“Moody never thought much about money, because he had never needed to. Lights went on when he flipped switches; water came out when he turned the tap.” p. 13
Little Fires Everywhere: A Novel by Celeste Ng.
Penguin, Penguin Random House, my edition 2019 (originally published in 2017).
Fiction, 338 pages plus Reader’s Guide.
Lexile: 1000L .
AR Level: 6.8 (worth 18.0 points) .
NOTE: This is a work of fiction although I’m not posting it on Fiction Friday.
A tense novel about the unexpected connections between two families, which change all of their lives.
Well. Sometimes I hesitate to review a book because it feels like everything there is to be said about that work is already out there. While I don’t mind reviewing popular works, especially if my opinion differs vastly from the usual, sometimes it simply doesn’t seem like there is much for me to add to the discourse. That is the case with this novel, which seems to have been generally well-reviewed, and which I generally agree with other reviews I’d seen prior to reading the book. Continue reading “Review: Little Fires Everywhere”
“In the middle sat an elegant woman with a medium brown complexion who appeared ageless and formidable. She held a large ivory staff decorated with leaves and flowers in one hand. There was no doubt in Jiho’s mind that this woman was in charge.” page 109
The Dragon Egg Princess by Ellen Oh.
HaperCollins, New York, 2020.
MG fantasy, 248 pages.
Not yet leveled.
Jiho Park is an anomaly in his highly magical kingdom – part of a family not affected by magic, which makes him destined to become a ranger protecting the Kidahara. But he wants nothing to with the forest and the magical creatures it protects and instead is intrigued by the foreigners from technologically advanced lands trying to tear down the forest in the middle of Joson. Meanwhile, two girls whose lives have been heavily affected by magic both have their own agendas – and when all three cross paths, the whole kingdom might be affected, for better or worse.
I wanted to love this so much – bought the hardcover, so yes I fully invested in this story. Sadly, it underwhelmed me on many points despite the appealing blubs from several authors I trust and the fabulous cover. Let me just take a minute to mention that I completely support Oh’s mission, her work on WNDB, and even her excellent anthologies, and continue to do so despite really not liking this book.
The setting had a unique feel. The land of Josen, the Kidahara forest, the permeation of magic in the kingdom, everything had a twist to it somewhere. But on the other hand it had some steampunk or even science fantasy elements, as some of the other kingdoms have no magic but focus instead on technology. The one other region with magic was also different, so a lot was packed into this book.
Worldbuilding was clearly a major focus of Oh’s, and she has a fairly detailed mythology likely to appeal to young fans of speculative fiction. While this book focuses on Joson, based in Korean mythology, Shane and Calvin are from another country called Bellprix and mention vampires, werewolves, and zombies. I only wish that more of the essential information about this world had been organically included in the action or dialogue, instead of being infodumped .
“There are only so many years you can fool your friends – or yourself – into thinking you are a real Indian princess, banished from your fairy tale and hiding out in a suburban split-level in northern New Jersey. No matter what your crazy parents insist.” page 3
The Serpent’s Secret (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond #1) by Sayantani Dasgupta, illustrated by Vivienne To. Scholastic, New York, 2018. MG fantasy, 358 pages. Lexile: 730L . AR Level: 5.2 (worth 10.0 points) .
Kiranmala is so over her parents’ stories and dressing up like “a real Indian princess” for every birthday – they’re already overprotective and weird, do they have to keep lying about a magical land too? Then they go missing, and a rakkhosh shows up at her house closely followed by two princes. Kiranmala will have to draw on every bit of help, magic, and story to figure out how to save her parents, herself, and maybe a few others too.
Dasgupta focuses on Bengali stories as her main inspiration, and it definitely gives the fantasy a fresh slant. But the writing truly brings two places to life – The Kingdom Beyond Seven Oceans and Thirteen Rivers and Kiranmala’s home in Parsippany, New Jersey – and while most of the magic happens in the Kingdom, Dasgupta manages to make New Jersey surprisingly compelling.
In particular, I was very impressed with the mix of science into the story. Science fiction and fantasy are distinct genres (along with horror and the less popular science fantasy) under the speculative fiction umbrella. Although a lot of people enjoy both, many readers don’t like to mix these two, especially in the MG range. Dasgupta takes an interesting approach – magic is fully magical and has its own internal logic, but science is also real and has parallels and applications within the story. Kiranmala discusses how astronomy and physics relate to her quest without ever losing the magic, thanks to a deft narrative hand.
“Kinchen pursed her lips, thinking. She never told anyone about Pip’s strangeness with people; not wanting anyone to make fun of her brother, she covered up for him.” page 61
A Crack in the Sea by H. M. Bouwman, illustrated by Yuko Shimizu.
Puffin Books, Penguin Random House, New York, 2017.
MG fantasy, 360 pages + excerpt.
Lexile: 740L .
AR Level: 5.1 (worth 11.0 points) .
A layered fantasy draws together a 1781 slave ship crossing the Atlantic Ocean, a Vietnamese refugee boat in the South China Sea in 1978, and two very different groups in a magical place the inhabitants think of as the Second World.
I had seen this book even before writing my diverse fantasy booklist, but hesitated to read it as I was nervous. A fantasy story that blends African and Vietnamese and English and different worlds and time periods and difficult topics all into a readable middle grade novel? Many books struggle to do one of those and this was written by a white woman, so I was dubious.
But when I got to the sentence “Old Ren coughed, his unusually pale face even whiter than usual” I breathed a sigh of relief. So many authors make the error of describing the race of characters of color only, that to see a white person’s skin described is a benchmark for baseline acceptability.
