Review: A Stranger in Olondria

A Stranger in Olondria
A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Last month I read a book that took me to a futuristic Brazil. This month I read a book that took me to a different world altogether.

A Stranger in Olondria is a book you read slowly to savor every sentence. It’s about a young man who travels to a distant land and is haunted by an illiterate ghost, but really, that’s not what the story is about. It’s about the love of reading. How words are a type of magic that conjures images, embodies the heart of a person, indeed, even a person long dead, and transport a reader to a different place and time. Sofia’s descriptions lands of Bain and the Tea Islands were so incredibly rich, it felt at times like reading it was an escape, a true escape, from my real life.

This is not a book you read fast. Mundane moments are explained in rich detail: following Jevick as he learns to read, accompanying him as he travels to long-awaited Bain, experiencing, his wonder, his joy, as he explores the city. Experiencing his fear as the ghost of a young woman he met on the ship starts appearing to him. His attempts to get rid of the ghost, which takes him to an asylum. The characters he meet: The Priest of the Stone, his daughter, the melancholy Tialon, chipper Miros, who humor covers a lovelorn despair, and his uncle Auram, a fanatic who wishes to use Jevick to contact his ghost, or Angel. And then there’s the ghost herself, Jissavet, a force to be reckoned, even after her death, who demands her story to be written. And oh yes, there are stories. Many many stories, not just hers alone. (My favorite is a retelling of a selkie story that I instantly recognized, and felt extreme happiness upon recognizing it.)

There was a point where Jevick bemoans the loss one feels upon approaching the end of a book. I looked to see how many pages I had left, and I felt that loss keenly, it almost felt kind of meta. This is a book lovers book, something to read for the pleasure of reading itself, one mesmerizing word at a time.

Five books out of five, because…I can’t think of any other perfect way to rate it.
Five books out of five, because

View all my reviews

Advertisements

Review: The Summer Prince

The Summer Prince
The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh, this was a fun read. I love the worldbuilding: the city of Palames Tres, set in the post-apocalpytic Brazil, a city of tiers, ruled by women and defined by the young (wakas) and the old (grandes). And I loved the relationships.

This is not the normal boy/girl YA romance. Artistic June is best friends with Gil, with their share of flirtations towards each other. When Enki, doomed boy chosen to be the Summer Prince comes into their lives, it is Gil, not June, who falls under his spell and has a passionate love affair with him. June struggles with being left out and with her own feelings, for Enki is also a fellow artist. Instead of turning into a love triangle, which most books might do, it becomes a threesome. A tasteful, loving threesome in which all three care deeply for each other.

If Enki was evil or selfish, this would be potential for disaster. However, there is a reason why June and Gil are drawn to him. He is in love with everyone–though he made himself that way (in the future, there’s an app for that). He loves June, he loves Gil, he loves the lowly slums of Tier 8, which he represents and he loves the city of Palames Tres, enough to die for it, which is the fate of every Summer King.

With all the talk of sacrifice, I found myself viewing Enki as a Christ figure. He touches everyone, from the mod bootleggers on Tier 8 to the matriarchal rulers, the Aunties. He knows full well he is doomed. He is also not without his faults. But he works so that his willing sacrifice brings about true change.

I loved the complications in the story. The matriarchal society, created after a long-ago virus killed many men, is just as corrupt and political. Amid growing complaints that the Aunties are hindering technology, other cities like New Tokyo have such advanced technology, they’ve lost their humanity. June’s own conflict with her mother takes a back seat as she works with Enki to gain the coveted Queen’s Award. And slowly, June learns that her own world is not as perfect as she thought it was, and that her own ideas can’t be neatly wrapped up in a bow.

There was so much touched in this book. Privilege. Power. Politics. Technology. Relationships. Art. Leadership and Sacrifice. And all against the backdrop of a Brazilian samba atmosphere that makes me wish someone opted this for a movie. I really, really loved this book. 5 sambas out of 5, and now I must create a playlist of samba and bossa nova to read this book to.

View all my reviews

What Fates Impose Kickstarter Update (or Me Write Pretty One Day…)

TL;DR version: We’re heading into our final week of our Kickstarter for the anthology I’m in, What Fates Impose, and wow! We just cracked $4000. ONLY 6 MORE DAYS TO GO!!!! Pledge $40 and you will get, along with the book, a handwritten card by me with the personality type of your choice (either Myers/Briggs or StrengthFinders) its description and a humorous fortune written in calligraphy.

