Saturday, January 28, 2017

"Kindred" by Octavia E. Butler

Many of you may have noticed 2016 was the year of Octavia E. Butler books for me. I think I read more of her books last year than Robin Hobb's, which is saying something because I'm obsessed with them both now. For that reason, I was eager to read another of her books in 2017, and since Kindred is one of her better known titles (and it qualifies for Vintage Sci-fi Month) I chose to pick it up first.

Kindred is not an easy read. I read it in a day, but not because I was thrilled with the story- I was gripped by it in a relatively unpleasant fashion. Imagine being an African American woman who somehow time travels back to the era of slavery in the American South. It doesn't sound like a pleasant adventure, does it? I was possessed by the need to find out if Dana made it out okay, and what exactly was going on with her in the first place.

The Plot (As Seen on Goodreads):
'The first science fiction written by a black woman, Kindred has become a cornerstone of black American literature. This combination of slave memoir, fantasy, and historical fiction is a novel of rich literary complexity. Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976 California, Dana, an African-American woman, is suddenly and inexplicably wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy there, she finds herself staring into the barrel of a shotgun and is transported back to the present just in time to save her life. During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given: to protect this young slaveholder until he can father her own great-grandmother.'

Kindred has all the content you'd expect from the time that it's set in- so if you can't handle blood and inhumane abuses, you may not want to read this one. At times, I was reading with my hand over my face because I wanted Dana to pull through, but also somehow manifest superpowers. Dana has the strength most women would envy, but the events that befall her in this book aren't enviable. This book provides a haunting glimpse of the past that is difficult to swallow.

Dana's husband, Kevin is white, and he plays a part in this book as well. Once they figure out some of what is happening, they attempt to learn more of the history of the time in order to help protect Dana. All the while, it seems almost futile to- as a black woman, Dana has virtually no rights in the South at that time. Beyond that, Rufus, the person Dana rescues, seems almost as bound to her as she as to him.

Kindred is the sort of book that if it were a nightmare, you'd wake up from it with cold sweat dripping from your every pore. It isn't a happy book, but it is an important one. I recommend this to those who like to read about the past from a less sterile perspective.

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars for a difficult read that was even more difficult to put down.

Age Advisory: Ages 18+ for violence, sexual assault, and slavery.

Page Count: 287 pages

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

SFF: The 5 Excuses for Buying New Books You Use on Yourself

Sunday Fun Five #71:

A Countdown of

The 5 Excuses for Buying New Books You Use on Yourself

I'm not sure about you, but I have book buying issues. As in, I buy way too many books. These are some of the excuses I find myself using over and over again when I'm at my book buying binge finest.

5.  "Blogger raved about this book!"
So what if this mysterious blogger and I disagree on most books rating-wise- this one could be the tie-breaker! Or so the book buying devil on my shoulder tells me.

4. "I still have shelf room/can buy a new shelf."
My mom helps enable me a bit with this one- if she sees a cheap shelf, she'll usually buy it for me.

3. "If I buy this, if might be my new favorite!"
I use this excuse way too often for it to be remotely true in most cases. True, a few of the books my brain coerced me into buying did end up on my five star reads shelf, but quite a few of those actually came to me as freebies.

2. "I liked this author's other book."
This is probably the most likely excuse I'll use if I've read another of that author's books. I'll even use this one when I only rated the other book 3 Stars- on the off chance I'll like another of theirs. I seem to get comfortable as far as authors go- if I like one of their books enough, I'll buy their entire catalogue.

1. "You only live once."
I use this one quite a bit. So what if I live in a house that you can't see the walls of- you only live once, and I want to live in a castle made of books (or so my mind tells me).

Do you use any of these excuses? What do you do to curb your book buying?

"Lotus" by Lijia Zhang

Disclaimer: I was given a free advance ecopy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My opinion remains as forthright as ever.

