I received an advanced copy of When Harry Met Minnie by Martha Teichner, CBS correspondent, from Celadon books. I was absolutely charmed and devastated. This book was about Martha’s friendship with Carol Fertig, designer, during her journey with cancer, as well as her role in caretaking for Harry, Carol’s dog. Martha was introduced to Carol because they both had bull terriers. She would take her dog, Minnie, out every day to the market in NYC, when an acquaintance came up to her and asked her if she would be interested in meeting Carol and Harry. From here, a friendship bloomed while Carol’s health declined. Harry’s health was quite unstable as well, but Martha became enamored with him. When Carol eventually passed, Harry became a part of Martha and Minnie’s family.
This book was bursting with emotion. If you’ve ever had a pet that you’ve cared deeply for, this book encompassed the beauty and tragedy of that. Dogs will love you like no other, unconditionally. They’ll bring you happiness, but there’s also the inevitable sadness when they pass. This struck me deeply, as I have dogs that are aging quickly, as dogs do, and accruing health issues. Martha talks honestly about the quirks of bull terriers, and about how costly our pets can be. Somehow, dogs have worked their way into our hearts and we will spend our last dollar keeping them well, just like any other family member.
Another thing that resonated with me was watching a loved one fall into the depths of cancer. Carol’s cancer was a result of 9/11’s proximity to her apartment. Martha describes the way Carol declines, how her speech isn’t the same, but somehow keeps that fire and strength burning. This reminded me of my grandmother. So much diminishes in them but you still see the spark that makes them who they are.
If you want to laugh a bit, if you’re a dog lover, if you have a loved one dealing with cancer, or need a good cry, When Harry Met Minnie is for you. It is filled with heartwarming moments and tearful moments. If you’re from Michigan, you might like this even a bit more, as Martha talks here and there about her childhood in Traverse City and Leelanau, and her conservation efforts there as an adult.
When Harry Met Minnie will be available February 2nd, 2021.
Wow! What a powerful book. I’ll get to it right off the bat, this was a 4.5 star book to me, rounded up to Goodreads. I’ll be honest though, if you fall as a very far right conservative, especially due to religion, you probably won’t enjoy this book. There’s the challenging of a lot of ultra conservative ideals. I can say that Overlook Press and Abrams Books KILLLLLLLS it with these powerful releases. I think they might be my favorite publishers outside of fantasy, I have enjoyed every book sent my way or purchased from them. This Little Light by Lori Lansens was no exception.
Let us start with a short synopsis. Rory and Fee are on the run after their Christian school is bomber during an Abstinence Ball where they are all pledging their virginity. They perform a cringe-inducing ceremony where they pledge to their fathers to abstain til marriage. Rory is an atheist and decided to partake since all of her friends did and it was an excuse to wear a beautiful dress. The newest addition to their school, Jinny is a Crusader, and has it out for Rory for not believing. When the school gets bombed and Rory gets blamed, Fee ends up along for the ride. While on the run, Rory journals her experience in unpublished blogs (as you not give away their location) and tries to figure out if Jinny set her up.
This all too realistic near-future novel starts out in ultra rich Calabasas (think Kardashians) where fanatical religion and hypocrisy walk hand in hand. The US has become obsessed with virginity and religion, women’s rights are being stripped, birth control and abortions are banned even in the most serious if circumstances. The country is afire with bounty hunters, seeking out those running underground services for women to receive safe womanly care. The bounty on Rory and Fee climbs in the millions. Everyone is obsessed with religion and purity, though they don’t practice what they preach behind closed doors. Affairs, fake celibacy, sexual aggression towards minors, scoffing at the poor when passing by them on the streets. Fake activism, writing passages about the huddled masses and how Jesus loved the poor, but calling them free loaders, wishing death upon the homeless “dirtying” their streets, and not stopping to help but scurrying last disdainfully.
“We write essays about Jesus’s love for the poor and disenfranchised then go shop Louis and Prada. We laze around our pools snarking in those who have no, idolizing those who have a shit-Tom. We’re jumping back and forth all day long—spiritual double Dutch—-and it makes me seriously dizzy.”
There’s a large look at the way the ultra rich hide behind conservatism fiscally, and how that can outweigh morality. People that are okay with their taxes and money being used to help the downtrodden get called bleeding hearts or libtards (which is thrown around in this book). Conducive to many instances in real life, this novel highlights the way greed can overshadow the love that religion is supposed to teach. The longing to control women, preaching abstinence to them while turning a blind eye to whatever the men do. Measuring the length of their skirts or shorts because they are supposed to be your idea of pure, which in theory itself is ridiculous, because no woman’s body is the same. These guidelines, checking for fingertips against shorts, using a yardstick for “skirting” in religious schools, are objectionable not only because clothes lay different on our bodies than the next person, but because a woman’s body shouldn’t be surveyed for how appropriate we deem it. The swell of a breast is immodest? Your thigh? These are social constructs and Lori Lansens highlights what happens when we let people run away with commanding women and their bodies.
