Bookclub Review: “The Joy Luck Club”

7763._sy475_We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is ‘Books On Our To Read Shelf’, where we pick books that we’ve been meaning to read but haven’t gotten to.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan

Publishing Info: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1989

Where Did We Get This Book: Borrowed it from family; the library!

Book Description: Four mothers, four daughters, four families, whose histories shift with the four winds depending on who’s telling the stories. In 1949, four Chinese women, recent immigrants to San Francisco, meet weekly to play mahjong and tell stories of what they left behind in China. United in loss and new hope for their daughters’ futures, they call themselves the Joy Luck Club. Their daughters, who have never heard these stories, think their mothers’ advice is irrelevant to their modern American lives – until their own inner crises reveal how much they’ve unknowingly inherited of their mothers’ pasts. 

With wit and sensitivity, Amy Tan examines the sometimes painful, often tender, and always deep connection between mothers and daughters. As each woman reveals her secrets, trying to unravel the truth about her life, the strings become more tangled, more entwined. Mothers boast or despair over daughters, and daughters roll their eyes even as they feel the inextricable tightening of their matriarchal ties. Tan is an astute storyteller, enticing readers to immerse themselves into these lives of complexity and mystery.

Kate’s Thoughts

I first read “The Joy Luck Club” right after college, when I found it on my sister’s book shelf and decided to give it a go. It was around this time that I really started to devote my life to reading again, and I remember really enjoying the book in my early twenties. So when it was chosen for book club, I was interested to see if my thoughts and feelings would have changed as time passed. I found my Mom’s old school copy in their basement, and dove right back in.

Time and reading experience has definitely changed my perceptions, but not in a bad way, necessarily. I still liked how Tan portrayed the complicated relationships between mothers and daughters, sometimes because of the complex relationship between parents and children, and other times because of a culture clash between immigrants who grew up in one place and culture, and their children who grew up in a different place and different culture. We see their lives and personalities through various vignettes and experiences, and see how the hardships that the mothers had made them approach how they raised their daughters, and in turn how the daughters may or may not understand those approaches. Sometimes the relationships were touching and loving, and other times there would be conflicts that were hard to read. For me, the most effective vignettes mostly involved Suyuan Woo (the founder of the Joy Luck Club) and her daughter Jing Mei. Suyuan was living in China during the Japanese Invasion and the lead up to World War Two, and endured the tragedy of not only losing her husband, but having to abandon her twin daughters on the side of the road because she was too sick to carry them. Jing Mei always felt like she wasn’t good enough in her mother’s eyes, and when she finds out that the rest of the Joy Luck Club found out that her half sisters are alive, she has to decide if she’s going to pursue them. Her complicated relationship with her mother is filled with a lot of painful subtext and context, and while through my Western experience I had a hard time wrapping my mind around how Suyuan (and many of the other mothers) treated their daughters I did think that the stories of Suyuan and Jing-Mei had the most emotional oomph, and definitely made me tear up multiple times. Tan does a good job of not necessarily excusing some of the manipulative or cruel behaviors of her characters, but showing why they may be acting that way. Her writing is also gorgeous, as it flows well and brings out a lot of imagery in vibrant ways.

I can see how there are criticisms from some Chinese American authors and scholars when it comes to “The Joy Luck Club”, as for so long this seemed like the go-to book for Westerners when it comes to what Asian American stories are consumed. Hell, I am pretty sure that when I picked it up a decade or so ago it was one of the first books I’d read written by an Asian-American author about Asian and Asian-American characters. As time has gone on it’s important that more Asian and Asian-American authors have been able to tell stories of all kinds, and to show all kinds of experiences that don’t necessary reflect stereotypes that “The Joy Luck Club” may have contributed to, inadvertently or otherwise. But on the other side, this story definitely seems to be a very personal one for Tan, and therefore it’s hard to completely write it off or to say that it should be left behind completely. It’s a complex issue, and I don’t know what the right answer is when it comes to where “The Joy Luck Club” should be in the literary canon.

Reading “The Joy Luck Club” a second time was an interesting experience, and with older and wiser eyes I think that I got more from it. I’m glad that book club gave me the chance to read it again.

Serena’s Thoughts

This was a book that I only knew through vague familiarity with the title and the fact that it had been made into a movie in the early 90s that I may have caught bits and pieces of, here and there. So other than knowing that this type of literary fiction is typically my jam, I didn’t have many preconceived notions of the book going in.

