Elatsoe

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5
Author: Darcie Little Badger
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Pub. Date: Aug. 2020 (read March 2021)

I’m not sure how I stumbled upon Elatsoe, it may have been on Booktube, but I was immediately intrigued by the plotline. Elatsoe is a young adult story about 17 year old, Lipan Apache member, Elatsoe. She is one of a long line of women who can raise the ghosts of dead animals and is inspired by her six-great grandmother for whom she is named.

When her cousin, Trevor passes after a car crash and his ghost visits her in a dream, warning her that he was actually murdered, Elatsoe is catapulted on a mission to bring her cousin’s murderer to justice. She travels to his hometown with her parents to comfort his widow and immediately starts searching for the truth of Trevor’s untimely passing. In the process, she encounters more ghosts and makes a worrisome journey that causes her to seek advice from her elders.

I loved this book. It is such a wholesome story – it deals with heavy themes, yet it always feels like a light and fun read. I thought it read a little more like middle grade than YA, but that is really what made this feel like such a wholesome read. Instead of the teenage angst you usually find within the pages of a YA novel, Elatsoe is an individual who is very much comfortable with who she is and maintains good relationships with her friends and family. In a way it’s a coming of age story, but one in which she is respectful of her family members and seeks guidance from them. It is mentioned in passing that she is asexual and I loved that it’s just accepted by all the characters and we move on from there. Her best friend is male, but there is no love story between them and their friendship is very much built on trust and respect. It’s refreshing to read a book with such well balanced and respectful characters.

The author, Darcie Little Badger, is also Lipan Apache and she brings a very interesting fantastical element to the story. Elatsoe lives in a similar world to us, but her world is filled with monsters both seen and unseen. Personally, I thought the monster idea could have been a bit better developed and overall could probably have done without it, but the inclusion of ghosts in the story is really what makes it shine. She integrates Lipan Apache culture into the story flawlessly and I loved how she wove the verbal storytelling of Elatsoe’s ancestors into the book. I found it very engaging and it added so much depth to the story.

This was really close to a 5 star read for me. I thought it got a little plot heavy towards the end, and while we do see character growth throughout, I would have liked to see a little more character development at the end instead of going heavy on a ghost showdown. But it’s really a minor comment and I would still absolutely recommend this book to everyone. The writing is lovely and it reads very quickly. I think it’s a story that can be enjoyed by all ages and am so happy to see more indigenous voices and indigenous stories being published. 4.5 stars!

The Four Winds


Rating:
⭐⭐⭐
Author: Kristin Hannah
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: Feb. 2021 (read Feb. 2021)

I know Kristin Hannah has over 20 books, but she’s become really popular with her last few publications, and for good reason. My book club read and loved the Nightingale and then I became absolutely obsessed with her last book, The Great Alone. So I was very excited to read another historical novel, this time about the dust-bowl era and mass migration to California.

While I knew about the great depression, I’m a little embarrassed to say I knew very little about the dust-bowl era of the early 1930’s. As a Canadian I won’t be overly shamed about this, but one of my biggest takeaways is that I really should read the Grapes of Wrath, which sounds like it is more or less the same plot as The Four Winds. I don’t mean that as a slight, it just seems like most people cover this period of history in their learnings by reading John Steinbeck’s classic, so I’m definitely anxious to read that book as well now.

The Four Winds opens in Texas prior to the great depression. Our heroine Elsa has been cast out by her wealthy family and marries into an Italian farming family. Though she struggles to satisfy her husband, she finds great happiness on the farm and takes joy in a hard day’s work and in raising her two children, Loreda and Ant. However, when drought strikes Texas the family falls on tough times and Elsa must make the decision whether to head west with her family in search of work and better days.

The Dust-bowl era coincides with the Great Depression and is a period of history in which many southern states experienced severe drought and dust storms. Agriculture crashed and many developed dust pneumonia as a result of the storms. This resulted in mass migration to California where migrants faced even more hardship – cast out and vilified by the locals, aid was denied to many and the only work to be found was hard labour at a pitiful wage.

It is this hardship that Elsa and her children experience. I found the plot really interesting in that I knew very little about the dust-bowl era and didn’t realize there had been a mass migration in America in the 1930’s. What’s most striking is the way that history has a tendency to repeat itself and that no matter the individual, America does a great job at othering “outsiders” and vilifying the poor.

