The Djinn Falls in Love & Other Stories

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Anthologies are tricky things. You may miraculously jive with all of the authors contained within, and find that their myriad of voices washes over you like a cool breeze. You may pick and choose your favourites, skimming some tales and immersing yourself deeply in others. Even still, you may find that none of the voices are ones you’d care to hear, and regret the whole experience entirely.

When I saw this title on NetGalley, I admit that I requested it solely for the story by Nnedi Okorafor. I thought that if she had a story here, then that would act as a quality barometer and I would surely love the others as well.

It didn’t quite work out that way.

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The Djinn Falls in Love is a collection of stories about – you guessed it – Djinn. More widely known to the western world as genies, most people unfamiliar with their origins associate them with Disney’s Aladdin; a rather gregarious blue entity who lives in a lamp and grants wishes.

Well, I don’t think I have to tell you that Disney often grossly misrepresents things from other cultures.

I rarely quote book summaries in my reviews, but in this case I think it really says it best.

“Imagine a world filled with fierce, fiery beings, hiding in our shadows, in our dreams, under our skins. Eavesdropping and exploring; savaging our bodies, saving our souls. They are monsters, saviours, victims, childhood friends. Some have called them genies: these are the Djinn.

And they are everywhere. On street corners, behind the wheel of a taxi, in the chorus, between the pages of books. Every language has a word for them. Every culture knows their traditions. Every religion, every history has them hiding in their dark places.”

My interest was undeniably piqued by that fantastic description of this anthology, and of the Djinn. I tucked into this book with relish, and found that I wasn’t as wowed as I expected to be. Perhaps my expectations were simply too high, considering that most of these authors were award winners.

For the most part my reaction to this collection was ‘meh’. I wasn’t able to engage with most of these stories emotionally, and that’s a huge part of enjoyment for me. Sometimes it was the characters, sometimes the writing style, and sometimes there just wasn’t a satisfying payoff by the end of the tale.

Still, there were a few stories that I really enjoyed. Those were: History (Nnedi Okorafor), The Congregation (Kamila Shamsie), Black Powder (Maria Dahvana Headley), The Jinn Hunter’s Apprentice (E.J. Swift), Bring Your Own Spoon (Saad Z. Hossain), and The Spite House (Kirsty Logan).

Apart from those stories I found this book to be more of a slog than I anticipated. It got to the point where I would be reluctant to pick it up because I knew I’d have to read through many stories I wasn’t into to get to one that I would enjoy. Still, an anthology is always going to be a mixed bag, so I knew what I was getting into.

I don’t regret reading this, though had I not been required to write a review I probably would have skimmed most of this instead of reading.

I would recommend it those who already enjoy one or many of the authors contained within, or those who are supremely curious about Djinn.

Are you anticipating the release of this anthology? Let me know in the comments below!

The Bone Witch

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Whenever I browse NetGalley, there are always books that are most requested. Generally, I avoid them, but sometimes I figure the hype might be warranted and request one myself. I took that chance with The Bone Witch, based in part on its beautiful cover, and in part on the description.

It didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

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The Bone Witch had a really interesting premise. Our young protagonist, Tea, accidentally raises her brother from the dead. As such she’s revealed to be an asha, more specifically a ‘bone witch’, women who are (mostly) reviled for being able to wield dark runes to raise and compel the dead. The book is essentially the story of Tea’s training to become a full asha.

What is an asha, you ask? Best as I could tell, they’re essentially Geisha with magic. They place much importance on training and reputation, and are skilled entertainers, politicians, and magic wielders. Even though men can also wield magic, they’re not allowed to become asha. Instead men become deathseekers – taken from their families at young ages to be trained as soldiers.

While I think that the premise was super cool, I didn’t find the story as compelling as I would have liked. It opens in the present, from the perspective of a Bard who has sought out a Dark Asha on a desolate beach filled with the skeletons of massive creatures.

The other perspective is Tea’s narrative as she tells her story to the Bard. Though this could have been an effective device, the two stories never came to a head. The present Tea is a much different person from the girl seen in training in the past. She was impatient and impetuous just like any other teen, but I thought that because of the disparity of the two storylines I could never reconcile her present behavior with her past. It seemed very out of character.

Despite the length of the novel, the reader never gets to find out what caused the change in her as the two stories never converge.

Talk about disappointing.

(Yes, I am aware that this is the first in a series. That doesn’t mean that everything should remain unresolved in the first book. If there’s no payoff, why keep reading?)

The novel is fairly slow paced, which I know annoyed a lot of reviewers. I wasn’t bothered by that so much as I was the two storyline gimmick never bearing fruit.

It bears mentioning that this book suffers from Mary Sue Syndrome. Tea is always somehow an exception to the rules who is strangely good at things. No, making her bad at singing doesn’t cancel this.

The world building was pretty simple, with offhand mentions of other kingdoms and the general qualities of their inhabitants. It mostly seemed like rudimentary copying of real world nations, only with less description, more stereotyping, and a dash of the supernatural. A device I did love was that of the heartsglass. The people of this world literally wear a manifestation of their hearts around their necks, which is a unique thing I’ve never seen in another story.

