Book Review

The Selection by Kiera Cass

Publisher:  HarperTeen
Genre: YA Fiction
Pages: 352
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 3/5 stars

Summary

In a dystopian world, the United States has become a monarchy named Illea where citizens are forced into a One (royalty) through Eight (criminals and outcasts) caste system. The prince of the country is looking for a new wife and will hold a competition with ordinary girls from all different castes and locations around the country to choose his new princess. 

 Kiera Cass’s novel, The Selection, is another classic 2010’s dystopian piece similar to Divergent, Hunger Games, with even a little bit of “The Bachelor” mixed in. The main protagonist in the story is a fiery red-head named America, a Five, who does not want to follow the rules of this repressive government. She is already in love with Aspen, a Seven, but when she is selected to enter into the Selection (basically the Prince’s version of “The Bachelor”), she is forced to leave behind her old life and enter into this cutthroat competition against girls of all different castes and locations for the crown.

Throughout the book, America comes to learn more about herself and what she is capable of and questions the beliefs and prejudices she has held for her whole life.

Thoughts

The Selection in its plot is very ordinary, almost fulfilling that checklist of YA dystopian novels: the love triangle, the feisty main character who has a blatant disregard for the rules, and the clear mistrust between the protagonist and the main leadership character (in this case, America and the King Clarkson). Despite its seemingly “normal-ness,” the book actually always sticks with me. Why? It’s not only because I have a taste for these dystopian YA novels, but because the book used such descriptive language so that I could see each character, emotion, and location clearly in my head. The images and feelings that were described by America and her backstories to help the audience understand the context of the situation are so detailed that I could imagine each of the scenes in my head, play-by-play. I knew exactly how the palace looked, her feelings about the Prince, the Selection, and even the strawberry tart she had before her first official meeting with Prince Maxon. The imagery in the text was strong and will make it memorable in this way for the audience. 

One of the most interesting themes of the story was actually along the lines of judgement and prejudice. Throughout the book, each of the characters has some sort of a judgment about the other characters due to the stereotypes of the castes and royalty that they have learned growing up. This stubborn prejudice clouds America’s judgement and prevents her from seeing the important and caring qualities that Maxon has, and her innate quality to rule. Maxon, on the other hand, also had prejudices about those from lower castes but he was quick to learn from his mistakes, which shows a stark contrast between America and Maxon’s characters and learning curves.

Overall, although the book was a bit predictable and followed the classic YA fiction tropes, I still found that it combined interesting themes and borrowed from pop culture in ways that were new (such as using the concept behind The Bachelor). It was the perfect before-bed read—relaxing, interesting, with the perfect amount of romance mixed in.



Thanks to Israa Jahan for this guest post.

Literary Event: Save With Stories Online Readings

It’s likely that your daily life has been affected by the spread of COVID-19 in the United States. News sources and social media are constantly being inundated with updates on cases, school closures, and panic buying. Amidst the chaos, it’s important to help one another in these tremulous times.

While everyone’s lives are being affected by this pandemic, some suffer more than others. Across the U.S., millions of children depend on schools to provide them not only to learn, but also to eat. In light of nationwide school closures, Jennifer Garner and Amy Adams have teamed up with Save the Children and No Kid Hungry to create #savewithstories. Celebrities across the nation are reading children’s stories through Instagram and Facebook, as well as collecting donations to ensure that school and community programs are well-equipped to keep kids fed and learning.

For more information about this program, and to donate, click here, and be sure to follow this initiative on Instagram at @savewithstories.

4 Books to Help you Spring into the New Season

As the weather gets warmer and the flowers start to bloom, it’s the perfect time to pick up a new book. Whether you’re taking a break from spring cleaning or looking for an excuse to sit on the porch and relax, I’ve compiled a list of books sure to keep you occupied on a nice, spring afternoon.


