The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

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Short review today, folks.

A while ago, I mentioned going to a book tasting with my friend J, where we both picked up Giant Days.  I also managed to pick up another book that had been on my TBR list for quite a while. With even more encouragement from J (you should read that, it’s really good) I finally picked up a copy of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

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I’d be surprised if you’re North American and haven’t already heard of this book. I mean, it came out a decade ago. But it has also been at the center of some controversy. It’s been censored – removed from libraries, school reading lists, and rebuked for it’s depiction of violence (read: hardship) and sex (read: masturbation).

Honestly, the protagonist is a 14-year-old boy, and people need to readjust their expectations, in my opinion.

I really enjoyed this book.

All too often in books depicting Native American protagonists, they are othered quite neatly. But Junior’s voice is clear and funny, and everything I would expect to hear from a boy his age. His natural musings and good humour really put his life experiences into perspective.

Struggling with the quality of his education, and the alcoholism and deaths prevalent in his community, Junior leads a life that his friends off the reservation would struggle to understand. Still, this glimpse into his life and community was compelling – his voice was believable and I really enjoyed the little drawings peppered throughout the book.

Junior’s voice while straightforward was also very insightful. There’s a moment two chapters into this book that I knew I would like it.

“Poverty doesn’t give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor.”

Truth.

Junior loves his community, but he also feels trapped in it. He decides to attend the all-white school off of the reservation, and with that decision comes a whole lot of difficulties. Still, he handles it with all the aplomb that a 14-year-old could be expected to. He’s a smart and sensitive kid and you root for him the entire book through. You wish for more for him, for his family, and for his community.

The depictions of side characters were excellent in this book. Junior’s family and friends were just as interesting as he was, for all that we didn’t know as much about them. His relationship with Rowdy the whole book through was especially touching and telling.

If you’re looking for a quick read, I would recommend this one. I don’t generally read contemporary literature that isn’t genre fiction, but this one is a gem.

It will give you things to think about – maybe things you hadn’t ever considered.

Have you already read this book? Did you enjoy it? Let me know in the comments below!

Spark Joy

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So here I am, back to our regularly scheduled blog posts!

For those of you who don’t know, I recently moved into a lovely new place and so I’ve been rather remiss in posting regularly these past few weeks. Well, now that I’m all settled in that will be a thing of the past.

When undertaking a move (and not hiring movers) one of the main things I consider is stuff. How many things do I own? How many do I really need to take with me? Are there methods to organize my material possessions before I move, to decrease the risk of bringing a mess into my new living space?

It turns out that a book had the answers that I needed.

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A little while ago, Spark Joy and its companion The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up were doing the rounds in every bookstore I stepped into. When a copy came to me, I was curious to see what all the fuss was about.

Marie Kondo is a professional organizer. She goes into people’s homes and works with them to create a sustainable tidying and cleaning system to suit their individual needs. The essence of Spark Joy was simple enough: hold an item in your hands. Really feel that item. Is it special to you? When you hold it, does it bring you joy? If not – well, it’s time to say goodbye.

I admit that I was skeptical.

Surely if it was that easy, I would have de-cluttered my space far sooner! But alas, I did not. And this book helped give me the kick I needed to say goodbye to things that just didn’t bring me joy anymore.

Living now in a space surrounded by only things that make me happy – clothes, books, paintings – it’s clear to me that the KonMari method is on to something.

Spark Joy is divided into multiple sections that tackle the tidying of different sorts of objects you may find in your home. Despite that, I would honestly advise that you read the whole book through rather than jumping in and out wherever seems convenient. Kondo doles out helpful and funny little insights here and there that are worth reading.

From a better folding method for your clothes, to tidying sentimental items, to the ways that tidying your things can mean tidying your life, I found that the more I read the more my skepticism vanished. I got rid of things I’ve been holding on to for far too long, and in a space surrounded by only things that bring me genuine joy I breathe easier.

Here and there, Kondo will reference some of her real-life clients, and I found those accounts fascinating. I wouldn’t mind a whole book filled with those tiny glimpses into people’s lives – but that could be because I am a very nosy person. Still, they added helpful perspectives to an otherwise straightforward instructional text.

The small and adorable illustrations that pepper the text also helped bring a light-heartedness that I don’t often see in books such as this. Though practical, they were fun enough come across while reading.