Overall, I was right in my initial assessment that this wouldn’t be my type of book, but there were things that I did appreciate about it. I don’t know a lot of about China during the Japanese invasion and many of mother’s tales were an interesting (if tragic!) look into that time period and how these women came emigrate to America. I do wish there had been a bit more variation between the tales. While they were each distinctive enough, towards the end of the book, I kept waiting for the next mother’s tale to be the starkly contrasting tale to balance out the others. Instead, most of them were fairly similar at their heart, which leads to one of my main criticism.

I had a hard time keeping track of who was who and how each was related to the one who did what. Part of this comes down to the similarity between some of the stories. But there was also similarity between characters. Many of the daughters ended up married to varying levels of scumbag husbands who all also tended to blend together in my mind. The story was also broken up into chapters for the mothers and chapters for the daughters, but they are all scattered throughout the book in a way that forced me to always flip back to the chart in the front of the book and to previous chapters to try to figure out just who we were talking about how and how their story related to others’.

I think the way the book was laid out in this way had a detrimental effect even on one of the main messages the author was trying to get across, about how the mother’s lives effected how they interacted and raised their daughters, and vice versa. Every once in a while I’d be able to form a clear connection from one of the mother’s stories to how she interacted with her daughter. But I think there was also a lot I missed simply because I couldn’t keep track of who’s story was who’s. The book was originally written as a collection of short stories, and I almost think it would have been more successful had it been left as that. The attempt to draw it together as a novel is just enough to technically earn that description, but left me, the reader, more confused than I would have been had I just read the short stories seperately.

We had a really good book club discussion about identity, mother/daughter relationships, and whether or not immigration and 1st, 2nd, generation immigrants may have different experiences now, coming out of differing political climates in their home countries and into a different USA, too. So there’s still clearly a lot of good stuff to be found in this book. As a point of discussion, I really liked it. But as a read, it wasn’t really my thing.

Kate’s Rating 7: An emotional book with complex themes and issues, “The Joy Luck Club” was interesting to revisit, and for the most part still held up for me.

Serena’s Rating 7: An interesting point of entrance into a larger discussion about immigration, family, and culture, but still a bit hard to read for me.

Book Club Questions

  1. The story is broken into several different stories about the mothers and the daughters. Is there one that stands out to you and why?
  2. The story is focused largely on the challenging relationship between the mothers and daughters. What makes this relationship so challenging but also fulfilling? What about these depictions strikes you?
  3. Immigration is challenging issue right now. How does this book fit into the current narrative about immigrants and their experiences leaving their homes and coming to live in a new country?
  4. When Jing-Mei is talking with the other women of the Joy Luck Club about her mother, she says that she doesn’t feel like she knew who her mother was or anything about her. How much do you think we know about our own mothers? Do you think that Jing-Mei’s perceived lack of knowledge (And Suyuan’s privacy) could be generational? Cultural?
  5. The book is broken into several stories and jumps around from one to another. How did this structure affect your read?
  6. There are rumors of a sequel to this book (in film form). If there was to be a sequel to this story set in the modern day, what do you think it would cover? What relationships, what countries, what cultures?

Reader’s Advisory

“The Joy Luck Club” is included on the Goodreads lists “Immigrant Experience Literature”, and “Jezebel’s Books All Women Should Read”.

Find “The Joy Luck Club” at your library using WorldCat!

Next Book Club Book: “Gone” by Michael Grant.

 

Serena’s Review: “Turning Darkness Into Light”


41555968Book: “Turning Darkness Into Light” by Marie Brennan

Publishing Info: Tor Books, August 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: As the renowned granddaughter of Isabella Camherst (Lady Trent, of the riveting and daring Draconic adventure memoirs) Audrey Camherst has always known she, too, would want to make her scholarly mark upon a chosen field of study.

When Lord Gleinheigh recruits Audrey to decipher a series of ancient tablets holding the secrets of the ancient Draconean civilization, she has no idea that her research will plunge her into an intricate conspiracy, one meant to incite rebellion and invoke war. Alongside dearest childhood friend and fellow archeologist Kudshayn, must find proof of the conspiracy before it’s too late.

Review: The “Lady Trent” series has been on my TBR pile for quite a while. But as I’ve heard good things about the audiobook, I’ve been stubbornly waiting to catch it when its available at the library in this format. So far, no success. But not to be put off by little things like reading the first series first, I still decided to go ahead and request an early copy of the new standalone novel set a generation after the first series. And, while there were probably a lot of references and aspects to the story that would have meant more had I read things in order, I still ended up loving this book!

