invisible Furies hooked me with its black humour, cynical criticism of the Catholic Church, and flawed but fascinating characters. I loved The Heart’s Invisible Furies so much that it’s in contention for my favourite book of the year! I can’t wait to dive into The Absolutist and have my heart broken by John Boyne once again, and I will definitely be going through his back catalog and reading the rest of his works over the next few years.

2qir5w73. Becky Chambers
I don’t read much in the way of science-fiction, I really prefer fantasy, so it says a lot about the caliber of the authors’ work that there are two science-fiction writers in my Top 5 this week! Becky Chambers’ cozy sci-fi novel The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is a character study in which very little actually happens, but you don’t even care because the characters are so damn enjoyable. It reads more like a series of vignettes that concentrate on the relationships between crew members on a rundown spaceship than it does a novel with any overarching plot. It works surprisingly well, but I was even more taken with her sequel. I found something empowering in reading the parallel narratives in A Closed and Common Orbit about young women who are shaped by tragic pasts, but who start over, gain autonomy, and shape their own identities. I was genuinely moved by both novels in her Wayfarers series and look forward to reading more by Chambers in the future.

Pachinko4. Min Jin Lee
Although I’ve only read one of her novels, I loved Pachinko so much that I would pick up any new novel she writes based on the strength of it alone. A multigenerational novel about an ethnic Korean family living in Korea under Japanese rule and then in Japan itself, it’s an evocative beautifully written book that I would recommend to absolutely everyone. Lee has a way with words, and although the book appears daunting due to its length, it’s a quick read with prose that is simple, yet elegant. Where Pachinko really excels though is in its depiction of characters who are kind, flawed, and hard-working. I look forward to seeing what else Min Jin Lee can do in the future.

255288015. E. K. Johnston
I absolutely loved Exit, Pursued by a Bear. I’m so sick of stories where rape is used as plot device or to show how dark and gritty a world is, but Johnston’s story is focused on the girl impacted by sexual assault. She refuses to be a victim, and the narrative empowers her at every turn, putting the decision about how to move past what’s happened to her and what to do about the assailant in her hands. Exit, Pursued by a Bear also gives protagonist Hermione a rock solid support system. It’s absolutely brilliant. I was less impressed by That Inevitable Victorian Thing, but the creativity in concept and diversity in the novel was terrific to read about. Of course I also love that she’s a Canadian author!

Honourable mention to:

Lisa See – I’ve only read The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, but I really enjoyed it and have been told that it’s not her best work, so I will definitely read more of her books in 2018.

Adam Silvera – I often find YA a little light and fluffy for my tastes, so what a relief to find Adam Silvera’s work! I adored More Happy Than Not, which is unusually bleak for the genre, yet fascinating to read. I wasn’t as taken with the other book of his I’ve read, History Is All You Left Me, but I still solidly enjoyed it and intend to read more of his works.

Katherine Arden – The opinions I’ve read about The Girl in the Tower are more mixed, so I’m cautious about putting her on my list, but The Bear and the Nightingale was such an unmitigated delight. Atmospheric with a protagonist who is brave and intelligent, yet kind, I loved it from the first page.

Anita Amirrezvani – I read The Blood of Flowers, a historical fiction novel about carpet weavers in 17th century Iran (Persia), recently and loved the flowing prose and the elegant world building. The setting was a completely unique one for me, and such a refreshing change from the usual England and European-set hist fic novels. I see she has another novel about Persia, which I intend to read next year.

Kathryn Ormsbee – Tash Hearts Tolstoy resonated so much with me for its positive asexual representation. I don’t know if this is a one-off, or if more asexual characters will appear in her work, but it was also a charming YA novel in its own right. I would definitely pick up future work by Ormsbee.

Have you read books by any of these authors this year? Which new (to you) authors did you discover in 2017? Let me know in the comments!

Monthly Wrap-Up: November

I’ve been a negligent blogger this month, so my very late wrap-up of November reads and shows is coming a whole third of the way into December. Oops.

My free time for blogging suffered as I first attended 7 performances of the National Ballet of Canada in November, wrote a combined 3,000+ words on my two favourite ballets (Nijinsky and The Winter’s Tale) for My Entertainment World, battled a touch of sickness that left me drained, and then launched right into preparing for Christmas. About the only thing that didn’t suffer was my reading. That forty minute commute to work by train does wonders for my page count!

