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[personal profile] brainwane
I read The Underground Railroad in 2016. I thought it was engaging, moving, and accessible,* and I nominated it for a Hugo Award (Best Novel).

Na'amen Gobert Tilahun reviewed Underground Airlines as well as The Underground Railroad in Strange Horizons and discussed several aspects of both books. That review mentions speculative elements in Whitehead's book beyond the railroad mentioned in the title, in case you are wary of spoilers.

I have read John Henry Days, The Intuitionist, and I think at least one other Whitehead book, and am trying to reflect on how Whitehead approaches and uses the railroad, because I think it's different than the way a lot of speculative fiction authors do, and has more in common with how other mimetic fiction authors tend to use speculative premises. I want to compare The Underground Railroad to Never Let Me Go, where the story doesn't concentrate on (or, sometimes, even mention) the origin story of the big plot premise, and instead the story is entirely about the lives of people living or resisting -- just for themselves, to survive or thrive -- within that system.

* I think Whitehead deliberately works to make the book accessible to people who have not previously read slave narratives, fictional or nonfiction -- I think he spells out subtext more often than he would if he assumed the reader had more of a grounding in antebellum history or the history of anti-black racism in the US.
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[personal profile] annwfyn
I adored this book. It's a young adult historical novel set during WW2 and is the story of the WASP, the female pilots who never were quite accepted by the military, and Ida Mae who is an African American girl who 'passes' as white in order to be able to fly those planes.

I really enjoyed all of it, and found Ida Mae a really easy character to identify with. I really connected with her journey and spent half my time chewing my fingernails for fear she'd be discovered. I wanted her to succeed, I wanted her to fly those planes, I wanted good things to happen to her and was terrified they wouldn't.

I also was incredibly impressed with how well it handled some difficult issues - racism, sexism, the relationship between light skinned and dark skinned - but did so without either giving the reader or the characters easy answers or solutions, or making the book feel like an 'issue' novel. In fact, it felt a lot like a traditional 'boys own adventure' in some ways. There was barely a romance option, and instead it offered cockpit banter, daring heroines risking their lives in the high skies, and some awesome depictions of same-sex friendship. It also passes the Bechdel test with flying colours.

I won't say everyone will like it. There isn't much resolution at the end of the novel, mostly because there wasn't in real life and although I felt it handled the issues it tackles well, other people might not. I would, however, thoroughly recommend it, for the positive depiction of female friendship and the really empowering story of women basically doing male jobs just as well as any man without any kind of apology.
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Haven't posted in a while. Here's a series of mini-reviews with some spoilers. Also, some of the books contain potentially triggering content.

6. Un-Nappily in Love by Trisha R. Thomas
7. Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat
8. Tracks by Louise Erdrich
9. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
10. Umbrella by Taro Yashima
11. Little Joy by Ruowen Wang
12. Why War is Never a Good Idea by Alice Walker
13. Erika-san by Allen Say
14. Dahanu Road by Anosh Irani
15. What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell
16. The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez
17. In the Company of Ogres by A. Lee Martinez
18. Gil's All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez
19. Divine Misfortune by A. Lee Martinez
20. Monster by A. Lee  Martinez
21. Certainty by Madeleine Thien
22. So Long Been Dreaming edited by Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan
23. A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo
24. Too Many Curses by A. Lee Martinez
25. A Nameless Witch by A. Lee Martinez
26. A Person of Interest by Susan Choi
27. Apex Hides the Hurt by Colson Whitehead

Mention (not counted)
Josias, Hold the Book by Jennifer Riesmeyer Elvgren (white); illustrated by Nicole Tadgell (person of colour)

Read more... )
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2. Sarita Mandanna, Tiger Hills

Devi is a beautiful, strong-willed young girl, growing up in Coorg, a rural, mountainous area of South India, in the late 1800s. She's in love with Machu, a warrior famous for having killed a tiger single-handedly. Devanna, Machu's younger cousin, is a quiet, intelligent boy, studying to be a doctor, who's in love with Devi. As you might expect, things don't turn out well.