Edit: And we have made our goal! And then some!

But if you want to read the long version, I’m going to talk about calligraphy. And by that I mean, what I really want to say is, I want to thank my parents for forcing me to take drafting in high school.

You see, back when I was in high school, when it came time to choose electives, I was all ready and gung ho to take art, because everyone took art. It was fun. My father, for reasons I have yet to figure out, made me take drafting instead. I wish I remembered why. Something to do with my handwriting, I think. Or was it supposed to build character? I asked him the other day and he said, “Hell if I know.” Which was the answer I pretty much expected from him.

But there I was. A sophomore? Yeah, I think it was my sophomore year. I think I was only one of three girls in the class. I remember getting drafting kits, which involves a T-Bar ruler, a bunch of other rulers, a specific type of pencil, and graph paper. And I remember being very, very disgruntled, because while my friends were making fingerpaint murals and macaroni art and pottery, I was drawing lines and measuring  them and drawing more lines and learning how to make capital letters as straight as possible.

I can’t remember what grade I got, but I’m pretty sure I passed it. You ask me what I learned there and I wouldn’t be able to tell you offhand, except that maybe my handwriting got better. Maybe.

I hated drafting class.

Which is interesting because I love calligraphy.

I’ve been fascinated by calligraphy ever since I was a kid. I got several Sheaffer kits for Christmas, you know, the fountain pen kind that came with different types of nibs and different colored ink tubes, and you put the tubes in the barrel and twist the nib on to pierce the tube? And if you wanted to change colors, you were screwed because it meant pulling out the tube carefully so you won’t spill the ink out, then washing out the nib, which took forever, and then screw the new color in, then you had to do the same thing over again so you could go back to the regular color? Yeah, I loved those pens.

I did lots of calligraphy for a while. Mainly, I wrote poems, practiced the alphabet, and did flourishes on envelopes. Probably the highlight of my calligraphy use was when I hand addressed all the envelopes I sent out for my wedding. I was always insecure about my calligraphy, though, because I’ve never had a real steady hand. I couldn’t write in a straight line and my spacing was over the place. Over time, I stopped doing it, but I kept collecting calligraphy supplies in the vain hope that one day, I would pick it up again.

That day came about a month ago, when Nayad, our editor for What Fates Impose was brainstorming on what we could offer as rewards for backers of the anthology. I thought I’d offer a handmade knitted scarf, but I wanted to do something based off my story in the anthology, which deals with the subject of personality assessment. And I thought, “I can write cards that show Myers/Briggs personality types and a a brief description. I can also throw in a short humorous fortune in the end. And I can do it all in calligraphy.”

So I went to my closet and pulled out my calligraphy tools. Since my wedding, I have amassed quite a bit, including a bunch of dipping nibs that I had no clue how to use—I just thought they looked cool. But this now being the age of the internets, I thought it was high time I learned how to use these old-fangled thingies.

And when I learned, I was like WHY AM I KEEPING THESE AT THE BOTTOM OF MY CLOSET? THESE ARE AWESOME!!!!!

20130708_161603

Also, ink, because INNNNNNNK!!!!

So then, I made my first mock up, and I grew immediately discouraged because to me, it didn’t come out right.

20130708_152859-1

The lines were kind of crooked and the spacing was off and…

And that’s when all those lessons I took in high school drafting reared up inside me and said. LaShawn, you need to put down some lines and do some measurements. Get some rulers, girl.

And I said, Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

So I got me some rulers, put down some lines, did some measurements, and came up with my second draft, if you will.

Calligraphy sample

Which…actually…still looks lopsided, now that I look at it. Particularly the flourish line. And the personality type still looks shaky (in fact, the first draft, the letters look more stable). But I’m happier about the description. And as I keep practicing, it would get nicer and nicer.

All of this is to say, if you wish to get in on my calligraphy journey, there are two backer rewards left for my calligraphy cards. Pledge $40 and you will get, along with the book, a handwritten card by me with the personality type of your choice (either Myers/Briggs or StrengthFinders) its description and a humorous fortune written in calligraphy. It won’t be super perfect, but I can guarantee it will be authentic.

Oh yes. I want to thank my parents. If it wasn’t for me being forced to take drafting, these calligraphy supplies would still be sitting at the bottom of my closet. Never being used. Collecting dust until, in shame, I sell them to the next poor sop at a garage sale. And I would have never discovered the joy of dipping a nib into ink, shaking the excess off, then sketching the letters into paper just so.

This has brought back the joy of writing.