Safe HavenNicholas Sparks. This is a great novel to begin with, but it is especially great for spring, a season of fresh starts. It follows Katie Feldman as she flees to the coast of North Carolina to start over. She attempts to lay low and keep to herself, but is won over by a local named Alex, who was recently widowed. As Katie grows closer to him and his two kids, she finally starts to feel a sense of belonging—until one day, when her past comes back to haunt her. Eventually, she has to decide between facing it or running away for the rest of her life. Throughout the novel, the reader is given small hints at what Katie’s past entails, which heightens some of the drama. This novel perfectly blends mystery and suspense with a heartfelt romance. It is sure to keep you on your toes and warm your heart at the same time.


The Spectacular NowTim Tharp. What kind of spring book list would it be without a blossoming romance? This novel is exactly that, and it is fantastic. The Spectacular Now follows the story of Sutter and Aimee, polar opposites with seemingly nothing in common. One morning, Sutter wakes up on someone’s front lawn and Aimee finds him. After learning a bit about her and her lifestyle, Sutter takes it upon himself to show her the “fun” side of life. But, what he doesn’t realize is how harmful his way of life is, as he drags her down with him. This novel takes place during a transitional time in life, making it perfect as we transition into spring. It is a bit on the heavier side, but will definitely keep you occupied—it’s a page turner! So, clear your afternoon and get ready for the roller coaster that is The Spectacular Now.


Always Never Yours Emily Wibberley & Austin Siegemund-Broka. This novel is great for fans of YA fiction. It’s lighthearted and a bit corny—but in the best way. And, let’s be honest, we all could use a bit of that sometimes. It follows the story of Megan Harper, who dates someone until she finds them falling in love—with someone else. She doesn’t let this get her down though, and focuses on the next fling as well as getting into her dream school. To do so, she has to fulfill an acting requirement, which consequently lands her the lead in her school’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Through this, she expects to find her next “thing” but ends up making an unlikely friend, who may end up being the one for her and not someone else. This novel is refreshing and sweet, making it the perfect light read for a nice spring day.


Dear Evan Hansen Val Emmich. Winter can be a tough season mentally, so as we transition out of it, a book around mental health can be a great addition to the process. Adapted from the musical, the novel follows Evan Hansen as he attempts to navigate the world. He starts his senior year of high school with a broken arm after falling out of a tree. On that same day, Connor Murphy, his classmate, commits suicide. Evan gets tied into the situation when Connor’s parents find what they believe is a suicide letter from their son addressed to Evan Hansen, leading the Murphy parents to believe Evan was their son’s only friend. In reality, the two were never friends—and the letter wasn’t actually Connor’s. It was a letter Evan wrote as an assignment from his therapist that Connor had stolen earlier that day. Afraid to upset Connor’s parents further, Evan goes with it and the lie spirals from there. He is forced to face the truth of the situation and about himself. This novel is definitely on the heavier side but a great staple for the transition of seasons. It is sure to keep you busy for the whole day and hopefully bring you some warmth as spring approaches.

Book Review

Flying on the Ground by Richie Billing

Publisher: Self Published 
Genre: Short Fiction Collection Ranging in Genre
Pages: 374
Format: E-book
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Summary

Flying on the Ground, is a collection of the previously published short fiction of Richie Billing. The stories that make up the collection range in genre from fantasy, historical fiction, general fiction, horror, and crime. Thematically they explore notions of poverty, gentrification, addiction, hunger, survival, and much more. In all, it is an impressive collection that shows the author’s range, ability to build a compelling world, and his skill at placing characters who are just as compelling into that world.

Thoughts

As I was reading Flying on the Ground, schools were closing statewide as my community braced for whatever the coronavirus was going to bring our way. The circumstances were changing hour by hour, and while I did not witness any panicking, the tension and stress of uncertainty was palpable. This collection was the perfect distraction from all of that. Full of useful tropes and colorful characters, these stories don’t reinvent the wheel, but that is because they do not need to—this collection is entertaining, fun and well worth the read! 

