Meagan Reads YA Fantasy: “Every Exquisite Thing” by Cassandra Clare and Maureen Johnson

I’m excited to share that I will be contributing monthly reviews to The Lesbrary book review blog, dedicated to talking about books by and about women/femmes who identify as queer.

Image from Goodreads

The first review I wrote for the blog is for “Every Exquisite Thing,” a short story part of the Ghosts of the Shadow Market collection from Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments universe. Follow this link to see the review. Let me know your thoughts if you’ve also read the collection or the story!

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Meagan Reads YA Fantasy: The Exiled Queen by Cinda Williams Chima

This is the sequel to The Demon King from the Seven Realms series. Possible spoilers ahead, so if you plan on reading these books, proceed with caution.

from Goodreads

In the continuation of this series, Raisa makes it to Oden’s Ford with her childhood friend and complicated love interest Amon Byrne, after having fled the Fells to avoid an arranged marriage to the wizard Micah Bayar, which would have set off a civil war among the clans and the Vale people. Meanwhile, Han Alister and his childhood best friend Dancer make it to Oden’s Ford after fleeing Marisa Pines after the death of Han’s mom and sister.

Though the two stories diverged at the end of the first book and remained as separate lines throughout most of this one, they eventually meet up again. This time though, Raisa, unable to be with Amon, falls for Han after agreeing to tutor him in the ways of the nobility. In their separate lives, Raisa continues to play the part of a noble lady named Rebecca Morley, while Han juggles various extracurricular training sessions in wizardry from the dean of the magic school and a mysterious tutor who only meets with him in a different dimension.

Needless to say, there is a whole mess of complex stories and characters going on in this book. And yet, the reader never loses track of who’s who and what events have occurred or how they relate. It’s actually really impressive how deftly Chima maps out the people, places, and events in a way that’s rich and layered, and yet never confusing. These books feel like Game of Thrones, but written by Tamora Pierce.

I think what helped the most with this though, is that Chima used the first chapter in the book to essentially act as the recap, like TV shows that use “Previously on…” Personally, I think series like these, especially in the fantasy realm, could use more of that structure. After all, they’re written in such an episodic way it just makes sense to give the reader a refresher on what came before (especially readers like me who read books with so much time in between). Maybe we can just create a website for that kind of thing.

The other element I really appreciate about these books, especially The Exiled Queen, is how the plot points mix with the every day issues, and that those issues act as parallels to our own real-world problems. For example, the dynamic between Cat Tyburn and Dancer shows how even those who come from marginalized communities (Cat is a Southern Isle native from the streets, but raised in the Vale) can still display prejudice and bigotry toward other marginalized communities (Dancer is clanborn).

I’d say one of the bigger flaws of the series is the rampant heteronormativity. There’s only one instance of LGBTQ+ representation, but it isn’t fleshed out and comes off as an afterthought. Two of Raisa’s cadet friends, Talia and Pearlie, are girlfriends. It’s mentioned that “women who prefer other women” are known as moonspinners. While I really like that new terminology for lesbians, this particular story point is brought up momentarily and immediately set aside. Presumably it’s because they aren’t main characters, but in the end, I felt like I could have gotten the same ending story without their inclusion, and that doesn’t make for true diversity and inclusion.

Overall, I really liked this sequel and I’m definitely looking forward to reading the continuation of this story. It’s complex enough to be intriguing, but not so much so as to overwhelm. Has anyone else read these books? What are your thoughts on the series? Let me know in the comments!

Meagan Reads Fiction: And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

This is an older novel now, but I read it for my coworkers’ book club. I went with Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed because I’ve read his other two big novels (Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns) and loved them. Spoilers may come up in this article, so if you haven’t read the book and plan to, proceed at your own risk!

hosseini blog

The novel takes place across the U.S., Greece, Paris, and Afghanistan, throughout different storylines from various characters and family ties. Each family’s story creates an echo of the one that came before it. While every character dynamic creates a glimpse into the messiness of life and the relationships between mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and siblings, each on its own, together they weave a rich tapestry that converges all their stories.

From the very beginning, readers are warned that this isn’t going to have a happy ending. As Abdullah’s father tells his children the story of the div that takes a village’s children, only not for as vile a reason as they at first believe, we see the foreshadowing of what’s to come for Pari, Abdullah’s sister. In a time and village when raising children is difficult, Saboor, their father, makes the hard decision to give Pari away to Mr. Wahdati, his brother Nabi’s boss, so that she may have a better life and survive, even if it means breaking Abdullah and Pari apart.

But life with the Wahdatis is imperfect, as Nila, Pari’s new mother, struggles with depression and oppression in a society that demonizes “bad” women. Meanwhile, Mr. Wahdati hides his secret love for his chauffeur Nabi, who only comes to know this secret after he becomes the man’s caretaker after suffering a terrible stroke. Nila flees to Paris with Pari, where life for them there ensues in such disarray.