This novel has some beautiful descriptions of scenery (apparently Coorg- spelled Kodagu today- is known as 'the Scotland of India'), but the plot is a bit over-the-top, with tragedy following tragedy. I enjoyed reading to pass the time on a long bus trip, but I'm not sure I can genuinely recommend it, unless you're looking for something to read that won't require a lot of thought.
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Title: How Tia Lola Came to Visit Stay
Author: Julia Alvarez
Number of Pages: 147 pages
My Rating: 3/5

Jacket Summary: When Miguel's Tia Lola comes from the Dominican Republic to Vermont to help out his Mami, Miguel is worried that his unusual aunt will make it even more difficult to make new friends. It's been hard enough moving from New York City and Leaving Papi behind. Sometimes he wishes Tia Lola would go back to the island. But then he wouldn't have the treats she's putting in his lunch box, which he's sure helped him make the baseball team. And she really needs his help to learn English so she doesn't use all the words she knows at once: "One-way -caution-you're-welcome-thanks-for-asking." So Miguel changes his wish to a new one, and he finally even figures out a clever way to make it come true.

Review: This is a kids' book and while it's cute and I liked it well enough, it's not really one of those kids' books that's terribly enjoyable for an adult. At least not to me.

Title: Ties That Bind, Ties That Break
Author: Lensey Namioka
Number of Pages: 154 pages
My Rating: 4/5

Jacket Summary: Third Sister in the Tao family, Ailin has watched her two older sisters having their feet bound. In China in 1911, all girls of good families follow this ancient practice, which is also an extremely painful one. Ailin loves to run away from her governess and play games with her male cousins. Knowing she will never run again once her feet are bound, she refuses to follow this torturous tradition. As a result, the family of her intended husband breaks their marriage agreement. As she enters adolescence, Ailin finds that her family, shamed by her decision, will no longer support her. Chinese society leaves few options for a single woman of good family, but with bold conviction and an indomitable spirit, Ailin is determined to forge her own destiny.

Review: I enjoyed this. It reminded me a lot of many turn-of-the-century girls' stories I read as a kid, like Anne of Green Gables and stuff.
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46. Rita Williams-Garcia, One Crazy Summer

Big Ma said Cecile lived on the street. The park bench was her bed. She lived in a hole in the wall.

You can't say stuff like that to a kid asking about her mother when it's snowing outside or pouring down raining. You can't say, "Your mother lives on the street, in a hole in the wall, sleeping on park benches next to winos."
It is 1968. Three black girls fly from New York to Oakland to get acquainted with their mother, Cecile Johnson. Told in 11-year-old Delphine's wry voice, which never strains credulity, this deft book paints a vivid picture of Oakland and San Francisco at a moment of upheaval whose reverberations are still being felt around here, and elsewhere.

One Crazy Summer is the rare and brilliant Young Adult novel in which - without violating the constraints of the genre - every character is given his or her due. Everyone came from somewhere, everyone needs and wants something; everyone is capable of surprising depths and shallows. People change in plausible ways. Even the poetry woven into the story is convincing, and good; when does that EVER happen?

Slight as it is (I snorfled it down in a few hours) this book is as weighty as its themes, without ever losing its sense of humor. Very, very highly recommended.

Book 25

Nov. 7th, 2010 05:22 pm
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Joplin's Ghost by Tananarive Due.

This is absolutely my favorite of Due's books so far. It's an odd blend of genres; I'd say about 60% historical novel, 30% romance, and 10% supernatural/suspense/horror, though it might take other folks differently. I didn't find it particularly scary except a little bit at the very end (not much even then), but I absolutely fell in love with her characters, especially her portrait of Joplin. There is a tenderness to her writing and her characterizations in this book that I hadn't encountered in her work up to this point, and it's that, rather than the main "ghost story" plotline which drew me in. I wouldn't characterize this as "timeless literature," but rather as a completely satisfying book to curl up with on a rainy day. My cat agreed! :D
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Despite the usual YA book-cover problem, I just bought a book with a young black woman on the cover, and she really is a character of color! The book is The Agency: A Spy in the House, by Y.S. Lee, and my further comments about the character's race are minor spoilers.

Read more... )

Overall, I liked the book. As the author says, having an academy for disadvantaged girls and a secret organization of women spies are good wish-fulfillment to combat the knowledge of the actual crummy roles available to women in the Victorian era, and if the romance wasn't all that believable the preponderance of female characters, their variety of relationships, and their story-driving agency outweighed that for me quite thoroughly.
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I'm actually going to start logging and reviewing these, albeit sporadically - I'm travelling now and will be unemployed on my return, so I doubt I'll get to 50 in the next 12 months. On the other hand, I'm travelling through Asia so the books I buy are reasonably often by POC and some will be less known. I'll go back and review some recently read ones, too, as I want to pimp them.

