Akata Warrior (Akata Witch, #2) by Nnedi Okorafor

Book Review of Akata Warrior by The Inky Saga

I did not set myself the most ambitious reading goals this year, and it has been a struggle to just read one book per month. However, I was really happy to get to read Akata Warrior, the sequel to Akata Witch, which I read and adored last year. The magical adventures of Sunny and her coven are so much fun and full of heart.

I also love the African representation in the book. These books comment on identity in Nigeria, which is as varied as complex as it is in America. I think is so important that children read a book set in different countries, especially countries that we don’t often see portrayed for a young adult audience. Africa is such a huge continent and in many places, it is surprisingly not that different from certain parts of the United States.

In this post I will talk about the plot and potential spoilers from this sequel. Like with my last review of a sequel, I’m not sure how many people will read this post. So I’m just going to assume it will be people who have already read it and want to talk about it! If you’ve not read Akata Witch, I highly recommend it. You can check out the review I wrote last year.

SEE: AKATA WITCH BY NNEDI OKORAFOR

 • Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor 

Released: October 16, 2018 by Speak
Pages: Paperback, 512 pages
Theme(s): Identity, inner strength, power of knowledge, friendship, balance
Genre(s): YA / Fantasy / African-American Fiction
Age Group: 10+
Goodreads | Amazon*

*Affiliate link disclaimer

A year ago, Sunny Nwazue, an American-born girl Nigerian girl, was inducted into the secret Leopard Society. As she began to develop her magical powers, Sunny learned that she had been chosen to lead a dangerous mission to avert an apocalypse, brought about by the terrifying masquerade, Ekwensu. Now, stronger, feistier, and a bit older, Sunny is studying with her mentor Sugar Cream and struggling to unlock the secrets in her strange Nsibidi book. Eventually, Sunny knows she must confront her destiny. With the support of her Leopard Society friends, Orlu, Chichi, and Sasha, and of her spirit face, Anyanwu, she will travel through worlds both visible and invisible to the mysterious town of Osisi, where she will fight a climactic battle to save humanity.

Akata Warrior picks up some time after Sunny and her oha coven have defeated Black Hat and are well into studying independently with guidance from their individual mentors. The book actually started with a really great recap in the form of a letter from the snarky Obi Library Collective of Leopard Knocks’ Department of Responsibility! I had been worried I wouldn’t be able to follow the story, but I ended up recalling most of the first book. I was actually only fuzzy on the ending, probably because I was so unsatisfied by the plot’s main conflict.

In this book Sunny is being haunted by the evil spirit Ekwenzu who wants to bring on the destruction of the natural world. She manages to separate Sunny from her spirit face Azue, which to everyone’s surprise does not kill her. Instead Sunny is forced to navigate the magical world without her spirit guide and find inner strength and confidence in herself.

In this second book, we see Sunny grow closer to her brothers. Each sibling is so different, they all have live such different lives despite all having lived under the same roof. It’s really nice to see them start to opening up and trusting each other with their vulnerabilities and trouble they get into. It is through her brothers that we see a real-life problem plaguing Nigerian higher education: confraternities.

I had never heard of this problem and was glad that Okorafor included this little side plot that was so relevant to the story because of the leopard world’s value of education and the story’s Nigerian setting. It is horrifying to see how people are press-ganged into these secret societies full of corruption that ultimately seem to have nothing to do with the honest pursuit of knowledge.

One more minor thing that I found highly unsettling was the development of a relationship between Sunny’s friend Chichi and her older brother Chuckwu. It’s super creepy to think of a 18-year-old guy who is obsessed with body building off at college being attracted to a literally underdeveloped child! Chichi is supposed to be this tiny little girl. The first book makes it seem like Chichi is older than she looks, but I don’t think that makes it okay!

I think drama of a love triangle was the main the point of throwing Chuckwu into Chichi and Sasha’s relationship. Maybe it can be chalked up to cultural differences, but I do feel it was highly inappropriate even if their relationship was more innocent.

Aside from the horrors of reality, this book was a lot of fun! My favorite parts of these books is always following Sunny as she discovers more about the leopard world and all of what’s possible. The flying wood cutter, Grashcoatah, was a particular delight. He was like a playful Loki in giant grasscutter disguise!

Like the first book, I feel the second suffers from a similar weakness in the plot. I was really in shock again about how many things happened that Sunny did not see fit to explain to the Leopard adults, particularly her mentor Sugar Cream! In the Harry Potter and A Series of Unfortunate Events books, the children are always trying to tell adults first and it’s only when they realize they are not being taken seriously do they realize they must act on their own. I’m not sure why it doesn’t even occur to Sunny and her friends to confide in more older people with more experience!

I also really didn’t like how disconnected the climax felt from the rest of the book. I actually did like the slow unraveling of the discovery that the house Sunny had been learning about in her grandmother’s letter was Ekwenzu’s home in the spirit land, but it was not a very smooth transition from the mystery the coven was chasing by visiting the mythical city of Osisi. To be honest, though, maybe I’m just used to stories where the protagonists know what they need to do. Sunny and the gang are plagued by problems not at all personal to them but derived from ancestral conflict.

If I had to rate this book by stars, I’d give it a 4 stars. It’s a very fun read and does what a great fantasy book should: ignite our imagination but also reflect problems we face in the real world. My biggest critique is just the same as it was for the first book; a lacking plot. Ultimately, however, that is easy to overlook since the rest of the book is so fun and I truly care about the characters.

If you read this post in its entirety, let me know if you’re read these books yet! I’m truly curious, as I never used to review sequels in the past. I didn’t see a point. If the first book grabs you, you’re going to want to read the sequel naturally. But I guess people can be curious about where the story goes without wanting to sit through a story and characters they feel so-so about. I, for one, am extremely interested in continuing to follow Sunny’s story and see where this series goes!

Thank you for reading!
Follow my blog via Bloglovin’. Also find me on Twitter and Instagram.

The Vanishing Stair (Truly Devious, #2) by Maureen Johnson

Easily my most anticipated book of January, hell, of 2019 as a whole, was The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson, the sequel to one of my favorite reads of 2018, Truly Devious. In case you weren’t around way back then, here’s a link to the review I wrote of the book that started this fantastic series. It’s one of my favorite reviews I’ve ever written on the blog for a book I still consider highly underrated.

Stevie is such an amazing female character for young girls to be able to see in YA literature. I love that she is filled with such purpose and passion for something so unique and practical. I also think it’s great to see someone who has to deal with anxiety and parents with such different fundamental values. It’s so timely.

Before I go into detail, I just want to say I loved The Vanishing Stair as much as I did the first book! It sufficiently answered just enough questions about the mystery to keep me satisfied and still managed to end in a way that left me aching for the third installment to come out already!

I’ve decided not will not spoil the end of the book, but I will detail the questions I still have regarding the ending. So if you are halfway interested in checking out this series, go away now! I’ve warned you!

• The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson  

The Vanishing Stair picks up maybe a month after where the first book left off the morning after Stevie’s housemate Ellie escaped Ellingham Academy and Stevie learned David is the son of the infamous politician Edward King her parents idolize. As it turned out, Germaine Batt’s report about how Stevie discovered the link between Ellie and Hayes Major’s death became a hit online. After Stevie’s parents read it, they quickly whisked her away from dreamy boarding school and plopped her back into public school.

Honestly, I could empathize with her sadness and frustration. I don’t think I would’ve been able to handle this distress as gracefully as I assume she did. But to her dubious fortune, Stevie is able to return to the academy after Senator King shows up at her parents house and convinces them to allow her to return to school. She discovers that David has been going off the rails since she left and his father has decided Stevie can fix him.

