May 2021 Book Bites

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
  • Favorite Bite:

All her life, she had learned that passion, like fire, was a dangerous thing. It so easily went out of control. It scaled walls and jumped over trenches. Sparks leapt like fleas and spread as rapidly; a breeze could carry embers for miles. Better to control that spark and pass it carefully from one generation to the next, like an Olympic torch. Or, perhaps, to tend it carefully like an eternal flame: a reminder of light and goodness that would never — could never — set anything ablaze. Carefully controlled. Domesticated. Happy in captivity. the key, she thought, was to avoid conflagration.

Mrs. Richardson in Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
  • Perspective Rating: 8/10 I really enjoyed how motherhood is viewed in so many different ways. I think few books that I’ve read have such diversity of points of view.
  • Emotional Rating: 8/10 A lot of moments resonated with me, there were moments when I really felt for the characters and where I could feel how hard the decisions they made truly were.
  • Bites Rating: 6/10 Not a lot of quotable moments in this book, it was easy to read and a lot of it I just read through because I wanted to know more.
  • Overall Rating: 7/10 This book is truly a great book and I think it’s valuable to read for everyone. The lower rating is perhaps indicative of the writing style, which was good but not one I’d consider memorable.
Obsidian Puma by Zoe Saadia
  • Favorite Bite: None here, pretty much everything I annotated was because I was confused.
  • Perspective Rating: 9/10 This is where the book shines because there are very few books that are set in Tenochtitlan or even pre-hispanic conquest. The information about this time period and the culture is really well researched.
  • Emotional Rating: 2/10 I didn’t get to connect to the characters or the story too much. Perhaps it was the writing style or the way that the characters were just not fully developed but nothing really connected for me.
  • Bites Rating: 1/10 I did not like the writing style and I was already confused enough with the story unfortunately.
  • Overall Rating: 4/10 What is best about this book is the perspective. I wish there were more books with this perspective that were better written.
Archenemies by Marissa Meyer
  • Favorite Bite:

Perhaps most troubling was that the Renegades had done little to counter the growing epidemic of drug abuse or the flourishing black market. If anything, they seemed at a loss as to how to fight an enemy that couldn’t be knocked out with punches and laser beams.

Archenemies by Marissa Meyer
  • Perspective Rating: 6/10 There is some diversity in the characters, one of the main characters has two dads and there is also one character who is disabled. However, they are not the main characters and we don’t get much of what is happening from their point of view. They are mostly supportive and secondary characters that I wish got more of a spotlight. I also found that there were some social justice issues (like the drug abuse epidemic mentioned above) where it could have gone much further but it was almost like a passing thing. I wish Meyer would have gone further into these issues explaining how this world was managing (or failing) at doing so than just this. (Or just not include it at all!)
  • Emotional Rating: 8/10 Not going to lie, I am attached to a lot of the characters now, on both sides! I am worried about them and want all of them to succeed but I know that’s not going to happen and oh the feelings!
  • Bites Rating: 5/10 This is another book that was just super fast to read, not much was highlighted and I was honestly just devouring the book and didn’t stop to highlight things too much.
  • Overall Rating: 6.33/10 Super entertaining book that did leave me hanging and wanting to read the next one. I think these books are very entertaining but do lack in substance sometimes. (Or perhaps the attempt at substance is just not enough so it becomes distracting)
Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman
  • Favorite Bite:

“Trolls can smell rainbows, trolls can smell stars,” it whispered sadly. “Trolls can smell the dreams you dreamed before you were ever born. Come close to me and I’ll eat you life”

Troll Bridge in Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman
  • Perspective Rating: 7/10 I don’t think these characters were particularly unique in the sense of perspective. Most of them were white men/boys encountering various types of fantastical creatures and situations. There was a variety of ages, from young kids to elderly characters so that was one place where there was some variety in perspectives, which I enjoyed.
  • Emotional Rating: 7/10 At times it was difficult to connect to the main characters so some stories did flat for me. However, others were just excellent and I empathized with the character’s troubles and was able to dive deep into the story with them.
  • Bites Rating: 7/10 It really depended on the story, some of them did have great phrases that I highlighted and annotated, while others were quick reads that I wanted to just keep reading. Nothing remarkable really.
  • Overall Rating: 7/10 This book spans short works from the 80s and early 90s and were written for various types of magazines or books that were about a very specific type of story (fairy tale re-tellings or Lovecraft-inspired for example) so the stories can be hit or miss for pretty much anyone. I’d recommend it for people interested in a good variety of sci-fi, fantasy, and speculative fiction short stories.
Eric by Terry Pratchett
  • Favorite Bite:

The bees of Death are big and black, they buzz low and somber, they keep their honey in combs of wax as white as altar candles. The honey is black as night, thick as sin and sweet as treacle.