In November I FINALLY finished the dreaded War & Peace, and it was like pulling teeth to get to the end, which reads more like the conclusion to a dissertation than any ending to a fictional story. Fortunately, my other reads were much more enjoyable. 4 of the 6 books I read this month received a rating of 4 stars or above from me as I sought to reward myself for finishing War & Peace with some newer releases that had been on my TBR for awhile.


Elegy
(re-read) by Vale Aida  small 4 half stars  +Review
War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy  small-2-stars  + Review
That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston  small 3 half stars  + Review
Provenance by Ann Leckie  small 4 half stars  + Review
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng  small 4 stars  + Review
Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo  small 4 stars  + Review

Book of the Month: A tie between Vale Aida’s Elegy and Ann Leckie’s Provenance. Elegy was a re-read for me, which I usually don’t count in my rankings for what I loved each month (or in my best of year-end lists) but since it’s a lesser known title, I’m including it here. I loved the obviously Dunnett-inspired political machinations, prose, and complicated enigmatic protagonist, Savonn Silvertongue. Leckie’s standalone novel Provanance was an absolute delight. I loved the characters, especially resourceful but naive Ingray, the world-building, and the genre-defying plot.

Least Favourite: I am so relieved that I FINALLY finished War & Peace because it was a slog. I spent the last several hundred pages just wanting it to be over. Never have I been more relieved to finish a book!

***

Seen on Stage: In case you’re wondering why I’ve been so scarce on here, the answer is because I’ve been at the ballet!

When the National Ballet of Canada made its season announcement back in February, I very nearly screamed at my computer. I did double-check it multiple times to make sure I wasn’t dreaming and then walked around all day with a dopey grin on my face because my favourite ballet of all time, Nijinsky, was returning and in the same month as my second favourite ballet, The Winter’s Tale. Nijinsky has an especially personal connection to me, which I may write about later in a companion piece, but suffice it to say that I hadn’t in a million years thought that I would see it again so soon. Naturally, I bought multiple sets of tickets and yes, it’s return was everything I hoped it would be.

I’ve written two (very detailed) multi-cast reviews for My Entertainment World, which I’ve linked to below. Editor, Kelly Bedard, is the only person I’ve met who has the same passion for the National Ballet of Canada and strongly held opinions about the company, so it’s been a great joy to discuss my thoughts with her and have pieces published on her site. I’ve also been extremely flattered to receive some attention for my reviews! A principal dancer with the company, Jurgita Dronina, re-tweeted my review of The Winter’s Tale, calling it truly detailed and tagging the show’s choreographer! My review of Nijinsky was re-tweeted by principal dancer Guillaume Cote, and Skylar Campbell, a favourite of mine in the company and to dance the role, replied to my review, saying it was “thoughtfully written and very in depth!” Needless to say, I am still a little overwhelmed and incredibly flattered by the response!

I also hit a few theatre shows. A smaller independent Irish play, Dublin Carol, I also reviewed for My Entertainment World, and I plan on writing reviews for Musical Stage Company’s Uncovered Concert, and Bat Out of Hell (the Meatloaf musical) later this month, so stay tuned for those.

Bat Out of Hell (musical) Mirvish + RTC
Uncovered: Bob Dylan and Springsteen concert + RTC
The Winter’s Tale (ballet) by The National Ballet of Canada (x3) – Reviewed for My Entertainment World
Dublin Carol (play) by Fly on the Wall – Reviewed for My Entertainment World
Nijinsky (ballet) by The National Ballet of Canada (x4) – Reviewed for My Entertainment World

***

Coming up in December: I actually have December pretty mapped out! I’ve finished Anita Amirrezvani’s historical fiction novel The Blood of Flowers, and am currently reading Julie Dao’s Forest of a Thousand Lanterns. On my list for this month is John Boyne’s The Absolutist since Rachel and Steph have both RAVED about it, and Boyne’s newest novel The Heart’s Invisible Furies is one of the best books I’ve read this year. After two months and multiple customer service emails, the copy of Swansong, the second part in Vale Aida’s Magpie Ballads Duology finally showed up, so I’m really looking forward to finishing that series! Before I lead a buddy read of Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles, beginning in January with Rachel, Steph, and Hadeer, I’m hoping to get to Dunnett’s standalone King Hereafter, about the historical Macbeth, as well.

Happy holiday season reading everyone!

