Dec 30 2014

Books finished in December

1. Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
2. The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights, Volume 3
3. The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson
4. Siberiak: My Cold War Adventure on the River Ob by Jenny Jaeckel
5. Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Hepperman
6. The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson
7. Audacious (a novel in verse) by Gabrielle S. Prendergast
8. This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

REVIEWS:

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Dec 20 2014

Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by

Fairy tales neatly blend together with the lives of teenage girls in this darkly funny collection of poems for teens. Definitely from a girl’s perspective, these poems explore unfortunate boyfriends, friendships, girl-on-girl cruelty, and other teenage nightmares using the fantastical and strange. As the Hepperman explains, these poems show how a teenage girl walking down the street can feel as though she’s trapped in her own personal tower. Many of these poems are simple, narrative poems told from the point of view of a villain or an innocent, if you believe one is any different from the other. The book is also illustrated with fantastical and surreal black-and-white photography, often evoking fairytale imagery.

A lot of these poems focus on body image, weight issues, anorexia, and so on. It was by far the most common theme among the poems. And for the most part Hepperman explores these issues artfully, though at times it seemed as though there was too much focus on this subject, the impact dulled by overuse and the ultimate message eventually feeling somewhat trite. However, some of these body image poems were also my favorite in the collection, as with “The Wicked Queen’s Legacy”, which shows how easy it is to become obsessed with self-image.

It used to be just the one,
but now all mirrors chatter.

In fact every reflective surface has opinions
on the shape of my nose, the size

of my chest, the hair I wash and brush
until it’s so shiny I can see myself

scribbling notes as each strand
recommends improvements.

— from “The Wicked Queen’s Legacy”

One of the things I really enjoyed about this collection was how darkly funny many of the poems were. For example, the poem “Big Bad Spa Treatment” describes how you can get sumptuously treated with “deep-tissue Massage Mallets, / leaving you loose / and gristle free” and a “honey barbecue facial mask”. And the evil queen doesn’t stop at Snow White in “Assassin,” but laboriously works to take out Sleeping Beauty, Gretel, Bo Peep, Goldilocks and others in her need to be the fairest.

While I can’t say this was the best collection of poetry I have every read (I think there is more mature work out there), it was certainly enjoyable and I would recommend it for just about any teenage girl. I think it would resonate with that age group quite a lot. I would have been obsessed with this collection as a teenager, reading it dogeared and copying quotes down in my journals. I remember facing my own self loathing around my body in high school and the awkwardness I felt around my peers, and I’m sure this book would resonated. It might have even made me feel stronger, as though I could face the world with courage and awesome.


Dec 16 2014

Thoughts on The Arabian Nights, Vol. 3

Arabian NightsI have officially finished all three volumes of The Arabian Nights, a 2,715 page journey!

Volume 3 comprises nights 719 to 1001, as well as the “Aladdin, or the Magic Lamp” standalone story. This third volume has proven to be my favorite, as there is less repetition (same kind of story followed by same kind of story) than in the previous books and some stories that begin on well trodden themes actually branch of in surprising directions. Adventures, romances, and comedy tales mix together with morality tales in a broad spectrum of stories, many of which I found rather fun and interesting.

Shahrazad’s Tale Comes to an End

As I mentioned, in my review of volume 2, we can see Shahrazad’s story and dramatic progression through the tales she tells, guiding King Shahriyar to a different perspective on women. By volume 3, I get the sense that Shahrazad has relaxed, which allows her to explore a greater variety of tales. She probably senses him coming around and so can use the tales more as entertainment than for moral and philosophical lessons.

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Dec 12 2014

Book Review: Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

Book description (from Goodreads):

“In a far future, post-nuclear-holocaust Africa, genocide plagues one region. The aggressors, the Nuru, have decided to follow the Great Book and exterminate the Okeke. But when the only surviving member of a slain Okeke village is brutally raped, she manages to escape, wandering farther into the desert. She gives birth to a baby girl with hair and skin the color of sand and instinctively knows that her daughter is different. She names her daughter Onyesonwu, which means “Who Fears Death?” in an ancient African tongue.

Reared under the tutelage of a mysterious and traditional shaman, Onyesonwu discovers her magical destiny-to end the genocide of her people. The journey to fulfill her destiny will force her to grapple with nature, tradition, history, true love, the spiritual mysteries of her culture-and eventually death itself.”

I loved many things about this book, fantastic post-apocalyptic worldbuilding, fascinating characters, and a captivating storyline, full of complexity. The writing is clean, giving Onyesonwu a clear voice as she narrates her life story.

Onyesonwu is a wonderfully interesting character, full of both anger and compassion, able to strike out and provide healing, desiring revenge and yet not wanting to engage in the violence she sees around her. Likewise, her companions and teachers (there are many) are complicated too, with a variety of motivations and assumptions based on traditions or superstitions.

The story includes descriptions of rape, genocide, female circumcision, stoning, child soldiers, and other real-world violence that is horrifying (and sometimes hard to read), and yet handled with honesty, precision, and care. In the face of all this horror, the story could have easily turned into a downer, but hope, love, and friendship are weaved into the story as well. The story is powerful, deeply resonant, and one to think about long after having put it down. An amazing work of art.

I will definitely be reading more by Nnedi Okorafor.


Dec 2 2014

Book and Movie Completed in November

Does this blog title sound odd to you? Because it sounds odd to me.

I don’t remember the last time I’ve only finished one book over the course of a month, as I tend to average between 6-8 books a month. This is in part because of my busy November schedule and because my time was spent absorbing longer works. In addition to the one book I’ve completed, I spent the month working my way through the third volume of The Arabian Nights (which is 850 pages long, so I’m still not done after reading around 500 pages this month).

It was also a slow month in movie watching, with only one new-to-me movie watched. Though again, I spent time working my way through a longer storyline, binge watching ten episodes of The Walking Dead on my flight back from London, instead of catching up on current movies like I usually do.

All that is to say, here are my thoughts on the one new book and movie for this month.

Movie – Planet of the Apes (1968)

Planet of the ApesAn astronaut journeying through space lands on a strange planet, on which the human-like inhabitants are mute and are ruled by intelligent apes. Captured and unable to speak due to an injury, the astronaut (played by Charlton Heston) is unable to express his intelligence and is treated like a caged wild animal.

While the makeup and special effects are corny by today’s standards, I totally understand why this movie is a classic. The storyline is compelling as it presents an interesting, critical look at what it means to be human, how we treat animals in cages, and the threat of human’s tendency toward violence. There are many layers and much that could provide ample space for critical discussion (I’m sure many essays and analyses exist). An excellent movie, so much more interesting than ANY remake that has come after it (and I’m sure sequels, too, though I haven’t seen all of them yet to be able to judge).

Book – Sleepwalk by John Saul

I’ve had this on my bookshelf for ages and finally picked it up because it was a lightweight paperback to take on the plane. It served its purpose as something to read, but it annoyed me in several ways. The main character was a teacher; I was a substitute and my sister and friend are teachers, and the descriptions of classrooms and schools in the book did not ring true. None of the characters were particularly interesting either and the evil corporation conspiracy storyline was cliche. Plus the story involved around the concept “noble natives” as connected to nature compared to the people in town people who blindly working at an oil refinery, which is destroying nature. It all felt like it was borrowing old ideas, tropes, and stereoypes mixed together into a novel. Not a winner.