Before southerners migrated to California, Mexicans would cross the border to work in the cotton and fruit farms as pickers, earning minimal wages, then leaving at the end of each season to return to their families. Eventually the government cracked down on this immigration and suddenly the California growers found themselves with no cheap labour to pick their goods. Until farmers from the south started flooding across the border looking for any work to feed their families. The growers took advantage of this labour and the sheer number of people allowed them to pay even lower wages, maximizing their profit because there was always someone desperate enough to pick for any wage.

This echo’s the world we still live in. Capitalism is built on cheap labour and immigrants are often still forced to work for any wage to survive. I find it hard to understand how the American Dream is even still a thing because class difference in America is so divided and there are so many people living in poverty. People with privilege rise up on what they pretend are their own merits, while a multitude of people struggle to survive every single day – many of whom are taken advantage of by their employers. The only real difference in The Four Winds is that the workers are white American born citizens. While they are absolutely justified in wanting to be treated humanely and earn a living wage, I couldn’t help but notice their indignation at being treated, for lack of another word, like immigrants. They feel that as American citizens, Californians should empathize with their plight – but it just goes to show how ingrained feelings of nationalism and state pride go and how threatened people will always feel by “others”. Heaven forbid an “outsider” receive state aid or take advantage of state services paid for by “their” tax money.

In some ways though, the migrants were just as proud as many of the Californians in that they felt they should be able to provide for themselves and should not need to take relief or government assistance. They honestly just wanted to be paid a living wage so that they wouldn’t need the relief. I’m sure many would be happy to pay taxes and contribute to services, but their poverty and the lack of work made this impossible. It’s just scary that this is a mindset that still exists today. That somehow poor people aren’t worthy of basic access to services like welfare and healthcare. That giving someone a helping hand will make them reliant on support. No one wants to be on welfare. And the fact that we still have to debate, in a pandemic, that people deserve a living wage and that the government should step up and provide financial relief, is frankly embarrassing.

I’m sure it didn’t come as a surprise to those who are more well informed than me, but what I found most shocking about this book was the Welty Farm. The sheer brilliance and evil of allowing people to run themselves into debt on your farm, all to secure their labour throughout picking season. In some ways the families that found themselves with a cabin on Welty Farms were very lucky. It put an actual roof over their heads and allowed them some modicum of comfort over living in the shanties. But the model of forcing poor migrants to buy everything on credit from the company store at triple the price and never paying them in cash is really so evil. And not allowing them to seek work elsewhere in the off season to ensure that every cent they earn during cotton picking will go into paying off their debt, ensuring they’ll have to stay around another year and survive again on credit, is just plain evil. It’s hard to believe someone can look in the face of such poverty and deny someone a living wage. But this is the world we live in – where people like Jeff Bezos make billions in a pandemic yet refuse to pay their workers a living wage. Really, what has changed since 1930?

But I should probably spend less time ranting and actually talk about the book. You’re probably wondering why I gave this 3 stars when it sounds like I was really into it. As a history book, I did really like this. Hannah showcases every aspect of this era and I liked that we got to experience how awful the dust storms were, what it was like to migrate across the country, and how in many ways, California was worse than what they experienced in Texas. So I did really like the history covered in this book and felt it was fairly comprehensive. But as far as this goes as a novel, I did think it was a little lacking.

Hannah is definitely a good writer. I fell in love with her writing in The Great Alone and the way she wrote about Alaska and her characters. I felt they all had such heart despite the hardships they faced. I love that Hannah focuses on the mother-daughter relationship in her novels and it’s what compels me to pick up each of her books. But unlike The Great Alone, in The Four Winds the land and everything around it is dying. While Elsa is undeniably a strong and inspiring character, I couldn’t help but feel this book was lacking in heart.

First of all, I thought it was too long. A lot happens in this book, but we just got a bit too much of everything. I felt like we were suffering the same thing over and over again. I know this is the reality of this kind of a life, but oh my goodness, in the beginning the dust storms seem to go on and on! I don’t think the novel was exaggerated, but we easily could have dropped a hundred pages. I repeatedly got bored throughout this book and at times felt it hard to pick it up again because it was just more and more of the same.

