May & June Reads

I originally wanted to post this at the beginning of June, following my usual timeline with this series. But I was in the middle of ‘Tristan Strong Punches A Hole in the Sky’ and wanted to finish it before publishing these. It took longer than I wanted to actually finish the book (damn my inability to focus on tasks for significant periods of time!) and by the second week in June, I decided it would be best to combine my May and June books into one post. So apologies for this delay!

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers– It’s interesting reading this after reading Craft In The Real World. While the latter book encourages writers and workshop participants to help the writer find their own unique voice, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers encourages writers to conform to a certain literary convention. If I’m honest, I prefer the advice and messages in Craft In The Real World over the advice in here. Of course, with any book on writing, the advice is all subjective and shouldn’t be taken as ‘literary law.’ How readers and critics respond a work is highly dependent on influences and forces that may be outside of the writer’s control. That’s not to say reading this book is a complete waste of time. If nothing else, it encourages writers to pay careful attention to their work while in the editing process. There are common ‘mistakes’ or tropes we may rely on that weaken our overall story and I think being aware of that will ultimately make your work stand out. And the authors offer exercises and a checklist at the end of every chapter that you can use on your current drafts. There’s also plenty of examples sprinkled throughout that show how to incorporate the advice given. A lot (possibly all) of the examples skewed towards literary fiction and I think that’s worth noting. If a new writer came to me for books to read to help sharpen their work, I may suggest this title. Though I would likely hand over my copy of ‘Craft In The Real World’ and tell them to read that instead.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

A Desolation Called PeaceClick here for my full review. In short, ‘A Desolation Called Peace’ is an incredible follow-up to ‘A Memory Called Empire.’ This sequel touches on memory (no surprise), first-contact, war, humanization and other complex topics. I loved the inclusion of multiple points of views and especially enjoyed slipping into Three Seagrass and Eight Antidote’s mind. The ending blew me away and there are some lines that will linger in my thoughts for days or weeks to come. Language is not so transparent, but we are sometimes known, even so. If we are lucky. I need this tattooed immediately! I also love the relationship between Three Seagrass and Mahit. There’s a deep tension between them that serves as a microcosm of how the Teixcalaan Empire interacts with other cultures and civilizations it encounters. I’m not sure if this is final time we’ll meet these characters and this universe. There’s plenty material for the author to examine and explore in follow up novels. I think Mahit and Three Seagrass received a fitting ending and I’m fine with future novels following other characters. I had high expectations for this sequel and I’m thrilled that the actual text exceeded those expectations!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Caste: The Origins of our Discontent– Whew! This book is amazing, but so difficult to read and digest. ‘Caste’ posits that in America there is a strict, but unacknowledged caste system like that in India and in former Nazi Germany. The American caste system is along racial lines, with the white ‘race’ at the top of the hierarchy, African-Americans at the bottom and all other racial and ethnic groups dispersed in the middle. This book is part historical text, part social commentary, with sprinkles of personal anecdotes. The author examines the racial hierarchal caste system and how it impacts us in ways we may not be aware of. I was deeply intrigued by the discussion on how the American caste system impacted the 2016 election and how Donald Trump was able to appeal to the latent anxiety many white Americans experience as the country moves towards a multi-ethnic majority. Wilkerson points out that our caste system not only disadvantages and harms African-Americans, but it also harms many white Americans who often voted against their self-interest in the name of maintaining the power and visibility that comes with being a member of the dominant caste. As many in this country try to ignore the systematic racism that invades nearly every facet of our daily life, I hope ‘Caste’ finds its way into the right hands and continues to challenge the oft-repeated myths of how this country was first created. It’s a book that

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky– ‘Tristan Strong’ opens with a forward from Rick Riordan who says readers can walk into a store, look in nearly every direction and encounter a book with elements from Greek mythology. Yet, if readers want to read about mythologies outside of Greek, Roman or Norse stories, they would have such difficulties find one book or an entire series. Thankfully, that trend is gradually changing and more and more authors of colors are writing stories that are heavily inspired by the myths and stories they grew up with. Enter ‘Tristan Strong Punches A Hole In The Sky,’ book one in a a middle grade, action-adventure, fantasy series inspired by West African and Black American mythologies. As someone who was born in Georgia and spent a significant part of my childhood shuttling back and forth between rural parts of the South and Northern Virginia, I felt at home with this narrative. I was familiar with some of the mythological characters, but many of these stories were new to me. And this story inspired me to learn more about these myths and the characters that inhabit the stories. While Tristan is the main character, the one person who shined brighter than everyone was Gum Baby. She’s snappy, always eager to help, has some of the best lines in the story and looks out for her friends. I’d love to read a short story collection dedicated solely to her. I also genuinely love the fantasy world here (I listened to the audiobook, so I’m not sure if there’s a map, but I’d love to see the layout of the different realms.) It’s filled with creatures and beings pulled straight from a mythology that will be new to a lot of readers and warmly familiar to many others. And Tristan is a character most readers, particularly Black readers, will relate to and root for. He’s tough, but has a vulnerable side. He’s a reluctant hero who wants to fix what he broke. He cares deeply about everyone around him and may give into fear, but knows his friends will be there to support him. Overall, I loved this story and will likely give this to some of the young readers I know.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Pale Blue Dot-It’s eerie how relevant this book is now, despite being first published in the late 1990s. The last few chapters really resonated with me as we enter an age where billionaires use their considerable wealth to race to space as millions and billions of people suffer the consequences of climate change and an economy that’s designed to guarantee the success of a few select people. It’s clear Sagan wrestles with wanting to invest near unlimited resources into scientific programs that will eventually lead to humanity existing on other planets and understanding that those same resources should be spent tackling many of the (man-made) problems here on Earth. As a speculative fiction author, it’s a conflict I wrestle with as well and I think Sagan and I both agree there’s no easy answer to this question. But there’s plenty of hope in this book. Sagan dives deep into the history of the our Solar System and the ways in which humanity has banded together to understand the past so it will inform our future. Like ‘Cosmos,’ this book isn’t laden with scientific and mathematical terminology that may be confusing or inaccessible to the average reader. It’s an introductory text that’s fun to read and relatively easy to follow. Sagan is hopeful that humanity will pull itself together and eventually establish settlements on distant planets. I personally am fascinated by the idea of living on asteroids or the rocky moons of a gas giant. I will say that Sagan compares our future in space to the western expansion, which isn’t the best analogy given the brutality and violence that many colonists relied on as they actively displaced Indigenous culture and enslaved African people. It’s something I try to remain aware of as I write stories set in space. Can humanity live on other planets without rely on the displacement, violence, enslavement and dehumanization that was required for western expansion and colonization? Can we move away from using such violent terminology? Possibly. I hope so. But I wonder how Sagan would view space exploration if he were to write this book now that many communities are wrestling with the legacy of colonization. Just a thought….

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

What books are you currently reading? Anything good that I should add to my TBR list? Let me know! And as always, take care of yourself!


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