Rory talks and thinks like a teenage girl, if not an intelligent one. Though she’s an atheist and a free spirit, she’s also afraid to fully break away from the crowd. Her friends go to a Christian school, so she does. Her friends attend an abstinence ball, so she does. They follow the Kardashians and like expensive clothes, so she does. She isn’t a perfect character. She’s an utterly believable teenage girl. She has hidden biases even though she’s more accepting than the other girls. She’s Jewish and her mother is an immigration lawyer, so she is more accepting of people of different culture and religion, as she’s been exposed to a wider worldview. She also understands that she has a lot to learn about racism, feminism, and privilege.
“The thing is, I don’t want to be a dick. The racism thing? The white privilege thing? The white feminist thing? I want to understand it all, and acknowledge it beyond the obvious, and I actually wanna get this shit right.”
I loved the juxtaposition of Jinny, a devout “virgin” used to market the Crusader cause while being this very sex kittenish bombshell. It really highlights the way women are salivated over for their virginity and the unhealthy obsession with it. It reminded me of how Britney Spears was marketed as this virgin sex icon to sell records, even though it was later found out that she wasn’t (and it shouldn’t matter what she was doing with her own life anyway).
The virginity pledge was straight creeeeeepy too. They essentially pledged to keep their virginity to their dads until they are married, but the way that it was done reminded me of certain weird politicians and celebrities that fawn over their daughters’ sex appeal and ability to be chaste. This happens closer to home, too, it’s just easy to cite people that are in the public eye. The fascination from men about their daughter’s sex life is really unhealthy and concerning, when they are fine with their sons doing whatever they want.
“You are my light. You are my love. And I promise Heaven up above. That I’ll keep you pure as the driven snow, till the day I have to let you go. I’ll always be your daddy. You’ll be my baby girl. One day I will share you, but until then you’ll wear my pearl.”
Makes you feel icky, right? Lori Lansens touches on everything; gaslighting victims, women’s reproductive rights, fake activism, hidden biases, fanatical religion, fiscal vs moral responsibility. I devoured this book over the span of a few hours. It was very easy to read, intelligent, witty, and important. If you were a fan of The Handmaid’s Tale, you might enjoy this one too. I find that it is a middle ground between our current reality and the severity of that book/show. The character of Chase was a bit too neatly wrapped up and more thoroughly introduced right at the end, but I enjoyed it alla. This Little Light came out earlier this month and you can purchase it now. Thank you to Overlook and Abrams for sending me a finished copy for an honest review!
“I have known beauties and joys that tried my heart’s strength as surely as the tragedies and uglinesses have. Yet I possess, perhaps, a greater share of dark memories than most men; few men have known death in a dungeon, or can recall the inside of a coffin buried beneath the snow.”
Whew! Lets dive right in, shall we? Obviously if you know me or have followed me for even a few months, you know that HOBB IS LIFE for me. One of my all time favorite authors, so with this awful year, it was easy to dive back into these for some comfort rereads. That beginning! You really get some insight on what Fitz went through during the tragedy that befell him in Book Two of Farseer (Royal Assassin). This is a part of the larger series called The Realm of the Elderlings. From the beginning of this novel, you feel this monumental, earth shattering loss that he is experiencing while he is isolated, as well as a raw look at the abuse he went through and the trauma it caused.
“He added, “You don’t take out your temper on them, or confuse punishment with discipline.” Molly looked shocked at his words. “Discipline comes from punishment. A child learns discipline when she is punished for doing something wrong.” Burrich shook his head. “I’d like to ‘punish’ the man that beat that into you,” he said, and an edge of his old temper crept into his voice. “What did you really learn from your father taking his temper out on you?” he demanded. “That to show tenderness to your baby is a weakness? That to give in and hold your child when she cries because she wants you is somehow not an adult thing to do?”
There’s so much genius in this novel. The way we relive the destruction that Regal caused through the eyes of a man who is more wolf than man at this moment. More child than man, even. We see this mix of tenderness and gruffness by Burrich that is needed by Fitz. Burrich IS that rough looking dad who is all heart and wisdom, he cares about every living being. There’s such poignancy in Burrich relinquishing his ideals for Fitz just to keep him alive. If you’ve made it this far in the series, you’ll know that Burrich wants “better” than the Wit for Fitz, but letting Fitz take solace in it is the only way to keep him whole. There’s such love in that, setting aside pride and morals for someone else’s wellbeing. Hobb evokes these deep emotions that often strum that core of sadness that lies deep within us all, but if you dust off that sadness, there is compassion and affection woven in. She is one of those authors that can reach into your heart and soul to coax out all of those emotions. Sometimes, when I see the remarks of people that don’t like her writing, I wonder if it is because they don’t LIKE to feel all of those heavy, profound responses that her writing can pull out of oneself. I don’t blame people for shying away from those heavy feelings, but it just reminds me what a marvel of a writer she is. This is a story about how sacrifice makes legends and that can be hard stuff to stomach. I have said it once and I’ll say it again, I am a book masochist. GIVE ME ALL OF THE HARD TO STOMACH EMOTIONS.