Although she is unhappy with how she was able to return to Ellingham, she is not able to resist the opportunity to return to the scenes of the crime that drew her to the school in the first place.

Much more of the past is quickly revealed in The Vanishing Stair through flashbacks involving the two new characters introduced at the end of Truly Devious. For much of the book I wondered when and if Stevie would become privy to the information we as readers are granted ahead of time! Before Stevie, we are able to find out more about Albert Ellingham’s life and the long-forgotten secret passageways that allowed the founder to keep his secrets. But our girl Stevie eventually pieces together the mystery herself in a scene where I imagined her standing like Sherlock below.

sherlock

In this novel, Stevie is introduced to Fenton, a historian on the crime who needs a research assistant. This older woman is an authority on the case who intends to solve the mystery of Alice’s whereabout in order to win a monetary reward set by Ellingham before he died. Her presence in the book adds new stakes and competition for Stevie as she discovers she’s in a race against the clock to solve the mystery.

There are light moments between Stevie and the gang as they celebrate Halloween. There’s some steamy moments as Stevie and David reconnect. Of course their relationship is complicated by Stevie’s secret deal with his father, which feels rote and thrown in just because our lovebirds can’t have too much fun. There are also some absolutely devastating moments akin which for me harkened to the sadness of that scene in season one of Stranger Things where they think they’ve found Will’s body to the cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes”.

By the end of this book, we discover the true culprit behind the crimes at Ellingham Academy and why it was so hard to identify them! Honestly, the truth blew me away. I feel like I might’ve been able to guess them if it had not been for all the smoke and mirrors, which is why this YA mystery is so fantastic! It’s such a smart series on par with the Six of Crows duology, which is a YA (or perhaps New Adult) masterpiece.

I decided to rate this book 4.5 stars. It’s beautifully crafted and paced, and my main complaint right now is how frustrating David has been for no apparent reason at all! I hope that he is able to redeem himself by the end of the next book or I want a storyline where Stevie learns to avoid broken, troubled boys like him. I’m so over love interests with self-destructive tendencies.

END OF THE BOOK QUESTIONS

  1. Was Ellie working with someone?
  2. What the heck is David doing?
  3. Who at the academy doesn’t want the mystery solved?
  4. What happened to Alice?

I hope you liked this review! I’m really not sure who is going to click on the review for a sequel of a highly underrated book, so if you read all the way through you’re something special in my eyes! <3 ^_^

This is probably my last blog post before the weekend. I’ve been planning blog content for the days I’ll be out of town (Saturday–Tuesday) finally visiting my poor grandma who had a stroke in January. I’ll try to be active on WordPress as much as possible, responding to comments and blog hopping whenever I can. You can also always get in touch on Twitter if you’d like. :)

Thank you for reading!
Follow my blog via Bloglovin’. Also find me on Twitter and Instagram.

How I Resist: Activism and Hope for a New Generation | Anthology Review

A few years ago, one of the first major YouTube scandals occurred that affected me as a regular watcher of YouTubers from many different circles. A precursor to the #MeToo movement, several young fans came forward online with their stories of abuse and manipulation at the hands of many OG YouTube creators of 2014.

It turns out that many of these big name YouTubers, including one of my favorites at the time Alex Day, were exposed for using their power as influencers and fame to manipulate and coerce their young fans and female friends into things they were uncomfortable doing. Around this time, I remembered coming across this beautiful Tumblr post written by Maureen Johnson reflecting “ABOUT THE RECENT EVENTS CONCERNING YOUTUBE.”

While I had been casually aware of her from her appearances in vlogbrothers videos and even remembered her name from years ago when I read 13 Little Blue Envelopes, this post gave me an entirely new impression of and respect for this author. She completely opened by eyes to the broader issue of harassment women have been forced to tolerate for simply going out and trying to live their lives.

This past all came back to my mind when I discovered this book and saw Johnson’s name attached to this anthology. It is the reason I decided to purchase this book even though I recognized so few of the contributors. I figured it would be a valuable, eye-opening read. And that it was.

I definitely feel like it provides a great array of views and perspectives on a variety of issues that are related to resistance. The very word resistance is redefined throughout the book as we learn about how such a diverse collection of people individually view their work, art, and mere lives as acts of resistance.

• • • How I Resist • • •

Released: March 1, 2018
Pages: 224 pages (paperback)
Theme(s): Activism, forms of resistance, fighting oppression, raising awareness, making art
Genre(s): Young Adult / Activist Essays
Age Group: 10+

★★★★½

An all-star collection of essays about activism and hope, edited by bestselling YA author Maureen Johnson.

Now, more than ever, young people are motivated to make a difference in a world they’re bound to inherit. They’re ready to stand up and be heard – but with much to shout about, where they do they begin? What can I do? How can I help?

How I Resist is the response and a way to start the conversation. To show readers that they are not helpless, and that anyone can be the change they wish to see in the world, in their news, and for their future.

*  ⁎   My Thoughts   ⁎ * 

This anthology includes 29 pieces written by a range of people from celebrities to authors to people lauded for their activism. I was originally trying to review each piece, but I quickly realized how long this review would turn and I didn’t think anyone would actually go through my thoughts on each piece.

I also found it was hard to objectively review each piece. I found some pieces really aggravating and narrow-minded in their quest to awaken new activists. I found some pieces really brilliant in exemplifying how diverse this country really is, illustrating the struggles of people who don’t fit traditional gender roles and the variety of ways in which people can be oppressed.

I found this anthology truly fascinating given its target audience of young adults and how odd it was that it had taken this long to write a book that I assumed would speak so well to today’s youth of passion and activism. When I was in high school, Tumblr was still relatively a new thing. It’s a platform I’ve long credited with my generation’s interest in social justice.

I’ve been surprised over the years to see slacktivism turn into true activism, especially after Stoneman Douglas High School shooting earlier this year. It’s been truly inspiring to see how many of the victims have decided to prioritize their activism just as they are entering adulthood.

I would say this book is a great entry-level text into activism for young people today. There are some pieces I hated and think unfair, but I think that their presence in the book is justified if only for inspiring healthy debate. However, Johnson doesn’t provide any commentary of her own on individual pieces. So I think if this book was to be taught in school, the teacher would need do their own homework and provide context that will help frame how the students read each piece.

 ❧ ☙ END NOTE ☙ ❧

I’m sorry this review has taken me over a month to share! It was hard figuring out exactly how I wanted to format this review and what I felt I most wanted to say. This is a really important book, and I just wanted to do it justice. I haven’t seen it talked about by any of the people I follow on BookTube or in the book blogging community. So if I was going to be the first to introduce this book to people, I wanted to get it right. Basically, I psyched myself out!

Have you read How I Resist? If so, what’d you think?!

Do you consider yourself an activist?

Thank you for reading!
Follow my blog via Bloglovin’. Also find me on GoodreadsTwitter, and Instagram.

August Goals + TBR ➹

I realize we are more than halfway through the month, but going out of town threw a wrench in my plans. What should have been a nice, pleasant trip turned out to be quite stressful and unhappy. I came back home kind of overwhelmed by all the projects I had started and questioning whether it was all worth it.

I guess you could say the blog has been somewhat on hold this month while I figure it all out. I’m still trying to figure it out, but I’m dipping my toes back into it slowly. Even though it is late, I didn’t want to look back on this entire month and wonder what happened.

