Books

Talking about books (when I have time to read for fun)

READ THE WORLD – Honduras: 13 Colors of the Honduran Resistance by Melissa Cardoza

Translated by Matt Ginsberg-Jaeckle.

In 13 Colors of the Honduran Resistance, feminist author and activist Melissa Cardoza tells 13 stories about women from the Honduran resistance in the aftermath of the June 28th, 2009 coup against President Manuel Zelaya.

I’ve said it before, but I really do learn so much about the world through my Read the World Project. I never knew that the first coup of the twenty-first century happened in Honduras and just eleven years ago. Maybe it’s naivety on my part, but I really thought other nations interfering with a countries politics and helping armies kidnap progressive Presidents was a thing of the past. Though, look at the 2016 US election and that proves that’s not the case.

13 Colors of the Honduran Resistance is very short and each of the stories are punchy and effective. Cardoza really brings to life the strength and determination of the people as they protested continuously for hundreds of days. Different people protested in different ways and these stories show their fear of violence from the police and military, but also the ways they fought back.

It’s the women in this resistance who are the focus of this book. What Melissa Cardoza does well is show all the different people from different backgrounds and how they find ways to protest. There are teachers and cleaners, mothers, grandmothers, and daughters, Black women and trans women – they all learn from one another and it’s about the bonds they have during this time of resistance and uncertainty.

The edition of 13 Colors of the Honduran Resistance I read was a bilingual edition, meaning you got to see the Spanish and English versions of the text side by side. As someone who’s relearning Spanish after studying it at A Level, it’s nice to be able to read a book in its original form, with the English right there. There was also footnotes to explain certain events or references which was very helpful.

I learnt a lot from 13 Colors of the Honduran Resistance about the turmoil Honduras has gone through and the people who protested against an unjust coup. But also it reaffirms the strength and perseverance so many women have and how important their camaraderie is. It wasn’t just women in Honduras protesting, women organised in other Central American countries and joined the resistance. Whether it was a small group of half a dozen women, or a huge march of thousands, these women made sure their voices were heard, even when the risk of violent repercussions was so prevalent.

My Reading Rush 2020 TBR

The Reading Rush starts in a couple of weeks and I’ve put together my TBR. The Reading Rush is a weeklong readathon that starts at midnight your times zone on Monday 20 July and finishes at 11:59pm on Sunday 26 July. The Reading Rush has its origins on YouTube and there’s a YouTube channel, a Twitter, an Instagram and a website.

There’s reading challenges but you don’t have to try and do all of them, the main point of the readathon (as with most readathons) is to read as much as possible. The reading challenges are:

1. Read a book with a cover that matches the colour of your birth stone.
2. Read a book that starts with the word “The”.
3. Read a book that inspired a movie you’ve already seen.
4. Read the first book you touch.
5. Read a book completely outside of your house. With everything going on at the minute, you can change this up to mean sit in front of an open window, listen to outdoor ASMR videos while reading etc there’s more suggestions on the website.
6. Read a book in a genre that you’ve always wanted to read more of.
7. Read a book that takes place on a different continent than where you live.

I know I won’t read seven books and have one for each challenge so I’m all for using books for multiple challenges. Out of the seven challenges the one I definitely won’t be doing is “Read a book that inspired a movie you’ve already seen” as while I’ve seen a few films that were book adaptations that I haven’t read the source material, I don’t have any of those books.

Read a book with a cover that matches the colour of your birth stone
The Gloaming by Kirsty Logan
I’m a September baby so my birthstone is sapphire and one of the only blue books I have is The Gloaming. One of my Twitter pals read this a few months ago and said positive things about it so that has made me want to get to it sooner.

Read a book that starts with the word “The”
The Matter of Desire by Edmundo Paz Soldán or The Restless by Gerty Dambury or The Gloaming
Got a few options for this one which is always nice.

Read the first book you touch
The Restless or Hawkeye: Kate Bishop Vol.1: Anchor Points by Kelly Thompson, Leonardo Romero, Michael Walsh and Jordie Bellaire
I got together all the books from my Summer TBR that I hadn’t read yet (which is eight books), shut my eyes, waved my hand around a bit and then touched one. Well I wasn’t smart and put my whole hand down and ended up on two books so again, I’ve got options here.

Read a book completely outside of your house
Three Summers by Margarita Liberaki or Hawkeye: Kate Bishop Vol.1: Anchor Points
As this challenge is open to interpretation, my thinking is if I do decide to read outside (there’s some grassy areas where not many people are near where I live) I’ll read the comic because it’s shorter, or if I don’t fancy that, I’ll read Three Summers as it’s set in the countryside and has a very outdoorsy cover.