Within the first moments of the book and throughout, you realize how much of a bridge Fitz is to each of these character’s live unto each other’s. Every single one of our main characters, he has become a monumental part of their loves. He’s bridged the gap between many of them, given quite a few renewed reasons to live, though he doesn’t realize his own worth to all of these people. He stokes allegiance in those around him, whether they meant to care for him so much or not.
Hobb writes so vividly that she has made Regal one of the most dislikable villains I have ever read. He’s just too REAL and pompous, the cruelties he has carried out on multiple members of his family—unfathomable. He shows no remorse, he calculates. It’s not like Regal is this utterly unique villain—he’s the youngest prince brother who greedily wants to take the throne for his own. He will force anyone out of his way, whether they care about the throne or not. We have seen this before in literature, but Hobb evokes these protective feelings in us over the other characters, she can make you feel the weather of that unwarranted jealousy that Regal exudes. It’s just in her writing. Hobb is the queen of emotive writing. Another thing about her writing that is especially notable in this book, is that she relishes imagery. The world she writes is so lush, that you feel you could sink your hands into the soil, smell the mountain air, or feeling the sobering coolness of a stream. Her writing is almost feel interactive in her ability to pull you into the scenery. She can bring scenery, people, and emotions to life effortlessly.
“It is also the Wit that sends a mother to her child’s bedside just as the babe is awakening. I believe it is at the heart of all wordless communication, and that all humans possess some small aptitude for it, recognized or not.”
What I find interesting and beautiful about this book, is that besides The Wit (which people actually consider a curse, WHAT?!), Fitz isn’t this naturally talented hero. He’s well-trained and well-educated, but he doesn’t naturally excel at the Skill. He isn’t able to fully protect himself against those stronger, his triumphs in life aren’t because he’s this amazingly strong Skilled man. He actually fucks up a decent amount. The love and support of those around him has helped him overcome the most astounding of setbacks. One of the things about Fitz’s story that draws me back again and again, is that this isn’t a story where the bastard comes up and takes the kingdom by storm. We have seen those underdog stories where it is a rag to riches, *powerless to most powerful* type of tale. This isn’t one of those. Fitz’s life is most likely harder than his life would have been as a simple villager. He may have been poorer if he never came to Buckeep, but his life wouldn’t be as complicated. The path of his life would have been up to him a bit more. His story is riddled with tragedy and hardship, and that makes it more real and endearing to me. On the flip side, he also experiences a safety net of love, loyalty, and adoration that he likely would have never experienced if he were just a simple villager.
“It is only that she thinks that you love me,” I tried to explain. He gave me an odd look. “I do.” “I mean, as a man and a woman love.” He took a breath. “And how is that?” “I mean …” It half-angered me that he pretended not to understand me. “For bedding. For …” “And is that how a man loves a woman?” he interrupted me suddenly. “For bedding?” “It’s a part of it!” I felt suddenly defensive but could not say why. He arched an eyebrow at me and said calmly, “You are confusing plumbing and love again.”
This is the first time that we start to see the deep connection between Fitz and the Fool. Before, the Fool was a friend to Fitz and King Shrewd, an interesting, yet significant side character. In this, we realize how intrinsic he is to Fitz’s life. Hobb captures an intimacy here that has always struck me to my core. This idea that platonic love can be as strong as love that includes sexual acts, that a friend can be as much of a soulmate as your actual mate. This is something that needs to be explored more often, and Hobb does so tenderly and eloquently. The Fool is much more in tune with his emotions and he helps Fitz become comfortable with his sexuality and with expressing this deep love between them. I know there’s people that want The Fool and Fitz to be together, but aren’t they? They are joined as much, if not more, than Fitz and Molly. It doesn’t have to be a sexual relationship, and I don’t think The Fool WANTS a sexual relationship with Fitz. They have LITERALLY shared minds and bared souls to each other. They are pack, as Nighteyes reiterates. This hang up that sex equals intimacy is one of the big messages that Hobb and The Fool are there to debunk.
“Not a song of heroic strength and mighty-thewed warriors. No. A song of two, graced only with friendship’s strength. Each possessed of a loyalty to a king that would not be denied.”
When it comes to The Fool, she also has created this air of mystery. Fitz thinks of “him” as “he” while Starling confides that she believes The Fool is a woman. Are they human? Are they a man or woman? Does it matter? The androgyny in The Fool is so natural and The Fool is quite a progressive character compared to the traditional fantasy published in that time. As of recent, modern fantasy has become more and more inclusive but Hobb was truly (maybe unknowingly) a pioneer in this regard. Not to mention the fact that she firmly planted her feet in a genre that was predominantly male, AND fights against toxic masculinity with each stroke of her pen.