But like I said, as much as I liked Elsa, I just didn’t connect with her in the same way that I have with some of Hannah’s other characters. I’ll admit Hannah is somewhat emotionally manipulative in all her books, including The Great Alone, as much as I love it. She creates these grand heartbreaking situations near the end of her books, but in this one, I felt like Hannah was smashing my face into the sidewalk trying to force me to feel something I didn’t. I loved the inclusion of the wage campaigners and “communists” and seeing the migrants stand up and fight for their rights, but I struggled to buy into the romance (didn’t see the draw of the characters or any chemistry between them). I didn’t see why Elsa’s story was any more inspiring than any other migrant. The climax just felt really forced to me and it took away from the story in my opinion.

From there I thought it just went downhill altogether. I don’t want to post any spoilers, but I didn’t like how easy everything became after the climax. This is a family that has struggled and will continue to struggle. Unfortunately there is never an easy way out of these kinds of struggles. Migrants will continue to be taken advantage of. When the drought ends, yes many will likely return to where they came from, but the sad reality is that this will not be an option for many of the migrants. One, because they will literally not gave the money to return, and second, because many of them have nothing to return to. The farms they abandoned were taken over by the bank, it’s not as simple as returning to your land because the rains have returned, in many cases families will have no land to return to. It’s a really sad way to end a book, but unfortunately sometimes the bad guys win.

I’ll have to do some research about what did happen at the end of the great depression and how people were able to raise themselves back up, but I didn’t like that it wasn’t covered in this book. I assume at some point things did improve, likely some of the migrants left, enabling those that stayed behind to demand better pay. Or that job access improved with the end of the depression, but we don’t really see any of that in this book. It’s just misery straight to the end. I read some reviews that complained that the book has very few high points and too much suffering. I see the point, but I actually disagree – a lot of times the there is truth in so much suffering, but I do still want there to be a purpose for me reading the book. Yes, I learned a lot about a historical period I knew little of, but otherwise I’m not sure what my takeaways were. Yes, I know that Elsa was good and strong and that she learned to be proud of herself, but what of her relationship with Loreda? In most cases their relationship felt forced to me and I felt it was resolved with “telling” rather than “showing”. I guess overall I felt the writing too manipulative towards the end and I struggled to enjoy it.

Anyways, this turned into a pretty lengthy review. The book definitely has its strong points, but other areas that could use some work. Don’t get me wrong, I did still like it, but not Hannah’s strongest work in my opinion. That said, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this book since I finished and I am anxious to go out and read more material about this era, so I do thank Hannah for the intro. Still recommend her books and I know a lot of readers liked this more than I did, so don’t be deterred by my review!

The Mermaid from Jeju


Rating:
⭐⭐⭐
Author: Sumi Hahn
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: Dec. 2020 (read Feb. 2021)

I don’t know how I stumbled across this book, I haven’t really seen any hype about it, but as soon as I saw the title and cover I immediately went and bought myself a copy. I read Lisa See’s latest book when it came out, The Island of Sea Women, and became totally enthralled in the history of Jeju Island. It’s an island off the south coast of South Korea that has a very turbulent and interesting history.

My knowledge of island culture is still very limited after reading both books, but it seems that inhabitants of the island have very much carved out their own unique culture and customs, connected, but still separate from the rest of South Korea. In a way it reminds me of Newfoundland in that it is part of Canada, but still maintains a very distinct sense of self.

A large part of Jeju is centered around a matriarchal society, with the Haenyeo (female divers) being seen as the primary family providers and earners. The Island of Sea Women was centered entirely on the Haenyeo, so when reading that book, I did see the Haenyeo as central to Jeju culture. However upon reading The Mermaid from Jeju, I learned that Mount Hallasan also plays a large role in Jeju culture. It’s a huge mountain that supports a whole different ecosystem and plays a large role in island religion.

I’m going to leave it there because I don’t have enough knowledge to expand further, but The Mermaid from Jeju also features a Haenyeo as the main character, so I was immediately drawn to it. Between the two books, I definitely preferred Lisa See’s book, but I did like that Sumi Hahn gives a more well rounded perspective of life all over the island. Both books cover a similar time period and highlight the impact on the people of Jeju from the transition between rule by the Japanese and then the Americans. The situation further deteriorates with the introduction of communism and America’s attempts to remove the threat.

