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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“Not the World I Wanted, But One I Can Work With.” – A Review of Deep Roots by Ruthanna Emrys

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

This book is slated for release on July 10, 2018.

I have been watching the changing landscape of Lovecraftian literature with great interest ever since I read The Ballad of Black Tom a few years ago. As I have mentioned in my other reviews, it has changed to suit the times and the writers currently shaping it, but this also means working with material that has some deeply objectionable themes at their core – no surprise, given Lovecraft’s equally objectionable politics which are also embedded in his writing. But, though Lovecraft is one of the most influential writers in genre fiction, and though his Cthulhu Mythos might be one of the most influential creative works in the same, like all works of art the Mythos is open to reexamination, reevaluation, and recreation. That is what is happening now, with women and people of colour – those who have the biggest axes to grind, in other words – altering the Mythos into something more open, more altruistic, and more generous than it or Lovecraft ever was.

Last year I picked up Ruthanna Emrys’ Winter Tide, the first in The Innsmouth Legacy series, and fell absolutely in love with it. Set in the United Stats post-World War II, it introduces the reader to Aphra Marsh, her brother Caleb Marsh, and their friends as they confront an eldritch threat to American national security. Along the way, Aphra rediscovers the meaning of family and builds a new one consisting not just of her blood relatives, but also of her friends. By the end of the story, she and her newfound family are beginning to rebuild Innsmouth, hoping to repopulate and resettle the town so it can once again become a safe haven for the Chyrlid Ahja, the People of the Water.

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Slick as the Edge of an Obsidian Knife – A Review of Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

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

I remember when the hype over Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series first started making the rounds. It came at a time when the popularity of YA was riding high in the wake of Harry Potter, and it seemed as if the genre could do no wrong. It was a good time to be a YA reader; almost anything I chose to pick off the bookstore shelf would, at the very least, be a book I would not regret spending time with because it was well-written and entertaining. I might not come to absolutely love a particular book once I got to the end of it, but at the very least I would not feel like I had wasted my time and money on something that was not worth the investment. This meant that the idea of a YA vampire series was definitely intriguing.

It also helped that my interest in vampire-related fiction was rooted in my high school readings of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. A lot of readers of my generation who read the Vampire Chronicles probably chose to give Meyers’ series a shot out of a sense of nostalgia and goodwill. At the time of Twilight’s release and rise in popularity, Rice’s reputation as a writer was in decline, though many of us still had a fondness for her previous work. We thought that maybe Twilight would give us something akin to what we felt when we first read the Vampire Chronicles. It would not be Lestat and Louis and Armand and all the other beloved characters of Rice’s series, but it might bring back the same feelings as when we first met those characters, maybe engender the same kind of fondness.

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Of Duty to Families Born Into, and Families Chosen – A Review of Jade City by Fonda Lee

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The air-conditioned section of the cafeteria at my workplace (called the “Executive Lounge”, even though it is neither a lounge nor used exclusively by executives) has a wall-mounted flatscreen television with cable access. It sees a lot of use, especially during important sports events (such as the NBA finals or important college basketball matches) and the Miss Universe pageants. Sometimes it’ll even be switched to a channel that broadcasts foreign movies dubbed in Filipino. The quality of the dubs tend to vary, so sometimes it’s a passable dub job, but other times the voice acting is so stilted that it just sounds weird to listen to.

But there was one time when the TV was showing a movie, but not a foreign film dubbed in Filipino. Instead, it was tuned to a channel that aired old, local films – in that instance, an action movie from the 1990s, starring a person whom I had almost completely forgotten about: Cynthia Luster, the Philippine stage name for Japanese actress and martial artist Yukari Oshima. She starred in many of the Hong Kong gangster-style action movies that, some cinephiles say, is the greatest legacy that Hong Kong cinema has given to the world. Unsurprisingly, such films were also popular in the Philippines, and as a result the local film industry produced copycat films using the same kinds of plots but with a few tweaks here and there to account for Filipino culture. Oshima was invited to perform in a handful of such films, which is why she looms large in the pop culture memory of Filipinos who grew up in the 1990s.

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Has Moments of Fun, But Can Be Annoying – A Review of An Ancient Evil by Paul Doherty

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It has been a long while since I read Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales in full. The first time I encountered the work was in high school, when we read an excerpt from the Wife of Bath’s Tale, but it was only when I got to university that I was able to read the work in its entirety. It’s not an easy read at all – Chaucer’s Middle English (a style even older than Shakespeare’s) is hard to get accustomed to, even without having to take the idiosyncrasies of the time period into consideration as well. I was fortunate to have access to a heavily-annotated and copiously-footnoted edition while at university, and that helped significantly in understanding the context of the tales, as did having access to the other books in the library and online journals.

Despite that, though, I have never really found much appeal in Chaucer’s work. I understand why some people enjoy it, but reading it requires more drudge work than I strictly like. I suppose if I could get ahold of Peter Ackroyd’s modern English adaptation I could attempt to read it again, but since I do not have any particular inclination to do so it might be a while yet before I reread Chaucer’s greatest work.

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