“She needed someone to confide in and, for a time, chose me. Perhaps it was easier for her to do that if she believed I was a woman, also.” He sighed again. “That is one thing that in all my years among your folk I have never become accustomed to. The great importance that you attach to what gender one is.” “Well, it is important …” I began. “Rubbish!” he exclaimed. “Mere plumbing, when all is said and done. Why is it important?”
In this volume, we have another added source of magic: memories. Rowling might have learned a thing or two from Hobb. I don’t want to say HOW memories are used and spoil the wonder of finding out, but it’s truly an inspiring incorporation. We also see the full power of the Skill as we haven’t seen before. There’s a moment that the Skill, these memories, and the Wit combine into a moment where we FEEL the sheer breadth of Fitz’s tragedies and his triumphs. It is excruciating, humbling, and heart-wrenching. Hobb also follows by the rules of nature, to use these strong magics WILL cost, often at a dear price. You don’t get away with these bursts of unexplainable power without giving something in return. There’s reason and limits to magic in this world.
“Comes the Catalyst, to make stone of flesh and flesh of stone. At his touch shall be wakened the dragons of the earth. The sleeping city shall tremble and waken to him. Comes the Catalyst.” The Fool’s voice was dreamy.
We get our first true glimpse of the Elderlings. At this point, we get a bit more world building than we usually get from Hobb. Because she’s such a character driven person this bit went a bit slower for me but if you’re all about world building, the time spent weaving the world is pretty cool. Fitz’s time on the skill road holds this hazy, fever-dream quality to it and Hobb’s artistry flourishes. This moment can seem to drag, but having read all of the books, I think it is important to soak in the Elderlings and how far they are from the reality of the current world.
A difference with this book to the last two is that there a few more moments of info dumps and lingering scenes devoted to that imagery I mentioned earlier. Is this enough to make me give this less than 5 stars? Nope. I thought about giving it 4 stars and it hurt my heart too much. Hobb is just AMAZING. This book may have some moments that lasted longer but THAT ENDING. The WRITING. The deep relationships. Knowing the wider scope of things and the JOURNEY that has only just begun. The true life lessons she weaves in through all of our characters. She’s a mastermind. Nope, she deserves all the stars in the world. I could truly ramble on and dissect every character; the strength and vulnerability in Molly (who is often much disliked), the devastation of corrupt leadership, the trajectory of the Catalyst, HOW MUCH I FREAKING LOVE NIGHTEYES AND THE PACK (…“This? This is Nighteyes? This mighty warrior, this great heart?”) but I’ll leave some stuff up to imagination. It takes everything in my willpower to not spoil this whole story just because I want to talk about it. She’s genius, she is QUEEN. If you can handle emotional, gut wrenching storytelling, read some Hobb.
Also… YES. You should read the all the series in the order she intended you to read them even if you want to skip back to Fitz.
•The Farseer Trilogy •The Liveship Traders Trilogy •The Tawny Man Trilogy •The Rain Wild Chronicles •Fitz and the Fool Trilogy • There’s also some short stories
When Marcus Lee approached me with his self published novel Kings and Daemons, I thought it sounded intriguing. It happens to be included on Kindle Unlimited, so I downloaded it and here we are. I wasn’t expecting such an enthralling and well written book. I was hooked pretty much from the start.
You follow a couple different perspectives and I think they all play off of each other really well. Maya’s touch can heal blight and ruin, illnesses and broken bones. Taran is strong and courageous. Rakan is brutal but loyal. Kalas suffers but never waivers in his strength. The Witch King is single minded and terrible, destructive to everything in his path, sucking vitality from the land. We have a cast of characters that are—true to the title—as cursed as they are blessed. Throughout the novel, our cast of characters will intertwine storylines.
I found that this book has a lot of aspects that appeal to a wide variety of fantasy fans. If you like that medieval feel, if you like intense battles, fun magic systems, light romance, great friendships, mystical beings and creatures… Kings and Daemons has it all for you. I enjoyed that one minute our characters could be exchanging witty banter and the next they were cracking skulls or running for their lives. There was a streak of tenderness balancing the harshness of this world. Well done, Marcus. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in the next book. It ends in a good spot that leaves you wondering what is going to happen next.
“Your whole life has been true. It happened to you.”
Thank you to Abrams Press for sending me a review copy of The Fixed Stars by Molly Wizenberg. This memoir is a quick, intelligent read revolving around Molly’s life and her journey with identifying her sexuality. While married, she finds herself intensely attracted to another woman when she is called into jury duty. Throughout her life, she had thought she identified as straight. She thought of sexuality as linear: you are straight or you are gay/lesbian. As time went on, she found that what we think of as “girl crushes” were actual sexual attraction to women. She takes us on her journey of finding love with other women, the demise of her marriage and the road to healthy co-parenting, and her current partner’s help in her education on non-binary awareness.
