This is Personal – A Review of America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo

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It’s not often that I write a review this early, in the first raw, blistering moments immediately after a really, really good book. That’s not how I was taught to do it. My professors always taught that these kinds of things require separation. I’ve been told that it’s always best to put some gap between the self and the experience, some breathing room, the better to see things clearly.

Except I cannot do that right now. I feel it would be almost a disservice to put that distance, to let these new-formed wounds scab over for later contemplation.

So I shall let it be. I shall write while the wounds are still open, and see what to make of it.

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A Fun Adventure That Could Push Harder, But Doesn’t – A Review of Free Chocolate by Amber Royer

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This review is based on an ARC given to me for free by the publisher, Angry Robot Books. This does not in any way affect my review.

This book is slated for release on June 5, 2018.

I’ve loved chocolate since I had my first taste of it when I was a little girl. It was a piece broken off of a Nestle Crunch candy bar, handed to me by one of my parents, though I don’t remember which. That first taste created a love for chocolate that lasts to this day (though nowadays I eat more dark chocolate than milk chocolate, due both to changing tastes and health reasons). Indeed, there is no flavour quite like chocolate – and I and many chocoholics both in the past and in the future will agree that chocolate is one of the most sublime foodstuffs ever discovered.

The sublimity of chocolate was first discovered by the Mesoamericans, who first started harvesting and then cultivating the cacao plant for use in rituals and medicine – and later, when the Aztecs came to power, as currency. When the Spanish conquered Central America they brought chocolate over to Europe, where it became a popular foodstuff; as a result, plantations were set up all across the world, most of them in colonies falling within a narrow band of twenty degrees north and south of the equator. Most of the world’s chocolate now comes from countries that fall in that band: the Ivory Coast and Ghana are the leaders of production, with Indonesia, Cameroon, and Nigeria close at their heels. The Philippines is a very small producer, comparatively speaking, but the quality of the chocolate produced is exceptional, if the results from the 2017 Academy of Chocolate Awards are any indication.

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“But the Sparrow Still Falls” – A Review of The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

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Trigger warnings for this novel can be found at the very bottom of this review.

My relationship with religion – specifically, Roman Catholicism as practiced in the Philippines – is a little complicated. Most of the time, I am ill at ease with it: Christianity, after all, is a very misogynistic religion, and in the years since I graduated from high school I have decided that I want to have as little truck as possible with a religion that punishes me for having breasts and a uterus. There is also the heavily homophobic slant as well, which I dislike not for my sake, but for the sake of my friends. Nor does it help that the Church interferes with politics in this country, sometimes directly, but often indirectly through politicians and interest groups, who block everything from better sex-ed and access to contraceptives to a divorce bill under the guise of religious piety. And do not get me started on the false sanctimony of certain individuals, who like to pretend they are superior to everyone else just because they attend Mass on a regular basis, but in fact are some of the most deeply unlikable people anyone could ever have the unfortunate privilege of knowing.

And yet, despite all of that, I am regularly drawn to it, as well. The history of Christianity fascinates me to no end, as does the art produced under its influence. And though there is plenty about Christianity’s approach to the world that I do not like, the philosophies it has produced and continues to espouse are still interesting. Given Christianity’s global reach and its pervasive presence in Western history and culture (and therefore, thanks to colonialism, in other histories and cultures as well), having some knowledge and experience of it, even if I no longer practice it, is handy because of the kind of insight such knowledge and experience provide.

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No Going Forward, and No Going Back – A Review of A Crown for Cold Silver by Alex Marshall

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Trigger warnings for this novel can be found at the very bottom of this review.

I confess to having a slight mistrust of grimdark stories, mostly because the quality can be rather uneven. Violence and despair are part and parcel of grimdark fiction, but all too often I read stories that seem to make use of those elements for no other reason than to add shock value to the story. In stories written by men, especially, it seems like the female characters get the short end of the stick. If they are not killed, raped, or tortured as part of background events or as character development milestones for the male protagonist, then they are little better than sex dolls for the male protagonist to use when he has an itch to scratch or some more brooding angst to work out. In many male-written grimdark tales, to be a woman is to suffer, whether literally in the course of the story, or metaphorically because the author does not really value female characters enough to want to actually develop them.

This is why I’ve dodged around the genre for a while now, dominated as it is by male authors, and indulged in it only when a female author comes out with something in the genre. For a while now my reliable standby for female-authored grimdark stories has been Kameron Hurley, who’s proven more than handy at telling gruesome, violent stories with all the blood and guts and gore a reader could ask for – all while featuring female characters who are fascinating to read about, and entirely human in their strengths and failings. When a grimdark story puts female characters front and centre, not as victims, but as oppressors and perpetrators of violence in their own right, then it becomes worthy of my attention.

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Coming Home to Find a Way Forward – A Review of Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor

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I have mentioned often enough that my faith in young adult fiction is not as solid as it used to be – certainly not like it was when I first started reading in the genre in the very late 1990s and early 2000s. One would think that, given the sheer amount of YA now available, I would be able to find at least some reads that I would find enjoyable, but despite the seeming embarrassment of riches the YA shelf of my bookstore now provides, quantity does not always mean quality. YA used to be a rather small genre, but almost all the books were excellent – what I did not like was generally down to personal taste, and not so much the quality of the writing. But nowadays, finding good YA stories is like trying to find a few grains of gold in a very great quantity of dross, and I just do not have the time to do that kind of sifting.

Fortunately, the Internet has been (relatively) helpful in pinning down interesting YA novels to read, though it still does require some filtering and sifting to find material that might be good to read. In general, however, I filter according to books by authors of tried-and-tested repute (such as the inimitable Diane Duane), and, increasingly, books by people of colour. I notice that it is among the latter that I am finding the kind of quality storytelling that used to exist in YA. Not all of those stories are to my taste, of course, but I find that the ones that are, are incredible, amazing stories, or at the very least immensely entertaining – which is more than I can say for a great many of the other YA stories written by white authors.

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