In and out these stories go, jumping from Markos Vavaris, who becomes friends with Nabi and discovers the secret of Pari’s past, and must now find her to reunite her with her brother, to two other cousins who visit Afghanistan in hopes of recovering their family’s lost land and encounter Markos and his friend Thalia.

It’s hard to lay out the details of all the stories, as after a while of reading, they bleed into one another and the lack of chronology makes it hard to tell one story without jumping back into another. This, of course, is Hosseini’s intention with the way he’s structured the novel. It’s all one story told from varying perspectives, and yet each perspective is its own story in its own right. The difficulty in retelling the whole point of the novel in fact reflects the book’s main theme: that life happens all at once in a kaleidoscopic field, and there maybe isn’t an actual point. It just is.

Hosseini’s prose is lush and poetic, reflecting the characters’ culture’s penchant for storytelling. Though the chapters grow longer as the book passes, time never seems to be an issue when reading it. The beauty of the Hosseini’s language makes this heavy and heartbreaking read easy to devour. Simply put, it’s just well written.

If you’ve read this book or other Hosseini works, leave comments! Did you like them? What were your thoughts?

This post was originally featured on The Misadventures of a Media Journalist blog.

Meagan Reads Speculative Fiction: Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

Here’s another backlist I recently read as part of a book club with my coworkers. I figured since it’s been slated for production as a television show with HBO though, it might be relevant to some media fans. Readers beware: spoilers are ahead! Also, tw: sexual assault, rape, violence.

who fears death blog
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor, 2010

Here’s a quick rundown of the story. The protagonist, Onyesonwu (Onye for short) is what’s known in the culture as Ewu, a child of rape. The first few years of her life are spent with her mother in the desert as nomads, until they finally come to a village and her mother meets a man who becomes Onye’s stepfather. Don’t worry, this is actually a good and healthy relationship, in which he becomes more like her real father.

Over time it’s revealed that she is a sorcerer with Eshu (shapeshifting) powers. She spends a great deal of the first part of the book with Mwita, a boy she meets in the village who’s apprenticed to the head sorcerer Aro, arguing and trying to get Aro to take her on as a trainee. He refuses, because she’s a girl, and women practicing magic to that extent is not accepted in the culture. Eventually though, he gives in because he knows she must take a journey to find and face her biological father, the man who raped her mother, and defeat him. Her father is also a powerful sorcerer, btw.

With Mwita and her friends, Luyu, Binta, and Diti, along for the ride, the group leaves behind the village they’ve always known as home and ventures toward what Onye suspects is certain death. A lot happens on this journey, including the death of Binta, meeting the desert sandstorm people, Diti and her fiance (who’d also tagged along) leaving, until finally they come to face Onye’s biological father and have a showdown.

This is the best I can do to give a concise summary, because truthfully, so much happens in the book, it’s hard to talk about without giving everything away and getting into the nitty gritty. Some themes and topics that are touched upon though are gender roles, women’s sexuality, and rape culture, among others.

In fact, there’s so much going on in this book, that every issue covered doesn’t get a chance to breathe throughout the narrative. Not only does the reader lose out on layered and deep societal problems, but the story elements themselves, like magic and how it works, don’t get a proper explanation.

The first two-thirds of the book move rather slow, but still most of it is filled with details that could have been more fleshed out. Then, in the final part of the book, everything happens all at once. It’s meant to convey the feeling that all the group has been through has led up to this moment, but it happens so fast in the narration itself that it leaves the reader a bit confused, wondering what exactly happened.

I bring this up because I think this was the major issue with the novel. It tried to take on too much all at once and stuff it all into one book, when it would have lent itself better to a serialization. This is where I think the TV show can come in. By extending the story into a made-for-TV format, I think the writers and creators of the content have a chance to expand and stretch out all those details that as a reader I felt got left out of the book.

I’m especially keen to see how the terms of magic will be explained and solidified, to see what rules they apply. I would also like to see the backdrop of the story become a character on its own. The book takes place in postapocalyptic Sudan, but truthfully, the audience gets such fleeting details pointing toward a breakdown in technology and where everything is happening, that it’s easy to forget the time and place this story takes place.

Who else has read the book? Did you have the same issues as I did, or did you enjoy the structure it took? What are your thoughts on its adaptation for TV? Write me in the comments!

This post originally appeared on The Misadventures of a Media Journalist.

Meagan Reads YA Fiction: Wrecked by Maria Padian

This is a post I made for my cousin’s blog. Click the link below to see the full review.

This one is a bit of a backlist, as it was published in 2016. However, its contents and story are still relevant, as they have always been, and as I fear they may always be. I wish I had more optimism for the future of gender equality, but stories like this one are all too […]

via Wrecked by Maria Padian: Review — The Misadventures of a Media Journalist

Meagan Reads YA Fantasy: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

I finished reading the first in the Brooklyn Brujas series, Labyrinth Lost, a few days ago. I decided to sit on my experience for a bit before writing about it. I want to talk about how I discovered the book in the first place.