The development of supporting characters and side plots was very basic. Some of them were very interesting but remained unexplored. My favourite was about Likh, a beautiful boy who wishes to become an asha rather than a deathseeker. His storyline is continued further than I expected but is ultimately unresolved. Others include Fox’s acquaintance with an unexpected woman, Mykaela’s health, Junior Heartsforger, and Kance and Kalen. Also – the Oracle. What exactly is her purpose? Is there only one? There was also never any mention of Tea’s blood family after she leaves them, which seemed strange to me.

Ultimately, I loved the concept of this book. I found it a likeable enough read. I don’t think that the execution was as successful as it could have been. If it had been, I could have easily likened it to Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books, or the Grisha Trilogy. A young heroine learns her place in the world and changes it while doing so.

As it is, it just wasn’t quite up to snuff. I hope the next book can redeem it.

Have you read The Bone Witch? Are you gearing up to read it? Let me know in the comments below!

While We Dream

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Just before the holidays, I broke one of my own rules about making requests on NetGalley. Generally, I avoid requesting self-published novels. I don’t believe that everything self-published is bad, but I also haven’t read any self-published books that I’ve enjoyed either. For that reason, I avoid reading them to spare myself an unpleasant experience and to avoid giving scathing reviews.

I came across While We Dream and my self-made rule went out the window. While I did have some problems with it, I also actually enjoyed this short story collection.

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While We Dream is a collection filled with short and speculative tales of science fiction. Many of the stories within had unique enough concepts that I’ve never before encountered them anywhere else. Le Dain’s writing is fairly to the point, with no unnecessary flourishes of prose to pad out the tales. Within these pages you’ll find tales of clones, ghosts, murder, and dictatorship. You’ll be entering worlds where doppelgangers roam free and your fate is decided by a series of pre-determined tests.

The story for which the title was named was perhaps the least original of the bunch, but also had the most emotional impact

My imagination was captured by many of the stories, but there was one important factor that stopped me from totally enjoying this book.

The dialogue was awful.

Whenever people spoke aloud they sounded completely unnatural. Except for in one instance, there are absolutely no contractions used in this book, even when conversations are casual or when children are speaking.

Though I did like the stories, I thought that this book fell short where most self-published novels do: the editing. Given a good edit with an eye for dialogue, I could easily see this finding its way to my bookshelf and those of my friends. Some of the stories within also seemed cut short before their full idea came through, and thus their full potential was never reached. A good editor could also go over this with the author to give him a sense of what to expand upon.

I’m not sorry I broke my own rule by reading this book, and I will certainly seek out Le Dain again should he self-publish or traditionally publish any other work. I do hope that before then, he finds an editor who can help him reach his full potential.

What are your thoughts on self-published novels? Are there any great ones you have to recommend? Let me know in the comments below.

Why I Don’t Use Star Ratings

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Since I started this blog, I’ve discovered an entire world of book bloggers and reviewers. I’ve learned that it’s possible to request to read books before their publication date, and I’ve learned more about the endless resource that is my local library.

As I follow more book bloggers, I’ve noticed that most everyone has a few things in common. Pretty much everyone has a review policy, book tags are fun to do in between reviews and original content, and book reviews are accompanied by a star rating of some kind.

Every time I posted a review I wondered if I was doing something wrong by not using a clear rating system.

Still, I’ve decided against using one for a few reasons.

My opinion is often one extreme or the other.

Usually, I either love a book or I hate it. (Hate definitely encompassing terrible boredom.)

I find it difficult on Goodreads to rate anything between 1 and 5, and feel grossly forced every time I do. I don’t want to seem too harsh or too generous with my ratings, so I compromise – which I don’t think is good for anyone. I have a great deal of enthusiasm for things that may be cliché tropes, or silly premises. Maybe I’ll just be in the wrong mindset for a book and give it a (potentially undeserved) 1 star rating.

I might love a book that you’ll hate, or hate a book that you’ll love.

Reading is a very personal and subjective experience. If I love something about a subject that you find dry and uninteresting, but you pick it up because you trust in my five star review, I’ve most likely wasted your time. Similarly, if you love a book because it addresses a personal issue that you feel touched reading about, there’s no guarantee that I’ll even be interested in it – maybe I’ll give it 1 star and you’ll never pick it up!

Which brings me to my final point:

I write about what I like and didn’t like about a book so that you can make an informed choice.

Its nigh on impossible to be objective when reviewing a book, and I don’t think it would be a benefit if I was. Passion, whether it be positive or negative says a lot about a story. When I write a review, I’ll focus on the specific reasons I liked or didn’t like a book. I do this to try and be fair so that if there are things I didn’t like, you can figure out if those are things you’d like! I feel that sometimes people see a star review and ignore or skim the text that goes along with it.

While it’s true that means you have to actually read through the entire review, I hope that if you’re following the site you enjoy it enough to do so and that you find it worthwhile.

Do you enjoy using or reading star ratings? Do you read reviews without star ratings? Are there other things that make reviews more fun or reader friendly for you?