Audrey has quite a distinguished family name to uphold. And she believes that she may finally found her opportunity to stake her own place in history when a collector comes across a rare set of tablets that could possess the secret history and great fabled story of the Draconian people. Translating a tale like this would not only put quite the feather in the cap of the historian who completed it, but the story itself could have greater ramifications on the future of the Draconian people. What this future may be is of great interest to several parties, all who have their own designs on the tablets and what they may say. Soon enough, Audrey finds herself at the heart of several conspiracies and must work to find the way out of this maze of history, language, and story.

Like I said, I really enjoyed this story. Obviously, I feel like I probably missed a lot of the backstory and world building that preceded this standalone in the main series, but even without that prior knowledge, I felt like the world and history were approachable. And what a clever, unique world it is! The Draconian people were incredibly intriguing and I’m sure what I got here was only a small taste of what you see of them in the first book. It’s not often that you come across what feels like an entirely new fantasy being, and the Draconians definitely are that, being a strange mixture of humanoid and dragon.

I really liked the exploration of the concept of history and story that is at the heart of this book. They are both one and the same and very different, each only partially understandable by a “modern” reader or historian approaching something that is thousands of years old. But not only do we the challenges of understanding histories and stories that are far removed from the times and people they describe, but we see how powerful they can still be to a modern people The Draconians are still looking for a place in this world, having just come out of hiding after being away undiscovered for centuries. There is a lot of discussion over how having a defining story is at the heart of being recognized as an individual and respected people. And what values are shown at the heart of that story are paramount for a how a people define themselves and how others regard them as well. It can aid or hurt, depending on interpretation and how it connects with established (or only theorized) history.

I also really liked Audrey as a character. You can see her struggling under the weight of expectation, coming from such a famous family. But she’s brave, independent, and willing to take on the challenges before her to make her own way. She’s also young, impulsive, and sometimes lets her bravery carry her into situations she had better have avoided. I also really enjoyed how the traces of a romance are weaved into this. It’s not at all what I’m used to finding, and, technically, it’s probably better to approach this story with no expectation of romance, given what it is, in the end.

The story is also presented in a unique, multi-media fashion. It plays out through a series of diary entries, letters, and news reports. It’s a tough medium to work with in the most ordinary of stories, but it’s even more impressive in a fantasy world where there is a lot of world building that would be common to the writers of these letters and thus would read as strange for them to be spelling out in these types of media formats. But while there are one or two weird, info-dumpy passages, for the most part, I think it was really successful.

I really have very few complaints about this book. Any confusion of world building is probably on me for reading it in the wrong order. And while the multi-media format had a few sticky bits, overall I think it worked really well. I was definitely left wishing there were more books telling Audrey’s story going for. But at the very least, I now know that I should get a move on with reading the original series! Fans of that original are sure to like this. And for the brave (or those who are lazy with their TBR pile like me), this is still a fun read, even with out that background knowledge.

Rating 9: A creative, new book that highlights just how intertwined and important history and storytelling are.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Turning Darkness Into Light” is a new title so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it should be “Stand Alone Dragon Books.”

Find “Turning Darkness Into Light” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Kiss Number 8”

22612920Book: “Kiss Number 8” by Colleen A.F. Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw (Ill.)

Publishing Info: First Second Books, March 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Amanda can’t figure out what’s so exciting about kissing. It’s just a lot of teeth clanking, germ swapping, closing of eyes so you can’t see that godzilla-sized zit just inches from your own hormonal monstrosity. All of her seven kisses had been horrible in different ways, but nothing compared to the awfulness that followed Kiss Number Eight. An exploration of sexuality, family, and faith, Kiss Number Eight is a coming-of-age tale filled with humor and hope.

Review: It may seem like I’m doing a LOT of graphic novels lately, but in my defense I neglected this format a lot this summer. This occurred to me when I was requesting books for a teen graphic novel display, and one of the books I stumbled upon was “Kiss Number 8” by Colleen A.F. Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw. After requesting it for work, I requested it for myself. I hadn’t looked too much into it when I requested it; I knew that it had LGBTQIA+ themes, and I knew that it was about a teen girl figuring out her sexuality. But what I didn’t expect was how emotional “Kiss Number 8” was going to be, and how hard it would be to read at times because of the themes.

And to note, I will have to address some vague spoilers in this review to fully discuss my opinions. I’ll do my best to keep it general.

