Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Korean Dramas to watch on Netflix. You're Welcome.

We interrupt this book blog to bring you some Korean drama recommendations in your time of need. If you've run out of things to watch on Netflix, and if you've been curious about the phenomenon known as K-drama but haven't known where to start, here are some suggestions.

Crash Landing On You: come for the cute, sweet and hilarious; stay for the swoon. I guarantee you will fall in love with actor Hyun Bin, but you will also love every other character: they are all adorable ducklings. This is as feel good as it gets.

Because This Is My first Life: superb acting and writing in this funny, insightful look at modern relationships. Has one of the top 10 K-drama kisses. (You will notice that kisses are few and far between in K drama and you learn to appreciate the ones you get.)

Stranger: (Also known as Forest of Secrets.) Fantastic acting and writing. This is a suspenseful character-based drama about a prosecutor and a cop investigating corruption. Love the relationship between the leads.

Signal: if murder mystery/police procedural with a dash of fantasy is your cup of tea this is a must-see. (Actually, it’s a must-see no matter what your favourite tea is.) Interesting twisty premise and lots of suspense. Tunnel and Voice are also supposed to be very good in this genre, but I haven't seen them.

Inheritors: (Also known as Heirs.) This is a high school Cinderella drama with all the tropes. Saved from utter cheesiness by decent acting and writing, plus actor Lee Min Ho is worth the price of admission.

That should keep you going for a while! There's more, so if the self-isolation continues I'll do a follow-up post. Doing what I can to keep us all sane!

Saturday, March 28, 2020

The stories we tell ourselves matter: Internment, by Samira Ahmed

I've been meaning to review Internment for a while, as it was a favourite of the Cybils Spec Fic shortlist. But when Covid-19 started changing the world, I wondered if this was the right book to recommend now. In this time of anxiety and uncertainty, do we want to be reading a frighteningly plausible story of Muslim Americans being interned the way Japanese Americans were during WWII?

But then I thought, maybe this is exactly the book we need to be reading right now. Because it's about people standing up and speaking out and banding together to find hope when things seem hopeless, and most particularly it's about how to change the story people are telling about a situation, how to change us vs them into us.

Internment is tense and gripping, doesn't pull its punches (literally—trigger warning for violence), but is also full of hope and really positive messages about friendship, family, agency, girl power, the power of democracy. Rich, fully-developed, engaging characters, a great narrative voice with some fun snark and sass but also quite lyrical. I couldn't put it down.

It begins quite bleakly, with Muslims being rounded up and bussed to barbed-wire-surrounded camps. But Layla's voice pulls us into the exciting middle, when she assembles her allies and begins to fight back in creative, believable ways.

Ahmed can occasionally be heavy-handed in her message, but her real moral is delivered by Layla and her friends being clever, courageous and compassionate, and in the community they build, uniting people inside and out by telling their story.

I just read a fascinating article on Boccaccio's Decameron, a collection of stories written in 1353, during the Black Plague. In Italy. Eerily relevant. The article posits the importance of storytelling as "a means of community building," "intentionally creating and cementing social bonds," and gives examples of the stories we are telling ourselves now:
our pets as our new coworkers; jokes about how introverts have prepared for this day; pacts not to DM your exes in the loneliness of quarantine; ... the total absence of toilet paper from grocery store shelves.
I love the author's conclusion:
Let us gather round the bonfires of social media and share stories. The ones that help us to understand, or to escape, or to take some comfort in the continuing anxiety and ambiguity of modern existence. It has been, and always will be, the way our species survives.
Thinking about that, and about Internment, and about the stories happening in my community and being told among my friends and family, it seems to me we have a choice: are we telling ourselves that "we're all in this together," or that "it's every man for himself"? Because whichever of those stories we tell will become the truth.