I wanted to read this one based on its cover, and also the story of the author's grandma's deathbed confession intrigued me. Because of that story, I had assumed Lotus was historical fiction, but it's actually set in the early days of the new millennium (which, I guess to some people might be historical fiction). The beginning was easy enough for me to read but I found the pacing somewhat uneven as the book progressed- Lotus, who is the main character, lives an interesting life with many pitfalls, but some places in the book it seems like her growth as a character slows to a crawl.

Lotus goes to the city in search of fortune, and through misfortune ends up a ji, or a prostitute. She continues the work in order to fund her brother's schooling- her father pulled her out of school before she could graduate, and she wants her little brother to be able to go to college and get a well paying job. Hu Binbing is a photographer disillusioned with the world after he lost his well paying job to scandal. In a way, Hu Binbing actually finds himself more in this book than Lotus ever does, because he isn't forced to make as many difficult decisions as she is.

The Plot (As Seen on Goodreads):
'Inspired by the secret life of the author's grandmother, Lotus follows a young woman as she defies her fate and escapes to the city and all it holds for her—be it love, danger, or destiny.
'Surviving by her wits alone, Lotus charges headlong into the neon lights of Shenzhen, determined to pull herself out of the gutter and decide her own path. She’s different than the other streetwalkers—reserved, even defiant, Lotus holds her secrets behind her red smile.
'The new millennium should’ve brought her better luck, but for now she leads a double life, wiring the money home to her family and claiming she earns her wages waiting tables. Her striking eyes catch the attention of many, but Lotus weighs her options between becoming the concubine of a savvy migrant worker or a professional girlfriend to a rich and powerful playboy. Or she may choose the kind and decent Hu Binbing, a photojournalist reporting on China’s underground sex trade—who has a hidden past of his own. She knows that fortunes can shift with the toss of a coin and, in the end, she may make a choice that leads her on a different journey entirely.
'Written with compassion and vivid prose, Lotus was inspired by the deathbed revelation that the author’s grandmother had been sold to a brothel in her youth. With compelling insight, Lijia Zhang reveals the surprising strength found in those confronted with impossible choices.'

There is a depth of portrayal as far as the culture surrounding the ji in this book goes- there is an unexpected sense of community between Lotus and her fellow ji despite them all being in the same trade, and therefore, in a way, competing against each other. You don't see that as much with this book- it's almost like they have too many customers than too few. Lotus works in a higher end "massage" parlor, and thus has many more protections than she did when she started out.

Through this book, you get a feel for Lotus's entire life, but for that reason I did feel like it dragged its feet a bit. I prefered Lotus in the beginning, when she had some sense of mystery to her, than at the end when it seemed like she had no mystery at all left. She had so many interesting things happen to her that at the end of the book I was surprised when I found myself thinking of her as bland rather than fascinating.

Lotus is not the usual type of book I pick up- nonetheless, I found it both enjoyable and educational. I can see fans of contemporary fiction enjoying this one even more than I did, though. The depth of this work was a little bit too consuming for me. If you're a fan of contemporary fiction and are interested in the lives of those involved in the sex trade, this book may be more your style.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars for a great contemporary fiction that felt a bit sidetracked by its depth.

Age Advisory: Ages 18+ for the sex trade (and everything that goes with it) as well as violence.

Page Count: 384 pages

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Fortnightly Update #27: How to Cure a Reading Slump

Apparently my cure for reading slumps is getting sicker than usual- and thus being unable to participate in my 'normal' activities, I turn to reading for entertainment. I haven't challenged myself to read a set amount of books this year, so I guess I haven't felt as much pressure to read. Combine that with a looming doctor appointment that may or may not provide any answers for me and I'm a bit on the slow side with reading. However, I regained some of that momentum by finishing Kindred by Octavia E. Butler in one day and finally polishing off Lotus by Lijia Zhang.

Recent Acquisitions (or the Piling of the-Piles):

the-pile Additions:


the-invisible-pile Additions:

China Dolls by Lisa See
I tend to like See's more underrated books, so hopefully this one will appeal to me.

First Grave on the Right (Charley Davidson #1) by Darynda Jones
I'm more than halfway through this one already- it's interesting, but I'm a bit concerned by some of the characters' interactions.