“Kiss Number 8” takes place in 2004, a time that doesn’t seem to distant to me but is actually fifteen years ago. As I was reading this book, it served as a reminder of how many things have changed in terms of societies views on sexuality, and yet how far we still have to go. Amanda is written as a pretty typical teenage girl of this time and place, and up until this point she can count on a number of things: she has a fantastic relationship with her father, she has a tempestuous relationship with her mother, and her best friends Cat and Laura are always going to be there for her, even if they don’t particularly like each other. You get a great glimpse into Amanda’s life through snippets of scenes, and by the time the main plots start to kick in you already know who she is and what her reality is. Venable does a good job of showing rather than telling when it comes to how Amanda feels about those in her life, especially her growing infatuation with Cat, whose care free and somewhat selfish personality is apparent to everyone BUT Amanda. I also liked the slow unraveling and reveal of the other main plot line: a mysterious phone call to her father, and a mysterious letter that he tries to hide from her. Venable does a really good job of making the reader think it’s going to be one thing, but then piece by piece shows that it’s something completely different, something that connects to Amanda’s present emotional situation with Cat and goes even further back into how people have to hide their identities from others.

I also thought that Venable did a good job of portraying realistic, and at times very flawed, characters. As I mentioned earlier, Amanda is a pretty normal teenage girl, but along with that comes a cruel streak towards those who care about her, especially her mother and Laura. She makes bad decisions in moments of great emotion, and it ends up hurting people, who in turn react poorly and hurt her back. But you never get the sense that she is a bad person when she does these things, rather that she is in a great deal of pain and dealing with confusion about herself and a life she thought she had all sorted out. The fallout from these choices always felt real, and sometimes that meant that it was painful to read. But again, Amanda doesn’t ever come off as a bad person, just a person who is still learning. In fact, most of the characters are given a certain amount of grace when they screw up, and aren’t painted as being one dimensional or cardboard cut outs of tropes…. Even when they don’t necessarily deserve it. Because to me, with how some of the characters did end up reacting to Amanda’s identity, and the identities of others within the story, I didn’t want them to be given a pass, realistic or not. Not when they caused to much pain.

And that is a good segue into difficult moments that I had with “Kiss Number 8”, specifically with how a number of the characters were when it comes to LGBT issues. There is a LOT of homophobia and transphobia in this book, and while it’s all written within the context of the story, and doesn’t feel like it’s excused or glossed over, it could still be triggering for readers who are in those communities. While Amanda was a lived experience of learning about herself and her sexuality, I feel like the ball was dropped a bit more with the trans characters in the narrative. They were more used as lessons for Amanda to learn, and their voices and experiences were put in the context of a cis girl realizing that they too are human beings who deserve respect and dignity. That isn’t to say that I thought Venable was malicious in her portrayal, but it does show that we still have a ways to go when it comes to how trans characters are portrayed within the stories we read. That said, I am a cis straight woman, so if my assessment is off kilter to anyone please do let me know. I, too, am still learning.

I have nothing but good things to say about Crenshaw’s artwork. The characters are cartoony and fun, and their designs remind me of other popular teen graphic works like “Drama” and “This One Summer”, but the style is still unique and feels new and fresh. And even with the more ‘cartoony’ drawings, the emotional weight of the various situations still came through loud and clear.

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(source)

Uncomfortable and clunky aspects aside, I enjoyed “Kiss Number 8”. It’s an honest and emotional book that kept me reading, and reminded me that there is still so much progress to be made, even if we’ve come so far.

Rating 8: A bittersweet and emotional story about finding one’s identity, “Kiss Number 8” has complex characters and relevant themes. We’ve come so far with stories like this, but we still have a ways to go.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Kiss Number 8” is included on the Goodreads lists “Lesbian Teen Fiction”, and “Sapphic Graphic”.

Find “Kiss Number 8” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Tidelands”

43260625Book: “Tidelands” by Philippa Gregory

Publication Info: Simon & Schuster, August 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: e-ARC from the publisher

Book Description: England 1648. A dangerous time for a woman to be different . . .

Midsummer’s Eve, 1648, and England is in the grip of civil war between renegade King and rebellious Parliament. The struggle reaches every corner of the kingdom, even to the remote Tidelands – the marshy landscape of the south coast. 

Alinor, a descendant of wise women, crushed by poverty and superstition, waits in the graveyard under the full moon for a ghost who will declare her free from her abusive husband. Instead she meets James, a young man on the run, and shows him the secret ways across the treacherous marsh, not knowing that she is leading disaster into the heart of her life.

Suspected of possessing dark secrets in superstitious times, Alinor’s ambition and determination mark her out from her neighbours. This is the time of witch-mania, and Alinor, a woman without a husband, skilled with herbs, suddenly enriched, arouses envy in her rivals and fear among the villagers, who are ready to take lethal action into their own hands.