Read a book in a genre that you’ve always wanted to read more of
Three Summers
Is “classic” a genre? I’m gonna say it is for this challenge. Three Summers is called a “modern Greek classic” so I’m just running with that.

Read a book that takes place on a different continent than where you live.
The Matter of Desire or The Restless
My Read the World Project comes in handy for this one. I live in Europe and The Matter of Desire is set in both the United States and Bolivia while The Restless is set in Guadeloupe – so that covers North America, Central America and the Caribbean.

That’s five books on my TBR and as there’s some overlap with challenges I could read four of them and complete these six challenges. Are you taking part in the Reading Rush? If you are, I hope it’s a very successful reading week for you.

READ THE WORLD – Nicaragua: Life for Each by Daisy Zamora

Translated by Dinah Livingstone.

A poetry collection from Daisy Zamora, a Sandinista combatant during the liberation struggle who ran the clandestine Radio Sandino which broadcasted the call for a general insurrection in June 1979.

Life for Each is a super short poetry collection of only 70 pages. The collection is split into four parts. The first is a study of different people Zamora has met and connected with, the second has more personal poems, the third and fourth parts explore her family and friends and how they connect to her political love and anger.

Something I really liked about this poetry collection was how on the opposite side of the page to the English translation, was the poem in its original language. It was nice to be able to see the original text how the author wrote it and, if you know any of the language, being able to get some extra meaning from it. I’ve read a few books on my Read the World Project that have done this and I think it’s a great way to present a translated work.

I still find it difficult to write about poetry collections. As I said it’s a short collection and most of the poems themselves are short, only a few stanzas long, and to the point. They are punchy and affective but equally some of the longer poems are moving. “Lullaby for a Newborn Girl who Died” is about the death of Zamora’s newborn baby and it’s very bittersweet.

The poems in the latter half of the collection that are about politics, revolution, anger and desperation were the ones that I really liked. They’re small insights into political upheaval and how Zamora viewed those events. The final poem in the collection – “Families of CIA Victims Protest Outside the United States Embassy” – does a great job at showing the desperation of the families and the cruelty of those in the Embassy because they really just don’t care. This poem, like a lot of them in the collection, is passionate and heartfelt and eye-opening.

Mid-year Book Freak Out Tag 2020

We’re halfway through what has been an eventful, interesting and somewhat depressing year so far (at least for me) so it’s time to have a quick check in on my reading so far in 2020. I also thought I’d do the Mid-Year Book Freak Out Tag which was created by Earl Grey Books and Read Like Wildfire on YouTube. Turns out I did this tag in 2017 and not done it again since – probably due to my lack of organisation.

My very simple reading goals of 2020 are:

  • Read 60 books and review at least half of them. I’ve read 32 and reviewed 27 (though some of those aren’t live yet) so that’s on track. You can find a full list of the books I’ve read and reviewed so far this year on my Books of 2020 page as well as Goodreads.
  • Get my TBR down to 50 books. It currently stands at 91 when I stared the year with 85 unread books so that’s not going well but what else is new! Although while I am acquiring books they’re not overwhelming my TBR too much.
  • Have an equal split of male and female authors/if it leans one way, have it be that I read more women. As you can see by my handy pie chart that’s on track too:

  • At least 30% of the books I read be by people of colour. This is definitely on track at the minute as the authors of colour make up 60% of the books I’ve read so far this year. By the way “both” refers to books with multiple authors and one might be white and the other might be Black for example.

Now onto the tag!

1. Best book you’ve read so far in 2020
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
This was actually a bit difficult to choose as I’ve read a few 5 star books so far this year but I just loved Locke and his crew/family and the story was funny and exciting and just fantastic. I listened to the audiobook and I highly recommend that because the narrator is one of the best I’ve ever heard.

2. Best sequel you’ve read so far in 2020
Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland
I don’t read a lot of sequels. Both because I tend to read standalone books and when I do read a series, I usually take ages to get around to reading the next book. This year I read a sequel the month after I read the first book! Deathless Divide was darker and better than the first book and I definitely recommend reading them both. (more…)

REVIEW: Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland

Deathless Divide is the sequel to Dread Nation so there may be vague spoilers for the first book in this review.

After the fall of Summerland, Jane McKeene hoped her life would get simpler: Get out of town, stay alive, and head west to California to find her mother. But nothing is easy or as it seems and soon after Jane arrives in a town called Nicodermus, she comes to believe it’s not as safe as everyone believes. Jane soon finds herself on a dark path as she’s out for revenge and closes herself off from the world. But one person won’t let her shut herself off completely. Katherine Deveraux never expected to be allied with Jane McKeene. But after the hell she has endured, she knows friends are hard to come by – and that Jane needs her, too, whether Jane wants to admit it or not.