Would I recommend Spark Joy? It helped me. It might help you! So yes. Though I still have more to do on my tidying journey, I’ll definitely be applying the principles I learned from this book while I do so.

Have you found any books to help de-clutter your space, or your life? Did you find Kondo’s books helpful, or were you indifferent? Let me know in the comments below!

Ruin and Rising

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So, I’ve finished reading the Grisha Trilogy.

I’m so sad it’s over.

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If you remember my reviews of the first two books, then you already know that I loved them. This final book didn’t disappoint me in any way.

The first book was a sunny dream of opportunity and happiness compared to this book. It basically tore out my heart and ate it. Terrible things continuously happened with no seeming end in sight.

My heart broke continuously for Ravka, for Alina and Mal, for Nikolai, and even for the Darkling. The beauty of Bardugo’s writing was that she made me care about everyone she introduced me to. I felt for the Stag and the Whip in the previous books, and for the unnamed peasants that are killed to prove a point. It’s a mark of skill that she’s able to make her reader care for even the most reprehensible character: the Darkling.

We learn more of him in this book. It humanizes him to an almost uncomfortable degree. How could a man, even one with such power, come to such an end? Well, you’ll damn well find out.

The reader sees more of Genya, Baghra, and Nikolai, which I was very happy with. Character development was at an all-time high, bringing out new facets of Zoya and Sergei, Tolya and Tamar, and characters we didn’t see much of in the previous books. More is learned of Baghra’s past – and man did I read those parts breathlessly.

The cult of Sankta Alina is rather strongly featured and is interesting – as are Alina’s feelings about it. Ravka is broken, at war with itself while trying to keep outside forces at bay as well. Alina must dig deeper than she thinks herself capable of to try and salvage something of her country and its people.

I found the development of Alina’s character to be very satisfying. In any other character, the self-doubt and constant questioning of motives would be annoying – but here, they simply weren’t. As I mentioned in previous reviews, Alina’s voice seemed so real to me that I couldn’t find her a nuisance, or foolish. In any case, I thought choices were very realistic for someone put in so many impossible situations. Even to the end, she isn’t perfect – never the Sankta that the Apparat wished for. While I always suspected she would come to a tragic end, the way that Bardugo handled it was absolutely flawless.

I find myself at a loss to discuss just why exactly I loved this book so much. I spoke about it to someone when I finished it, and there was a lot of hand flailing and eye-widening to get my point across.

Was the plot well paced? Yes. Was it unpredictable? Yes. Were the characters interesting? Yes. Was the world-building on point? Yes. Was the ending satisfying? Yes.

Plenty of books have those factors and I don’t love them.

Really, it all boils down to this: I felt so much.

I laughed with Alina, and cried with her. I felt her confusion, her conflict, her desire. I felt sympathy for the Darkling and for Baghra, and Mal, and Nikolai. I wished fervently with Baghra (and Alina) that the Darkling could be redeemed. I felt Alina’s stricken pity and understanding as Morozova’s legacy is revealed – and her pain as it was truly understood.

Any books that can make me feel so deeply with and about their characters deserve my love.

Ruin and Rising was, in my opinion, an excellent ending to a fantastic series. While I’m sad to be finished, I’m incredibly pleased that Bardugo has written another series in the same world. Sadly not in Ravka, but you can’t have everything. Even still, her short stories (available on Tor.com) give even more insight into the culture of Ravka for those left wanting more.

I can’t wait to pick up Six of Crows, but I think I should have a cool-down period first.

Have you read the Grisha Trilogy? Did you love it, hate it, or not really care either way? What other books made you feel deeply with and for their characters? Let me know in the comments below!

Invisible Planets: An Anthology of Contemporary Chinese SF in Translation

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In late September I posted my fall TBR list, and I’m back today with a review of my fourth read from the list! When I added Invisible Planets to my list, I didn’t dare dream that I would get an advance review copy. To my delight that’s exactly what happened thanks to the kind folks at NetGalley and Tor. I haven’t posted in a while as I’ve been reading it slowly to enjoy it – plus I’ve been getting more hours at my fantastic new dream job… so I’m extra sleepy when I get home and writing has passed me by a bit.