I most enjoyed the fantasy section of the collection and was drawn in by the way Billing seamlessly builds the world around his characters. Some of these stories take place in a shared world, and the overflow of the stories into one another was delightfully done and contributed to a larger arch. I thought that it was interesting how each story can stand on its own as an enjoyable tale, but was also a piece of a larger picture. 

If you are looking for a quick read that will distract you from all of the things unfolding that we currently need distraction from, this collection is for you!  


I would like to thank the author for this ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

Book Review

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

Publisher: Mariner Books
Genre: Graphic Novel, Memoir
Pages: 233 pages
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 4/5

Summary

Alison Bechdel brings her troubled journey into adulthood to life in this groundbreaking graphic memoir. She chronicles a tumultuous relationship with her father while using lighthearted graphics, heavy literary allusion, and tough personal topics which redefine what we might come to expect from the “comic book” or “graphic novel” genre. Alison recalls moments from her childhood that may have led to the discovery of her father’s closeted homosexuality and his eventual suspected suicide, all while simultaneously discovering her own identity as a lesbian. Bechdel never quite comes to terms with her father’s actions or the truth behind his death, but it becomes a poignant story about making peace with the man that he was and the part he played in who she became.

Thoughts

Fun Home is a graphic novel that tackles some heavy concepts in an unconventional medium. The coined term “tragicomic” aptly describes the feelings of isolation Bechdel struggles with while growing up with her distant and private father, who is a staunch perfectionist with a quick temper. Her father’s fate is quickly revealed, and his supposed suicide sets the tone for the rest of her story. Despite the somber faces drawn on her cartoonish characters, there is the distinct undertone of a child who sorely wants to just be a normal child—and to be loved and noticed by her parents.

Fun Home is also able to effectively describe the struggle of a child trying to make sense of their identity when everyone around them is giving them contradicting signals. Its an important coming-of-age story for LBGTQ+ youth, as we see the signals in Bechdel’s childhood that she only took notice of in her adult years. However, this definitely isn’t a children’s graphic novel. There are mild but definite depictions of sex and masturbation as well as the unfortunate story of her father’s cavorting with his English students that present some rather mature discussions. The novel in all aspects is meant to make you think and reconsider the fear of recognizing your own identity and facing the judgement of your peers. There is a complex understanding between Bechdel and her father that translates to the reader as we try to decide if we feel sorry for her father having been born in a time he felt he had to hide his sexuality, or if we feel the same sympathy for her mother after dealing with years of infidelity and covering up her husband’s affairs with young men. We are also presented with the aftermath of Bechdel’s coming out, where she is rejected by her mother but is able to develop a novel relationship with her father in his last few weeks of life. If anything, these conflicts and tough emotions make for a profoundly honest story, because real people aren’t always easy to understand.

Her father’s career as an English teacher and his passion for literature passed down to Bechdel herself adds another layer of depth to Fun Home. Books play a huge role in how Alison comes to embrace her sexuality, and later a way for her to connect with her father who has always struggled with honest communication. Bechdel’s father hides behind his books, and uses them as a way to communicate his truth without coming out with it. He presents Bechdel with a copy of Ulysses by James Joyce, and the novel not only becomes an important part of her coming out as a lesbian, but serves as another point of comparison for the complicated relationship she shares with her father. Indeed, throughout the book Bechdel references James Joyce works to illustrate her story, creating a layered story that might be somewhat exaggerated as a memoir, but becomes a novel that takes Bechdel’s life and makes it relevant to so many readers in an important way.

The end of the novel makes it very clear that there are no cut-and-paste methods to make peace with the loss of a parent, especially to set back years of complicated emotion and pain. Bechdel was only able to connect to her father in the months before his death, and this was not nearly enough time to come to terms with her childhood and the actions that he took while he hid who he really was from the world and let that action tear him apart inside. As you finish the book, you as a reader can feel the unfinished resolution that comes from death. Alison Bechdel’s story as an individual is unfinished, as evidenced by her continued and successful career as a writer and a champion of LGBTQ+ representation, but the enlightenment she gains from her memoir resonates with any person that is struggling or has struggled to find themselves.