Currently Reading:

I like that this is a light paranormal book that isn't about werewolves (or yet, at least), but again, the characters aren't rubbing me the right way either.

Finished These Books:

Lotus by Lijia Zhang
I liked this book, but I felt there was something missing. 

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
This is quite the book- an African American woman time travels to the pre-Emancipation Proclamation American South, always when a boy is in danger, but finds it hard to return to her "real life" as easily. It's a complex book and not an easy one to read due to the content, but it definitely is gripping given the fact I read it in a day.

In My Life:

This week I get to take Leia to the vet- next week, I get to see a doctor for my walking difficulties. I'm hoping to write a book review, but I also want to finish off my year in review for 2016, which totals up my blogging and reading stats so I can decide what I want to challenge myself to for this year.

What's your best reading slump cure?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

My Best Reads of 2016

5 Star Reads:

In the order in which I read them. "Quotation marks" indicate a blog review.

"The Custodian of Marvels (Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire #3)" by Rod Duncan
Genre: Alt. History/Steampunk
I never expected the conclusion to this series to wow me like it did- this is now on my list of series to gather the print version of. If you're a fan of strong heroines and action-packed scenes with just a hint of romance, this series may be your next fave.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Genre: Classics, (Now) Historical Fiction
I never did get around to reviewing this one, but I was mesmerized by both the tale and its prose. Zora Neale Hurston certainly knew how to tell a story.

Fate's Edge (The Edge #3) by Ilona Andrews
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, Litha's Favorite Animal Co-Conspirator
If you're a fan of both urban fantasy and a bit of paranormal romance, you may want to check out the Edge series by Ilona Andrews- I read all four books this year, but Fate's Edge was the standout for me.

"Royal Assassin (Farseer Trilogy #2)" by Robin Hobb
Assassin's Quest (Farseer Trilogy #3) by Robin Hobb
Genre: Epic Fantasy, Assassins, Wolf Buddies
The Farseer Trilogy was easily one of the highlights of my year. Sure, 2016 was crummy in a lot of ways for me, but of all the books I read in 2016, these were the ones that held my attention the most. If you like traditional fantasy that has a more realistic feel to it, this may be your cup of coffee.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Genres: Classics, Sci-fi
This was a complete surprise for me- at the beginning of Frankenstein, I guessed I'd rate it 3.5 Stars, tops. But as I read, that rating kept getting pushed higher and higher. Even with some problematic elements, this made my list of five star books- it simply held my attention much more than many other books I've read this year.

Bloodchild: And Other Stories by Octavia E. Butler
Genres: Sci-fi, Short Stories
I think my favorite part of this is you get to see/hear more of Octavia E. Butler's thoughts, rather than rely on your inference to take a guess at what the author was trying to achieve. Each of these stories and articles were perfectly paced and held my interest well. However, if you haven't read anything by Octavia E. Butler yet, I'd start with one of her books- that's how I started with her works, and it worked out best for me.

Honorable Mention:

All the books I mentioned in The Best Books I've Read in 2016 (So Far), in addition to:

"Tuf Voyaging" by George R.R. Martin
Genre: Sci-fi, Space: The Final Frontier
A space adventure series of shorts with feline companions, and a witty, eloquent protagonist? Sign me up again!

"Magic Binds (Kate Daniels #9)" by Ilona Andrews
Genre: Urban Fantasy, General Badassery
I am always up for another Kate Daniels adventure, and though we are nearing the end of the series, the magical writing of Ilona Andrews continues. If you're an urban fantasy fan and haven't tried Magic Bites yet, I'd highly recommend it.

"Howl's Moving Castle (Howl's Moving Castle #1)" by Diana Wynne Jones
Genre: Fantasy, Magic
This is #1 on my list of mood-enhancing fantasy books. I'm surprised someone hasn't tried to ban it yet for that reason.

"Faithful" by Alice Hoffman
Genre: Magical Realism, Fiction
Though I felt it a bit too perfect, Faithful reminded me of all the reasons I love Alice Hoffman books: animals and complex heroines. Though I admit, I'm mostly in it for the animals.