Books: Wonder Woman: Warbringer

29749085Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo
Published August 28, 2017
star-4
I have a confession to make. When I added this to my goodreads list and placed it on hold at the local library, I didn’t investigate very closely; I looked at the cover and assumed it was a graphic novel. As someone who plans her library holds with precision, carefully ensuring that I don’t have more books out than I can read in the allotted three weeks, I viewed the holds shelf with surprise and disappointment when it came in. “Ah, it’s a book,” I said. I already had out a few books that I knew I couldn’t renew and that I was more interested in reading. After all, I had only picked this up because it was written by Leigh Bardugo. Friends, I’m happy to report that even for the most casual of Wonder Woman fans (aka. those who saw the recent movie and enjoyed it), Wonder Woman: Warbringer is worth reading!

I enjoy comics and comic-based movies but I’m more of a Marvel fan than a D.C. fan. I’ve always found Superman and Batman to be a little too perfect, without enough flaws to compensate for, say, being incredibly rich, and your only weakness being a space rock from your home planet, respectively. The idea of a female-led superhero movie (and, let’s be honest, the appeal of Chris Pine) was too great for me to pass up though and I saw, and enjoyed, the Patty Jenkins’ directed Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman: Warbringer is certain to appeal to people like me, fans of the superhero genre who don’t have a strong attachment to Wonder Woman, but who do enjoy empowering novels about kickass women.

The premise features a teenage, unproven, Diana who worries that her status as the only resident of Themyscira who has not been tested in battle, will always make her lesser in the eyes of her companions and family members. Yet when her chance for glory in a grueling foot race comes, Diana breaks Amazon law by rescuing a mortal girl, Alia, instead. Unfortunately the girl is the latest in a line of Warbringers, direct descendants of Helen of Troy, who bring about an age of bloodshed and warfare. Unable to let Alia die, Diana embarks on a race against time quest to break the chain of Warbringers by bringing her to Helen’s resting place in Greece.

Bardugo proves why she’s an author that I will read absolutely anything by with Wonder Woman: Warbringer. Diana is a heroine to root for. She’s naive, as befits a girl out of her comfort zone for the rest time, but also kind, brave, and loyal. She’s joined by Alia, a young Greek/African-American woman who is shy and unwilling to put herself out there, but also has a bright scientific mind. I loved Nim, Alia’s best friend, as well. An overweight, gay, brown girl, Nim exudes confidence, is a brilliant fashion designer, and a loyal friend. I loved how the characters interacted with one another, and how they were always supportive, sticking up for and helping one another, as women should. I was less thrilled with the male characters in the book, but still found them interesting.

Much like the other books I read in November, That Inevitable Victorian Thing, and Provenance, Wonder Woman is a coming-of-age story. Tackling themes of identity, it forces its teenage heroines to confront their fears and to figure out where they fit in the world. Ultimately both Alia and Diana Prince come away from their quest with a stronger sense of self and an assurance about their strengths and their place in their respective worlds.

Bardugo retains tension throughout, as Diana and the others race against both the clock and external forces, such as enemies who would rather see the Warbringer dead. The plot is full of twists and turns, and those familiar with Greek mythology will undoubtedly get an extra thrill out of some of the references throughout the novel.

My favourite thing about the novel is how empowering I found it. The majority of the characters are female, and they’re all unique from one another, but supportive and talented. The twists to Greek Mythology (something that usually bothers me, but here they’ve been well-researched and are presented as credible) also have a feminist slant, as Helen is examined not just as Helen of Troy, the beauty who launched a thousand ships, but as the woman she was before her famous suitors. As you would expect from a Lerigh Bardugo novel, Wonder Woman: Warbringer is a delightful YA take on one of DC’s most famous properties, and is recommended even for those who aren’t big on DC Comics heroes.

 

Books: Little Fires Everywhere

34273236Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Published September 12, 2017
star-4
Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere provides an intimate look at class, motherhood, and family in an elegantly written and well-crafted package. As in her breathtaking debut, Everything I Never Told You, a vague mystery is introduced in the opening pages, but this time around the question is less about whodunnit and more concerned with the motivation behind the crime.

Celeste Ng takes the old adage about writing what you know to heart, setting Little Fires Everywhere in 1990s Shaker Heights, Ohio, the neat suburban neighbourhood where she grew up. In some ways Shaker Heights is a progressive town, but over the course of the novel it becomes clear that it is not, in fact, a place where no one sees race, as Lexie Richardson naively professes based on her experience dating a black man. Shaker Heights is rendered with care by Ng as the picture of suburban perfection. Maintained with care so that it will remain a utopia, residents of Shaker Heights are fined if their lawns become unkempt, while garbage disposal is at the back of each house so as not to impact curb appeal.