Review: Philippa Gregory was probably one of the authors I associate most strongly with my first experiences reading historical fiction as a teenager. With a few exceptions, up to that point I read fantasy/sci-fi and really that was it. But I whizzed through “The Other Boleyn Girl” and was hooked on a new genre from there on out. I read a good number of Gregory’s works over the years, and enjoyed many them. However, after a bit, I was ready to move on from her tried and true political, royal scheming stories that were starting to feel a bit stale to me. So I was excited when I heard about “Tidelands” and saw that we would be getting something outside of that wheelhouse with a story about a poor widow who comes under suspicion as a witch.

Alinor is a woman between worlds. Her husband is missing, so she is not a widow. So she’s still a wife but one without a provider, left to live independently with all of the challenges that come with it, but none of the securities that come with being a widow (mostly having to do with a woman’s honor and all of that fun stuff). But her and her children’s lives change when she runs across a priest attempting to find safety out on the ever-changing and dangerous tidelands. New opportunities are now opening before her, but with these changes come new dangers, and the watchful and suspicious eyes of neighbors are always watching.

It was nice to return to a historical fiction novel that wasn’t also a mystery. Looking back over what I’ve read the last year or so, almost all of my historical reading has been a combination of the two genres. Gregory has always impressed with her detailed descriptions of life in the time period in which her stories take place and the historical accuracy of the political and cultural experiences of those living then. This book in particular delved into the brewing tensions between the new church and the old, the new king and the old. I didn’t know a whole lot about the parties and beliefs at play here, but I enjoyed learning more about it throughout this novel. I especially enjoyed the way that Gregory approached it through Alinor’s eyes, as a common woman who has lived an isolated life away from much of the drama that is gripping the nation.

But with these details also comes a fairly slowly moving plot. The story takes a long time to get going and, thinking back on it, I’m not sure it ever even did, other than a very brief section near the end. Much of it revolves around Alinor’s romantic plot line, and even that moved at a fairly glacial speed. Once I accepted that that was what the story would be, I was better able to settle in, being now less focused on desperately trying to locate a plot. But even then, the story felt out of balance. It’s one thing to not have a strong plot in favor of focusing on characters and their relationships, but I was also never strongly attached to any of those either.

I also had hoped for a bit more from the fantastical elements teased in the description. I wasn’t expecting a fantasy, of course, but I had hoped for more on the witch front. Again, it took a long time to get there, and then it felt pretty rushed. The ending itself seemed to come out of nowhere and just kind of…end. It wrapped up in only a few pages, leaving several subplots unexplained and with an abrupt shift in characters’ lives, with little build up or exploration provided. This is the first in a series, so there’s room to expand on these things from here. But even with a series, each book should feel self-contained and have a natural beginning, middle, and end. Here, the end felt slapped on because the book needed to end, nothing more.

Overall, this was a bit of a lackluster read for me. While I liked many of Gregory’s early books, this one reminded me why I had stopped keeping up with her works. There is nothing technically wrong with it, but the story never grabbed me, the characters were not especially likable, and I felt like the historical details, while accurate and reflective of Gregory’s strong research, overwhelmed what little story there was left. Fans of her later work may very well enjoy this book, but it wasn’t really for me, sadly.

Rating 6: A bit too slow, a bit too detailed, and a bit off the mark at the end.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Tidelands” is a new book so it isn’t on any relevant Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Witch Hunts in Historical Fiction.”

Find “Tidelands” at your library using WorldCat!

Bookclub Review: “Kindred”

60931We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is ‘Books On Our To Read Shelf’, where we pick books that we’ve been meaning to read but haven’t gotten to.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “Kindred” by Octavia Butler

Publishing Info: Doubleday, June 1979

Where Did I Get This Book: I borrowed it from my Mom!

Book Description: The first science fiction written by a black woman, Kindred has become a cornerstone of black American literature. This combination of slave memoir, fantasy, and historical fiction is a novel of rich literary complexity. Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976 California, Dana, an African-American woman, is suddenly and inexplicably wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy there, she finds herself staring into the barrel of a shotgun and is transported back to the present just in time to save her life. During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given: to protect this young slaveholder until he can father her own great-grandmother.

Kate’s Thoughts

Usually when only one of us can read the book, we will forego our book club review. But even though Serena was otherwise indisposed for our book club meeting, I really, REALLY wanted to make a post about “Kindred” by Octavia Butler. One reason is that it has been on my personal reading list for awhile now, even though it was fellow book club member Alicia’s pick for this session. But the second, and more pressing, reason is that “Kindred” blew me away and I want to talk about it. Why did I wait so long to read this book? Why? It is still as powerful and relevant today as it was in the 1970s when it was first published.