I take much comfort from the resoundingly positive voices and actions happening all over the world. We are going to have stronger social bonds, more flexible infrastructure, a better safety net, more cohesive communities: I see all these stories being told and I believe that telling them is how we make them true.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Song for a Whale, by Lynne Kelly

Interesting times we live in, interesting times! I hope you're all curled up with a great book from your TBR or having phone or videochat conversations with friends and loved ones. Or going for a walk outside: don't forget to go outside!

I asked my niece how she was occupying herself now that school is cancelled, and she said she just read a really good book, so I asked if she would review it for my blog. Here is 11-year-old Lorelei's take on Song for a Whale.

Song for a Whale is a nice heartwarming story, that involves a smart and brave girl. This girl is named Iris and she is a deaf girl at a normal school, so she doesn't have very many friends. Her deafness is from her grandparents who are also deaf, and so her grandpa’s passing was very hard for Iris and her grandma. Her happy place is with old radios. She is really good with old radios; she can fix an old radio even though she can’t hear if it’s perfect but she can still feel the vibrations. 

And one day she learns about a whale: Blue 55 who sings a song like no other. No other whale can understand Blue 55, so he is very lonely. Iris can relate to that completely, and wants to help. I love how Iris is so brave and courageous that she wants to go and see the whale in real life when a sanctuary tries to tag him. It also takes courage to go with your grandma and sneak away on a cruise ship and set sail to go find what you most desire. Although there were some obstacles in Iris’s way, she uses her intelligence to help her succeed. At the end you will feel almost exactly what she was feeling, and how her success was the greatest gift of all.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Sorcery of Thorns, by Margaret Rogerson

Sorcery of Thorns was my second favourite of the Cybils YA Spec Fic shortlist, and that's saying a lot. I gobbled this one up, didn't want to put it down, and am rushing to the library to get Rogerson's first book. (She writes stand-alones: how refreshingly wonderful!)

I'm pretty sure Rogerson sifted through my brain for all of my reading pleasure centres and concocted a novel using every last one of them. Magical library full of magical books: check. Orphan brought up in the library with a special relationship to the books: check. Sorcerer who seems arrogant because he's so competent (also he is actually pretty arrogant and needs a heroine who can take him down a peg or two): check. Sparks flying and witty banter as the two leads are forced to work together: check. Guy falls in love with girl's bravery and competence: check. Plot based on consistent magical rules with consistent consequences: check. Turns out the truth is more nuanced than the two opposing groups say it is: check.

I loved that the grimoires weren't inherently evil, no matter what knowledge they contained, but could be turned evil or used for evil. I loved that the librarians and the sorcerers had really good reasons to be suspicious of each other. I loved Rogerson's particular take on the sorceror-demon relationship. Loved Silas.

Sorcery of Thorns reminded me of so many of my favourite books: Howl's Moving Castle, Sabriel, Sorcerer to the Crown, The Invisible Library. Rogerson takes familiar, beloved elements from the fantasy canon and crafts her own version while paying loving homage. It helps that the writing is beautiful. Also very, very funny. (I love Nathaniel!) And she's one of those authors who can write wise things that are so supported by the story they don't sound trite.
For these were not ordinary books the libraries kept. They were knowledge, given life. Wisdom, given voice. They sang when starlight streamed through the library's windows. They felt pain and suffered heartbreak. Sometimes they were sinister, grotesque- but so was the world outside. And that made the world no less worth fighting for, because wherever there was darkness, there was also so much light.
“Why are you looking at me like that?" he inquired.
"You used a demonic incantation to pack my stockings!"
He raised an eyebrow. "You're right, that doesn't sound like something a proper evil sorcerer would do. Next time, I won't fold them.”
Lots of fun, characters I can get behind, intelligent romance, cool, believable magic ... I think I want to read it again!

Banana bundt cake: dark and dense and sweet and nourishing.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Cybils winner: Fireborne, by Rosaria Munda

We had a fantastic slate of books to choose from this year, but it turned out to be an easy choice, because every judge loved Fireborne. Tense, gripping and thoughtful, with a fascinating premise and heart-grabbing characters, this debut novel blew us all away with its excellent writing and important themes.