So I ruminated about what I’d like to get done by the end of August minimally and came up with this list of three things. I also thought about what books are my priority TBR right now as I’m just trying to keep my head above water!

Goals

➴ 1. Develop a more healthy reading-blogging-writing balance

I feel like I have a strange habit of taking on all the things and then struggling because I find one thing more interesting than all the others. Looking back at my monthly notes/goal posts from this past year, the pattern is really clear! My passion jumps between reading, writing, and blogging all the time. This month in the couple weeks I have left, I want to better prioritize.

Unless I find a way for the blog to become a major source of income, I don’t want to be spending all my time on it. Blogging should be for reflection anyway, so I don’t want it to take up all my time. Neither do I want to feel like all I have time to do is read, because that can become just as dangerous as watching YouTube or Netflix all day long.

So when it gets down to it, writing is what I want to focus on more while I still have the luxury of free-time.

2. Look for a Job + Share the Search

In July I realized I really do need to start looking for a full-time job again. It’s something I don’t really like to talk about, because it’s kind of embarrassing. But I know the longer I put it off the worse off I’ll be in terms of future job opportunities and debt repayment. So I want to overcome my job lack of confidence and interview anxiety to apply more widely for job paths I may not have considered before.

I also want to start talking jobs on the blog for anyone who is still in high school and college and doesn’t know what they want to do or anyone who may not be happy with their current employment and might like to consider other options. Job searching seriously sucks, and I hope to make it more fun by blogging about it!

3. End in the month with all my loose ends tied up

I can never fully relax while I know there are things that I’ve left incomplete. Blog-wise, there’s a lot that I still want to finish up and would like to do before the end of the month. This list of things is less for you, my blog readers, and more for my own peace of mind. It does include books, though! I really want to end the month having at minimum finished all the books I’m “currently reading” (Strange the Dreamer, How I Resist, and Rebel Spring).

I also don’t want to start anything that I’m not going to complete this month! If I start something, I want to keep it to myself until I’m sure I’ll follow through with sharing it.

TBR

In July I met my Goodreads Reading Challenge 2018 goal of reading 30 books. At the start of the year, I literally had no idea that I’d be where I am with my blog today. It’s kind of insane. I thought I might’ve peaked in 2015 with my blogging career, and I’m just so happy that I’ve fallen back in love with reading and reviewing books.

As it’s halfway through the month already, I don’t think I’ll read more beyond what I’m currently reading. I do have some books I’m itching to start once I can commit to them. I’m on a contemporary/non-fiction/literary fiction kick right now, and I’m going to see where it takes me!

Disrupt You!  by Jay Samit

In today’s volatile business landscape, adaptability and creativity are more crucial than ever. It is no longer possible-or even desirable-to learn one set of job skills and to work your way up the ladder. At the same time, entrepreneurs with great ideas for new products or technologies that could change the world often struggle to capture the attention of venture capital firms and incubators; finding the funding necessary to launch a start-up can feel impossible. The business leaders of our future must anticipate change to create their own opportunities for personal satisfaction and professional success. In Disrupt You!, Jay Samit, a digital media expert who has launched, grown, and sold start-ups and Fortune 500 companies alike, describes the unique method he has used to invent new markets and expand established businesses.

Samit has been at the helm of businesses in the ecommerce, digital video, social media, mobile communications, and software industries, helping to navigate them through turbulent economic times and guide them through necessary transformation so that they stay ahead of the curve. In Disrupt You!, he reveals how specific strategies that help companies flourish can be applied at an individual level to help anyone can achieve success and lasting prosperity-without needing to raise funds from outside investors.

Incorporating stories from his own experience and anecdotes from other innovators and disruptive businesses-including Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, YouTube, Circ du Soleil, Odor Eaters, Iams, Silly Putty, and many more-Samit shows how personal transformation can reap entrepreneurial and professional rewards. Disrupt You! offers clear and empowering advice for anyone looking to break through; for anyone with a big idea but with no idea how to apply it; and for anyone worried about being made irrelevant in an era of technological transformation. This engaging, perspective-shifting book demystifies the mechanics of disruption for individuals and businesses alike.

For my birthday this February, I treated myself to some non-fiction books of the self-help variety, hoping I might find some inspiration from them on what my next step should be. I wouldn’t say they lit any lightbulbs personally, but they were motivational in the sense that they made me get more productive. I decided to save on of those books, Disrupt You!, for later and have decided that now as I need to switch gears again is a great time for it.


The Promise by Chaim Potok

“A superb mirror of a place, a time, and a group of people who capture our immediate interest and hold it tightly.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer

Young Reuven Malter is unsure of himself and his place in life. An unconventional scholar, he struggles for recognition from his teachers. With his old friend Danny Saunders—who himself had abandoned the legacy as the chosen heir to his father’s rabbinical dynasty for the uncertain life of a healer—Reuvan battles to save a sensitive boy imprisoned by his genius and rage. Painfully, triumphantly, Reuven’s understanding of himself, though the boy change, as he starts to approach the peace he has long sought…

The Chosen by Chaim Potok was one of my first reads of the year (see What I Read This Winter), a book that got me back into reading after a few months of despair and uncertainty. I loved it and immediately looked into what other books the author had written, happy to find that there is a “sequel.” I had to order it on Amazon, but shelved it soon after as I was on a mission to read more popular fiction. I’m in a funny place again where I need to read more books that feed my soul, so I’m hoping this one does not disappoint!


Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

In this seductive, wistful masterpiece, Truman Capote created a woman whose name has entered the American idiom and whose style is a part of the literary landscape. Holly Golightly knows that nothing bad can ever happen to you at Tiffany’s; her poignancy, wit, and naïveté continue to charm.

This volume also includes three of Capote’s best-known stories, “House of Flowers,” “A Diamond Guitar,” and “A Christmas Memory,” which the Saturday Review called “one of the most moving stories in our language.” It is a tale of two innocents–––a small boy and the old woman who is his best friend–––whose sweetness contains a hard, sharp kernel of truth.

Like most young girls, I went through an adoring Audrey Hepburn phase. I first watched Billy Wilder’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1960) in high school. I even gave myself horrible baby bangs à la Holly Golightly my senior year. It was not a good look, considering I never ever wore my hair up back then! Also my hair was all bleached.

Anyway (and in case you didn’t know), the movie is based on Truman Capote’s short story. It not supposed to be anything like it, but I still find myself wanting to read the source material. The specific book I have includes three short stories in addition to “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” which I think will be a fun read as I don’t read a lot of short fiction.

I read the first 50 pages or so of Capote’s non-fiction masterpiece, In Cold Blood, so I know he’s a brilliant writer. The only reason I didn’t finish that book is at the time I wasn’t in the mood for something quite so chilling . . .

✄ —– End Note ——–

In case you missed it, my July Notes ➴ in which I summarized my successes and failures of last month went up on the blog last week shortly after I returned from my trip. The first thing on my agenda is to start tying up those loose ends this weekend with regards to the books I’m reading and the blog stuff I want to complete. Maybe I’ll share my to-do list on Sunday . . .

What are your goals for the month?

Thank you for reading!
Follow my blog via Bloglovin’. Also find me on GoodreadsTwitter, and Instagram.

Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene | ★★★½

I picked up a copy of Summer of My German Soldier earlier this year, after browsing my local 2nd and Charles store for books I might get in exchange for the store credit I accrued by un-hauling a number of old books I saw no purpose in keeping. They had a bunch of nice copies of this book; I assume because it’s been an elementary or middle school class reading. Since I’ve been on a bit of a German kick all year, I decided to purchase one.