Sisters in crime: A visit with the Daring Dames of High Desert Intrigue

The moon cut the night sky, a razor-sharp glint casting only enough light to throw all into shadow. Pools of light cut feebly into the night, outlining the figures that moved swiftly through them, in and out of darkness. The figures hastened towards a brightly lit building in the distance as if pulled there by some unseen force. There was a metallic taste to the air, and the girl breathed in deeply, sucking the hint of electrical current deep into her lungs.

Tonight was the night of the gathering. Her pulse quickened as she took her first step through the maze of shadows. Perhaps she would be met by only whispers and furtive glances, huddled figures gathered closely in dim corners. The fabrics of their elegant clothes swishing softly, the deep folds capable of hiding any number of perilous items. Instruments edged with the same precision as the neatly honed words of the authors of mystery and suspense who collected inside. Fear mingled with excitement, and her curiosity drove her onward towards the distant glow which broke the darkness.

My Night at Croak & Dagger

Though this may be a highly romanticized version of the night I visited with the New Mexico chapter of the Sisters in Crime organization, neatly titled Croak & Dagger, my excitement was no less palpable. I was elated at the idea of a network of women writers who share my love of characters that cannot be trusted, moonless nights whispering the promise of death and betrayal, and the thrill of the hunt. I knew upon learning of this society that here I would find kindred spirits, here I would find women laced together in ink and blood.

The Sisters in Crime is a world-wide network of writers and bibliophiles boasting more than 60 chapters with over 4000 members. Self-described on their website as “authors, readers, publishers, agents, booksellers and librarians bound by our affection for the genre and our support of women crime writers.” With more than 50 chapters existing in the United States, the syndicate’s wide-spread reach is indicative of the enthusiasm which permeates its meetings.

I arrived with notebook hand, armed with the name Charlene Dietz, president of the local chapter with whom I had corresponded. The room itself was in stark contrast with my gloomy musings, brightly lit and inviting, packed with chairs in neat rows. There was a colorful array of scarves, jewelry and cozy sweaters to stave off the chill of the late winter air outside. A buzz filled the room, people happily chatting, leaning close in to each other in their excitement. I was greeted at once by a warm smile by a woman who introduced herself as Ann, and gently pulled me into the fold. We were greeted, in turn, by a tall woman with perfectly bobbed, silvery hair and an equally gentle look. As she introduced herself, this was Madame President, she welcomed me with a hug and I felt immediately at ease.

I took my place in the front row as the meeting commenced with a jovial feeling. There was light banter back and forth between the speakers and crowd. A change in future meeting venue was being discussed, and as one speaker stated, “I cannot stress to you how hard it is to find a parking spot,” she was answered with a mischievous “How hard is it?”, the company bubbling with laughter. This was the business portion of the evening, and topics ranged from upcoming meetings to community events were discussed. The line-up of speakers for the next few months included a court reporter, a fellow author, and a neurologist. Each of these presenters selected for the knowledge they could impart which was relevant to the crime genre. The members discussed an upcoming “speed dating” event which would consist of a conversation between one writer and one reader for three minute increments in several rounds.

The members enthusiastically planned for events such as a library tour in Albuquerque and the surrounding area, as well as celebrating each other’s publishing and writing successes. One author was scheduled as a panelist for a literary conference in California, another had just gotten his 600th Amazon review. Yes, there were also a few men sprinkled throughout the meeting, illustrating the inclusivity which I had already felt. Perhaps the greatest excitement in the room came when the premiere event of 2020 was reviewed. Having a submitted a request to the national syndicate, Croak & Dagger was proud to announce that it had been given permission to have an event with best-selling mystery author Rhys Bowen. With discussion of sister chapters and the appearance of a nationally known writer, it was apparent that while this chapter was local, the interest and the network itself was ubiquitous. I got the feeling that no matter where a person might visit the Sisters in Crime, they would be greeted with as much warmth and literary fervor as I had been.