Into this idyllic bubble come Mia Warren, a free-spirited nomad who goes wherever inspiration for her art strikes her, and her shy, but brilliant, fifteen-year-old daughter Pearl. Mia and Pearl’s existence is unsettled but happy; They have little in the way of material possessions, but are resourceful , able to repurpose thrift store and curbside finds. The Warrens rent a house in Shaker Heights from the wealthy Richardson family, who view renting their property to good people they can do a good turn for as a form of community service.

Pearl is quickly captivated by the easy confidence of the Richardson children, developing a crush on eldest son Trip, and friendships with the middle children, Lexie and Moody. In turn, the Richardson’s rebellious younger daughter Izzie is drawn to Mia and the freedom that she represents. But when Mrs. Richardson and Mia take opposing sides in a custody battle between the impoverished Chinese immigrant biological mother of a one-year-old daughter, and a naïve but well-intentioned white couple looking to adopt the child, it sets them on a collision course.

One signature of a Celeste Ng book is the effortless, flowing prose. Ng always seems to have chosen the best possible word for the idea or mood she’s trying to convey. The teenage characters sound age-appropriate, the prose conveys the 1990s suburban setting, and the omniscient third person point of view allows the authors to dip in and out of the minds of both major and minor characters as required, creating a subtle intimacy. Ng also has a gift for writing characters who are flawed, yet deeply sympathetic. I enjoyed reading about Mia, whose individuality, resourcefulness and artistry, I admired, even while I didn’t always agree with her choices, but I was also interested in Elena Richardson’s life of order and structure that Mia deliberately eschews.

At its heart, Little Fires Everywhere is a novel about motherhood and family, that touches on biology, race, and class. Ng guides us to see both sides of a custody case. Does the poor immigrant who gave her child up in a moment of desperation when she was destitute waive any claim to her child? Should custody be granted to a couple who obviously have the means and love to provide a stable home, but who can never truly comprehend and properly introduce the child to her Chinese heritage? At times the emphasis on biology feels a little heavy-handed, but the complicated dynamics of the custody battle are handled with tact and empathy.

As much as I enjoyed Little Fires Everywhere, and would recommend it to others, I have to admit that it didn’t leave a strong impression on me the way that the author’s debut did. Weeks after reading Everything I Never Told You I found myself still thinking about it. I remembered the pressures that led to Lydia’s death and how deftly Celeste Ng depicted each family member’s grief. Little Fires Everywhere provoked a more immediate reaction in me. I loved it, I found the ending satisfying and beautiful, but even a week later I had trouble remembering each character’s name. None of the Warrens or Richardsons had the impact on me that Lydia, Nath, Hannah, Marilyn, or James did. I don’t know that I’ll ever re-read Little Fires Everywhere, but that doesn’t make the first read any less enjoyable.

Books: Provenance

25353286Provenance by Ann Leckie
Published September 26, 2017
star-4-half
Set in the same universe as her critically acclaimed Imperial Radch trilogy, Ann Leckie’s standalone novel Provenance is hard to classify. Part political thriller, part mystery, and part coming-of-age story, Provenance shifts from the tea-drinking, glove-wearing Radchaai to the Hwae, a people who place enormous importance on “vestiges”, documents and artifacts that commemorate a specific event of personal or historical importance.

As a librarian who considered becoming an archivist seriously enough that I concentrated in archives courses, I’m a little embarrassed that it took me as long as it did to consider the significance of the title. “Provenance” is a fundamental principle in archives, referring to the individual, family, or organization that created or received the items in a collection. However other definitions of the word refer to 1) the record of ownership of an antique, used as a guide to authenticity, and 2) the beginning or origin of something’s existence. How exceedingly clever that Leckie’s novel encompasses all of these meanings. Initially “provenance” refers to the vestiges that are so highly valued on Hwae, but it later becomes clear that “provenance” can also refer to a people’s desire to document where they came from and how it shapes their civilization.

When the narrative reveals that many of the vestiges that the Hwae hold dear are actually fakes, Leckie’s novel asks questions about the way we document historical events. Does a document need to be genuine to be important? Or can it gain significance through what it represents, even if it is based on a lie?