I do not recall ever reading this book when I was young, but I figured it’d be a nice, light read that fits well with the other stuff I’ve been reading this year. And after reading Ceremony (which I reviewed last week), I knew I wanted to read something light.

Today review is pretty short. I didn’t see fit to include a Craft section, because there wasn’t much I found note-worthy about prose. Most of the time, I felt like the book omitted or lacked in details I would’ve found helpful to the book’s flow. I enjoyed this book, though, and I’m glad I read it so soon after buying it! Usually, I keep new purchases on the shelves far longer than I originally intend to when I buy them (*cough cough* Obsidio).

• • • Summer of My German Soldier • • •

Released: 1973
Pages: 230 pages (paperback)
Theme(s): Love, domestic abuse, validation, inner strength, choosing your family, race, pride, war, loyalty
Genre(s): Young Adult / Historical / Fiction
Age Group: 12+

★★★½

It was a summer of love. A summer of hate. A summer that would last a lifetime.

The summer that Patty Bergen turns twelve is a summer that will haunt her forever. When her small hometown in Arkansas becomes the site of a camp housing German prisoners during World War II, Patty learns what it means to open her heart. Even though she’s Jewish, she begins to see a prison escapee, Anton, not as a Nazi — but as a lonely, frightened young man with feelings not unlike her own, who understands and appreciates her in a way her parents never will. And Patty is willing to risk losing family, friends — even her freedom — for what has quickly become the most important part of her life.

*  ⁎   My Thoughts   ⁎ * 

While it did not blow me away, I found Summer of My German Soldier a quick and satisfying read. I was expecting this book to be a somewhat light, pleasant romance between people from two completely different worlds. Instead, I found the book much less about the actual relationship Patty develops with the soldier and more about how he came into her life at time that she really needs it. It’s actually kind of dark.

It would be overly reductive to criticize this book by today’s standards for its large age gap between the girl (a child of 12) and the soldier (a 22-year-old man) or for a message that may seem to imply at surface level that a girl needs a boy to come into her life and save her. I will admit, I found these things irksome while I read it last week, I’m certain that my 12-year-old self would probably have found this book super thrilling for those exact reasons.

What surprised me most about this book is the horrible home life that could be interpreted as to partially to blame for Patty’s treason in the book. It’s really heart-breaking. Her parents are not just neglectful but openly cruel to this poor little girl who keeps trying to win their love and admiration. Her father doesn’t even try to hide that he beats her, later in the book we discover town’s sheriff knows, and it’s a sad reminder of a time in history when the law did not interfere to protect children from abusive households.

Despite her horrible parents, Patty is a bright girl with a open heart. She’s not hardened to the world or people in general, despite the cruelty she has endured, which makes her all the more sympathetic. While I found it hard to connect with Patty on a super personal-level (she has a tendency to lie in order to get attention), I found a lot to admire in the girl and inspiration in her strength of patience and optimism.

I haven’t read much YA where the protagonists are the victims of parental abuse, and I end this review wondering how many girls throughout the decades have found hope or strength in Patty’s story in a time when it seemed like there was no one they could turn to for help. While I don’t think this book is especially insightful about WWII or American Jews (honestly it’s horrible in that regard), I can see it being of some value to young readers who feel under-appreciated by their family.

CompleMentary Books 

The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood To Kill a Mockingbird The Book Thief
Also features young southern girls with dysfunctional families in the early 20th century. Also features a girl in the American south learning about social prejudice. Also features a young girl who hides a person her country considers “the enemy.”

 ❧ ☙ END NOTE ☙ ❧

I’d be really interested to hear from anyone who has read Summer of My German Soldier, especially if it was in school, and what your biggest takeaways from the book were. I don’t know if I think it would still be a good book to teach nowadays. I also wonder about real-life German POWs who were sent to the U.S. during the war and how they were treated / how they found life in the states.

With this book, I completed my Goodreads Reading Challenge of 30 books! I set only 30 at the beginning of the year as my goal, because I wasn’t sure how this year would shape up.

I won’t set a new goal, but I imagine that my reading will continue at a pace of at least one book per week. I still would like to read some more of the books I’ve had on my TBR for a long-time and re-read some more of my favorites that I’ve not yet reviewed on this blog.

Have you read Summer of My German Soldier? If so, what’d you think?!

Thank you for reading!
Follow my blog via Bloglovin’. Also find me on GoodreadsTwitter, and Instagram.

Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko | ★★★★

In Spring 2014, I took English 346: American Indian Literature at Iowa State University to satisfy my English B.A. degree’s U.S. Diversity requirement. My other options were women’s literature, U.S. Latino/a literature, African American literature, and more broad survey of ALLLLL the multicultural literature. I chose American Indian literature because I wanted to take something in which I had the least background knowledge.

Unfortunately for me now (but fortunately for me then), the class was almost entirely a lecture-class with a super chill professor who did not care if we had our computers out. So I was almost always working on homework for other classes. He didn’t even test us to make sure we were reading. All we had to do was show up. He was completely comfortable talking the whole time. I feel like the professor laid out the class’s major themes in the first week of class and there wasn’t much I actually missed, beyond the class discussion on the books . . .

Anyway, I always told myself I would read these books one day. I wasn’t sure if it would be worth dedicating a lot of time to writing this review, especially considering how unpopular book reviews are anyway. But I loved reading and thinking about this book and my good pal Ely said she wanted to see a full-length review, so even if she’s the only person who reads this, it’ll be worth it. I’m sure I’ll enjoy looking back on it too.

• • • Ceremony • • •

Screen Shot 2018-07-02 at 9.43.30 AMReleased: 1977
Pages: 262 pages (paperback)
Theme(s): Alienation, colonialism, healing power of stories, guilt, witchcraft, post-WWII trauma, alcoholism, dealing with grief
Genre(s): New Adult / Native American / Literary Fiction
Age Group: 16+

★★★★

Tayo, a young Native American, has been a prisoner of the Japanese during World War II, and the horrors of captivity have almost eroded his will to survive. His return to the Laguna Pueblo reservation only increases his feeling of estrangement and alienation. While other returning soldiers find easy refuge in alcohol and senseless violence, Tayo searches for another kind of comfort and resolution. Tayo’s quest leads him back to the Indian past and its traditions, to beliefs about witchcraft and evil, and to the ancient stories of his people. The search itself becomes a ritual, a curative ceremony that defeats the most virulent of afflictions—despair.

*  ⁎   My Thoughts   ⁎ * 

I really liked this book and how beautifully it fits within the western literature and U.S. history with which I’m already familiar while also providing a view into the Native American experience of life post-WWII in the 1950s. Tayo is a super empathetic young protagonist who returns from Japan after WWII traumatized by having lost his two most beloved people in his life, his cousin Rocky and uncle Josiah.

Tayo is facing alienation and dealing with a grief that no one seems capable of understanding or soothing. Part of the reason he is so helpless is that he was an outsider in his community even before the war. Tayo’s mere existence as a “half-breed” has been a stain on his family name since he was a child, something his aunt never let him forget. Being an outsider, he felt a unique grief not just of being other but from also seeming to be the only person see how deeply his people are hurting.

This book effectively captures the complexity and nuance of Native American guilt, shame, and misplaced blame for their misfortune. Their shame in having not been strong or smart enough their keep land, having the spoils of their land continually flaunted in front of them, and from wanting and being denied friendship with white people. (Honestly, it’s heart-breaking.)

Ultimately Tayo finds someone who understands his pain and is able to situate his struggle amongst a larger story in which Tayo is a crucial part. Betonie, a medicine man also of mixed heritage, has a more forgiving perspective of white people and sees beyond to common source behind the larger societal problems of both white and Indian people.