This was one of the quickest books I’ve read in a while. Molly doesn’t preach at you, she gets the confusion towards sexuality and gender identification, as she experienced it herself. Understanding the fluidity involved in those things can be confusing BECAUSE of the fluidity. At one point Molly makes a comment about how she doesn’t think of herself in loving men or women, but in loving a person because they are who she needed at that point in her life, regardless of the body parts they have. She states things much more eloquently than I do and her writing has a balance of poignancy and warmth that is consistent with normal life. There’s a real takeaway here that it’s okay to not pin down your identification, just as much as it is okay to be absolutely sure of how you identify.
“I never fell in love with a man because he was a man, you know? I mean, I wasn’t falling in love with a penis. I loved his body because it was his.”
There was also a raw look at motherhood and the dissolve of her marriage, about moments of selflessness and selfishness. There’s emotions of separating from someone you dearly love, but doesn’t complete that part of your soul anymore. The terror and guilt of your child being affected by your decisions. The loneliness of motherhood can bring about some scary and amazing resolutions that Molly has to face.
“While a woman is taking care, who takes care of her?”
This book is beautiful, captivating, and personal. At the end, you’ll feel like Molly is an old friend catching you up about everything that happened to her in the last few years. If you are looking for a book about divorce, motherhood, gender and sexual fluidity, this is a perfect read. If you’re not, try it out, you might still get something out of it and learn from it.
The Fixed Stars releases August 4th! Thank you again to Abrams Press and Molly Wizenberg.
3.5 rounded up to 4 stars for The Switch by Beth O’Leary. Thank you to Netgalley and Macmillan Audio for this copy to review! This was a charming little story that starts out when Leena has a meltdown at work. As she is still coping with the death of her sister, her work MAKES her take a two month sabbatical. She calls her grandmother, Eileen, who is trying to find life and love after her husband leaves her for a younger lady. In a moment of genius, they decide to switch homes and take on each other’s cities and responsibilities. In this novel, our characters will find love, themselves, and most importantly, each other. At the heart of this story, is family. It’s generations women lifting each other up. This was a cozy novel and the perfect book to take your mind off the hectic world and remember all of those warm and fuzzy feelings that come about when people that love you are looking out for you. O’Leary writes witty, relatable stories.
One thing she opened my eyes up to was the mistreatment of the elderly. Not in the physically abusive sense, but in the sense that we tend to lump every old person into the same ornery categories. We treat them almost childlike. She made a remark about how when older people try to find love late in life, we almost scoff at them or giggle about it. Our elderly are often forgotten and isolated.
As for the audio, DELIGHTFUL. I would be withholding if I didn’t tell you that I picked up this audio solely because Daisy Edgar-Jones narrated Leena’s portion. Her voice is like velvet. I could listen to her speak all day. After having seen Normal People, I knew that I would enjoy listening simply for the sake of listening. Just lovely. Alison Steadman did a fantastic job for Eileen as well, with her crisp, elegant voice.
His & Hers by Alice Feeney is my first foray into Netgalley audiobooks! Yay for Netgalley adding audio! Thrillers can be fun to listen to, especially when you have great narrators. I think Richard Armitage and Stephanie Racine were superb. They did a great job at conveying moods and tones, enunciation was crisp even at 2x speed. I liked the voice modified narration for the killer, as it didn’t give away any clues about who it was. That was a really neat touch that I haven’t seen (or rather, heard) done in a thriller audiobook yet.
I’ve read and enjoyed Alice Feeney’s Sometimes I Lie, and the same can be said for this novel. I always find her hard to rate, too. She has a different writing style than the popcorn typical thriller, which is a good thing. Things are a bit darker with her. As usual, there were so many twists and turns, it gave me a bit of whiplash. I really didn’t guess the killer, even though this novel offers you quite a few possibilities. These are definitely novels that will do well on television or film, they practically play out as a movie in your head. I would think I had it all figured out and it switched many, many times. I think if Feeney had gone any other route, it would have been too predictable. I won’t give any plot because there’s potential spoilers with anything I would describe. Just know that Feeney writes intoxicatingly and you’ll easily be sucked into this novel if you’re looking for a thriller. After a lot of debate, I give this a 4/5 stars. Though the twists could be a bit much at times, I found myself wanting to return to this audiobook and found myself searching out tasks around my house just so I could listen to it while doing so. Thank you to Netgalley and Flatiron for the opportunity to listen and review His & Hers, which comes out on July 28th.
“You any good at it?” “I’m a Matsuda.” “I don’t know what that means.” “It means ‘yes,’” Mamoru said.
*takes a deep breath, lets it out* Well, if I was the long-stream-of-expletive type of gal, I’d be letting ‘em roar. Okay, who am I kidding. I am that type of girl but I know some of you aren’t, so I’ll tone it down… but HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOLY SHIT. Sorry. There’s only a few series that have inspired this passion in me. All time: Rothfuss and Hobb, extending somewhat further to Martin. Last year: Abercrombie and Wendig (Wanderers specifically). This year: John Gwynne. And now: M.L. Wang. The Sword of Kaigen. If you’ve heard any sort of accolade about this book, it is well deserved. I expected to enjoy this like I do most fantasy series. I did not expect to have my heart racing, to have my mind consumed by it during daily activities, for it to be the type of book that I long to get back to. There was never a moment of boredom. In the beginning, my only hindrance was learning the terms well enough to be able to continue without a hitch. I am often that person that goes through the whole novel trying to figure out terms without checking to see if there is a glossary in the back. Thankfully, I had the foresight to check out the glossary, so the sailing was smooth. Every unknown term is back there, I promise.