Amazingly, Deathless Divide is even better than its predecessor. It’s told in dual perspective with the chapters alternating between Jane’s point of view and Katherine’s. it’s great getting to see things from Katherine’s perspective and she becomes a much more fleshed out character as you learn more about her past and how she struggles with the fact she can pass for white. Also, both perspectives are equally gripping and they both have distinct voices which is always a plus for dual narratives.

Jane honestly has gone through so much and she is such a fighter, but her quest for revenge and how desensitised she has become to killing the dead, puts her in a precarious place. She likes to think she doesn’t need anyone but that’s not the case and it takes a long time for her to sort all those feelings out in her head.

Jane and Katherine’s friendship is really the heart and soul of this book. Jane needs Katherine and Katherine wants to be Jane’s friend. They balance each other out and have fought and survived together, meaning they know one another unlike anyone else. There are other relationships in Deathless Divide, romantic or otherwise, but none of them are as strong or as important as Jane and Katherine’s.

In Deathless Divide you learn more about how the shamblers (the undead) have affected the rest of the country, and there’s even mentions of outbreaks around the world showing it’s not a localised event. Deathless Divide combines different genres and themes in an interesting way; it’s a survivors story, there’s Western elements, there’s a deeper discussion of bioethics and experimentation, and there’s a lot of trauma and how that can effect someone’s psyche.

All the while Deathless Divide continues to work as an alternate history because there are so many actual historical elements included and adapted for this scenario. For instance, the explanation for the Chinese arriving on the West Coast and how that effects things and how no matter what, it’s Black people who are always at the bottom of the theoretical social ladder.

Deathless Divide really goes to dark and unexpected places and it’s all the better for it. It doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities Jane and Katherine live in the; the racism, the cruelty, the threat of death at any moment – from shamblers or humans – and it’s still an action-packed story with lots of twists and turns. It also has a very satisfying if a little bittersweet ending to what really is a fantastic duology. 5/5.

READ THE WORLD – Ukraine: Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex by Oksana Zabuzhko

Translated by Halyna Hryn. Narrated by Angela Dawe.

I had go to Goodreads to get a synopsis because I really wasn’t sure how to sum up this book, so here we go:
Narrated in first-person streams of thought, the female narrator is visiting professor of Slavic studies at Harvard and her exposure to American values and behaviours conspires with her yearning to break free from Ukrainian conventions. In her despair over a recently ended affair, she turns her attention to the details of her lover’s abusive behaviour. In detailing the power her Ukrainian lover wielded over her, and in admitting the underlying reasons for her attraction to him, she begins to see the chains that have defined her as a Ukrainian woman.

Honestly not sure what to make of Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex. I listened to it on audio and I’m not sure if that helped or hindered my experience of reading it. The narrative seemed to jump back and forth in time with no real clear signposts as to where we were in the main characters life. It’s a rambling narration of her thoughts and feelings about love, relationships, and what it means to be Ukrainian. It’s hard to keep up while listening to the audio so I have no idea if it’d be easier to follow if physically reading it.

Also, while the Goodreads synopsis say it’s in first-person, sometimes the stream of thought goes into second or third person as well which can make things more confusing. Though I suppose it’s also a way to show the narrators distance from some of her life experiences, or she’s reliving them in her memory and can now have a different take on events due to her new understanding of herself or the situation.

The discussions about being Ukrainian and the culture and history and language was one of the most interesting parts of Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex to me. It was a way to learn about a country that had its struggles and a culture of fear and repression and how that affected its people, especially women. Then seeing the differences between life in America and Ukraine and how it opens the narrator’s eyes to a new way of thinking was interesting too. She experiences a clash of cultures and it makes her rethink her relationship and how it wasn’t good for her for a number of reasons.

The sex scenes and musing on sex is graphic a lot of the time. She uses harsh and sometimes vulgar language to describe the act and it can be uncomfortable to listen to, not only because of the sexual content but how she sees herself when it comes to sex. It’s in those scenes that it’s really clear that her relationship isn’t a good or healthy one and the way her partner treats her, during sex and generally, is not OK. From this relationship she has an almost warped sense of self that she’s then re-examining once she’s out of it in relation to culture and heritage.

Much like The Naked Woman, I feel Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex could do from being a book read with others so you can then discuss it. There’s a lot of themes in it but the stream of conscious narrative along with the random time jumps makes it difficult to follow and appreciate what this novel was trying to say.