I heard of Shirley Lim's Princess Shawl, a children's book set in Singapore and historical Malaysia, from Nurul Huda's article, "The Heroic Journey in Shirley Lim’s Princess Shawl" published recently in Cabinet des Fees, and soon afterwards I visited Malaysia so looked out for it in KL's bookstores.

The book cover description:
Mei Li inherits a shawl from a grand-aunt she doesn't know, which whisks her to historical times and places. Before she turns ten in two weeks, she must rescue the Chinese princess, Li Po, from the barren island where the wicked bomoh has exiled her. Mei Li meets women in Singapore, Cameron Highlands and Malacca who teach her about courage, running, trust and skills such as cooking, nursing, and climbing mountains. With the help of a magic hairpin, of special rouge and of water that can bring you home, she succeeds in uniting the Princess with the brace Sultan Mansur.

It's hard for me to review this because I don't read books aimed at such young children. The plot moved quickly, without the kind of depth and consideration I prefer, but that's intentional. I had a lot of fun reading it, though. Mei Li is a brave, determined heroine - while adult gifts and lessons are essential to her success, her own achievements are equally essential and impressive. The historical periods she passes through are not especially fleshed out, but the focus is more on Mei Li's interactions with her ancestors. These are quite interesting. Nenek talks to her about the arts of Nyonya (Straits-born Chinese) women. The Buddhist abbess Poh Li has turned her temple into a hospital and treats Malay, Chinese, Arab, Dutch and Portuguese battle-injured indiscriminately, and requires Mei Li to help. My major disappointment was the encounter with the bomoh, which lacked the degree of confrontation I'd have liked. I also found the depiction of true love quite silly.

I suspect I'd have really enjoyed this book as a girl, back when my age was also a single number, and definitely recommend it for anyone with kids at that kind of age (or those who, unlike me, don't mostly stick to adult-targeted lit). It's got adventure, time travel to interesting places, and a brave girl-heroine. Annoyingly, I think it's going to be hard to acquire outside Malaysia and Singapore (or SE Asian countries with a Kinokuniya). It's published by Maya Press, ISBN 978-983-2737-43-8.
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I haven't been doing as well about either reviewing or cross-posting as I'd like, but here are some books I've read in the last few months:

SF, fantasy, historical fiction, and contemporary fiction--mostly young adult--7 reviews )

(Additional Tags: Muscogee Creek Nation)
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3. Dolen Perkins-Valdez, Wench

Whew, this is a depressing book. But well worth reading; the characters are all very believable and engaging, and the situation is compelling. It's a novel, but one based on a real-life situation: Tawawa House, a popular summer resort in the early and middle 1800s, located in Ohio but frequented by rich men from southern states. The story focuses on four black women, all slaves, and all brought by their owners to Tawawa House over repeated summers. Because, see, Tawawa House has a particular reason for being popular: it's a place where slave-owners can bring their black mistresses, leaving their wives behind.

This is a hard book to describe, because there's not much of a plot; most of what changes over the course of the novel is the slow shifts in Lizzy's (the main character) attitude toward her life and the other people in it. Wench is excellent at describing the tangled situation she and the other women find themselves in, their feelings about each other, other people back home on their plantations, and finding themselves in Ohio- a free state- while still being a slave. Each of the four women has differing attitudes towards their men, ranging from Lizzy (the main character), who really believes her owner loves her and her children, to Mawu, who would kill her owner given the chance. Lizzy's efforts to make a better life for her children shape her character and result in some of the most heart-breaking scenes in the book, while her time in Ohio tempts her to leave them behind and make an escape attempt.

Not a fun book, but an excellent one. I recommend it.
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[personal profile] firecat
The audio version of Joplin's Ghost is published by Griot Audio, which specializes in contemporary African-American fiction. Well narrated by Lizan Mitchell. Joplin's Ghost is part well-researched historical novel (following Scott Joplin's life) and part modern novel (following the character of Phoenix Smalls, an up and coming R&B star).

I really admired the research. I liked the way the plots were woven together. The writing was smooth. Some of the characters and their interactions are satisfyingly complex.

Most musical styles owe a lot to music that came before, and the best musicians honor their influences and musical ancestry. That's one of the primary themes of this book and I really enjoyed those parts of the book. Another theme is the difficulty of living a musician's / performer's life, and Due does a great job comparing/contrasting Joplin's struggles with those of Phoenix.

And oh yeah, it's a ghost story. I didn't really warm up to the ghost story part of the novel; I kept arguing with what was happening. That might be due to my relative inexperience with the ghost story genre.