While it may have similar conventions to what we’ve come to expect of time travel stories, “Kindred” pushes the bounds of what the reader thinks they are going to read. Our protagonist Dana is a 20th Century Black woman who keeps getting sent back to the Antebellum South to save her white ancestor, slave owner Rufus Weilan, from danger, as he needs to live to father her great great grandmother. Butler doesn’t explain why this is happening, nor does she go into the details of various time paradoxes, but honestly, that didn’t bother me at all when usually it really, really does. The more pressing and immediate danger for her, however, is not the existential crisis of her very existence, but whether or not her trips back will ultimately leave her broken, hurt, or killed because of the fact she’s a Black woman in a slave state, and a culture that treats her like chatel and property. She learns to care for Rufus, as her initial meetings with him are when he is a vulnerable child, but as he grows older and more entrenched in the violent white supremacy of his time period their friendship becomes more strained, toxic, and abusive. Dana has every reason to try and keep him alive, but doing so becomes more and more dangerous for her and for the slaves on his family plantation. Butler tackles this complexity with a lot of nuance, but doesn’t shy away from the horrors of chattel slavery in the American South, and the monstrous actions of many white people during this time period. From Rufus to his mother and father to patrollers, the psychological and physical abuse that many white people in this book throw towards the slaves is historically accurate, and therein very upsetting. She doesn’t hold back on the violence and cruelty, and there are many moments in this book that are hard to read, but also necessary to confront. “Kindred” has more gumption on tackling these issues than a number of stories about slavery that have been published after it, and it really says something to me that a book written forty years ago feels braver than more recently published books about slavery. 

On top of the compelling and powerful social commentary, the time travel story had a well developed and interesting system that I could fully buy into. When Dana goes back in time and lives out the timeline then, weeks for her could be minutes for the modern day. This is demonstrated by her relationship with her husband Kevin, who tells her that after her first encounter that she was gone for only a moment, while to her it felt like quite a bit longer. This plays out in more dire, and somewhat tragic, ways later, as a time separation extends for years for one of them, and days for the other. As mentioned earlier, we don’t know how this time travel happens, or what the origin of it is, but it’s well established and believable enough that you don’t find yourself questioning it. You know how she gets there, how she gets back, and that is all you really need to know. The rest doesn’t really matter. This is a significant piece of science fiction, and Butler completely owns and deserves the status of a Sci-Fi heavyweight.

I am so, so happy that I’ve finally read “Kindred”. I now absolutely have to take on other works by Butler, as while Sci-Fi isn’t really my jam, I have a feeling that anything she does in the genre is going to work for me. If you’re a science fiction fan and haven’t read this, you absolutely must do so. 

Rating 9: A stellar, gripping, complex, and compelling piece of speculative and historical fiction, “Kindred” remains one of the best science fiction books that seamlessly combines the all too real with the fantastical.

Book Club Questions

  1. “Kindred” was written in the late 1970s, but still has a lot of resonance today. If it was written today, what, if any, differences do you think there would be in the narrative? Do you think that the social commentary would be the same? Different?
  2. What did you think of the science fiction aspect of the story? Do you want more details? Did it hold up within the narrative?
  3. Dana’s husband Kevin is both a supportive, caring, and sensitive husband, but he also has moments of ignorance and naïveté when it comes to her experiences as Black woman. What did you think of him and Dana as a couple?
  4. Do you think that Dana ever had the ability to change Rufus? If you think she could, what do you think she’d need to have done?
  5. Slavery is a large theme within this novel. How does to content of “Kindred” compare to other slave narratives you’ve read?
  6. What did you think of the ending of the book?

Reader’s Advisory

“Kindred” is included on the Goodreads lists “Speculative Fiction by Authors of Color”, and “Best Time Travel Fiction”.

Find “Kindred” at your library using WorldCat!

Next Book Club Book: “The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan

Serena’s Review: “Empire of Ivory”

129510Book: “Empire of Ivory” by Naomi Novik

Publishing Info: Del Rey, September 2007

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: Tragedy has struck His Majesty’s Aerial Corps, whose magnificent fleet of fighting dragons and their human captains valiantly defend England’s shores against the encroaching armies of Napoleon Bonaparte. An epidemic of unknown origin and no known cure is decimating the noble dragons’ ranks–forcing the hopelessly stricken into quarantine. Now only Temeraire and a pack of newly recruited dragons remain uninfected–and stand as the only means of an airborne defense against France’s ever bolder sorties.