The latter half of the meeting consisted of a panel discussion, consisting of the voices of readers, the subject of which was “What Do Readers Want Authors to Know?”. Introductions of the panelists were made by Charlene, prefaced with the statement “this may or may not be true.” Some of the biographical information she shared was fictional, and everyone present was delighted by the creative energy. After being asked what they looked for in covers when choosing a book, ideas such as “interesting details” and “what other authors have blurbed about the book” on the back cover were mentioned. One panelist looked for an interesting font on the spine of a book when choosing. The members of the crowd paid close attention, each visibly storing away the information for future perusal. Some plot dos and don’ts were also brought up, such as not killing off an important character, or not allowing for a character to betray the reader by acting against their nature.

The final question of the night was, “What happens when you close a book?” A panelist replied simply, “If you’ve created a world that I can inhabit, I will remember.” This heady idea was agreed on by all the panelists and the discussion closed with all present reminded of the reason that we all love the written word. The panelists were each given an engraved silver-toned letter opener, marked S in C (Sisters in Crime) Croak & Dagger to mark the occasion.

As the meeting ended, the chatter crested throughout the room once again, this time filled excitement for the future and abuzz with fresh ideas. Members dwindled out, heading to the nearby coffee shop to continue the lively exchange. I hung back taking it all in. Several members spoke to me and expressed their pleasure at my presence and encouragement to me as a writer. Ann even shared with me some of her own story, telling me about her days writing as a both a student and teacher. I left with a feeling of deep satisfaction. I had not only found a meeting of like minds, I had found a sisterhood (ahem, and brotherhood) of kind and creative souls.


The Sisters in Crime is a world-wide network of authors and book enthusiasts open to any new members with a passion for finely crafted words and crime. For information on how to join, please visit https://www.sistersincrime.org/. Pages for Croak & Dagger, as well as the Arizona chapters Desert Sleuths (Phoenix metro), and the Tucson Sisters in Crime can be found both here and on the website.


Pranksters on the Page: A Look at Literary Troublemakers

April Fools’ Day: that first day of April when numerous people, from the smallest kindergartner to the largest corporations, try to put one over on each other. Today, pranks include Swiss farmers announcing a record “spaghetti crop,” Taco Bell buying Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell and renaming it the “Taco Liberty Bell,” and Burger King’s “left handed Whopper” making its way onto the menu.  

You may be surprised, however, to discover that April Fools’ Day has a long and historic past. One popular theory states that its roots could very well go back as far as 1582 when France switched calendars. Those who did not realize the new year had changed to January 1st, and who continued to celebrate at the end of March/beginning of April, became the victims of hoaxes and pranks. The befuddled revelers got a paper fish placed on their backs and were referred to as “poisson d’avril” (April fish) which signified gullibility. 

So, in honor of this fun, albeit confusing “holiday,” I give you four (to coincide with the month’s number, of course) literary legends of the prank.


The Weasley Twins – J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. Fred and George Weasley get high marks as jokesters at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. With aging potions gone wrong, pinching the Marauder’s Map, and identity switching just to confuse their poor mother Molly, the fiery headed brothers never fail to delight us with their shenanigans. Eventually they take their tricks outside the classroom with their very own novelty joke shop. The name? “Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes”—we love a good alliteration!


Chip “The Colonel” Martin – John Green’s Looking for Alaska. At another boarding school thousand of miles away, Chip “The Colonel” Martin brings his friends along on his prank parade while deceiving the strict headmaster, “The Eagle.” Providing some much needed levity in a rather heavy novel, “The Colonel” spends his time trying to buck the school’s rigid rules. Defying “The Eagle” by spending a night in the woods just to get a school’s bully to dye his own hair blue? Now that is commitment.