As is the case with her Imperial Radch trilogy, Provenance demands the reader’s attention. This is not the kind of book that you can read half-asleep on autopilot. For one thing, you’ll want to be fully alert to take in the complexity of Leckie’s astounding world building. I loved the Radch Empire, where androgyny is the norm and spoken language uses only one set of gender pronouns – she/hers. Here, Leckie gives us the Hwae, who use she/hers, he/his and gender neutral e/eirs pronouns. It’s a world where individuals come of age by choosing their adult name and the pronouns they wish to use, when they feel they have reached adulthood (although there is some social stigma attached to taking too long to decide).

The politically-charged society revolves around important families who periodically run for election. Each mistake made in the public eye or heroic action taken is viewed in terms of political gain or loss of face in the near-constant campaign for office. The head of each family names their successor, an heir who will, in time, take their name and duties. Protagonist Ingray Aughskold is an aristocratic young woman, adopted by one of society’s leading families as a young child. Seeking her foster mother’s approval, Ingray invests the last of her savings into a desperate gamble to show up her elder brother Danach and be named Netano Aughskold’s heir.

Ingray bribes a broker to smuggle Pahlad Budrakim out of “compassionate removal” in hopes that e will reveal where e hid valuable family antiques, known as the ” Garseddai vestiges”, that e stole from eir family. However, the criminal arrives in stasis and Captain Tic Uisine, the ship captain Ingray’s hired to transport her and her passenger home, refuses to take a person who isn’t awake anywhere without eir consent. Unfortunately, the person who emerges from the suspension box denies being Pahlad Budrakim, the thief central to Ingray’s plan.

These are just the first complications Ingray encounters, as she’s soon caught up in a murder investigation, allegations of fraud, and being stalked by the Geck Ambassador, who believes she knows where to find a stolen Geck ship.

Without meaning to, I’ve read a few books this month that revolve around a heroine’s journey to understand her place, both within her politically important family, and within society as a whole. Provenance is certainly the most successful book I’ve read on this theme.

Ingray Aughskold is an immensely likable character. Certain that her elder brother will be named their mother’s heir, she seeks initially a way to best him, and then a place for herself in the universe. Ingray often sells herself short, but she’s a resourceful protagonist, capable of getting herself out of any mess that she gets into. Ingray is also immensely human. I identified with and rooted for this young adult woman. Although she remains focused on the task at hand, and ultimately comes up with some daring plots, she also experiences realistic emotional reactions to extreme stress, including crying. The supporting characters are also rendered with care, from enigmatic Garal Ket and the forceful Geck Ambassador, to thief and pilot extraordinaire Tic and sweet Taucris.

As ever, Ann Leckie’s social commentary is subtle, but adept. Garal Ket’s biting criticism of “compassionate removal”, a euphemistic term for a prison where the exiled prisoners are declared legally dead, hits home amid news articles on the mistreatment of prisoners in North American jails.

Additionally, Ingray, who was adopted from a public crèche but has grown up in privilege as a daughter of one of the planet’s aristocratic families, says at one point, “I had never really thought about it that way before. Who are we if our vestiges aren’t real?” and the Deputy Chief she’s speaking with, who belongs to an ethnic minority, responds, “You never really thought of it before because nobody has ever really questioned your being who you say you are. No one has ever told you your own vestiges are false, or that they mean you’re not really entirely Hwaean.”

There’s a great deal that’s refreshing about the way Provenance depicts gender, identity, and relationships. From the Hwaean custom of choosing your adult name and pronouns at a time when an individual feels comfortable doing so, to the acceptance of all three sets of pronouns (including the gender neutral e/eirs), to the inclusion of same-sex relationships.

Ultimately, Provenance is a deeply satisfying coming of age story about finding your place and your family, and about recognizing that the road everyone expects you to take is not always the right one.

 

Where do my books come from?