Not My Father's Son by Alan Cumming
Genre: Memoir, Autobiography
I was surprised how well I liked this celebrity memoir, but it does keep you on the edge of your seat. I don't envy Alan Cumming's early life.

Most Interesting Books (that aren't previously mentioned):

This year in February I added an extra category to my month in review posts: the most interesting book (or the one I learned the most from). Since I never got around to making a separate post for those books, I think they deserve a spot on my Best of 2016 list.

"Out" by Natsuo Kirino
Genres: Crime Thriller
This is a translated work, but it didn't seem to take long for me to devour despite its 400 pages- and I'm not generally a fan of thrillers, either. This is definitely one for those who like to read about the darker deeds of humanity.

"The Red Record" by Ida B. Wells
Genres: Nonfiction, History
This book is difficult to read due to its content- so much of what happened in history gets ignored or glossed over by history books, and this reveals it to those of us who are relatively sheltered to it. I'm so glad I picked this up as a Kindle freebie- it's a book to feed your mind with.

Behind the Scenes: or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House by Elizabeth Keckley
Genres: Autobiography, Memoir
Another book to feed your mind with is Elizabeth Keckley's autobiography. Elizabeth was a dressmaker and became close to the Lincoln family through her profession, ending up being one of Mary Todd Lincoln's closest friends. Sometimes, though, I wish Elizabeth had written more about herself than the Lincolns- I found her much more fascinating.

"Peasant Tales of Russia" by V.i. Nemirovitch-Dantchenko
Genres: Folk Tales, Short Stories
This was interesting, to say the least. I hadn't realized how inspirational/religious the Russian people are (or at least the ones involved in these folk tales), until I read this book.

The Sword Dancer (Tang Dynasty #4) by Jeannie Lin
Genres: Historical Romance
If you love historical romance featuring action and adventure, do yourself a favor and read some of Jeannie Lin's Tang Dynasty. I'm always learning something new about Chinese culture through these books, and I hope to buy some more so I can continue to indulge.

"Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence" by Doris Pilkington ~ Nugi Garimara
Genres: Biography
I learned a lot from this book, despite even having watched the movie version. It's a fascinating glimpse of Colonial Australia, and a reminder of how little girls can do huge things.

"The Autobiography of a Runaway Slave" by Esteban Montejo
Genres: Autobiography
This is another brain-feeding book- Esteban Montejo lived a very full life, and his story is full of ups and downs, and pieces of culture I had absolutely no clue about prior to reading this. This is one book I think (of all my picks) that should be read more widely, along with Elizabeth Keckley's memoir.

Which books had you hooked in 2016?

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

In Other News (2.0)...

The sad thing about being a pet owner is pets do not live as long as humans do. The sad thing about some humans is that they're totally fine with leaving a perfectly good animal to rot at an animal shelter. There is a silver lining in that there are so many pets in shelters for animal lovers like me and many others to adopt that we can have an animal that's perfect for our lifestyle... even though that still means there are pets left behind. This problem could be easily eliminated if more people chose to spay or neuter their animals, but I digress. Last year I had to put my beloved Dorkie to sleep, and it's safe to say I was not in good spirits for the rest of 2016. But even though I was heartbroken about Keisha, I still kept an eye out for dogs that might fit our household- on the small side, terrier-like (because I like dogs with spirit), and good with other animals.

On New Year's Eve day, we went to the local shelter because they put up a listing for a similar-sounding dog. When we walked into the dog kennels, I wasn't so sure the dog would be a good fit- she acted a bit aggressive, and Torrie, my schipperke-kelpie mix, throws off a bad vibe for those sorts of dogs. I asked to see her anyways, despite the shelter volunteer telling me she had allergies, wasn't housebroken, and was going to be a "challenge". Once she was in the meet and greet room, I knew she would be perfect for our household. "Princess" as she was known, had a sweetness reminiscent of Keisha, and didn't seem interested in going to bark at the other dogs once she was out of her kennel. Though she wasn't yet spayed and couldn't go home with us that day, I signed the adoption papers without qualm (though the volunteer seemed convinced that I'd be bringing her back- perhaps because I had my cane?).