(X-posted to my journal)
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[personal profile] gingicat
I bought this book because I heard Ms. Min speaking about it on NPR:

This book follows the life of Pearl S. Buck, white author of The Good Earth, through the eyes of a life-long Chinese friend. This friend is fictional, based upon several people in Ms. Buck's life.

The narrator is definitely a self-insert character, but *not* a Mary Sue. She is, first and foremost, the person who believes that Pearl is as Chinese as she herself is.

Ms. Min grew up during the Cultural Revolution, and her deep bitterness at how Mao Tse-Tung and Madame Mao treated Pearl Buck and many other people beloved to the narrator is very evident. Nothing is whitewashed.

One thing I found interesting: unlike the characters in The Kitchen God's Wife by Amy Tan, no-one in this book mentions foot-binding. It is unclear whether this is supposed to be because of the influence of Pearl's Christian missionary background, or whether the author, having no experience with it, simply left it out.

I liked the book. I liked it a lot. The images in it have stayed with me, and will for a long time. Apologies for the disorganized review.
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Amitav Ghosh, The Shadow Lines, Circle of Reason, The Calcutta Chromosome, The Hungry Tide, and Sea of Poppies
It's hard to know how to summarize the work of Amitav Ghosh; he never does the same thing twice. I can't even give you an idea of the scope of his work with the notes below, because it's just the novels I've read so far; I'm missing a novel, a memoir/historical investigation, and a book of essays, and that's just what's been published in the U.S. I could, I guess, say that all of his work that I've read so far deals with one or a dozen of the cultures contributing to modern India, but that's so capacious a subject I might as well just say, "Well, he writes about people," and have done with it. (Except then I'd be leaving out the dolphins, swamps, fruit flies, and sailing ships.) He's remarkable not just in the range of his content but the range of styles: he has written a Modernist literary novel, a science fiction thriller, a magic realist novel without magic, a contemporary literary novel, and an historical adventure.

Full review at my journal.

Karin Lowachee, Warchild, Burndive, and Cagebird
Set of loosely connected space operas; each has a different protagonist and the plots occasionally overlap, but what unites them is a common background and similar thematic concerns about the effects of growing up in wartime on adolescents. (All adolescent boys, in this case, but she depicts enough male sexual abuse and prostitution that the only thing that would seem to distinguish male experience from female is the lack of unwanted pregnancy or fears thereof.) It's not necessary to read the books in any particular order or to read one to understand any of the others.

Lowachee is gifted at creating distinctive narrative voices for and empathetic connections with her different and sometimes unlikable protagonists: Jos Musey of Warchild has been so traumatized he can barely feel his own emotions or recall his own memories, Ryan Azarcon of Burndrive is a spoiled rich boy drug addict, Yuri Kirov of Cagebird is a pirate whose use, abuse, and murder of others isn't glossed over. And all of them are compelling and comprehensible and sometimes surprisingly likable. Jos is probably the most conventionally appealing character, but I have to admit to a weakness for bratty Ryan Azarcon; on her Website Lowachee mentions her admiration for Maureen McHugh, and Burndrive in general reminds me of McHugh's Half the Day Is Night, a book split between the perspectives of a rich and privileged businesswomen and her reserved bodyguard who pays prices for survival that the privileged don't see. No one else seems to like this book -- it gets by far the least notice of McHugh's novels -- but I am extraordinarily fond of it. It's hard to be that clear-sighted about privilege and not have the reader end up hating the privileged. That clear sight -- about prices paid, limited choices, and complicity in abusive regimes -- is also displayed by Lowachee.

Full review at my journal.

Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself

Harriet Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is one of the few known autobiography written by a black female slave; most other accounts of black women's lives under slavery were dictated to other people, frequently white or male or both.

Full review at my journal. NB: It's intermixed with comments on Jean Fagan Yellin's biography of Jacobs; Yellin is white.
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My [ profile] 50books_poc year ends on January 31, and although I have still been reading, I've gotten slack with posting reviews. So here's an 8-book catchup post.

#40 - Skim, by Mariko Tamaki and Jill Tamaki Read more... )

#41 - Tales from Outer Suburbia, by Shaun Tan Read more... )

#42 - Papunya School Book of History and Country by the Papunya School community Read more... )

#43 - Kampung Boy, by Lat Read more... )

#44 - Not Meeting Mr Right, by Anita Heiss Read more... )

#45 - The Wheel of Surya, by Jamila Gavin Read more... )

#46 - Swallow the Air, by Tara June Winch Read more... )

#47 - Love poems and other revolutionary actions, by Roberta (Bobbi) Sykes Read more... )


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