Bonaparte’s dragons are already harrowing Britain’s ships at sea. Only one recourse remains: Temeraire and his captain, Will Laurence, must take wing to Africa, whose shores may hold the cure to the mysterious and deadly contagion. On this mission there is no time to waste, and no telling what lies in store beyond the horizon or for those left behind to wait, hope, and hold the line. 

Previously Reviewed: “His Majesty’s Dragon” and “Throne of Jade” and “Black Powder War”

Review: I continue to power through this series! Not much new to add to this intro: I still am enjoying the heck out of the story. The audiobook narrator is awesome which is part of the reason I’m speeding through so quickly as they’re all available at my local library with pretty much no wait time to speak of. If you do like audibooks, this is definitely a series that translates well into that format. So, without further ado, on to the review!

Lawrence and Temeraire have finally made it back home. But the warm welcome they had both been anticipating to keenly for the last several months is not to be found. Instead, their friends and almost all of the other dragons have been struck down by a slow, deadly disease. Not only is this a massive personal strike, as watching their friends suffer is torturous indeed, but with Napoleon’s forces progressing so steadily on the continent, the loss of England’s aerial corps would spell sure doom for the nation. Now, on a desperate mission to find a cure, Temeraire and Lawrence return to the cape of Africa. But all is not well there either, as forces are at work that are greater than they, or anyone, could expect.

As I’m sure I mentioned in one of my past reviews, one of the things I enjoy the most about this book is how Novik has used the introduction of dragons throughout the world to re-arrange cultures and histories. Cultures and historic events are still recognizable, but everything is also slightly different. China was largely the same. However the dragons they revered were living breathing animals who walked their streets. England is a nation that prides itself on its navy, with the dragons and the aerial corp coming second. Napoleon is still a masterful strategist, only now we see his schemes play out with the use of dragons, as well.

But here we begin to see how the introduction of dragons into the world could have major effects on cultures and history. For one, the disease that strikes down the dragons is thought to have come across the ocean from North America on one of their local dragons. This is an interesting twist on the tragic loss of life that came from the introduction of new diseases into the Americas. Now we see it travel the other direction and strike down dragons instead of humans. There are also a lot of conversations about the challenges of colonization into parts of the world that have dragons. Not only do the indigenous peoples in these worlds have differing relationships with their native dragons, but there are feral dragons as well to content with.

I particularly enjoyed new role for dragons within a culture that is introduced in this book. We get a good look into some African nations and the ways that dragons are viewed there. And the book does a good job of highlighting just how huge that continent is and that while the tribes they encounter have one way of doing things, that is in no way representative of the continent as a whole.

The story itself is action packed. By this point in the story, we have a good connection with the dragons as a whole, particularly the ones that form Temeraire and Lawrence’s closer friend group. So the urgency behind their mission is felt keenly. But added on to this story is a greater conflict that is growing in Africa between the native peoples, the colonies, and the ongoing slave trade. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I loved how, again, Novik is giving herself free license to play with history, all centering around one key change: the introduction of dragons.

I’m of course still loving Temeraire and Lawrence’s lovely friendship. However, with all of the action that is slotted into this book, these personal relationship moments do take a bit of a back burner. Given the events in the last portion of the book, however, I expect that this part of the story will get more attention in the next in the series. Speaking of the end, again, it does seem to come out of nowhere (this may have something to do with the my reading the audiobook where I’m less sure of where I am in the story at any given moment). It is also the most like a cliffhanger we’ve seen so far in the series. But as the next book is out and the series is completed, I don’t see this as much of a problem! Just added fuel to my fire to keep on reading!

Rating 9: Still excellent! I love that the author is giving herself more room to really play with history in these later books.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Empire of Ivory” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Military Fantasy” and “A Re-imagined British Empire.”

Find “Empire of Ivory” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Guardian of the Horizon”

157858Book: “Guardian of the Horizon” by Elizabeth Peters

Publishing Info: Avon, March 2005

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: Amelia Peabody and her husband Emerson, along with their son Ramses and foster daughter Nefret, are summoned back to the Lost Oasis, a hidden stronghold in the western desert whose existence they discovered many years ago (in The Last Camel Died At Noon) and have kept secret from the entire world, including their fellow Egyptologists. According to Merasen, the brother of the ruling monarch, their old friend Prince Tarek is in grave danger and needs their help, however it’s not until they retrace their steps back to the Oasis, with its strange mixture of Meroitic and Egyptian cultures, that they learn the real reason for their journey.