The Mermaid from Jeju is about a young Haenyeo, Junja, and how she and her family are impacted by the arrival of the Americans. Junja has her entire life before her. She is a proud Haenyeo, diving with both her mother and grandmother, and meets a boy on the mountain, Suwol, with whom she becomes fast friends. But as violence spreads across the island, her family is torn apart and she must make difficult decisions.

While I did enjoy this book, I really struggled with the plot. I don’t need to have a well defined plot to enjoy a book – often some of the best books have meandering plots, but I felt like in this book I struggled with not having enough information. There’s a lot going on with Suwol and Junja’s grandmother and I found it really difficult to follow what was going on. I had some background from reading Lisa See’s book, but I think some readers may struggle with keeping track of the history of what is actually happening here. The plot jumps around a lot with little context.

Then in the second half of the book the structure makes a big shift. I understand why the author did this and I eventually did get into this new story, but I found the shift very jarring and it really disrupted the flow of the storytelling for me. It’s difficult to be at a high point in a book and then to have to very quickly shift gears to a low stakes storyline, before returning again to the original story. It just really didn’t work for me, nor did the ambiguous storytelling with the reader not being entirely sure who the new narrator is.

What I did find really interesting was the theme of ghosts. It features more heavily in the second half of the novel and I didn’t give it too much thought until I read the author’s note. The author is Korean, but grew up in America. I don’t think her family is from Jeju, but apparently she has been haunted by ghosts herself and it was these experiences that inspired the story. She visited Jeju and conducted several years of research before publishing this book.

So overall I was intrigued with the story, but it was also evident to me that this was a debut novel. I think the author had a lot of ideas, and good ones, but the story was lacking in focus and execution. I just felt the whole thing needed a little more direction, like the author had too many ideas and just didn’t know how to pull them all together, or cut ideas where they didn’t fit. I needed a bit more context than was provided and the first and second parts of the book just read like different novels. The time I spent investing in the characters and plot of the first half just ended up feeling wasted.

That said, I won’t be deterred from reading more from this author in the future, but I’d recommend picking up The Island Sea Women first over this one.

A Court of Wings and Ruin

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Genres: Fantasy
Pub. Date: May 2017 (read May 2017)
Series: A Court of Thorns and Roses #3

I’m not going to blurb this because if you like Sarah J Maas, you’ve definitely already read it, and if you haven’t read Sarah J Maas, you probably don’t care at all about this review. So it will have SPOILERS, BEWARE. Heads up – I wrote this back in February, just days before ACOSF was published.

For those who care, I hate ACOTAR and love ACOMAF. I’ve read ACOMAF several times, but I’ve never been able to bring myself to re-read ACOTAR. The best I could do is this time around I decided to re-read just the parts of ACOTAR that Rhys was in because I wanted to see how I perceived him in the first book having now finished the series.

Anyways, I couldn’t help myself from launching into ACOWAR right after finishing ACOMAF (that cliffhanger!). Undeniably it is just not as good. I did really like some parts, but as a whole, this book is long and to be honest, kind of boring. The beginning is a fun ride with Feyre being so empowered, but then it turns out she pretty much completely f*ed Tamlin over, and consequently Prythian, so it kind of takes some of the joy out of it.

After that it’s a lot of running around. I mean, ACOMAF was a lot of running around too, but it was balanced out by all the awesome character development. Maas is soooo good at writing tension and flirting, but ugh her sex scenes CRINGE. Like can we talk about the fact that after Feyre leaves the Spring Court she basically wanders the wilderness for a full 7 days with no food, before being brutally attacked. Then when she finally winnows back to Velaris, her mate is like, ‘you smell, but let’s get it on’! Like girl, go eat some food first!

Then it’s just preparing for war, yada yada, a million battles, yada yada, Cassian staring at Nesta, yada yada. For a book with so much action, it’s surprisingly slow. Also, I feel like I’ve read this before, you know? Like, we already tried to destroy the cauldron once; we already had an amazing 7-high-lords-resurrection; and literally every romantic reaction is the exact same. Soulful brooding with deeply obsessive, creepy mating behaviour.