After leaving the shelter, I began preparations for "Princess" (who my mom and I decided should be called Leia instead). Since she wasn't housetrained, I prepared a crate with potty pads. Because she was still in the puppy age (they think she's a year old), I cleaned up my room to puppy-proof it. By the time we got home on the 3rd with her, I was prepared for any outcome- if she didn't like George, if Torrie didn't like her, if she was actually a vicious little attack dog who put on airs of being a "nice" dog.

Leia was drowsy, but because she was so calm we decided to do introductions that night (probably not a good idea for some pet households). I brought in Torrie, who thought Leia was a weird dog but was good with her and left her alone. I let George out. George thought Leia was an alien and wouldn't stop looking at her. Even in her drugged-up state, Leia thought the same of George (what a strange looking dog), and she never stopped looking at him when he was in the room.

Leia with a stolen toy


Leia remains convinced that George is a small dog like her, and wants to play with him the same way as she does with Torrie. Because George thinks he is a dog (most days) he's fine with that, but is a bit miffed that he's no longer the "baby" of the family, nor the most energetic of the bunch. Leia does have allergies, but she is housebroken and hasn't pottied in the house- I think it may have something to do with the fact that Leia was being used as someone's breeding dog and thus hadn't had proper vet care, leading to no one noticing she still had a puppy from her last litter inside of her. Once her reproductive organs were removed along with the retained fetus, she has an easier time holding her bladder. Apparently Leia's former owner had called the shelter about her, but never came to get her. Personally, I'm glad about it, because Leia is the perfect fit for our household, despite her allergies (which has her constantly attempting to scratch at her spay sutures).

I have no real idea of what exact breed Leia is- at the shelter, they said shih-tzu mix, but I had a shih-tzu and he didn't look like her. I believe she's best described as a terrier on stilts- she has a coat that's almost wirehair, but not. The hair on the top of her head is shih-tzu-like (in other words, like human hair), but she has a smooth coat alternating with a semi-wire coat over the rest of her body. She's about 13 pounds, the same height as George (who is a medium sized cat), and she looks like a true mutt. She actually has Siamese-like coloring, with a gray body and black at the extremities and face. Right now her coat is medium length (in the areas she hasn't chewed), but I'm not sure if it'll grow any longer- the hair at the top of her head is actually quite long. As an amateur dog groomer, she does present a challenge, but I plan on simply bathing her until I figure out how she's supposed to look without the chew spots. Also, despite her odd, mismatched appearance, she's really cute. She becomes less cute when she whines, but perhaps that puppy-ish trait will disappear with time.

If you're in search of a furry friend, I definitely recommend looking at your local shelters and rescue organizations- there are many cute critters to choose from without funding animal breeders' bad habits.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Fortnightly Update #26: A New Hope

I've been a bit busy with dog-related things since I brought home a new dog on the 3rd, but I'm trying to get back into reading and blogging again for the new year. I hope you all had a great time over the holidays.

Recent Acquisitions (or the Piling of the-Piles):

the-pile Additions:


the-invisible-pile Additions:

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith
I tend to like books about art and paintings, so we'll see how I like this one. Usually in books that are centered around a painting, I can deal with multiple time periods and storylines.

Kushiel's Dart (Kushiel's Universe #1) by Jacqueline Carey
I've been avoiding this book, but I'm just curious enough about it to read it. Something tells me it's not my thing, but I've been wrong about books like this one before.

Currently Reading:

I'm actually not reading much lately, but I've been trying to finish Lotus by Lijia Zhang. I'm smitten with the cover and the idea that it's based on the author's own family history.