“We can’t claim to be crime-fighters if we disrespect life just as much as the criminals we fight.”
This is an extremely action-packed story. To be honest, I’m not usually that fond of huge battles or constant battles. I tend to glaze over for them, which is ironic, since fantasy is ripe with battle scenes and it’s my most-read genre. John Gwynne and Joe Abercrombie are some of the few authors I have read that write battle scenes well enough that I pay attention throughout the whole battle. Sword of Kaigen can now be added to that list. It starts off with the fight scenes with almost… vigilante superheroes. Misaki’s formative years are much different from her years as she matures, but we start out at Daybreak Academy, where she fights crime with her good friend Robin. Eventually she marries and settles down, hiding her fighting roots from her family. Years down the road, the fighting comes to her home and her whole family is pulled into the fight. This is where the REAL fighting happens. We watch various characters train throughout but you haven’t seen the least of what they can do until this moment. Absolutely breathtaking battle scenes start to take place. It feels like a punch to the gut, I had to put the book down at moments because it was so hard to read, my adrenaline was SOARING.
“We hold this line!” Uncle Takashi boomed. “We hold this line!” the other fighters echoed, matching his ferocity. “We are the Sword of Kaigen!” “We are the Sword of Kaigen!”
If you have any biased or sexist thoughts that women can’t write fantasy, check yourself. This is a prime example of women writing some damn glorious, and often, gory fantasy. What’s even better, it isn’t gory for the sake of being gory. It’s war. It’s ugly. It isn’t glorified. It’s traumatizing and scary and terrible. There’s beauty in fighting well, but there’s always the terrifying devastation of carnage that goes with any physical fight. People you love will die in this book.
“I believe this is why the two greatest empires are Yamma, built on the power of fire, and our own Kaigen, built on the power of water. The two exist in this realm, not to destroy one another, but to create a balance.”
The contrast of these harsh, brutal scenes with the tender, beautiful scenes is exactly the universal balance that these characters take comfort in. There’s a constant theme of yin/yang, light/dark that runs throughout the book. The balance of nature. With every tragedy, there’s a moment of grace and symmetry. The contrast of the man Misaki wanted to marry, to the man she actually married. Her father has a prediction for the man she wanted to marry and what it would mean for their family, and the ironic thing is, for that exact prediction… his worry was about the wrong man. There’s a lot more to her relationship with both men than first meets eyes and there’s a balance between the two men.
“For fifteen years Misaki had lamented being fated to raise her husband’s sons. All that time, she hadn’t considered that these boys might have something of her in them too.”
We go back and forth between Misaki’s narrative and her son, Mamoru. Misaki doesn’t hide that her bitterness at marrying her husband, Takeru, spoiled the love she “should” have felt immediately for her sons. While it makes me sad that Mamoru grew up without feeling the full envelopment of a mother’s love (especially when his father isn’t exactly warm), it reminds us that motherhood isn’t for everyone. Women are told that that’s their purpose when maybe, just maybe, alll women aren’t maternal. Even more so, the fact that Misaka probably would have been more maternal if she was allowed to choose the way she mothered is sad. Instead, she spent years denying a major part of herself. When she’s finally able to reconnect with the fighter that she was prior to getting married, she feels that intense maternal protection of her family. I think that’s so relatable to motherhood in general, as mothers often sacrifice a lot of who they were to become a mother. It takes time to find a balance between the mother you want to be, the person you were, and the person you’re becoming.
“Listen, son… when I was your age, I had to face truths that seemed to break the world. That’s what happens when you come into contact with people who aren’t quite like you. You learn over time that the world isn’t broken. It’s just… got more pieces to it than you thought. They all fit together, just maybe not the way you pictured when you were young.”
As for Takeru, I absolutely hated him throughout the entiiiiire book, almost. M.L. Wang shows her masterful writing with him. I longed for some Takeru chapters earlier because I wanted to get into his head. I didn’t think there could possibly be anything to make me see his side. The way she set this up was so effectively done. I also like that Wang acknowledges that sometimes burning, passionate love isn’t the best love. Sometimes that love can consume until there’s nothing left, can be dangerous. Often, a love that makes you feel safe, that is constant, that has the soft strumming of home to it, is the most sustainable love.
“Falleke!” Kwang swore. “You guys in this village really believe all this stuff, don’t you? You believe everything the government tells you?” “Why wouldn’t we?” Itsuki asked earnestly. “You must see what’s happening here.” Kwang’s voice was almost imploring as he looked from one face to the next. “The emperor is using you.”