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As soon as I learned of Invisible Planets, I knew that I wanted to check it out. I’ve been more into science fiction lately, but reading diverse authors is also very important to me. Add in the fact that Ken Liu was the translator and I was absolutely sold on this book.

It certainly didn’t disappoint!

The book begins with a preface by Ken Liu giving a little bit of background on the stories included in the anthology. He also speaks about how “any broad literary classification tied to a culture (…) encompasses all the complexities and contradictions in that culture.” He goes on to say some very interesting things that me think and appreciate the stories that followed even more. His note about translation at the end proves that the reader is in the right hands. (Don’t skip this introduction!)

Before each author’s stories is a short biography in which Ken Liu tells the reader about their accomplishments, styles, and the broader contexts of their work. A very necessary addition to the text, especially if you’re going to seek out more of the authors’ work.

First up were Chen Qiufan’s stories – the first wasn’t to my tastes, but the subject matter was interesting. The other two I did enjoy. The mix of realism with slightly sci-fi elements was compelling and Chen’s writing was concise, not a word wasted. He also authored one of the essays at the end of the anthology, which definitely illuminated some of the story themes seen here.

Next up was Xia Jia, who turned out to be my absolute favourite of this anthology! Her beautiful prose and imagery were both fantastical and absolutely believable. These were the kinds of beautiful stories I enjoy reading aloud based purely on their lovely construction. In saying that, they were also the kind of soft science fiction that I’ve craving lately, though she describes her own work as ‘porridge SF’.  A tale of a boy who lives with ghosts, the story of a mechanical dragon-horse, and a story of innovation turned to an entirely new purpose round out her section. She also authored one of the essays in the book about what it is exactly that makes Chinese science fiction Chinese. I would buy this book for her stories alone.

Then came Ma Boyong, whose addition to this anthology was an eerie tale that was a nod to Orwell’s 1984, but also a commentary on a censorship regime that was published here in its original form rather than the altered one it was given to get past a real censorship regime. Now there’s an interesting twist, no? This tale straddled the line between bleak and inspiring, and I would have loved to see it as a novella to find out what happens to the main character.

Hao Jingfang is the author of the story for which the anthology is named, and it is certainly well deserved. She tells a tale of scores of planets that left me aching for more. Her small glimpses into these other worlds revealed an incredible gift of imagination and of storytelling that is again revealed in her next story. Her second story is a dystopian gem about a Beijing that folds up only to unfold again to reveal a city of vastly different demographics.

Tang Fei’s story of an unusual call girl was enrapturing. The surreal nature of the story was compelling, and this is another tale that I would love to see expanded as a novella or even a full novel.

Cheng Jingbo was next, with a fairy-tale like story that took some thinking to comprehend. The imagery was intensely unique, as was the concept itself.

Liu Cixin was last, though he is recognized as the leading voice in Chinese science fiction. His first story was an adaptation of a chapter from his novel ‘The Three-Body Problem’. It was ‘hard’ science fiction, of the kind that brings in undoubtable scientific elements. Not to my taste, but those who enjoy the works of the science fiction ‘greats’ will like this. The last story in the anthology was one that again showcased the wonders of science, but also the wonders and failings of mankind. Liu also authored an essay that explores the history of science fiction in China.

All together, I found this anthology absolutely fantastic. I would recommend it to anyone looking for not only science fiction, but also new authors to look out for. This is going on my favourites shelf and I’ll be following most of the authors within in the hopes that more of their work will be translated and made available in English. And of course, Ken Liu’s incredible skills as a translator mustn’t be overlooked. Every writer within clearly had a style of their own that was not lost to a change in language.

Thanks again to NetGalley and Tor who gave me the opportunity to explore these incredible new worlds!

 

Bone Gap

 

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Despite the age-old adage to not judge a book by its cover, I often choose books based on their jackets. Lovely and interesting covers draw me in – an homage to the illustrators and graphic designers who create them. When buying a book the blurb on the back and occasionally the first page is what I use to make my decision. But when I have the freedom of borrowing a book (or browsing titles on NetGalley) I often choose books based entirely on their outer beauty and allure.

That’s how I came to find, read, and love Bone Gap.

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Magic realism has always been a genre that fascinates me. Whether done well or badly it’s something that has always stuck with me. I love stories where odd things happen and the characters accept it as the norm, or when strange beings or peoples coexist silently in the world already familiar to the reader.