Finished These Books:

I haven't finished any books since 2016, but some stand outs from the last month of last year were:

Not My Father's Son by Alan Cumming
Not your normal celebrity autobio (or at least, I didn't think so) Not My Father's Son made me alternate between cringing and wanting to shut it (because of the abusive portions), and speed reading so I can find out what exactly is going on with the Cumming family dynamic. I will never see Alan Cumming in the same light again, and it's a good thing.

Of course, even though this was online for free for quite some time (and I read most of it) I bought the ebook to have for my library and to see the final edits. This series is well worth reading for those of you who like snarky and sweet paranormal books set in a bit of a sci-fi version of the universe/our earth.

In My Life:

Princess Leia, who looks like a mini wolfhound or a gray and black Dorkie on stilts
On New Year's Eve day, we went to the local animal shelter (you know, the place we got that cat/criminal mastermind George from) and found a dog who seemed like the right fit for our little island of misfit pets. Her shelter name was Princess, but my mom and I don't really approve of titles for names, so she was redubbed Princess Leia, or Leia for short. I'll be whipping up a post about her shortly, but it's safe to say she will continue to be part of our household.

Happy 2017!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Month in Review For December 2016: Thank God It's Over

I haven't been around the blogosphere much (at least for me) in the latter part of 2016. I was a bit afraid of what might happen if I flung around too many positive aspirations, as last year seemed centrally interested in my downfall. However, I think I can start again this year with a degree of optimism that I didn't feel confident in last year. It's a new year, I have a new doggie, and my appointment to the University of Utah neurology department is less than 30 days away.

 Total Posts: 5
  Total Critiques: 0

Most Popular Posts of December:
SFF: The 5 Books You're Excited to Read in 2017
Fortnightly Update #25: The Odd Case of the Cat Condo

Flashback Post (From December of a Previous Year):
An Ugly (Dog) Sweater Holiday Card, and Where to Find My Guest Post

Pageviews for the Month: 1491
Comments: 8

Reading Challenges Updates:

Travel the World in Books Challenge

Applicable Books:
Total for 2016: 17 of 15 Books, 11 of 5 Countries (Completed/Overachiever Status)

Reading Stats:

Books read this Month: 6

Book Stats:
Has a Diverse Main Character: 1
Doesn't Have a Diverse MC: 5
Female Main Character: 5
Male Main Character: 1
Pair and/or Group of Female/Male Main Characters: 0
 Sci-fi: 1
 Historical Romance: 3
 Memoir: 1
 Graphic Novel: 1
Published in 2016: 3
Published in 2000-2015: 3
Self-Published, Small Press, or Other: 1
Traditionally Published: 5
Series Books: 3
Standalones: 3
Ebook Version: 6
Paper Version: 0
Favorite of the Month: One Fell Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles #3) by Ilona Andrews
Least Favorite of the Month: Wicked Intentions (Maiden Lane #1) by Elizabeth Hoyt (I felt the ending was fumbled)
Most Interesting of the Month (or Book I Learned the Most From): Not My Father's Son by Alan Cumming (I'm not a fan of celebrity memoirs, but this celebrity memoir was well worth the read)
From the-pile: 0
From the-invisible-pile: 0
Recently acquired: 6
Added to the-invisible-pile: 3
Books bought: 0
Pages Read in 2016 (according to Goodreads): 31,899 pages

5 Stars: 0
4-4.5 Stars: 2
3-3.5 Stars: 2
2-2.5 Stars: 2

Author Stats (1 = 1 book read by x author):
Male: 2
Female: 3
Male/Female Team: 1
Diverse: 1
Not-so-Diverse: 5
Living: 6
Deceased: 0

Planning to Read in 2017:

I'm hoping to finish Lotus by Lijia Zhang before January is out, along with some other books, hopefully. I've been attempting to stop a hyper, allergy-ridden terrier mix from scratching her spay incision for the past four days, which has been an adventure in the use of "NO! STOP!". Being on a hair trigger for that phrase is really not conducive to reading.

Upcoming Posts:

I'm hoping to do a Best of 2016 booklist, along with an introduction post for Princess Leia. One must have a careful balance of book and dog posts on their book blog.

Happy Reading!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...