I think my favorite part about this book was how it addressed government propaganda, especially in this day and age. Especially RIGHT NOW, when there is a conversation about the sanitization of American history and skewing the facts so that they fit the narrative of what the government wants to sell its citizens. There’s also this idea that you’re supposed to have blind loyalty to your country —that you’re not supposed to question them— that is addressed here. It was a hard pill for some of our characters to swallow, while others were completely aware of this. I think that’s cohesive to our daily lives.
“You’re patriotic and loyal. You’re exactly what everyone’s told you to be.”
There’s this notion that people are meant to die for their country and if you don’t want to do that or you don’t believe in what your country is selling, that you’re not a true citizen. That’s ridiculous and I’m glad that Wang takes that on. It is okay to be proud of your country but you should never blind yourself because of your service to your country.
“The world doesn’t need another powerful theonite trying to force his idea of justice on a city of adyns. That’s not what I’m going to be.”
Another thing I found so in tune with today’s world was addressing brutality from people that have sworn to protect. Robin refuses to kill just to protect himself or others. He refused to be cruel to get his job done. He would rather disarm. Maybe M.L. Wang had the foresight that these conversations were long overdue, or maybe they were just ideals of her own that she wanted to put out into the world, but she puts into words what a lot of people haven’t been able to.
“The power of gods rose, thunderous, like a wave inside Mamoru, and he rode the swell, moving his body with it. As the wave hit its apex, he sent its full force down his arm, through his open palm, into the ice.”
I really loved the pureness of Robin. I liked how Misaki was able to open up like no other when she was around him. There was the air of gentleness that mixed with the fierceness of so many of these warriors. The story starts off so softly, almost dreamlike, and quickly turns into a raging symphony of words, revelations, and war. There’s some absolutely devastating moments that made my heart break, but in the end I was left feeling so satisfied. I’m also a self-professed book masochist. The more heartbreak, the more I end up liking it. The magic system in this was glorious, too. It was a mixture of the elements and science, the power of gods, and sheer will that was awe inspiring. The culture shines through and jumps off the page. M.L. Wang will forever be an author to keep your eye on. If I could give this 100 stars on goodreads, I would. I ended up highlight 58 quotes in my kindle. I was so thankful that I read it on kindle first and ordered a paperback after. For all of the quotes that I put in this review, I easily could have put a dozen more. I was thinking how I would love to see Robin and Misaki’s kids at Daybreak Academy together and then read that her previous books DO involve Robin’s son, at least. If you’re thinking about reading The Sword of Kaigen, just do it!
“A decade later, a fifteen-year-old Hiroshi would become known as the youngest swordsman ever to master the Whispering Blade. What the world would never know, was that he was the second youngest.”
Happy Publishing Day to Trinidad native @carolinemackenziewrites! This was such a fun story. Yola is in the midst of grieving her Aunt Celia when a dangerous man named Ugly pays her family a visit. He brings it to their attention that Celia owes him A LOT of money and he expects them to work off her debt. So begins the journey of using their family homes to harbor the illegal immigrants that Ugly moves across borders for extortionate fees. The matter is made more complicated when Yola falls in lust with Roman, Ugly’s strong arm.
This writing won’t be for everyone but I really enjoyed it. It’s frank and honest. Forewarning, since I know some of my friends on here have strong religious convictions towards sexuality and sexual partners, this isn’t a book for you. I am not religious in the least, so no issue for me. Yola is crass and bold and comfortable in her own body. There was a lot of body positivity in this novel. There were serious moments and hilarious moments. The relationship between Roman and Yola was actually really tender. I liked that Caroline didn’t try to tell the immigrant story since she’s a native, but rather showed the interactions between the immigrants and Yola’s family. It all ended up working towards an ending that I was quite surprised about.
A few thoughts: I actually didn’t think Yola was as “bitchy” as everyone said. She is a strong woman that says her mind, but I found that as a strength. Her Aunt Celia is definitely a different story. She says some things that are pretty awful, sometimes very politically incorrect. I didn’t enjoy the aspect of her older brother dating a minor/just turned 18 year old girl. I don’t condone that in any way and couldn’t get that part of the story, even though they ended up working out okay with the way the storyline went. All in all, I enjoyed this a lot but had a few issues! I found myself wanting to skip forward to the times between Roman and Yola because their encounters were the most interesting to me! All that said, I would definitely read more of Caroline’s writing.