He tells Tayo how he can make things right by recovering his uncle’s missing stolen cattle. But his bigger mission is to complete the story (the ceremony) to combat the witchery Betonie claims is responsible for both his people’s plight and white people who have the power to destroy the world.

At one time, the ceremonies as they had been performed were enough for the way the world was then. But after the white people came, elements in this world began to shift; and it became necessary to create new ceremonies. I have made changes in the rituals. The people mistrust this greatly, but only this growth keeps the ceremonies strong . . . things which don’t shift and grow are dead things.❞

Ceremony is an ode to the power of storytelling and the need to adapt. Regardless of your culture, I think most people (especially us book bloggers) can appreciate the power of stories, how they seem to hold a certain kind of magic. Storytelling brings characters and worlds to life. It can keep people alive, as Tayo learns, even in memory. There are important lessons in this book from which I think anyone, regardless of culture or heritage, could benefit.

This feeling was their life, vitality locked deep in blood memory, and the people were strong, and the fifth world endured, and nothing was ever lost as long as the love remained.❞ (220)

 —✃ Craft  ✃—

Prose • The book is written in the third-person past-tense and primarily follows Tayo, but jumps in time through narration and dialogue. In addition to the main story of Tayo readjusting to his life back home amongst the Laguna Pueblo Indians after fighting in Japan in WWII, the novel’s story is enhanced by poems that relate old stories that explain Tayo’s world-view how to interpret his current struggles.

Not much attention is spared for clarity in terms of time or who is referenced with pronouns like he/she. The ambiguity helps keep the story dream-like, but also generalizable to others who may find themselves forced to follow in Tayo’s footsteps to heal.

It seems like I already heard these stories before . . . only thing is, the names sound different.❞

Digression: My professor used the terms “circular and accretive” to describe the way much Native American literature is written, which is derived from the oral tradition in which there is a lot of repetition in the spiraling narrative. Each time the narrative loops around, more meaning is built upon the story in the mind of the listener/reader. He talked about how this mimics how children can learn, by listening to stories over and over and one day the story may click in a certain way at the right time.

Structure • Chapters are not numbered but somewhat distinguished from mid-chapter breaks by extreme indentation. Throughout the book we also get short stories formed like poems interspersed with the main prose that represent ceremonial stories presumedly passed down to explain problems like drought and colonization.

Some of these poems are complete in themselves, like the explanation for how white people were created by witchery to destroy the world. (Honestly, the story behind the existence of white people is one of the main reasons worth reading this book. It’s obviously just a myth, but there’s something underlying the quirky horror story, yes, that’s worth considering there.)

CompleMentary Books 

The Things They Carried The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Slaughterhouse-Five
If you want to read about the American soldier’s experience in a rainy jungle climate (Vietnam) and post-war readjustment. If you want to learn more about Native Americans in a contemporary YA novel featuring a young boy torn between two worlds.  If you want to read a classic work of fiction that depicts the surreal effects of WWII on an individual’s psyche.

Amongst the books I recommend above, I’d also like to make note of the others I was asked to buy for my Native American literature survey (which I haven’t yet read but plan to do so in the near future):

 ❧ ☙ END NOTE ☙ ❧

Funny side note for anyone who actually reads my blog post end notes, I remembered that I had to do a presentation on one of the books I was supposed to have read for this American Indian literature class. I vaguely remembered making a Prezi for it and was able to access my old account there associated with my school email. And guess what! I did what was probably about a five-minute presentation on Ceremony (without having read it)!

I was cringing so hard as I looked through it! But somehow I was not off at all. It’s probably because the professor LITERALLY told us everything he wanted us to know from the book and I took notes in preparation for that presentation! Anyway, here’s a link to the Prezi. It’s nothing extraordinary and obviously doesn’t include my any of my discussion or transitions between ideas so it may not mean anything to you.

Have you read Ceremony? If so, what’d you think?!

Thank you for reading!
Follow my blog via Bloglovin’. Also find me on GoodreadsTwitter, and Instagram.

Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter | ★★★★½

I first read Vassa in the Night in August of 2017. It was recommended by Leigh Bardugo, one of my favorite authors, in library interview I watched on YouTube. I find it really fascinating to see what works inspire my favorite authors. It causes me to look into books that I otherwise might never give a chance. In investigating Bardugo’s recommendations, I was enchanted by the summary for Vassa in the Night.

I already knew I loved fairytale retellings set in the modern world. I was unfamiliar with Vasilisa the Beautiful, but eager to check out this book that sounded so different from anything I’ve read. From skimming the top reviews on Goodreads, I can tell this book is a little polarizing. After having read it a second time, I’ve compiled a list of notes you might like to know ahead of time if you want to enjoy it.

  1. You need to suspend your disbelief and not expect there to be explanations behind the magical stuff that happens. Rules and reasons for ambiguity will emerge gradually and you just have to take them as they are, as Vassa is forced to.
  2. Two, you need to know this book is really weird. So fantastically weird. I saw one review that compared it negatively to Alice in Wonderland, however, I do not agree that it matches that level of inexplicable absurdity. The absurdities in this book have interpretable meaning.
  3. Oh! and three, this book is not for the faint of heart. It’s downright terrifying at times. Sometimes I could visualize what I was reading as if I was actually watching a horror movie. Other parts were funny in that dead-pan kind of way. It’s a bit odd, which I think makes it more scary at times.

• • • Vassa in the Night • • •

Screen Shot 2018-07-02 at 9.42.27 AMReleased: September 20, 2016
Pages: 296 pages (hardcover)
Theme(s): Self-discovery, honoring obligations, the strength of kindness, what makes someone somebody, compartmentalizing, dealing with grief
Genre(s): Young Adult / Urban Folklore / Fiction
Age Group: 12+

★★★★½

In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now—but not Vassa’s working-class neighborhood.

In Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling away again could become an issue. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters—and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. So when Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs in the middle of night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission.

But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and a ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighborhood. But Babs won’t be playing fair…

*  ⁎   My Thoughts   ⁎ * 

I really love this book. It’s a lot of fun, very inventive in its world and plot, and provides a surprising lot to think about. Vassa in the Night is a journey of self-discovery masked as a survival story. I really like stories where characters learn more about themselves and where the magic fits neatly into the modern world.

While Vassa’s story seems to be incited by a random series of events that leads to her decision to go buy lightbulbs in the infamously dangerous convenience store, she (and readers tagging along for the ride) discover that her encounter with Babs was set in motion long before she ever needed lightbulbs. We all learn that about the people and actions that molded Vassa into the the person that she is and that she also needed help long before her life was in jeopardy.

At the beginning of the book, Babs tells Vassa that she owes her a debt that is “more than [she] owe[s] [her]self” (54). It comes off oddly at this point in the book, for it is a hint that Babs has some inexplicable knowledge about Vassa, despite that night being their first meeting. It also sticks out because it perplexes Vassa.

What did I borrow from myself and how on earth will I ever give it back?

At first, I thought that this moment was a hint at some larger universal lesson that may speak to readers. I was surprised to find it actually spoke more directly to an issue that Vassa has been avoiding and, in effect, has hides from us until the end of the novel. While Babs is the villain of this novel, but she’s also just a catalyst for a journey of self-discovery that Vassa doesn’t know she needs until she’s forced to face it.