Here’s the excerpt Maas released on her instagram from ACOSF today “The first time I saw that look on your face, you were still human… and I nearly went to my knees before you”. I can only assume this is Cassian talking to Nesta, but like, WHO TALKS LIKE THAT?!? And also, how is this any different from Feyre and Rhys, I could literally believe that was Rhys talking to Feyre. Why are all Maas relationships so all consuming? There’s something said for having a bit of balance in your life, but every relationship in her books is this creepy possessive mating thing. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Rhys, but there’s only one Rhys. Can we get some variety here?

Anyways, I’m clearly going off on a tangent rant. You know what I did like about this book? Tamlin! I’m glad Maas redeemed him a little – poor dude has still some issues to deal with, but at least we saw some growth here. I also was into the whole bone carver/weaver/library demon thing, that was a nice side plot, as well as what Maas decided to do with Eris in this book. I love when authors take an evil character and give them more dimension. They can still be evil without it being the entire summation of their character.

So will I read A Court of Silver Flames? I am very much on the fence. I guarantee I won’t be re-reading ACOFAS, because that book was trash, but I am on the fence about Silver Flames. Apparently in my review for ACOFAS I said I would be reading the next book, but so much time has passed I’ve kind of lost my zeal for the series. I’m tempted to read it because these books are now fresh in my head, but I don’t really like Nesta that much and Sarah’s little blurbs on social media are not convincing me that she’s going to do anything new or interesting in the next book. She did leave some doors open at the end of ACOWAR for where the plot can go, but as for characters, I’m not sure how much more I can grow with these people. They have great characterization in books 1-3, I just don’t want to keep beating a dead horse.

I definitely won’t be paying money for the book, it’ll have to come from the library, so I guess only time will tell if I continue with the series or not. Sorry to all the dreamers out there. I gave this a 4 as my initial rating. Now I think it’s probably closer to a 3, but I’m going to leave it as a 4 because it is still a pretty epic series and even though it was somewhat lacking in execution, Maas did create something magical.

A Court of Mist and Fury

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Genres: Fantasy
Pub. Date: May. 2016 (read Dec. 2016)
Series: A Court of Thorns and Roses #2

I recently re-read ACOMAF and ACOWAR (but not ACOTAR because I hate it). I had a review for ACOMAF on my goodreads that I’ve apparently never posted here, and discovered I’d never actually written a review for ACOWAR. So check out my old review for ACOMAF here and I’ll post my ACOWAR review shortly.

This review has some spoilers for ACOTAR and ACOMAF.

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I love this book so much!!

I read this series for the first time about 5 months ago because I love Maas’ Throne of Glass series. Unfortunately, I really didn’t like ACOTAR, but I stuck with it because I heard ACOMAF was much better and I’m so glad I did!

I love Feyre’s journey in this book. She was such a contradiction in the first book, being both strong, but also whiny and pathetic. I thought she was so real in this book. What happened Under the Mountain completely destroyed her and I appreciated Maas for recognizing that it’s okay for strong characters to fall apart. It took time for Feyre to accept the things that happened to her and her slow healing felt so natural and cathartic.

This book was quite a bit longer than the first of the series, but I thought the flow of the story was fantastic. I love where the story went and all the new characters we were introduced to throughout. I loved everyone in Rhysand’s inner circle and I felt they were all well-realized characters, yet I’m excited because I know there’s so much more to learn about them.

And of course, this book was sexy. The slow build flirtation and romance throughout completely moved the story along. I absolutely love the love story in this book. Feyre and Rhys’ relationship was so moving and healthy, I totally fell in love with Rhys too. A lot of romances feel very one sided (i.g., the man as protector or decision maker), but the romance in ACOMAF was built on equality and the freedom to make your own choices. What I loved about Rhys was that all his imperfections were what made him perfect. I loved that Maas took a character that had been pretty awful and made me fall in love with him.

As much as I didn’t like ACOTAR, I can appreciate it a little bit more now that I’ve seen where Maas was planning to take the story. This was my second read-through and I am going to start A Court of Wings and Ruin immediately because it just came out today!!