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Summer TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl. I don’t often take part in Top Ten Tuesday (I forget or it’s not a topic I feel I have ten books that fit etc) but I do always do the seasonal TBR posts. That’s mainly because I find it interesting and somewhat entertaining to see how many times a book ends up on a TBR – please do go through my TBR tag if you also want to see books repeatedly appear. It’s not because I don’t want to read them, all books I mention in my TBR posts are books I own and want to read, it’s just that I’m a mood reader and easily distracted by other books.

So, after that bit of context, here are ten books I’d like to read in the coming months but who knows how many of them I actually will.

Life for Each: Poems by Daisy Zamora
This poetry collection is literally 70 pages long. I could read it in the morning before work it’s that short.

Three Summers by Margarita Liberaki
An historical fiction about three sisters growing up in the countryside in Athens before the Second World War. It’s a coming of age story with romance, secrets and family drama. From the title alone it seems like a good book to read during the summer months.

The Restless by Gerty Dambury
Set in 1960s Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, The Restless follows a nine-year-old girl who is struggling with the sudden disappearance of her teacher and her father at the onset of a workers’ strike.

Dangerous Remedy by Kat Dunn
Had not heard of this book before I got it in a subscription box but it seems to be a story about a ragtag group of outcasts in Revolutionary France and it has some Frankenstein elements? Sounds good to me.

Scarlet Odyssey by C.T. Rwizi
An epic fantasy set in a landscape inspired by the history of southern and eastern Africa and its myths and magic. I got this via Amazon’s First Reads as the premise of a young man who wants to become a mystic in a society where women do magic and men are warriors caught my eye.

Thirteen Months of Sunrise by Rania Mamoun
This is another super short book of less than 100 pages and is a collection of short stories – both things making it something that I should read quickly and soon.

Hawkeye: Kate Bishop Vol 1 – 3 by Kelly Thompson, Leonardo Romero, Michael Walsh and Jordie Bellaire
I’m kind of cheating and combing three books into one choice here, but it’s a graphic novel series and as I have them all, I will be reading them one after the other. I love Hawkeye – both Clint Barton and Kate Bishop – and have been meaning to read Kate’s latest story arc for a while now.

The Sisters Grimm by Menna van Praag
Another book I got in a subscription box and it’s a story of four sisters trying to find one another and there’s magic I think? As you may probably tell, when it comes to subscription box books I haven’t heard of before, I like going into them knowing as little as possible. I do know The Sisters Grimm is set in Cambridge which is where I work so it’ll be cool reading a book set somewhere I know pretty well.

13 Colors of the Honduran Resistance by Melissa Cardoza
Feminist author and activist Melissa Cardoza tells thirteen stories about women from the Honduran resistance in the aftermath of the 28th June 2009 coup against President Manuel Zelaya.

A Phoenix First Must Burn edited by Patrice Caldwell
Guess what, this was a book I got from a subscription box! It’s a collection of short stories by Black authors that explore the Black experience through fantasy, science fiction, and magic.

What books are on your TBR for the next few months? If you’ve read any of these and think I should read them ASAP, please let me know.

READ THE WORLD – Antigua and Barbuda: A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid

Narrated by Robin Miles.

An essay drawing on Kincaid’s experiences of growing up in Antigua and how the Antigua tourists may see is vastly different to the one Antiguan’s live in.

A Small Place is a piece of creative non-fiction. Jamaica Kincaid refers to the reader as if they were a tourist visiting the island, describing what they may see, what they think of the beautiful beaches, the food, and the people. But soon after describing how wonderful everything can look to a tourist, a little bit of paradise, she goes onto talk about the parts of Antigua that a tourist wouldn’t notice or understand. The corruption, the dilapidated schools and hospitals, the places that the Black Antiguans are not allowed. The club houses, the government buildings, certain beaches. She delves into the history of Antigua and how the British shaped the island and the long-lasting impact of colonisation.

I think having an essay that’s full of dark humour as well as hard-hitting truth’s that are full of anger, is a really effective way to describe what a country and its people are like, and how slavery, segregation, and now tourism can affect them. It makes this place, this ten-by-twelve-mile island, and its history easy to understand and it also makes you think. Especially as it goes into the effects of tourism on the country, how there are certain things tourists are blind to like political corruption and how people’s homes and communities are not at all like the fancy hotels a tourist may stay in.

A Small Place also has autobiographical elements of Jamaica Kincaid’s childhood. She recounts the experience of having an Irish schoolteacher, the casual racism she and her classmates experienced without being able to put the word “racism” towards it as European rule or influence had been so prevalent on the island.