There’s so much more I’d love to talk about in greater depth, but I don’t want to write a full-blown dissertation on this book! I will just say that there are so many more layers to this book that speak to what substance makes someone somebody, how satisfying dreams can be compared to reality, and the long-lasting effects of grief. And it’s beautifully written without trying too hard, ya know what I mean?

If this is really my last night and my last moments are jangling like coins in my pocket, then I might as well spend them on wishes.

 —✃ Craft  ✃—

Point of View • Vassa is the first-person narrator of the book, written primarily in present-tense. There are also short chapters interspersed throughout the book for the reader’s sake called interludes. They give some background information that Vassa wouldn’t have access to.

Setting The book almost entirely takes place in the dancing BY’s convenience store of Brooklyn in New York run by the witch Babs Yagg. While Vassa is trapped on the premises, she is able to escape only in her sleep on occasion shared with the motorcyclist who is also trapped and stuck circling the store perimeter during the long city nights. The store is held together with magic that makes it rotate in the sky and have a seemingly endless amount of space inside Bab’s private office, as Vassa discovers on a day-time quest to rescue her the motorcyclist and the two lawyers she sends in to surprise Babs.

Plot   After Vassa agrees to pay her “debt” to Babs with three nights of work in the store and demonstrate her character, she is given trials and tasks meant to spell her doom but which through seemingly complete chance end in her favor. But during these nights, she is also learning about the others who are drawn into BY’s orbit, including the henchmen, the unwilling “night guard”, and the bold, trouble-making teenagers.

Characterization  All the characters are written with clear and distinct voices that make them seem so real. Vassa who narrates the book has an easy-going sense of humor but also a detachment that makes her an interesting protagonist to follow. Erg, her doll, is wicked fun and very dramatic. In my head she had Kimmy Schmidt’s highly excited puppet voice. The lawyers (“attorneys at large”) were absurd and hilarious with their overly formal, professional speak.

Problems  Usually I find short chapters help to keep me turning the pages as I read, but for some reason after each one I felt like I should put the book down. That’s why it took me a little longer to finish this book than I thought I would. I also feel like the book suffers from not introducing Vassa’s mother issues earlier on. I think Vassa’s character development could have been more clearly delineated, but it got buried with the focus on the plights of other characters.

Similar Books 

Mr. Fox Shadow and Bone The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
If you like beautiful, perplexing adult fiction tinged with horror and diversity… If you want to start a YA fantasy series inspired by Russian folklore… If you want to read a beautiful YA novel that follows a matriarchal family history…

 ❧ ☙ END NOTE ☙ ❧

I’m sorry this review is coming late this week, but I hope it was worth it. I also hope you liked the changes to the format. I think it’s more fun, useful, and readable. One of the problems that I always grapple with is writing too much, which I knooowwww is for my own benefit more than others’. I think I was able I capture most of what I wanted to say about Vassa in the Night.

Tomorrow I am aiming to release two blog posts (one in the a.m. and the other in the p.m.) following up on my blog hopping journey last month! The first will likely be some lessons I hope to remember and the second my long-awaited list of favorite blogs I discovered.

Have you read Vassa in the Night? If so, what’d you think?!

Thank you for reading!
Follow my blog via Bloglovin’. Also find me on GoodreadsTwitter, and Instagram.

July Goals + TBR ➹

After a month like June, I kind of want to reset and take myself back to basics. I loved blog hopping, and I want that to be something I do a couple of times a week. But I also want to put less stress on myself and focus more on creating quality blog posts and developing my own unique blogging style. I don’t want to do just book reviews and the occasional tag, so I’ll also try to experiment with different posts this month.

All of my goals, which you can see below, are geared towards blog development. I’ve also got a lot of reading/reviewing plans that I can’t wait to start. For a preview of what you can expect on Betwined Reads this month, keep reading ^_^

Goals

1. Dedicate M/W/F to Writing Blog Posts

I feel like I work better under time constraints, and I also think having specific days set aside for blogging will help me not always feel guilty or residual stress about not finishing up posts. I think it’ll be easier to remember what I complete and also do other things offline that might otherwise compete for attention.

Note. While I may work on the blog on these days, that does not mean blog posts will always go up on these days. I do like to schedule posts in advance so I have a chance to polish them and catch mistakes I might miss at first glance.

2. Develop a Unique Blog Theme

I tend to make my featured images on book reviews from random searches for backgrounds that relate to the setting of my novels. I also use Unsplash a lot for base images of my featured images. I’ve noticed another blogger who uses a lot of photos I recognize from Unsplash (to awesome effect I might add), so I would like to move away from stock images (no matter how gorgeous) and take my own so that my blog has a personal touch all my own.

I’ve also really longed to use my drawing tablet, so the blog would give me a good excuse to break it out and have fun creating a graphics around a specific theme for the blog.

3. Condense my Book Reviews

I like the way I’ve written my book reviews, but I feel like I could do better to make the posts less intimidating reads by utilizing shorter sections, using more graphics that speak louder than words can, and highlighting the most important ideas I want to share. I’ve seen some awesome styles of review and I’d like to experiment by breaking away from the wordy format with which I’ve become too comfortable. It’s time to shake things up!

TBR

On July 1st I sat down with a little $1 brown calendar I bought at Target at the beginning of the year and looked at my shelves. While I am very much a mood reader, I feel like I can avoid reading slumps by keeping what I’m reading fresh and varied. So for the next three months on each Thursday I wrote down a book I’d like to see myself read and review for the blog.

In case anything changes, I don’t want to share all the books I plan to read or my anticipated blogging schedule. But I will continue to share the books I would like to read at minimum. Ideally I’ll start getting ahead on these reviews so there’s a buffer for the unexpected hiatus or vacations where it is hard to blog (I already have one trip scheduled for August)!

Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now—but not Vassa’s working-class neighborhood.In Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling away again could become an issue. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters—and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. So when Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs in the middle of night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission.

But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and a ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighborhood. But Babs won’t be playing fair…

I read this book last fall and really wanted to review it, but I was in a bit of a blogging rut last year. I don’t see this book around much online, so I’m hoping by sharing it on my blog it will find some new readers!


Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko

Tayo, a young Native American, has been a prisoner of the Japanese during World War II, and the horrors of captivity have almost eroded his will to survive. His return to the Laguna Pueblo reservation only increases his feeling of estrangement and alienation. While other returning soldiers find easy refuge in alcohol and senseless violence, Tayo searches for another kind of comfort and resolution. Tayo’s quest leads him back to the Indian past and its traditions, to beliefs about witchcraft and evil, and to the ancient stories of his people. The search itself becomes a ritual, a curative ceremony that defeats the most virulent of afflictions—despair.

This is one of the books I bought but never read for my Native American literature survey I took during my undergrad. I feel like it is a good time to start reading some of these works, and this one was really attractive to me because it’s on the shorter side. So hopefully I really connect with it. I’m in the mood to read about different cultures.


Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene

The summer that Patty Bergen turns twelve is a summer that will haunt her forever. When her small hometown in Arkansas becomes the site of a camp housing German prisoners during World War II, Patty learns what it means to open her heart. Even though she’s Jewish, she begins to see a prison escapee, Anton, not as a Nazi — but as a lonely, frightened young man with feelings not unlike her own, who understands and appreciates her in a way her parents never will. And Patty is willing to risk losing family, friends — even her freedom — for what has quickly become the most important part of her life.

This book was one of my random purchases at 2nd & Charles in May. I’m not really sure what to expect. It’s an oldie and a historical fiction, which is a genre I love to read. I also assume it’s a romance book, but since it is an award-winning book I feel like it might be really good. I’m hoping it give me all the feels.


Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

Welcome to Weep.