Eric by Terry Pratchett
  • Perspective Rating: 6/10 We are once again following Rincewind in this series and he ends up in some kind of time travel mess along with a young demonologist who thinks he has summoned a demon while he has in fact, gotten a wizard out of some parallel universe. We do get to visit an ancient culture that is a mix between the Inca and the Aztec but it has the Pratchett treatment so it’s a very different satirical take. The most interesting perspective is definitely Death, who we see at the very beginning as a beekeeper in his realm and well, his point of view is always one that gets to me.
  • Emotional Rating: 4/10 Rincewind is not exactly my favorite character of the Discworld, but I did enjoy the parts of the book with Death and the Librarian which, even though they were few, they were so so great.
  • Bites Rating: 8/10 Although this book was not one of my favorites of Discworld it still gave me a lot of laughs and had many great jokes and fun bits as well as parts that made me think about life and escape the current state of things.
  • Overall Rating: 6/10 Discworld is a really fun series to pick up throughout the year. It’s guaranteed laughs and interesting characters that you never know what they’ll be doing next. While this was not my favorite book in the series it does give more of a glimpse into the Discworld so I loved it for that.
Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik
  • Favorite Bite:

We were inexpressibly stupid; we thought it was only a cold, you see.

Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik
  • Perspective Rating: 7/10 While this book is mainly told from the white, colonizer perspective, the value that Temeraire (dragon) brings is one that makes Laurence, a white colonizer, think more about his morality. In previous books the rights of dragons as sentient beings are discussed but in this one the very reality that was the slave trade at that time is front and center. This is fantasy but it grapples with historical facts and events and puts them in a different lens. If dragons were real, would slavery have changed? If people thought that dragons deserved rights and to be treated with more respect, why couldn’t black people be given the same treatment? While Novik doesn’t fully expand on all of these ideas, it is something that does bring a lot of value to this installment of the series.
  • Emotional Rating: 8/10 To say that I am attached to the characters would be an understatement. I truly care about Temeraire, that stubborn dragon who only sees things in black and white and who is completely loyal to Laurence. Laurence is also one who has earned a place in my heart because of the growth he has achieved throughout the novels. He started out as a navy guy who didn’t have many attachments and now he’s not just loyal to his British empire but also to Temeraire and his chosen family with the aviation crew. The women in this series are also amazingly strong and I only wish that we had gotten this same story but with one of the women aviators! That would have been incredible.
  • Bites Rating: 6/10 These books don’t have too much to annotate for me. Novik still does an amazing job at describing the fights, all these new terrains both at sea and on land.
  • Overall Rating: 7/10 I am four books out of nine into this series and I’m just still so impressed at how the world building keeps on growing. We’ve now definitely diverged from the factual historical timeline so I can’t wait to see where Novik takes the series next. Also, what a cliffhanger!!! My heart can’t!

So there you have it, I read 6 books in the month of May! I have also been working on three other books throughout the month: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, Disability Visibility by Alice Wong, and The Stand by Stephen King.

I’ve been thinking a bit more about how to work with this blog. I’m slowly but surely realizing that this is my own space to work with however I want so I don’t necessarily have to follow any real “rules.” Perhaps you’ll see a bit of a change in the month of June, the ratings I feel are not exactly working for me anymore so those will definitely change. Also the types of posts will likely be different, a bit more of book reviews than I’ve had so far. Apart from the books that I’m already working on, I hope to go through my unread books and see which ones I want to prioritize more during the summer (graphic novels/comics, nonfiction, continuing series, etc).

I hope your reading month went well! Let me know in the comments if you’ve read any of the books mentioned above or the ones I’m still reading.

Pondering Stew: Motherhood in “Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

To a parent, your child wasn’t just a person: your child was a place, a kind of Narnia, a vast eternal place where the present you were living and the past you remembered and the future you longed for all existed at once. You could see it every time you looked at her: layered in her face was the baby she’d been and the child she’d become and the adult she would grow up to be, and you saw them all simultaneously, like a 3-D image. It made your head spin. It was a place you could take refuge, if you knew how to get in. And each time you left it, each time your child passed out of your sight, you feared you might never be able to return to that place again.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Pondering Stew is a type of post on my blog that comes when books leave me thinking, pondering, and stewing about something, a phrase, a theme, a character, a situation. Usually I will connect it to my life, a current event, a random other thing, or simply an idea. Hopefully some ideas resonate with you even if you haven’t read the book that triggered this thinking for me. I hope you enjoy it!