Thanks to various Goodreads book giveaways, the novel was put on my radar and I entered all the different times I could. The cover alone intrigued me as I immediately recognized its Day of the Dead decoration, which meant this had to be a Latinx protagonist (I hadn’t noticed the series title at that point yet). Then I saw the series title and I saw the author’s name, so I clicked on her profile. I found out she was Ecuadorian raised in New York, so naturally, yes, I had to read this book. I have Ecuadorian roots myself so that made me inclined to read this story. I’m so glad I did.

labyrinth lost

I’ve read plenty of fantasy books between Tamora Pierce, Cassandra Clare, and Cinda Williams Chima. While I love those books and series, the mythology is heavily based in Anglo-Saxon culture and history. Even in fantastical, fictionalized worlds, Euro-centric stories prevail. I’m a fan of those authors and the stories and characters they’ve created, but even so, I never felt like I saw myself in any of those worlds or people.

Enter Zoraida Cordova with Brooklyn Brujas, and for the first time ever, in all the books about magic and myth and folklore that I’ve read, I saw someone like me. Alejandra Mortiz (the main character) talks about her Ecuadorian family who came to NY by way of Puerto Rico (shout out to my mom’s people). When I told my dad about this seemingly small, throwaway detail, he said, “Oh yeah a lot of us do that. That’s really accurate.”

My family has never practiced brujeria or anything like that, but I am familiar with the background of magic. Likewise, while we’ve never believed in or practiced witchcraft, the underlying concept of the power of ancestry and how the dead are never truly gone is something that resonated with me because in my family, we do believe that our loved ones are always with us, even when they pass. We believe in the other side, and that the veil that divides our worlds is rather thin.

There’s even a moment in the book where Alex is describing the superstition of how dropping utensils indicates visitors will be coming soon, and depending on which utensil was dropped, that would state if it was a man or a woman. I couldn’t help but laugh, because my mom yells, “Visita!” every time one of us drops a utensil in our house. Again, we’re not witches, but it seems certain superstitions just run through our culture. To see my own family beliefs represented in this fantastical world of magic just felt so validating.

The other thing I appreciated about this book was the depiction of Alex’s bisexuality. The fact that she was bisexual had no influence on the outcome of events or the narrative of the story whatsoever. Sure, as most YA novels are wont to do, there was a bit of a love triangle, but it never played into a drama of having to choose one over the other, of being either or. It was accepted and no one batted a lash at the fact that Alex was in love with Rishi. It was just as natural as her growing feelings for Nova.

While romance played a small role and was weaved throughout the plot, it never drove the story. If anything, the love for her family was the driving force behind the story. The fact that her family never questioned or made a deal out of Alex having a crush on Rishi was just such a relief to see in a YA novel. Instead, it was mainly about magic and family and the power a girl can have.

Overall, if you’re interested in a different culture’s take on magic and fantasy, I highly recommend this book. Labyrinth Lost was just such a fun adventure and kept me turning the pages. I read it in eight days, and I can’t remember the last time I read a book that fast with my busy schedule.

Have any of you read the book? What were your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!

Meagan Reads Sci-Fi: The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian by Andy Weir (Image from Goodreads)

I feel like it’s been a while since I picked up a book that made me really excited and breeze through it so fast, even with a full-time job and part-time grad school. Andy Weir’s The Martian did that for me. I read it as my 24th book for my 26 book reading challenge (almost done!) for the category “a book with a great opening line.”

If memory serves me right, the opening line of this book was, “Well, I’m pretty much fucked.” That’s a really strong start in my opinion. It immediately sets the character’s voice as someone who has a sense of humor in the face of overwhelming odds, and that’s who Mark Watney, the main character, is. Throughout all the terrible things that happen to him, he never loses that smart ass attitude. I genuinely found myself laughing out loud several times while reading, and that is not something that happens often when I read a book.

I admit, I watched the movie first. Listen, I’m an adult now, so I can’t pull that, “I’ll only watch the movie/TV show after I’ve read the book,” crap anymore. There’s just not enough hours in the day.

There’s something to be said for watching the movie first in this case. Personally, it helped me wrap my mind around all the science and technology described in the book. Weir’s writing is heavy with specific jargon and tremendous scientific detail. It was written in a way that did not overwhelm me or make me feel lost, but I do think having the movie in the back of my mind helped with interpreting what was on the page.

The story truly is an adventurous space romp with the added legitimacy of attention to detail about what is real science. At least it sounded like real science to me, so good enough.

Now, truth be told, the writing itself is nothing spectacular. It relies on some pretty shallow character development and the pacing could use improvement. Sentence structure is also lacking, as most of the book is written in frustratingly short, clipped statements.

However, even with the lower quality writing style, the narrative itself never really suffers. It maintains its entertainment quality and at the end of the day, in my book, that’s what counts. Sometimes, it’s fun just to have fun with reading.

I’d like to end this post with a note about Mark Watney’s character that I noticed immediately. He reminded me so much of another fictional person that I adore from a show called Killjoys on SyFy: Johnny Jaqobi. So, if you’re a fan of that show and that character, then I think you’ll like this book.

Have any of you read The Martian? What are your thoughts on the story and characters? Let me know in the comments!