I bought this book on a whim last month. Maybe it’s because ARCs of its sequel are out, but I’ve been seeing so many people I follow read and gush about this book. Fortunately for me, I discovered it’s the group read of Of Wonderland‘s Book Club hosted on Goodreads, so I’ll have fun becoming involved on there this month!

✄ —– End Note ——–

You should be able to expect a book review for Vassa in the Night on Thursday and hopefully something fun and out of the ordinary this weekend. This weekend was a drag for me as I’ve had bad sinuses since Friday. I think it has something to do with the Saharan Dust that hit Texas this weekend. I’m already really susceptible to sinus problems, and now I think I have an sinus infection. I generally just wait them out with Benadryl, NyQuil, Afrin nasal spray, and loads of sleep.

But hopefully I’m not knocked down for much longer. I’ve got a lot I’m excited to do!

What do you plan to read this month?

Have you read any of the books I mentioned?

Thank you for reading!
Follow my blog via Bloglovin’. Also find me on GoodreadsTwitter, and Instagram.

City of the Beasts by Isabel Allende

Released: October 2002 (originally in Spanish)
Pages: 408 pages (paperback)
Theme(s): Culture clash, colonization, treatment of natives, cultural values, differing perspectives, environmental protection, spiritual awareness
Genre(s): YA / Contemporary / Fiction
Age Group: 10+

★★★★

Fifteen-year-old Alexander Cold is about to join his fearless grandmother on the trip of a lifetime. An International Geographic expedition is headed to the dangerous, remote wilds of South America, on a mission to document the legendary Yeti of the Amazon known as the Beast.

But there are many secrets hidden in the unexplored wilderness, as Alex and his new friend Nadia soon discover. Drawing on the strength of their spirit guides, both young people are led on a thrilling and unforgettable journey to the ultimate discovery. . .

Forward

I wanted to read City of the Beasts after Dragons in the Waters for a few reasons. For one, I’d wanted to spend this month reviewing some middle grade fiction reads that I loved as a kid because I’ve been feeling nostalgic and also a little worried about the state of middle grade fiction these days. I’ll admit, I’m not very familiar with what kids are reading these days as I’m more familiar with popular YA. I think that’s why I’m worried, by the logic of if I’m not aware of any great middle grade books right now then maybe there’s not a lot out there.

I feel like a lot of the books I read in middle school affected who I was in high school and what I hoped to do with my life at the time. I feel like kids could benefit from literature that was produced before social media was a big deal or cyberbullying was the worse thing one could imagine happening to them. Books where kids are more aware of the world outside their hometown experiences.

City of the Beasts (CotB) nicely compliments Dragons in the Waters as it features a young male protagonist (American) who visits South America and accidentally gets exposed to international crime. But CotB features much stronger pacing, world-building, and adventure that has the protagonist really learning about a culture, land, and customs so different from his own. Although, I found the book dragged on a little at parts, I rated the book 4 stars.

My Thoughts

The book opens with Alexander Cold at home. His mother has cancer and his home life has not been ideal. When his parents come to the conclusion it is time for them to take his mother out-of-state for better treatment, Alex is sent to his grandmother who lives in New York City and is about to embark on an Amazonian adventure for International Geographic, a magazine I envision is similar to National Geographic.

While traveling along the Amazon river to find this infamous Beast that has been mysterious killing people viciously, Alex and his grandmother’s expedition find themselves feeling like they are being watched and followed. Soldiers start to disappear before being found dead. And it is only once Alex and his new friend Nadia make contact with the People of the Mist that the adventure truly begins as they learn was is at stake in further conquest of the land.

This book is really a fantastic example of how a person can be transformed by immersion in another culture. Alex undergoes tremendous character development in this story as he goes from a typical, sheltered American youth to a boy who learns how to survive in wilderness and understands social customs. I love how “magic” is interpreted in this story, especially to the natives who do not understand the foreigners’ value or their concepts such as land ownership.

This book also does a great job showing the significance of the press to protect the world’s most vulnerable. We find that there was a reason Kate and International Geographic was invited to do an exposé on the Amazon, but also that their coverage can serve to protect the People of the Mist and their Eye of the World. In that way, press works a “magic” that brings about positive change.

The main thing that surprised me in reading this book as an adult is I found the long descriptive parts meant to draw readers into the world extremely dull to read. I wasn’t here for immersive reading. I wanted to know what the heck was happening! So, obviously, that was my own hang up with the book. I don’t think it bothered me much when I was younger, although I might’ve struggle then too. I can’t remember.

I think this is an important book that kids today should read because I think even if you are not a directly descendant of Native Americans, I think that all of humanity is related in the grand scheme of life on earth and we should feel protect the innocent people who are still more primitively off the land and doing no harm to the planet. I think this book is also significant in that it could appeal to boys as much as girls.

I remember learning in my Teaching YA Literature class at ISU that boys are a demographic these days, at least in the U.S., that struggle to become passionate readers. I think this is a major problem because I strongly believe reading makes people more empathetic, compassionate, and kind, qualities we need in people for the social battles that lay ahead.

Craft

I found myself paying a lot of attention to how this book was written as I was constantly questioning why I didn’t feel as entranced by this book as I did when I was younger. In today’s review, here’s what I thought was done well and bad in City of the Beasts in list format.

The Good

  • Alex/Jaguar’s character development. I think this story was so effective because as Alex was drawn deeper into the uncharted lands of the Amazon, his perspective of the People of the Mist and their ways was increasingly accepting, even while remaining aware the exact logistics behind what the native considered divine intervention. He didn’t challenge their ways, he integrated their customs into his life with measured reason.
  • Painting People of the Mist so vividly and with dignity. When Allende was describing the Eye of the World, there were a lot of details I found really shocking to my western sensibilities (e.g. naked people, breast feeding animals). She was very plain and clear in her descriptions without making any value comparisons, which helped me as a reader become better comfortable with it in my own time.
  • Disrupting language barrier with telling through narration instead of dialogue. Over the book Alex learns that he has come to understand the language. But without needing to make up a native language or continually address the language barriers in the book between natives and the rest of the expedition, Allende reveals what is spoken not through dialogue but through narration. It becomes a fluid and and natural.
  • Humor! There’s a lot of funny scenes in this book. There’s situational humor in the anthropologist Professor Leblanc who is so ignorant and limited in survival skills despite his world-wide fame for study of different cultures. I also found Kate and Alex’s relationship hysterical because of how Kate has difficulty showing her soft and caring side to her grandson who she wants to be strong and self-sufficient. There’s also some scenes that seem like something out of Gulliver’s Travels after the People of the Mist lose their leader and are trying to figure out who will be their next one.

The Bad

  • Overly descriptive in details of environment. I generally have learned as a reader, and writer, that too much description doesn’t always have the effect of helping readers envision the world. At a certain point, the writer needs to allow the readers to fill in some of the blanks for themselves. But this is an incredibly subjective an opinion, as I realize some people might really need/appreciate more explicit detail to become emerged in a story.
  • Occasional repetition of past from others’ perspectives jarring. There were a few instances in this book where events were repeated in summary form from another group’s perspective for dramatic effect. Again, this is subjective, but I’d rather have had this redone without the repetition that removed me from the current events and action of the story, because it did happen at times that left the current timeline at a cliff-hanger!

Outgoing Message

I hoped you enjoyed this review, regardless of whether you plan to read the book or not. If I’ve helped one person become aware, or remember this book from their own childhood, I’ll be happy. I think it’d be a great gift for both young boys and girls who might be struggling readers. While I often struggle with adventure-based books, I know these kinds of books are what can bring stories and worlds alive in less avid readers.