“All the Women in My Family Sing is a tribute to the many voices of women in a chorus of cultural refrains. Each essay is a personal story about the victories and challenges women face every day as innovators, artists, CEOs, teachers and adventurers. All of the essays reveal how glorious it is to live authentically in our identities.”
p. ix-x, Foreword by Deborah Santana
All the Women in My Family Sing: Women Write the World – Essays on Equality, Justice, and Freedom, edited by Deborah Santana.
Nothing But The Truth, San Francisco, CA, 2018.
Adult anthology, 365 pages.
NOTES: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Because this book contains 69 pieces, I decided to review it in three parts.
The essays and poems in AtWiMFS are roughly grouped into 8 categories, each containing between 7 and 10 pieces. Most are quite short, but I do like to comment briefly on each one, so I’ve decided to break this up so it’s not excessively long.
” ‘She’s not mine,’ Dwight said. ‘Feels like mine, but isn’t.’ That’s when I realized they were talking about me.” page 129
Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor.
Katherine Tegen Books, HarperCollins, New York, 2008.
MG contemporary fiction, 290 pages.
Lexile: 570L .
AR Level: 3.7 (worth 7.0 points) .
Addison Schmeeter’s entering a new phase of her life. Since Mommers spent all the mortgage money, they lost the house. Since Mommers left her girls at home alone for three days, the judge gave Addie’s ex-stepfather Dwight custody of her two younger sisters. But Addie’s father is dead, so she’s saying with Mommers except for visits with her sisters. Dwight bought them a trailer, and he gives her money for clothes or food. So it’s sixth grade in another new place.
Most of this review contains spoilers as it’s difficult to talk about the more diverse aspects of the book without giving away plot points. If you prefer to avoid them please skip to the final paragraph for my general opinion.
“And I think, what must it be like to be raised by well-meaning strangers who may love you but who do not speak your language, or know who you are, or have anything but an outsider’s intellectualized and generalized understanding of your culture and people, and of your life for that matter.” page 76
In a Rocket Made of Ice: the Story of Wat Opot, a Visionary Community for Children Growing Up with AIDS by Gail Gutradt.
My edition Vintage Books, Penguin Random House, New York, 2015 (originally published 2013).
Nonfiction/memoir, 322 pages.
Traveling retiree Gail Gutradt made a chance connection that sent her to volunteer in this community with an initial five-month commitment. The experience was so moving that she returns again and again, finding a deep love for Cambodia and a personal passion for improving the lives of children affected by HIV/AIDs.
Notice I say “children affected by”, not “children with”, because that’s one of the interesting parts about Wat Opot – the community is open to any children and many adults whose lives have been affected, whether they themselves are positive, a sibling or parent is, or if one or both parents have died from AIDs. That’s an important aspect of this community surviving in Cambodia, where family connections are crucial – families can stay together, dying parents can know that their children are well cared for and gently transition them, and siblings are not separated based on HIV status.
“It was a little thing, but sometimes the smallest details were far more important than they seemed.” p. 178
Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford, illustrated by Jaime Zollars.
Clarion, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2017.
MG fantasy/mystery, 471 pages including preview of the next book.
Lexile: 800L .
AR Level: 5.5 (worth 17.0 points) .
NOTE: This is the second book in the Greenglass House series.
It’s Christmastime at Greenglass House again, and except for one pesky visitor, it seems that this year things will be back to normal – a quiet family vacation for 13-year-old Milo and his parents. Then the bell rings…
Since this is the second book in a mystery series, it will contain some spoilers from the first book. The synopsis above and my final recommendation at the very end will be spoiler-free.
Kate Milford is back with another successful mystery/fantasy. This book is far more fantastical than the first installment, although there are still elements of a mystery and secrets to be uncovered. As previously, there is an ensemble cast, with Milo at the center of the story. About half the characters are from the previous books, with a whole set of new people descending on Greenglass House from the Liberty, a free space for asylum which some people in the city confuse with a mental asylum.
“One of the problems with knowing nothing about the family that you were born into was that you never really stopped wondering about it. At least, Milo didn’t.” p. 53
Greenglass House by Kate Milford, illustrated by Jaime Zollars.
Clarion, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2014.
MG mystery/fantasy, 392 pages (including sneak peek at the next book).
Lexile: 800L .
AR Level: 5.4 (worth 15.0 points) .
NOTE: This is the first book in the Greenglass House series.
Milo’s parents run, and live in, a smuggler’s inn – running prohibited goods is popular because Nagspeake is practically run by the Deacon and Morvengarde catalog company, and their place used to be the home of notorious smuggler Doc Holystone. But even a smuggler’s inn is usually quiet during Christmas vacation in heavy snowfall. So Milo’s understandably perturbed when a surprise guest turns up, and then another, and then another…
I nearly passed over this book when compiling my diverse fantasy list. First because before reading, I couldn’t easily tell if it even was diverse. The cover features the eponymous house, and while the blurb describes Milo as adopted, it doesn’t say anything about his race, so I was doubting if it would be a good candidate for this blog. But lately I’ve been including some books about adoption, fostering, and kinship care, even if they aren’t necessarily otherwise diverse. Then I got the book and started reading.
“When I had my own restaurant someday, I thought, I would never rule out someone based on race or sex or nationality. I wouldn’t do it because it was egalitarian, I’d do it because cutting people out meant cutting off talent and opportunity, people who could bring more to the table than I could ever imagine.” page 160
Yes, Chef: a memoir by Marcus Samuelsson.
Random House, New York, 2012.
Autobiography, 326 pages.
The life story of Marcus Samuelsson, a chef across three continents.
This was a random find that was enchanting. I’ll admit that I was first drawn in by the appealing cover, and then after the generosity of the friend who gave this to me, I had to at least start reading it. What I found between the covers kept me up all night until the book was finished.