Little Fires Everywhere is a book that explores motherhood from various perspectives. The people who had her kids just as they planned with everything according to a plan. The one who didn’t exactly plan to have a child but had one and so she became a mother. A couple who wished more than anything to be parents but just couldn’t give birth to a child. (Plus many others).

The bond that exists between a parent, but specifically a mother, and a child can be one of the strongest emotional bonds out there. I myself have a good relationship with my mom, we don’t necessarily tell each other everything or are best of friends all the time, but we have a bond that is unlike anything that I have with anyone else. At the same time, I grew up for a couple of years with my grandmother and, at that time, I didn’t differentiate in my head that my grandma was not my mom. I loved her like a mom and she treated me and loved me like her child. Did that make the relationship with my biological mom any weaker? I don’t think so, it might have obscured it for a while but it didn’t break or disappear.

I thought about this a lot while reading this book. The women in the book are all concerned with what makes a mother the one true mom. Is it biology? Is it nurture? Something completely different? What about those who donate their eggs to couples so that they can have children? Are they mothers of that child? What about those who can’t take care of their child for whatever reason and give them up for adoption? Are they no longer mothers? Some of these questions might be easier to answer than others but each situation can be very complex.

Mia is, throughout the book, someone who seems to be a great mother. She listens to her child, treats her like a person, and doesn’t get into the illusion that Pearl is still a baby, she knows that her child is growing up and away from her, and that that is completely natural. At the same time, some judge her because she hasn’t given Pearl a permanent home and she doesn’t have enough money to purchase proper furniture or other luxuries. They are moving every couple of months due to Mia’s process for her art and Pearl is fairly isolated because of that. From her point of view, Pearl is happy that she will finally be able to make some permanent friends and settle down in this new town. And she also seems pretty solid on her relationship with her mother even if there are things that Mia will not talk about regarding her past. Regardless of this, their mother-daughter relationship is rock solid, there is no question that they trust and love each other above anything else, which is what helps them survive and continue living the way they do.

Mrs Richardson, on the other hand, looks like the perfect mother, she planned exactly when she’d have her kids and raised them in a permanent home with all the things they could possibly need. Her four children, however, seem a bit more aloof in their relationship with her. They see her as the adult in the house but they don’t confide in her or tell her about their troubles. Izzy especially, doesn’t quite know how to talk to her mom. Throughout the book Izzy feels like her mom singles her out more than her siblings and doesn’t know why. Even her siblings see her as the weird one in their family.

It’s a completely different dynamic between the two parent-child relationships. So, when Pearl starts to spend more time at the Richardson’s place, it’s not necessarily because of Mrs. Richardson, it is because of the home, the sitting around the living room watching TV, the having these traditions and things that the siblings do as part of their family routine. Pearl is seeing this other way of being a family and having these roots, the excess money to buy whatever one wants, not necessarily the relationships of the siblings and their mother. On the other hand, Izzy sees the relationship between Pearl and Mia and immediately wants to be a part of that. She realizes that Mia is someone who truly sees her and doesn’t treat her like a child who doesn’t measure up. And so, Izzy starts spending more time with Mia, volunteering to help with her art in any way, no payment needed. For a while there, Izzy and Pearl seem to have switched places as they experience different ways that mothers interact with their families.

All that being said, in life outside of the book, there are many people who don’t necessarily have the “traditional” mother figure in their lives. People, like me, who were brought up by relatives or have been adopted by other people, still have mother figures who taught them how to live and who love them as a mother would, and some in addition to their biological mothers. Although the figure of a mother is idealized in a lot of fictional settings (and often removed in order to give the main character complexity…ugh…), mother figures are found in other places during our lives. I remember Mrs Freeman, a teacher I had in Chicago for 4th grade when I barely spoke any English and who took me under her wing and taught me all the things that she could to help me survive. She was a maternal figure in a sense, there was a feeling of safety that I felt with her and she provided knowledge and tools that my mother couldn’t give me at the time. In other fictional stories, such as Matilda, mother figures come up from unexpected places. Some are never said to explicitly be mother figures, but they certainly play that role.

Today it is Mother’s Day in the United States where I live (though in my Mexican family, we celebrate May 10) and it is a time when we can reflect on that relationship. It is also important to acknowledge that there are people who don’t have these relationships or that the relationship isn’t a good one for them. I can talk today only on the context of my own experience: I can say that I love my mom and that our relationship is one that is complicated but also very loving. I also have a bit of grief for my grandmother who passed away many years ago, when I couldn’t quite understand or articulate what our relationship really was. And, even if not traditional, I think of all the women in my life who have served as mother figures in some way or another, both real and fictional: teachers, aunts, neighbors, authors, heroines, etc.

Are there multiple maternal figures that you have encountered throughout your life? How have they influenced the way you live/think/dream?