AKA. A Love Letter to My Public Library. I came across this post by way of Rachel @ pace, amore, libri and thought that it was a really interesting way to look at my reads so far. The idea is to go through everything you’ve read this year and make a note about where you got them. Here are my 2017 reads to date from most recent to oldest:

  1. That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston: Library
  2. War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy: Library
  3. Elegy by Vale Aida: Purchased from Book Depository
  4. The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo: Library
  5. One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake: Library
  6. All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld: Library
  7. The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne: Library
  8. The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin: Library
  9. Our Dark Duet by V.E. Schwab: Library
  10. American War by Omar El Akkad: Library
  11. Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie: Purchased from BMV (used bookstore)
  12. Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin: Borrowed from my mom
  13. Now I Rise by Kiersten White: Library
  14. All The Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders: Library
  15. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee: Library
  16. Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer: Library
  17. The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente: Library
  18. Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee: Library
  19. A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers: Borrowed from another library
  20. If We Were Villains by M.L. Rios: Purchased from Indigo-Chapters online
  21. The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu: Library
  22. The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich: Library
  23. The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See: Library
  24. Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray: Library
  25. The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli: Library
  26. Giant Days Vol.1 by John Allison: Library
  27. Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee: Library
  28. The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu: Library
  29. Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston: Library
  30. Saga Vol. 5 by Brian K. Vaughan: Borrowed from a co-worker
  31. Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde: Library
  32. City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett: Purchased from Indigo-Chapters online
  33. Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie: Library
  34. Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose: Library
  35. Sonora by Hannah Lillith Assadi: Library
  36. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee: Library
  37. Villains by V.E Schwab: Library
  38. Swing Time by Zadie Smith: Library
  39. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden: Library
  40. When The Sea Is Rising Red by Cat Hellisen: Library
  41. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers: Library
  42. The Chosen Maiden by Eva Stachniak: Library
  43. History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera: Library
  44. A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab: Purchased from Indigo-Chapters online
  45. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie: Library
  46. Everfair by Nisi Shawl: Library
  47. A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab: Library
  48. Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote: Library
  49. The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon: Library
  50. A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab: Library
  51. The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman: Library
  52. More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera: Library
  53. Fear the Drowning Deep by Sarah Glenn Marsh: Library
  54. Saga Vol. 4 by Brian K. Vaughan: Borrowed from a co-worker
  55. An Untamed State by Roxanne Gay: Library
  56. Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen: Library
  57. Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst: Library
  58. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie: Library

Of the 58 books I’ve read to date in 2017:

50 – Borrowed from the Toronto Public Library
3 – Purchased from Indigo-Chapters online
2 – Borrowed from a co-worker
1 – Borrowed from a neighbouring Public Library System
1 – Purchased from Book Depository
1 – Bought from a used bookstore (BMV)

As expected, I am a heavy library user. A whooping 86% of books I read this year were borrowed from the local library system! There are a few reasons for this:

1. As a Librarian (I work in a corporate library and my job is primarily research-based), I strongly believe in supporting libraries whenever you can. Stats MATTER. Public libraries constantly have to justify their existence, and circulation stats, visits, etc. are all important and concrete ways in which they can demonstrate to politicians, etc. that libraries are useful.

2. I’m fortunate enough to live in the City of Toronto, which has a huge and well-used library system. The City has 102 (I think?) library branches and Toronto Public Library (TPL) ranked first in North America in circulation, visits, and electronic visits per capita among libraries serving populations of two million or more in 2015! I also live within a five minute walk of a library branch, it’s quite literally on my way to and from work, which makes it easy to borrow and return items. I am so privileged to have this fabulous library at my fingertips, and its size means that the library gets almost everything I want to read. The few times that they don’t have something, or its not available in print, it’s frustrating because I’ve become so accustomed to being able to borrow anything I want!

3. I don’t have an e-reader or tablet. Not having an eReader definitely holds me back from being able to receive ARCs from NetGalley and from taking advantage of sales on eBooks. I’d like to take the plunge, but the eBooks provider used by Canadian library systems, OverDrive, isn’t compatible with Kindles in this country, and I’d like the option of borrowing eBooks from the library as well as borrowing/receiving from NetGalley. If anyone has any insight on dedicated eReaders or on tablets, especially Canadians who use their library to borrow, please comment and let me know what you think!

4. Cost/Space. For a Toronto-apartment I have a lot of space. It’s still a city apartment though, so I try to be very careful about what I buy. Generally I buy the latest in a series that I can’t wait to own, or keeper copies of books I’ve read and loved that I know I will want to re-read. Definitely cost is also a factor, especially when it comes to hardcovers, so I tend to borrow from the library and decide whether to buy later.

I’ve also been really bad about buying items and not reading them this year, so I think I’m going to do a few months of reading only what’s on my shelves already at some point in 2018.

If you want to do a post like this, pingback to me here so I can check it out, I’d love to know, where do your books come from?