I'm so happy this book won, because it hasn't gotten a lot of notice, and it's really, really good.

I don't know about the books they're comparing it to: doesn't seem remotely like Game of Thrones to me (thank goodness!). Seraphina I can maybe see a little. I think the best description of it is Plato's Republic meets the French Revolution, but with dragons. It's very political, but what I loved is that all the political issues are brought to life with characters and their personal dilemmas, and there's no simplistic good-guy/bad-guy dichotomy.

The revolution succeeded—we defeated the unjust, power-hungry aristocracy—but at what cost? And is the new meritocracy we created better enough to justify what we did to achieve it? Questioning the reality behind the rhetoric is a desperately important skill these days, and I love the way this book deals with truth, lies, propaganda—fake news. Then there's blind devotion to a cause, versus finding out your heroes aren't what you thought they were. Really meaty stuff!

I'm all about characters, always, and I loved Lee/Leo and Annie. He's the son of an aristocrat who watched his family get brutally executed. She's a peasant whose family was burned to death by an aristocrat's dragonfire. The story of their friendship is compelling. Their unacknowledged feelings for each other combined with the truths of their past make the tension of their competition to become lead dragonrider riveting!

Loyalty is one of my favourite themes, and I loved watching all the characters navigate through the conflicting pulls of family, friends, mentors, duty, morality. YA books live for impossible choices: what I loved about Fireborne is that none of the agonizing dilemmas felt contrived in any way. I completely believed in, and ached for, all the choices Lee and Annie and their friends had to make.

If I had to say anything negative about this book, it would be that I wished there was more about the dragons and their connections to their riders. But really, there was hardly time, with all the plot twists and action!

The writing was assured and quite lovely. I particularly enjoyed her use of epic poetry (adapted from The Aeneid, apparently) to give heft to emotional beats.

The second book in what looks like a trilogy won't be out until 2021, alas. There was a nice conclusion to this novel but the story continues, and I will be there for it!

Roasted winter vegetables with herbs and lemon (I can't get enough of roasted vegetables lately: the sweetness, the heartiness) and a rotisserie chicken. So satisfying!

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

August 25, 2020. Last Queen's Thief Book Ever!! And other anticipated books of 2020.

I just found out. The Return of the Thief has an actual publication date. Whatever else happens in 2020, we have this to look forward to! If you haven't yet discovered Eugenides, this is the year to start. (I'm so excited for those of you who haven't read the Queen's Thief series yet. I recommend starting at the beginning (with The Thief, which I consider a middle-grade book, unlike the rest of the series) so you don't get spoiled for anything. The plots are so brilliant, and the characters ... Well, lets just say there's a reason why fans are so passionate about this series.)

Also Murderbot!! The novel! Network Effect comes out May 5. You don't need me to tell you to read the Murderbot novellas, do you? Seriously. Go read the Murderbot novellas.

A couple more sequels to squee about:

The Iron Will of Genie Lo, sequel to The Epic Crush of Genie Lo, which was supremely funny and a great adventure and will introduce you to the Monkey King if you didn't already know about him. (You should know about the Monkey King. He and Eugenides would ... well, actually they would probably hate each other. Anyway, you'll love him.)

Deathless Divide, sequel to Dread Nation. More zombies! Also friendship and girl power and frontier America and general awesomeness.

Another Invisible Library book: The Secret Chapter. Wait, this one's already out! Yay! More Irene and Kai capering through every possible genre while saving the multiverse from fae and dragons.

New Zen Cho! Not a sequel, but a fantastic-sounding new story: The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water. Gorgeous cover!

Also new Sarah Beth Durst: Race the Sands. Looks very cool. People reborn as monsters, people who ride the monsters in a race with souls on the line.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Cybils Shortlists Announced!

The Round 1 judges are finished their deliberations (having read many, many wonderful nominated books) and have come up with their shortlists. Here's the YA Spec Fic shortlist, and my reading for the next month:

I'm very excited about all of them! Stay tuned: we announce the winners next month!