Puck – William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream. Jester, fairy, sprite—whatever name you choose to call him, William Shakespeare’s Puck from A Midsummer’s Night Dream is the quintessential prankster. On a mission to collect a love potion flower, Puck creates chaos for those around him by bewitching the wrong lovers, and turning Bottom’s head into an ass. While his antics do vex those around him, he eventually rights his wrongs, and Shakespeare’s play ends on a happy note (for a change).


Loki – Norse Mythology. Without a doubt our most powerful and ambiguous trickster on the list, Loki from Norse mythology, has the power to wreak havoc in some serious ways. Nihilistic and playful, he can change shape, and sex, which he often used to trick his fellow gods. Having been known to act without regard for others, Loki masterminds the death of beloved god, Baldr, inciting the gods to tie him to a rock while a serpent drips venom on him. Far worse than being charged with underage magic or detention! Loki’s power to beguile and confuse astounds most scholars who debate the reason for his existence at all. 


Now that you have some literary inspiration, go pay tribute to these tricksters by planning to wreak a little (safe) havoc of your own this upcoming April Fools’ Day! 

Book Review

The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow

Publisher: Henry Holt & Company, 31 March 2020
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 463
Format: Paperback
My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Pre-order the book locally.

Summary

For fans of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Janice Hadlow has imagined the story from the perspective of “the other Bennet sister,” Mary, who was always perceived as less physically attractive than her sisters and thus shunted into the background.

Now, Mary gets the spotlight and, finally, a fully fleshed-out character. Key scenes from Austen’s novel are told from Mary’s perspective and then her story continues in describing her life after her sisters’ marriages.

Mary struggles with finding her place in the world, especially in a sense of home. She tries living with Jane and Charles Bingley, then with Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy, and then an extended visit to Charlotte Lucas and William Collins, but in each place she lacks purpose and belonging, and she cannot rid her mind of the stinging retorts of Caroline Bingley. It is not until she goes with her aunt and uncle Gardiner in town that she begins to discover who she really is and what she really wants for her life.

Thoughts

As an unashamed Janeite, I was thrilled to read more imaginings in the world of Pride and Prejudice, and The Other Bennet Sister did not disappoint. I loved being able to dive back into 95 (yes, 95!) more chapters of life following the Bennets. Hadlow’s portrayals of the scenes from Austen’s original novel read faithfully, as were her representations of the characters. In particular, she captured Charlotte Lucas Collins’s characterization and choices strikingly well.

Without giving away Mary’s ending, I will say that even the predictability of the conclusion was satisfying. The echoes for Mary’s experiences from what Elizabeth suffered during the latter part of Austen’s original were tastefully included.

Overall, watching Mary’s progression from a little girl in her sister’s shadows to a confident woman capable of securing her own happiness was even more delightful than the pleasure of seeing beloved Pride and Prejudice characters in new scenes. For that reason, I could recommend this book to readers looking for a taste of Austen’s characters and themes even if they haven’t read Pride and Prejudice (although knowing that story first would definitely make this read a much richer experience). And for other Janeites, this is a first-rate addition to your Austen bookshelf!


Thanks to the Changing Hands Bookstore for providing an ARC in
exchange for this honest and unbiased review.

Book Review

Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea

Publisher: Parnassus Press, 1968
Genre: Fantasy, Bildungsroman
Format: Hardcover
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My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Summary

Although this book is considered by many to be a book of fantasy, A Wizard of Earthsea could very well also be considered in the self-help genre through the main character’s overcoming of his self. In the fictional archipelago of Earthsea, Ged, or “sparrowhawk” as he is also known, originally is born on the island of Gont. After practicing his mage work for some time, he decides that it is time for him to enroll in the school of wizardry. While at school, Ged engages in an argument with another student over who is the better wizard, and Ged subsequently performs a difficult spell that goes awry and releases a shadow creature. The rest of the novel contains the constant hunter v.s. hunted nature of Ged and his shadow, from which Ged hopes he will eventually be liberated.