Bone Gap is kind of both of those things and neither of them.

This book tell the tale of an abduction that the majority of side-characters don’t believe actually happened.

Alternating chapters tell the story from the perspective of several characters. While usually a writing device that I hate, I found it wonderful here. Every character was nuanced enough to seem real, and I wanted to hear more from all of them. No matter who I was with, I was always deeply engaged in the story.

The characters we see the most of are Finn, who is called ‘Moonface’ among other unflattering names by those in Bone Gap, Roza, a captivating young woman whose beauty is not her most important quality, and Petey, who struggles with an undeserved reputation.

Set in a small town where different often means outcast the magical elements of this book were subtle but pervasive. Though seemingly normal, the entire setting of the book was magical – the strange occurrences that spurred the plot along only proved it. The very subtle inclusion of a familiar myth made it all the better for me, especially as more of Roza’s backstory is revealed.

Through the eyes of different people, both good and bad, this book explores love. What it means, how it works, and what it does to us as individuals, families, and communities. Because of the subject matter, I found the villain of the book particularly chilling and excellently characterized.

Laura Ruby’s writing was powerful and beautiful, and I think she tied up all the loose ends of the story perfectly. I will gladly seek out more of her books.

Is there an excellent tale of magical realism that has stuck in your head?

4 Short Story Collections You Haven’t Read (But Should)!

Too often, readers don’t seek out short stories. They’re either overlooked, forgotten about, or the reader simply doesn’t know what to look for. But an excellent collection holds stories that spark your imagination and hold you just as captive as a full-length novel.

Here are some of my favourite short story collections, holding their places proudly on my bookshelves.

The Inner City by Karen Heulerthe-inner-city

This collection has the distinction of having an absolutely beautiful cover that matches the beautiful prose within. The stories within will bring you to strange places close to home and to far places that resemble home just a little too closely. Stand outs include a tale of the Rapture, a man whose gift of floating eventually takes its toll, and the story of a fish that grants wishes.

For lovers of odd sci-fi and surrealism, this book from award-winning author Karen Heuler certainly deserves your time.

 

One Good Story, That One by Thomas King

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If you haven’t read Thomas King before, this is a great introduction to his work. He’s a masterful storyteller – in a rather literal sense. Many of his stories are written as if they’re being told in the oral tradition. All of his stories have one thing in common: they feel real. Even when speaking of gods King’s work is funny and relatable, just as likely to make you laugh as it is to make you think. I can’t choose any standouts as I enjoyed everything too much.

Here’s a collection for those seeking great CanLit or clever literature.

 

Tortall and Other Lands by Tamora Piercetotall

In addition to being a short-story collection, this book is also a Young Adult title and gets looked over often for purely that reason. As anyone who has ever enjoyed Pierce’s books can tell you, that is a grave mistake. The author’s skill in world-building ensures that each tale is very immersive, and leaves you wanting more. Stand outs include the story of tree that becomes a man, the tale of a girl who defies the rules of her society to teach, and the struggle of a father forced to make a choice between his child and his culture.

This collection is for those who enjoy a great character driven story, with believable fantasy settings.

All My Darling Daughters by Fumi Yoshinaga

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This collection is a manga, and it is stunning in every way. The writing and the illustration combine to create an absolutely beautiful selection of tales that showcase the lives of different women. The narratives are touching, and the simple elegant lines of the illustrations will have you re-reading this book often. All the stories are connected, but stand outs include a daughter’s disbelief when her mother marries a (much) younger man, and a woman who turns to faith rather than love.

This book is for anyone curious about manga, and those who enjoy slice of life novels and interconnected stories.

 

Maybe you’ve read some (or all) of these? Do you enjoy reading short stories, or would you rather stick to full length novels? Did I miss one of your favourite collections?

Let me know in the comments below!

Poet Robot

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When I first began this website, I thought that it would be nice to find other writers to follow on WordPress.

I began following A Narcissist Writes Letters, To Himself and I have to admit that it’s the only website that I actually currently follow. The site is frequently updated and when I saw that Eric was giving away copies of his book ‘Poet Robot’ I e-mailed him immediately to ask for one. He responded positively, and some days later I received a signed and dedicated copy in the mail.

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Continue reading Poet Robot