Previously Reviewed: “The Crocodile on the Sandbank” and “The Curse of the Pharaohs” and “The Mummy Case” and “Lion in the Valley” and “Deeds of the Disturber” and “The Last Camel Died at Noon” and “The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog.” and “The Hippopotamus Pool” and “The Ape Who Guards the Balance”

Review: I’m again back with an Amelia Peabody mystery review! It’s so great to have a series like this in one’s back pocket whenever a solid read is needed. The fact that the audiobook version is so great is an even greater bonus! Though, while I’m still enjoying the series as a whole, this one did feel a bit weaker than some of the others.

For once the Emerson family is left without a plan for where to excavate this coming season. Of course, the problem is not long-lasting as adventure is always sure to arrive at their door, this time in the form of a young man named Merasen who claims to be from the ancient, lost city where they rescued Nefret so many years ago. Once again, they must make the perilous journey to that remote oasis, and all of Amelia’s plans cannot prepare them for what they will find. Now, caught up once again in these ancient machinations, it is up to Amelia and co. to resolve not only the many challenges that arise, but to get out alive while doing it!

Up to this point, I had been reading the books not only in chronological order, but publishing order as well. This is the first book that was written much later, but backtracks to tell a story that is wedged between other, existing books. It won’t be until I get later in the series that I will know how well it fit in with previously written material, but it’s hard to imagine how the events of this book won’t have a lasting impact on the series. The obvious explanation is that since they resolved not to talk about the Lost Oasis originally, that same silence explains the absence of references to this story.

But even with that being the case, this story hits a few crucial character beats that it feels would impact how these same characters behave going forward. By this point, Amelia and Emerson are pretty set, as far as characterization and grand arcs go. Their romance is solid, their foibles understood and managed, they tackle adventure with the easy partnership of two people who know one another inside out. And as, by this point, the reader also knows them inside out, they are like a familiar pair of shoes that fit just right. I still love them, but this book’s main emotional arc is that of Ramses, and, to a lesser extent, that of Nefret.

For the last several books, Ramses unspoken love for Nefret has only grown. By this book, the torment has gotten to the point that he has begun looking for excuses not to be around her. Of course, given the nature of the story, that can’t be allowed to happen and he ends up on this adventure with her and the rest of his family. Along the way, however, he meets another mysterious and beautiful young woman. And throughout the book, Ramses struggles to understand his feelings for both of these women. It’s a very well-done side story as Ramses’ conflicted feelings are so relatable. He has a long-lasting, unrequited and unspoken, love for Nefret, and that is not given up. But at the same time, there is now the appeal of a young woman who sees him and can return his interest. Not knowing how the rest of the series plays out, it does feel like this experience would have a lasting effect on Ramses’ approach to his feelings for Nefret, either to make them more manageable, knowing that he can develop attachment for another, or drive him to the point of coming clean to her. But, given the fact that this book was written later, I’m not sure how that would work.

Nefret, too, takes a fairly hard emotional blow in the return to the Lost City. She had been raised there as a high priestess, a role of great importance but also great isolation. Upon returning, it is impossible to avoid the crushing memories of her childhood, both its joys and pains. Her experiences are arguably the most harrowing of them all in this book. But that also brings us to one of the downsides of this book. I’ve always loved the character of Nefret, and with the events of this book, she spends most of it very changed from the young woman we’ve been following before. With Amelia and Emerson remaining so steady (lovely, yet also not incredibly interesting either), much of the interest lies in Ramses and Nefret. And when you take her off the table, too, essentially…it’s just a lot of book to hang on one character’s shoulders, even if that character is excellent in his own right.

The story also relied on a few tricks we’ve now see many times before. I enjoyed the return to the Lost City and wish the book had capitalized on the novelty of that fact more so, without resorting to pulling in characters and mysteries that we often find in the other stories that are set in more traditional settings. It felt like a lost opportunity a bit and I think a few of these familiar additions were definitely unnecessary.

I continue to enjoy this series, though some of the characters felt a bit more bland in this book than in others. I also feel that it didn’t take full advantage of its own conceit and relied too heavily on past tricks to resolve many of the conflicts. But, of course, there’s no question that I will be continuing on with the series!

Rating 7: Not my favorite book in the series as I feel like it could have done so much more than it did.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Guardian of the Horizon” is on these Goodreads lists: “Historical Mysteries and Thrillers Featuring Women” and “Regency and Victorian Mysteries.”

Find “Guardian of the Horizon” at your library using WorldCat!