Thoughts

To me, there is no better novel than one that equally applies to both children and adults. There is no need for sophisticated language or superior wording because the message and/or story is so strong, pure, and plain awesome. 

The first time that I ever even took a glance at the staff picks section of the Hayden library, I found this somewhat worn out and torn book with an interesting illustration on the front cover: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin. The book is described as “a classic fantasy epic” that brings readers into an entirely new world. In my eyes, this book is the Harry Potter before Harry Potter. One enjoyable piece from Le Guin is her inclusion of a map of the new world, Earthsea, on the first page of the book. At times I found myself flipping back and forth between the page that I was reading and the map in the beginning, as though a treasure hunt was included. When speaking about Roke or a certain sailing direction past The Hands (2 islands in the novel), I searched through the map to get a feel for where this character, Ged, was travelling towards. It is as though the inclusion of the map brings readers back to a time period without Google search or the Internet. The name of an island was not able to be typed into a search bar and subsequently “magically” pop up in front of my eyes with almost no effort. No, the travelling character’s whereabouts and direction had to be searched for. Le Guin, with this process creation, made me feel as though this foreign land was real and had been lost in time.

Along with the fantasy epic’s awesome creativity, the illustrations by Ruth Robbins in the particular edition that I read are quite badass. At the beginning of each chapter, a picture is included that appears to be a mix of a stained glass window with fantasy myth.

The physical writing brings a reader to a new land; however, no land is complete without its own culture. Le Guin did a fantastic job of giving each island and its inhabitants their own faith & beliefs. Also, there are a few overlying beliefs for the entirety of Earthsea, such as the constant need for balance in the world. This relates to our modern world in that there are an infinite number of religions and beliefs out there; however, all have at least one underlying consistency: a belief in something greater than humanity. 

At the beginning of this novel I was a bit lost due to the new interestingly different cultures of those in the book, but once past this short phase I became captivated by the language and artistry used within the novel.  I highly recommend it to all who are searching for their next book to pickup… Especially recommend reading the paperback or hardcover version of this book found in the Hayden library so as to include illustrations, as Mrs. Le Guin originally desired.


Guest Post courtesy of Will Hillery

Book Review

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Publisher: Mariner Books
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 291
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 5/5 Stars

Summary

Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel The Namesake follows two generations of Bengali immigrants as they make a life for themselves in America. The Ganguli family, consisting of Ashima (mother), Ashoke (father), Gogol (son) and Sonia (daughter), paint a representation of how Indian American families cope with cultural divides and intimacy across generations. 

The novel begins with a young Ashima and Ashoke as they move from Calcutta, India to America. Ashoke is a young college student at MIT trying to prove himself among his peers. Ashima is a mother who is frightened of the unfamiliar world she finds herself in. Their children, Gogol and Sonia, are the focal point of much of the novel. As they grow up, the children are faced with pressure to conform to either American or Indian culture. Eventually, as they become adults, Gogol and Sonia learn how to coexist with these social pressures. The children create their own families and self identities. Ashima and Ashoke find a way to accept the lives their children create for themselves.

Thoughts

 What most impressed me most about The Namesake was how invested I became in the story of this fictional family. Lahiri is gifted at crafting intimate moments between characters. The novel begins in a moment of discomfort as Ashima gives birth to her son in an unfamiliar hospital in an unfamiliar country. It’s clear from the first narrative moment that Lahiri is not afraid to show pain and raw emotion in her work. This trend continues throughout the novel as the children grow up and begin exploring their American culture. Every moment of tension, sadness, and joy could be felt through the page. By the end, I felt that I knew each of the characters personally and had been on a journey of self-exploration with them.

Turning the final page of The Namesake was a sad moment for me. I felt like I was abandoning the characters halfway through their journey. Even though I had read about two whole generations of the family, I wanted to continue on with them and see what new challenges life would present them. The Namesake is a beautifully written novel that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys emotional, character driven writing, or, just a good cry. Jhumpa Lahiri is a talented author whose other books are definitely on my 2020 Reading List.