I originally wrote this as a tweet, then switched to my notes app as it got longer… and then remembered, oh yeah! I have a blog. Duh. So instead of posting screenshots of my notes app, I copied it over here. We all know of the play Hamilton: An American Musical. Whether you’ve seen it or not, in theatre or filmed, you know of it. It happened to launch on Disney in the midst of the height of BLM, so it has sparked some conversation on slavery. Here’s some of my thoughts on Hamilton and the controversy surrounding it:
1. I think people forget that a lot of the intention in this play, besides focusing on a founding father that got very little attention historically, is to show the people against immigration how this country was built was built on immigration. Does it focus on colonization? No. But it’s also a musical about a specific guy’s life, not truly about the nitty gritty details of everything that happened in American history. By casting a diverse cast, it’s a subtle touch on the fact that immigration is okay when it is whites illegally—forcefully—immigrating, but not when Latinx/Muslim/Black/etc people want to take an opportunity to better their lives. You put people of color into these roles and ask if everyone would be so patriotic about the stuff they did if their skin color was different? No, likely, their flaws would outweigh the good they did. Which is the opposite for these white founding fathers. Hamilton did have a pretty shitty upbringing and came to America and found a way to become one of the most important men in the country, and this play absolutely fueled the conversation on how that particular rise in power is available to white men predominately. The “American dream” that is often available and sustainable only for whites.
2. Hamilton was one of the few guys that chose not to own slaves, though his wife’s family did. Don’t get me wrong, all of these guys are pretty shitty in one way or another, but him and Laurens (who he was most likely in love with as he was likely bisexual) were for Black freedom. Hamilton was likely WAY too elitist and worried about creating a government that fit HIS vision to really rally behind the movement, which is also pretty shitty because he was complicit by inaction. He was an often crappy, complex person who also did some cool stuff and you SHOULD recognize that Hamilton wasn’t just some angelic genius, he was often a POS… which I think is pretty obvious in the play. You aren’t expected to romanticize him. But people shouting that he was a slave owner when he was one of three founding fathers that didn’t own slaves is incorrect. Everyone else sure did… but again, this was about Hamilton’s life, not theirs.
3. Fuck yeah, Lin-Manuel, get your bag. He does a lot of good with his money and influence. HE’s a theatre genius. The continuity from one song to another, the specific way he leads from one song to another, the pitch of the words, the perfectly timed moments of laughter, sadness, and overwhelming emotion came together so cohesively. Do I full support a Puerto Rican man grabbing that “American dream” for himself and making himself some money? Yep.
4. Broadway representation matters. This musical was being made regardless. Lin-Manuel made an amazing work of art and it would have been big no matter what. They could have easily cast all white actors, which isn’t in line with hip-hop, rap, or the R&B styles that it imitates, in general. If you want to use those styles, you SHOULD have people that pioneered those genres as actors in your musical. Also, let some of these old fucks roll in their graves while a cast of talented, diverse actors play them. Broadway in general is WHITE AF. This wildly successful play is paying diverse casts of actors. Since Hamilton has been in theatres, diverse casting has been at its highest ever, and there’s still never been less than 60% white casting in New York Broadway. It’s opened up the conversation on the woefully low amount of BIPOC/POC actors in theatre, and the conversation on the need for more Black/non-Caucasian creators and stories in theatre. It is absolutely okay to point that out, but to take all of your anger out about the inequalities in Broadway on the Hamilton production is kind of ridiculous. Hamilton didn’t create this inequality, it has tried to change that inequality. People are enjoying the music, and hopefully smart enough to know that this isn’t historically accurate, is essentially historical fiction, and are seeing relatable actors up there.
5. Upper/upper middle class have been able to afford to see this play, and theatre in general, and the second someone makes a Broadway play available to anyone with streaming capabilities, people wanna shame others or make them feel bad about wanting to see AND enjoy this. Kids are being exposed to theatre. Kids are seeing representation of themselves and falling in love with theatre. People who have never had the money or privilege to see theatre are having an opportunity. Let people enjoy things. Lets not forget that every single Hamilton show ever, across the country/world, holds 40 tickets as a random lottery for people to get tickets for $10, giving lower classes an opportunity to go.
Talk about the inconsistencies, talk about the historically inaccurate aspects. Research those inaccuracies! I have learned A LOT about history on my own accord after seeing this musical. This is a MUSICAL, it’s not supposed to tell us everything we already knew/didn’t know about history. Talk about how shitty and flawed and cruel these men were in addition to their accomplishments. Talk about how we need more plays written, produced, and represented by and for BIPOC/POC. Expect more from the theatre world going forward. Hell, write a historical play, musical, film, book, short story on what YOU’D like to see in regard to Hamilton or any of these founding fathers. This was the story that Lin-Manuel couldn’t get out of his brain and it is adapted for theatre. Scream Black Lives Matter from the roof tops because you SHOULD. Remember that this is a musical, a work of art, or at the very least… just some fun entertainment and you can enjoy it for what it is. You do not need to feel bad for that! You can—and should—also embrace the deeper conversations, intentional or unintentional, caused by this play.
Lastly, here’s where you can donate to Broadway for Racial Justice: Donate
Here’s where you can donate to actors out of work that are being affected by COVID: Donate. You can also push for the COVID relief to be extended, as these actors won’t start getting paid until at least January. Write to your representatives!
Support writers in the industry by donating here: Donate
If you have any other links for donating, please drop them in the comments and I can add them 🙂