Have you read City of the Beasts? If so, what’d you think?!

Thank you for reading!
Follow my blog via Bloglovin’. Also find me on GoodreadsTwitter, and Instagram.

Dragons in the Waters by Madeleine L’Engle

dragonsReleased: April 1, 1976
Pages: 326 pages (paperback)
Theme(s): Fate and destiny, family history, shared human consciousness, value of ancestors, overcoming one’s past, finding one’s place
Genre(s): YA / Contemporary / Fiction
Age Group: 12+

★★1/2

A stolen heirloom painting…a shipboard murder…Can Simon and the O’Keefe clan unravel the mystery?

Thirteen-year-old Simon Renier has no idea when he boards the M.S. Orion with his cousin Forsyth Phair that the journey will take him not only to Venezuela, but into his past as well. His original plan to return a family heirloom, portrait of Simon Bolivar, to its rightful place is sidetracked when cousin Forsyth is found murdered. Then, when the portrait is stolen, all passengers and crew become suspect.

Simon’s newfound friends, Poly and Charles O’Keefe, and their scientist father help Simon to confront the danger that threaten him. But Simon alone must face up to his fears. What has happened to the treasured portrait? And who among them is responsible for the theft and the murder?

Forward

I decided to read Dragons in the Waters after Troubling a Star this month 1) because I had already owned it, 2) because it was another novel set at sea, and 3) I wondered if I’d get The Arm of the Starfish vibes, considering it’s another book that features another male protagonist who comes into contact with the young and precocious Poly O’Keefe (Meg Murray’s daughter).

I feel I remember starting this book, but I don’t remember if I ever finished it. I own it in a fairly nice condition in an older cover print. I just don’t remember when I bought it. There are a few other Madeleine L’Engle books I own but haven’t read and have since decided to keep despite the fact I’d never read them. These include the books from the Time Quartet, Many Waters and A Swiftly Tilting Planet. I’ve given them both a shot in the past, but they’re much heavier science fiction and trippy in a way I don’t like.

Not knowing why I had yet to read (or didn’t remember) Dragons in the Waters, I hoped it would nicely compliment the other L’Engle works I knew I wanted to read and showcase this month on Betwined Reads. Unfortunately, I did not really enjoy this book and actually thought about not reviewing it. But I didn’t my time spent trudging through the book to go to waste, and turned my experience into a teachable by attempting to explain what went wrong for me. So here is the review for the book I rated 2.5 stars.

My Thoughts

That’s right; this is Madeleine L’Engle novel that I did not really like or enjoy very much. I found the plot overcomplicated and the novel cluttered with useless characters that seemed were only present to serve as red herrings to the murder mystery. It’s also a novel that I don’t think would really appeal to children, despite the young characters in the novel. They’re all so unusually bright, intuitive, and precocious.

The novel opens with 13-year-old Simon Renier who is boarding a ship for a trip to Venezuela accompanied by a long-lost relative who just bought a family heirloom from his legal guardian and great aunt Leonis. He has been raised by this elderly but wise woman since he lost his parents. Poly and Charles O’Keefe comment that Simon seems like he’s from another era because of his isolation from other children. He’s a kind, intelligent, and polite boy that was raised in near poverty but with a woman who is a relic of Southern aristocracy.

…Neither Mr. Theo nor Aunt Leonis would want him to moan and groan, and he didn’t intend to. But when a memory flickered at the corners of his mind he had learned that it was best to bring it out into the open; and rather than making him sorry for himself, it helped him get rid of self-pity…

This book explores many different character points-of-view, not just staying over Simon’s shoulder. We see what his Aunt Leonis gets up to while he’s away and also get to know the intimate side of other characters on the ships that their fellow passengers don’t get to see. At first, I thought all these older side characters were just there as red herrings, but upon further reflection I realize that each of them come to terms with something in their past that was haunting them while aboard the ship.

Many of the scenes with characters I was excited to see show up in this novel felt more like they were mere cameos. I loved Mr. Theo in The Young Unicorns (a review for which is now coming later this year!) and I love “Uncle Father”, a.k.a. Canon Tallis, but their parts were so minuscule in this book. Canon Tallis in particular swooped in like Hercule Poirot, seemingly just to tell everyone what he has deduced based on his interviews with a few central characters.

This book, like Troubling a Star, has some political, social, and environmental commentary, which I have since learned is typical of a L’Engle novel, but it’s done a lot better in other of her works. If I had to decide on what is the big take away from this novel, I couldn’t tell you. That’s just how jumbled everything was in my opinion. I just found this book over-long and lacking in a unified message. There’s still a lot of heart in this book, though, and if you have patience you might be able to see this one through.

Craft

I do not know anything about Madeleine L’Engle’s writing life or insight on the work that goes into creating her books, so much of what I will say here (about Dragons in the Waters specifically, not her others works) is speculation. Something about this book feels like it was a written with less regard for plot and more reliance upon formula of elements that make a murder mystery.

If I had more time or the inclination, I think it would be a fun experiment to try and rewrite this novel with a stronger plot outline. The heart of the story is about Simon discovering who his ancestor was and how past injustices have drawn Simon to Venezuela. I think that’s a strong hook for an intriguing story. I’m all for stories where ancestors’s past actions influence the destinies of current day characters (see L’Engle do it better in Troubling a Star!)

Unfortunately L’Engle complicates this story by having a lot of side characters with unique histories that help advance Simon’s destiny and provide red herrings to the murder mystery. These side characters take up a lot of page time, without interesting me much in the slightest.

One thing I really didn’t like is how L’Engle called hispanic people Latins. I’ve never heard that before, but it read to me similarly to the way it sounds when old white people call black people negroes. I don’t at all think it was intentional racism, and I’m aware that it was a different time, but this word gnawed at me in a peculiar way. Grouping people colloquially by a name that specifies race or color so explicitly is not really something we do anymore.

Also, there were subtle implications that race was related to temperament. Many of the characters in this book were of mixed heritage, but there were specific aspects of their character/personality that L’Engle explicitly links to their hispanic roots. None of these instances were derogatory in any way, but I don’t think anyone would appreciate someone placing so much emphasis on a racial or ethnic background to explain who a person is or how they act. Even if it’s meant as a compliment.

I appreciate that L’Engle loved writing novels were American came into contact with other parts of the world and people of different nationalities. Her books always praise people based on their goodness and not their education, race, or economics. Nevertheless, this book serves as a reminder that even the most well-meaning of writers need to be careful in writing people who are of different identities.

Outgoing Message

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little series if you’ve been keeping up with each review thus far. This marks the final review I’ll be doing of Madeleine L’Engle’s works until later this year when I get to The Young Unicorns (a cosy autumnal read).

I didn’t imagine that these posts would bring in much traffic, as Madeleine L’Engle’s been gone for a while now and YA has changed so much. I used to idealize YA written in the past. I loved reading how teenagers lived before the technology and social media that emerging when I was still in middle school. I’ve realized I’m searching for something whenever I reach for a L’Engle book, although don’t ask me what that is. I’m still trying to figure that out.

Next up is my review of The City of Beasts by Isabel Allende, a fantastic hispanic author! If you want to catch up on the reviews that came before this one, here they are linked below:

A Ring of Endless Light

The Arm of the Starfish

Troubling a Star

Have you read Dragons in the Waters? If so, what’d you think?!

Thank you for reading!
Follow my blog via Bloglovin’. Also find me on GoodreadsTwitter, and Instagram.