The Week in Books #39

New stack for September.

Phew, I did it! I finished the stack of books I set out for myself a couple weeks ago in record time. I’ve been having a rough summer (who hasn’t, really?) and have decided for the first time in years to completely clear my schedule of all obligations and focus solely on myself and my family for the next little while. It has been really nice to have no projects on the go, no work for other people and no plans on the horizon for the time being. I’ve been able to take lots of downtime and do plenty of reading, which I am really enjoying and it has been awesome for my mental health.

The stack I demolished in August.

Since my last Week in Books post mid-month I’ve finished off The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman, Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi, The Bingo Palace by Louise Erdrich, Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, and Washington Black by Esi Edugyan.

1. The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman. It’s been a while since I read The Dovekeepers and I’ve never actually read Practical Magic (or seen the movie!) but after reading this prequel I feel like I have been set up nicely the read the next one in the series. I enjoyed Hoffman’s writing and this book was a breeze to get through. Witchy books are always going to be something I enjoy haha.

In this sparkling prequel we meet sisters Frances and Jet and Vincent, their brother. From the beginning their mother Susanna knew they were unique: Franny with her skin as pale as milk and blood red hair, who could commune with birds; Jet as shy as she is beautiful, who knows what others are thinking, and Vincent so charismatic that he was built for trouble. Susanna needed to set some rules of magic: no walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles and certainly, absolutely, no books about magic…

Google Books

2. Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi. I have read and enjoyed all of Oyeyemi’s works, they are so unusual and unique. I read a few reviews for Gingerbread that said it was hard to follow what was happening, but (not to sound smug) I didn’t have that problem. The language was interesting and I liked the funny lines peppered throughout. She really blurs the lines between fantasy and reality, I like that her writing doesn’t have any rules. I think this was one of my favourites of hers, things unfolded well though the ending seemed a bit rushed to me after all the buildup of family tension.

Influenced by the mysterious place gingerbread holds in classic children’s stories – equal parts wholesome and uncanny – beloved novelist Helen Oyeyemi invites readers into a delightful tale of a surprising family legacy, in which the inheritance is a recipe.

Perdita Lee and her mother Harriet may appear your average schoolgirl and working mother but they are anything but. For one thing, their home is a gold-painted seventh-floor flat with some surprisingly verbal vegetation. And then there’s the gingerbread. As we follow the Lees through encounters with jealousy, ambition, family grudges, work and wealth, gingerbread seems to be the one thing that holds a constant value . . .

Google Books

3. The Bingo Palace by Louise Erdrich. This was a quick read that was enjoyable enough but felt a bit rushed. I liked the characters and felt like it could have been a super strong novel but the ending was pretty abrupt and I didn’t feel like all the threads were tied up well. Reading the blurb gave me about as much information as reading the whole story, not a great sign, but I’ve really loved some of Erdrich’s other novels so I’ll give a pass. Still entertaining enough for me to make it all the way to the end, though I didn’t get the satisfaction I was looking for.

At the crossroads of his life, Lipsha Morrissey is summoned by his grandmother to return to the reservation. There, he falls in love for the very first time—with the beautiful Shawnee Ray, who’s already considering a marriage proposal from Lipsha’s wealthy entrepreneurial boss, Lyman Lamartine. But when all efforts to win Shawnee’s affections go hopelessly awry, Lipsha seeks out his great-grandmother for a magical solution to his romantic dilemma—on sacred ground where a federally sanctioned bingo palace is slated for construction.

Harper Collins

4. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. THIS BOOK. This is what I needed. A great fantasy adventure with magic, battles, strong characters, and a smidgen of love. This series could be like a Black Harry Potter if the next books are as strong as this one! I super duper enjoyed it and ordered the second book in a panic before I was even finished haha. Fast paced and very readable, this young adult story weaves together West African inspired fantasy and Yoruba culture and language while making very real comparisons to the struggles of the Black Community in the present day. Yes yes yes.

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers and her growing feelings for an enemy.


5. Washington Black by Esi Edugyan. I loved this story. I was very excited to pick this one up finally (and for $1!) after eyeing it since its release. I didn’t read a blurb or anything, just went into it blind and though it wasn’t what I anticipated I thought it was really fabulous. It tells the story of Washington Black; a young boy who is moved from his position as a field slave to an inventors assistant and travels the world with him seeing all sorts of wonders. Really excellent.

When two English brothers arrive at a Barbados sugar plantation, they bring with them a darkness beyond what the slaves have already known. Washington Black – an eleven year-old field slave – is horrified to find himself chosen to live in the quarters of one of these men. But the man is not as Washington expects him to be. His new master is the eccentric Christopher Wilde – naturalist, explorer, inventor and abolitionist – whose obsession to perfect a winged flying machine disturbs all who know him. Washington is initiated into a world of wonder: a world where the night sea is set alight with fields of jellyfish, where a simple cloth canopy can propel a man across the sky, where even a boy born in chains may embrace a life of dignity and meaning – and where two people, separated by an impossible divide, can begin to see each other as human.

Indigo Books

6. We Have Always Been Here by Samra Habib. This memoir has been everywhere I look and I finally grabbed a copy. Samra has had an interesting life so far; an arranged marriage to her first cousin at age 16 that she kept secret from all her high-school friends out of fear that they wouldn’t understand, second teenage marriage after the dissolving of her arranged one, and a subsequent slow coming to terms with her own queerness. This memoir was an easy read but felt fairly superficial, which I almost feel is unfair to say about someone who has shared as much publicly as Samra has, but I felt it lacked real depth into how Samra felt about what was going on for her. Her descriptions of her arranged marriage felt almost detached, as if she still hadn’t processed what actually happened to her. The way it came across was almost as if it didn’t feel like that big a deal. Overall it was a good read though and I always admire women who share their stories as a way to embolden others who are experiencing the same things in secret. Thanks Samra!

Samra Habib has spent most of her life searching for the safety to be herself. As an Ahmadi Muslim growing up in Pakistan, she faced regular threats from Islamic extremists who believed the small, dynamic sect to be blasphemous. From her parents, she internalized the lesson that revealing her identity could put her in grave danger.

When her family came to Canada as refugees, Samra encountered a whole new host of challenges: bullies, racism, the threat of poverty, and an arranged marriage. Backed into a corner, her need for a safe space–in which to grow and nurture her creative, feminist spirit–became dire. The men in her life wanted to police her, the women in her life had only shown her the example of pious obedience, and her body was a problem to be solved.

So begins an exploration of faith, art, love, and queer sexuality, a journey that takes her to the far reaches of the globe to uncover a truth that was within her all along. A triumphant memoir of forgiveness and family, both chosen and not, We Have Always Been Here is a rallying cry for anyone who has ever felt out of place and a testament to the power of fearlessly inhabiting one”s truest self.

Indigo Books
Two selections I made at Chapters last week (I went to the actual store! This feels noteworthy haha)

I’ve made a stack of books for September that I’m excited to dig into. I also picked up a couple books I’ve had my eye on at an actual bookstore last week. I left the house! We left the island! Haha. Pandemic shopping has been a strange experience; sanitizing hands before entering the store, wearing a mask, standing on the floor dots to allow 2m between customers… it’s pretty wild. But things feel pretty safe out there with all the precautions, and all of Vancouver Island currently only has 8 active cases with no hospitalizations so even though the curve in BC has spiked up higher than it was in April (sad face) the island is still faring pretty well.

I’ve started From the Ashes by Jesse Thistle this week, and am looking forward to the rest of the books in this new stack. I’ve also got some new books in the mail 🙌🏻 Can’t stop won’t stop! Haha

What are you reading this week??

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