A Small Place was written in 1988 so things may have changed a bit for Antiguans over the past thirty years but then again, it may have not with the prevalence of racism and corruption in the world. A Small Place is a great insight into how colonialism can affect such a small nation and how tourism can be just as harmful when the best land and the most money goes towards tourism-related endeavours rather than the communities. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Djibouti: Passage of Tears by Abdourahman A. Waberi

Translated by David and Nicole Ball.

Djibril, a young Djiboutian voluntarily exiled in Montreal, returns to his native land to prepare a report for an American economic intelligence firm. Meanwhile, a shadowy, threatening figure imprisoned in an island cell seems to know Djibril’s every move.

I’m not sure what to make of this book to be perfectly honest. It’s a whole mixture of genres and I’m not sure that works a lot of the time. There are elements of a spy novel, of epistolary novel with Djibril’s notes on his findings in Djibouti, and of political thriller and crime fiction.

Djibril has returned to his home country about fifteen years after he left and made a life for himself in Canada. He’s had little to no contact with his family in all that time. Now back in Djibouti, he’s researching the political landscape for his firm as it’s an area of strategic importance for the transportation of the world’s oil supply.

There are little insights into what Djibouti and its people are like, however at the same time it feels like it could be any impoverished country. Djibril reflects on what the country was like when he was growing up and what he’s seeing now, but it’s written by and for someone who already knows the place. I’m not saying every book that’s set in a different country to my own needs to give a lot of descriptions or back story, but having gone into Passage of Tears knowing nothing about of Djibouti, it feels a shame that I have learnt nothing about the country – or at least nothing that has stuck with me.

I think it’s Passage of Tears’ writing style that I struggled with. The chapters alternate between Djbril’s point of view where his thoughts often jump back and forth between what he’s looking into now for his company, and his childhood memories, and an unnamed person who is imprisoned and appears to be talking to the reader, or Djibril. As the story progresses you can piece together who the imprisoned person is likely to be, but he too starts to go onto different tangents and it’s hard to focus in on the present narrative and what is supposed to be happening in this meandering plot. Extracts of writing about Walter Benjamin appear in the imprisoned man’s section and Walter Benjamin is a name I recognised but didn’t know who he was so that was a bit confusing as well, especially when towards the end of the book, half of each chapter seemed to be about him, not what’s currently happening in Djibouti.

I think they’re themes in Passage of Tears, but they often seemed muddled due to the characters voices not being strong. Themes of the effects of post-colonialism, terrorism and globalisation are there but the only one that really stood out is how America has historically meddled in so many countries history’s and politics that it’s no wonder there’s reactionary action from extremist groups.

Overall for such a reasonably short book (just over 200 pages), Passage of Tears was a drag to read a lot of the time and didn’t have characters that were easy to engage with.

REVIEW: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

When the War Between the States was derailed when the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville, America’s history took a different turn. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. Jane McKeene is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect rich white folk. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane, but not one Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies – not all of them undead.

I find alternate history stories fascinating. They can easily not work if they change the outcome of a big historical event, but then present things are 100% better or a lot of society’s problems are solved now that change has been made. That’s not the case with Dread Nation. While the outcome of the Civil War is different as the Union states and the Confederacy have had to stop fighting in order to fight the dead, that doesn’t mean prejudices and racism has disappeared.

Jane and the other Black girls at her combat school now have a skill that can be used by society, but that doesn’t mean they are treated well by white people, especially those in positions of power. It’s the way Dread Nation combines the horror of racism with the horror of zombies that is really interesting. Jane is not just fighting against the dead, but also the systematic racism that’s prevalent in every situation she encounters.

Jane is a great character. It took me a little while to warm to her as she’s so headstrong and doesn’t know when to stop when it comes to answering back her superiors. But she’s also smart, resourceful, and can lie like a rug. She’s one for tall tales and can think outside the box which is important when she’s put in dangerous situations.

Her reluctant friendship with Katherine, another girl from the school who can pass for white (which in term brings about a lot of interesting discussions of race and how Katherine feels about what her perceived skin colour can get her), is great as they are so different. Jane is a rule-breaker, constantly looking to learn things people would rather people like her didn’t, whereas Katherine is more reserved, looking forward to the life of an Attendant and doesn’t wish to rock the boat. They are both extremely capable of taking down the undead, or shamblers as they’re known.

The shamblers are unsettling and the way they’re described makes their presence felt almost constantly. They are a threat that’s always on the peripheral of Jane’s life, and when one or two or a dozen are near, it’s a fight to survive.

Dread Nation is a fast-paced, action-packed story with an interesting premise that lives up to the potential. It’s the first book in a series and I’m looking forward to continue it as there’s still so much to learn about the shamblers, how they group together, and what the government of each state is planning to do about them. 4/5.